On Oct. 3, 2015, Clemson defeated Notre Dame by a score of 24-22 in a monsoon.

At that point, Clemson QB Deshaun Watson was well on his way to contending for the Heisman Trophy (he would finish third), while Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer was still finding his footing, both figuratively and literally. The Clemson game was Kizer’s third college start, and Death Valley was a swamp that night.

NCAA FOOTBALL ON SOCIAL MEDIA

JOIN THE TEAM.


Clemson won the game. But Kizer won the night. The redshirt freshman completed 19-of-34 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns against a stout Tiger defense, while Watson managed just 84 passing yards. Kizer also ran for a score.

His biggest ‘gaffe’ on the evening? That took place with seven seconds left, with the Fighting Irish attempting a 2-point conversion to send the game to overtime. On a QB keeper, Kizer was stuffed short of the goal line.

"It's was man versus man, heart versus heart,” Kizer said after the game. “And he [Carlos Watkins] got there. I didn't lower my shoulder the way I should."

Carlos Watkins is a 6-3, 305-pound defensive tackle. That’s like a point guard admitting fault by losing a jump ball to a center in basketball. The fact that Kizer even stood a chance speaks to why he’s so intriguing as a prospect.

Of course, so is Watson. He almost went full Vince Young against Alabama in last year’s national championship game, piling up 478 yards of offense against the best defense in the country. Watson is great. He possesses a rare combination of arm strength, accuracy, speed and intelligence. Everyone knows it now. Everyone knew it before the season started.

MORE: Lamar Jackson vs. Teddy Bridgewater

But is he the best quarterback in the country? He’s certainly the best college quarterback in which we have a large enough sample size to judge. Stats are crucial in evaluating QB play, but they don’t tell the whole story. If you’re starting a team from scratch and have your pick of the quarterback litter, traits and attributes hold more weight. Some signal callers dominate in the right system. Others transcend systems.

So, Kizer vs. Watson. Who do you have? There are arguments to be made for both. But the fact that it’s even a valid question at this point, given the public perception just a few weeks ago, is remarkable.

Arm strength: Both of these guys can sling it to all levels of the field. Short routes, intermediate patterns and deep balls: they can put it on a line or use touch when necessary.

But whose arm is better? I’ll take Kizer’s. In his first extended action last season against Virginia, the redshirt freshman heaved a 50-yard strike off of his back foot into Will Fuller’s arms to win the game. The narrative of the game? Kizer was clutch. Take emotion out of it, though, and it was simply a ridiculous throw for any QB to make.

Any throw that starts here (look at his weight distribution!):

ACC Network

And ends here:

ACC Network

Makes you raise an eyebrow. Watson has made plenty of highlight-worthy throws himself in the past few seasons. But can he do that? I’m not so sure.

Accuracy: Watson has a pretty solid edge over Kizer here. As a sophomore, the Tiger QB completed almost 68 percent of his passes compared to Kizer’s 63 percent.

Both quarterbacks are capable of throwing accurately on the move, but that’s the elite aspect of Watson’s game. He’s outstanding at creating separation from hungry pass rushers, gathering himself and finding the open target.

From there, he just drops dimes, as seen in the national title game:

Watson is also more careful with the ball than Kizer, but only by a slim margin. Watson has thrown 18 career interceptions on 715 attempts (2.5 interception rate); Kizer has 11 picks on 377 attempts (2.9 interception rate). Both quarterbacks are accurate, but Watson is outstanding in that regard.

Speed: At 215 pounds, Watson figures to run in the 4.6 40-yard dash range, which is very good. He ran for 1,105 yards last season on 5.3 yards per carry; he must be accounted for in the read-option game.

Kizer is no slouch as a rusher, but he’s more of a power ball carrier than a speedster. We’ll get to that later. On the perimeter, Watson is scarier threat.

Power: This is the inverse of the above section. Watson is a capable runner between the tackles, but this is where Kizer excels.

Kizer gets to the perimeter on this play, but his strength is what guides him to the end zone. Texas defensive backs don’t stand a chance to wrestle him to the turf.

WatchESPN

WatchESPN

This makes Kizer extremely difficult to sack, too, which is crucial in a football environment where offensive line play is shaky. And though Kizer failed to power through Clemson’s Watkins last October, Brian Kelly isn’t afraid to call his quarterback’s number in short-yardage situations.

Intangibles: It’s impossible to watch this and not fall in love with Watson.

By all accounts, Kizer has impeccable character and leadership ability, as well, though he hasn’t been in the spotlight for as long as Watson. There are no off the field concerns with either player.

Production: As mentioned before, stats can be deceiving, but they’re still an important piece of the puzzle.

Watson vs. Kizer Career
QB Yards per Attempt INT % Yards per Carry Passing TD %
Deshaun Watson 8.55 2.5 4.75 7.4
DeShone Kizer 8.63 2.9 4.03 7.4

These two are eerily similar statistically, anyway. Kizer and Watson are outstanding college quarterbacks, and each will be a joy to watch this season.

The bottom line is this: 2016 may be the year of the running back in college football. Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Nick Chubb and Dalvin Cook are all miraculous players.

Just do yourself a favor. Don’t sleep on the next big thing in South Bend.