It's hard to pick a favorite between Marcus Mariota and Braxton Miller: two Heisman candidates and two of the best quarterbacks in college football. Both are capable of making a run at the Heisman this season—as I outlined yesterday—and neither would shock by winning the national title.
If forced to choose, however, it would be hard not to skew toward Mariota, who seems a more balanced mix of throwing and passing than Miller, who still has some work left to do.
Even after injuring his MCL down the stretch last season—an injury that more or less cost him a Heisman nomination—Mariota finished first in ESPN's Total QBR metric, doing so with a top-15 score in rushing and passing (which is more than Miller can say):
|Marcus Mariota vs. Braxton Miller: 2013 Total QBR Breakdown|
|Adjusted QBR (Rk)||Pass EPA (Rk)||Run EPA (Rk)|
|Marcus Mariota||89.5 (1)||67.7 (15)||31.4 (8)|
|Braxton Miller||81.5 (13)||38.3 (55)||32.7 (7)|
Miller's passing EPA—expected points added—puts him behind names such as Derek Thompson (North Texas), Adam Kennedy (Arkansas State), Sean Schroeder (Hawaii), P.J. Walker (Temple) and, perhaps most damning of all, Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech).
In an opponent-adjusted metric such as Total QBR, that is pretty bad.
Meanwhile, the worst quarterback Mariota trails in passing EPA is probably Bowling Green's Matt Johnson—and he's pretty good. He led the upset of Northern Illinois last season and was listed as a Heisman candidate by Bovada in early February.
Both Mariota and Miller are great at keeping the chains moving, which is a product of their duality. On offenses like that, which put pressure on the defense to make a stop and get off the field, the worst thing a quarterback can do is turn the ball over.
And though Miller has been good in this respect, Mariota has been flat-out ridiculous.
|Marcus Mariota vs. Braxton Miller: Interception Stats|
|Career Pass Attempts||Career Interceptions||Percentage|
One could argue that Mariota is a product of his system.
He played his first season with Chip Kelly, who is by all accounts an offensive genius, and his second season with Mark Helfrich, who was one of Kelly's most trusted assistants.
That argument, while fair, falls short because Miller plays with Urban Meyer. Both have played in systems that are famous for making quarterbacks succeed, and only Meyer from that group has coached a Heisman Trophy winner (Tim Tebow) at the position or in general.
These are two of the five best quarterbacks in the country; each has put up big numbers, and should continue to put up big numbers, in a scheme they fit like a glove.
Each will win a lot of games, as they have their whole career, and are likely to contend for a conference championship and spot in the College Football Playoff. When they do, their teams will have them to thank in large part for getting them there.
They are the faces of this upcoming season, and you certainly can't go wrong picking either one.
But, me? I'll take Mariota by a nose. At least if he's healthy—and it sounds like he is.
"He's moving faster than I've ever seen him move," said starting left tackle Tyler Johnstone, according to Gary Horowitz of USA Today. "He's doing all the things that Marcus Mariota always does. I'm real excited to see him this season."
That makes two of us, Tyler. And I reckon we aren't alone.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT