Peyton Manning Or Russell Wilson?
Posted Jan 29, 2014

Peyton Manning Or Russell Wilson? The better college player was ... ? It's closer than you might think.

E-mail Pete Fiutak
Follow me ... @PeteFiutak 
Fiu on TV?! Beautiful people talking college football.
FRIDAY, Check out Fiu vs. Russ debating Russell vs. Peyton on CI Live at 1 ET/12 CT Campus Insiders

The Russell Wilson Side

Scroll Down For Russ Mitchell On Peyton Manning

I refuse to waiver in any way from my core belief that no one will ever, ever win anything big with Peyton Manning as the starting quarterback – yes, I'm aware – with the foundation for those values being set during his collegiate years with loss after loss after loss to Florida and the 1998 Orange Bowl pounding from Nebraska.

And the fact that Tee Martin came up with a national championship the year after Manning left for league of mercenaries.

Of course Manning was a brilliant college quarterback and has to be considered among the all-time greats, and even though the case can be made that Russell Wilson technically had the better career, there's something to be said about simply being a legend.

I've argued many, many times that John Elway was the greatest quarterback of all-time, but he never played in a bowl game – because, obviously, the Stanford band finish against Cal was his fault. So then it all comes down to this when it comes to ranking and evaluating a career on an all-time scale – how much stock do you put into what you can prove as opposed to what you think?

Was Martin a better college quarterback than Manning? No, but if you had to choose which career you'd rather have for your team, would you take the guy who engineered a few epic close wins on the way to a national title, or would you take the more talented guy who put up big numbers but failed to bring home the big prize? Was Danny Wuerffel a better college quarterback than Manning? That's where the lines become a bit blurred.

When it comes to Wilson, though, as good as he was, it's not like he was legendary – just a guess, but the number of kids in Tennessee named Peyton probably outweighs the number of young children in Wisconsin and North Carolina named after Russell. Even so, which one actually had the better career?

The high-powered passing games and offenses on a grand scale were just starting to kick in around the time Manning was rocking, and despite his failures, he put up huge numbers in the SEC, setting a slew of records along the way. But it's not like Wilson was Colt Brennan slinging it around for Hawaii in the WAC – he came up with brilliant seasons in big boys conferences, too.

So let's take the Pepsi challenge. Knowing what you know now, if you had to take the career of one of the two quarterbacks for your team, which one would you pick?

Manning: 863-of-1,381, 11,201 yards, 62.5 %, 89 touchdowns, 33 picks.
Wilson: 907-of-1,489, 11,720 yards, 60.9%, 109 touchdowns, 30 picks

Manning; Career passing rating of 147.1
Wilson: Career passer rating of 147.2

Manning: 23 interceptions in his last two seasons
Wilson: Four interceptions in his final season, 14 his final year at NC State

Manning: Best season – 1997: 287-of-477, 3,819 yards, 36 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, three rushing scores.
Wilson: Best season – 2011: 225-of-309, 3,175 yards, 33 touchdowns, four interceptions, 338 rushing yards, six touchdowns.

Manning: 153 carries for -181 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns
Wilson: 441 carries for 1,421 yards and 23 touchdowns

Manning: 1997 Maxwell winner, finished 2nd in the Heisman voting
Wilson: Set NCAA record for passing efficiency in 2011. Set the NCAA record at NC State by throwing 379 consecutive passes without an interception.

Manning: 1997 SEC championship
Wilson: 2010 Big Ten championship

Fine, so Manning might have been the better college player – but Wilson held his own.

And he'll be holding the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night, too.

The Peyton Manning Side - By Russ Mitchell

The average SEC fan might scoff at this outright, but it's actually a lot closer than you might think. And in terms of the talent around them, Wilson did more with less – regardless that he played his final year during a historically weak period for Big Ten football, particularly for defense.

Both quarterbacks led their teams to conference titles; Manning in 1997 and Wilson in 2011. While Manning arguably faced a tougher schedule playing in the SEC, against ranked teams they were nearly equal: Manning 10-6 (63%), Wilson 8-5 (62%).

Even considering that their age difference ushered in a new style for college offenses and quarterbacks, Wilson was considerably more mobile than Peyton – finishing his career with 1,421 rushing yards to Peyton's -181.

Wilson had a better touchdown to interception ratio and threw for ~500 more yards, albeit in more games. Remember, bowl game stats didn't start counting until 2002. If you factor for these, Manning surpasses Wilson … but it's close either way.

Finally, throughout their college careers, Wilson and Manning averaged eight yards per pass attempt - 8.1 for Manning, 7.9 for Wilson. Moreover, both quarterbacks finished with an identical 147 quarterback rating – even if, again, Wilson's was augmented greatly by his one Big Ten season (192 rating).

But that's where the comparisons end.

Manning was an elite college player during his time. He finished with a better completion percentage and more passing yards after factoring in his bowl stats.

Wilson led North Carolina State to losing records in 2008 and 2009, during which the Wolf Pack went just 6-10 in conference play. Manning lost only five games as a starter playing in the SEC, and finished with an overall record of 39-6.

Indeed, in conference play, Manning would finish 25-5 (83%). Wilson? 18-15 (55%)

Most importantly, given the difference in age and the changes in college offenses during that time, it's critical to compare each quarterback against their peers.

During his four years Manning would crack the NCAA Top Ten list 23 times in 13 different statistical categories for quarterbacks, including Touchdowns Thrown, Passing Yards and Total Yards per Play. In the same categories, Wilson appeared only 13 times – roughly half as often. This despite his dramatically "wind-aided" Wisconsin year in a top-heavy B1G.

It's not surprising then that Manning finished in the Heisman Voting three times, including his second place finish in 2007. In all, the lowest Manning finished in the balloting was 1996: 81 points (8th place).

In his Wisconsin year, Wilson made his only appearance on the Heisman ballot, finishing with 52 votes and 9th place.

Peyton would be a consensus All-America in 1997, along with claiming the Davey O'Brien, Johnny Unitas and Maxwell trophies, as well as his conference's Player of the Year award.

Wilson failed win match even one of these accolades.

Both players may have finished with similar statistics, but on the whole it was Peyton's career at Tennessee which most college football historians agree was the more impressive of the two.