Saturday night’s long-awaited battle between no. 3 Clemson and no. 5 Florida State could very well be the biggest game in ACC history. For the first time in a long while, the ACC is relevant on a national scale. This week, three teams (Clemson, FSU and Miami) cracked the top-10 in the AP Poll. That makes the winner of Saturday’s contest a legitimate contender to play in the national championship game.
While there are great athletes and great matchups all over the field, fans tend to focus on the most important position in sports … quarterback.
In that sense, this game won’t disappoint. Both teams have outstanding quarterbacks who most analysts have on their shortlists to win the Heisman Trophy this season. So, here’s a comparison of what Clemson QB Tajh Boyd and Florida State QB Jameis Winston bring to the table.
Experience: There’s no doubt that Boyd’s biggest advantage in this matchup is his vast experience playing the college game. He’s a three-year starter, an All-ACC performer, and an ACC Champion. Meanwhile, Winston has only played five games in his career, none of which compare to what he’ll face Saturday night in front of a hostile crowd.
While it’s unlikely that Winston will crumble under the pressure, Boyd has proven he can play in big games and has done so throughout his career, and already once this year (opener against Georgia).
Athleticism: Both players are tremendous athletes, although they are used differently in their offensive schemes. Boyd is traditionally one of the leading ball carriers for the Tigers, and is once again as a senior. He’s carried the ball 66 times already, while Winston only has 36 totes. Both quarterbacks are dangerous outside of the pocket because they can pick up first downs when the play breaks down.
From an athleticism standpoint, there isn’t much to choose from between the two.
Arm Strength: Without a doubt, Winston has one of the best arms in the country. The ball absolutely explodes out of his hand when he lets it go. He can make all the throws and has shown an incredible ability to drive the ball outside the numbers. Boyd’s arm is strong as well. He does a great job of throwing the deep ball, and has outstanding touch at times. However, he doesn’t have the elite arm that Winston does. I don’t care if he’s a freshman or not — he can spin it.
Pocket Presence: This is one area where both quarterbacks really excel. Winston has nice composure in the pocket and has an innate ability to hang in the pocket just long enough to let throws clear. His awareness and feel for playing the position is special, particularly for a freshman. However, Boyd has made a career out of slipping out of trouble and making plays happen. Just when defenses think they have him lined up, he slithers away, avoids the sack and makes a positive play. Admittedly, he’s had more opportunities, but Boyd has the edge at this point.
“It” Factor: Yet another category in which Boyd and Winston are close. Boyd is undoubtedly a winner and has done nothing but succeed since becoming the starter for Dabo Swinney. He’s played big in prime time games and protects the ball in big moments.
However, Winston appears to have the market cornered on “It Factor.” He’s only played a handful of games, but he’s a human highlight reel. He escapes pressure, moves around, makes improbable throws, and almost always comes out smelling like a rose. Time will tell if it will continue, but he looks like a truly special quarterback.
While all of these attributes are up for debate, one thing isn’t: both of these quarterbacks are outstanding college football players that will make Saturday night’s game must-see-TV.
B.L. is an ACC football writer for Rant Sports who can be followed on Twitter @coachlip or on Google.