Florida State is enduring its best football season in 14 years. The Seminoles are undefeated, ACC champions for a second year in a row and have already broke the school-record for victories in a season with 13.
For redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, it has been a year to remember and come Saturday, Winston will likely be awarded the Heisman Trophy. Off the field however, Winston has had to deal with allegations of sexual assault, but learned that he would not be charged just days before the Seminoles played Duke for the ACC Championship.
The report of the allegations was broke by TMZ and surfaced in mid-November as a 9-0 Florida State team was preparing for a contest with Syracuse. The allegations were from the previous December and the case that had been closed since February was re-opened and given to Florida state attorney Willie Meggs.
Fans, media members and Heisman voters alike began to question the character of a young man that appeared to have such a humble, infectious personality. Heisman voters began their scramble for a default winner should the Florida State quarterback be charged with sexual battery which would make him ineligible to play according to university rules.
But while voters sought to give the award elsewhere, Winston’s play remained at a high level while the case for every other candidate fell by the wayside one by one.
In his best passing day since the opener against Pittsburgh, Winston put on a show in the first contest with assault charges hanging over his head. Winston needed to play just a half in a 59-3 victory over Syracuse on November 16th where he completed all but two of his 21 pass attempts for 277 yards and a pair of scores.
The following week it was learned that Winston’s DNA was found on the pants of the accuser that night of December 7th, 2012. Voters’ scramble for another Heisman winner grew more chaotic. Would it be Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel again? How about Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, who already had two national championships under his belt? Ohio State’s Braxton Miller was also leading an undefeated season as was Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch.
On November 23rd, Manziel’s Aggies went into Baton Rogue to face LSU. For the first time in Manziel’s two-year career, the reigning Heisman winner completed below 50 percent of his passes going just 16-for-41 with 224 yards, a touchdown and a pair of interceptions. Texas A&M lost that day 34-10 and Manziel’s Heisman hopes had taken a major hit.
In the final week of the regular season and one week after putting up 80 points on Idaho, Winston overcame a slow start to pass for 327 yards and three touchdowns as Florida State thumped rival Florida 37-7 to complete a perfect regular season and notch the second largest margin of victory ever over its in-state rival. Florida State was undefeated, but so was Alabama until later that evening.
In the annual regular season finale known as the “Iron Bowl”, McCarron played well against rival Auburn. McCarron passed for 277 yards and three touchdowns and sought to lead a last-second field goal drive with the game tied at 28.
After McCarron drove Alabama inside the 40-yard line of Auburn as time had seemingly expired, the Crimson Tide were given one last second — just enough time to try a 57-yard field goal which if good, would win the game. Adam Griffith’s long field goal attempt fell short and was caught by Auburn’s Chris Davis in the end zone. Before long, Davis was in the other end zone and the scoreboard read 34-28 Auburn with all zeros on the clock.
The dream of a third straight national championship was over for Alabama as was McCarron’s dream of becoming the school’s second Heisman Trophy winner in five years.
Just two days before Florida State met Duke for the ACC Championship and less than six hours before FSU boarded a plane for Charlotte, Winston had learned that he would not be charged with sexual assault. While Winston’s name was cleared, his Heisman hopes were not completely.
The next day in Detroit, Jordan Lynch and his 12-0 Northern Illinois Huskies met Bowling Green for the MAC Championship with a perfect season and a second straight BCS appearance on the line. Lynch accounted for 335 total yards and three touchdowns, but was intercepted twice. His defense had no answer for the Falcons as Bowling Green stole the MAC title from Northern Illinois, 47-27. Lynch’s Heisman dreams were as dead as the Huskies’ BCS hopes.
As top-ranked Florida State was getting set to face Duke for the ACC Championship, the second-ranked team in America, Ohio State, was facing Michigan State in Indianapolis for the Big Ten crown. Winston and FSU once again started slow, but when it was all said and done, Winston had passed for 330 yards and accounted for four touchdowns in a 45-7 victory over the Blue Devils. The night for Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes would not end as happily.
Miller ran for a pair of scores and passed for another as Ohio State overcame a 17-0 deficit to score 24 unanswered points. The final 17 however, would belong to the Spartans and Miller would finish the night just 8-for-21 passing in a 34-24 loss to Michigan State. Miller’s slim Heisman hopes were a thing of the past as was the nation’s longest winning streak.
As Winston arrives in New York City for the Heisman Trophy Ceremony on Saturday, he will come as the sure favorite. While others were placed in the Heisman spotlight, their dreams of winning the most coveted individual award in college football went down often with their teams’ dreams of national championships, BCS appearances and perfect seasons.
Despite dealing with off-the-field turmoil, Winston remained unfazed on the gridiron. Winston passed for more than 3,800 yards and accounted for 42 total touchdowns in 2013. Winston led the country in passer rating and yards-per-attempt while finishing second in touchdown passes and leading the country’s only undefeated team.
Barring a surprise, Winston will join Florida State quarterbacks Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke before him as winners of the Heisman Trophy. On January 6th, Winston will have an even greater challenge ahead of him that was accomplished by both Ward and Weinke — winning a national championship.
While just a redshirt freshman, Winston showed great poise and an ability to overcome adversity while allegations of sexual assault threatened his future beyond just the football field. While the freshman from Alabama has come to be known as “Famous Jameis”, he may take on a new nickname following Saturday night as he leads the Seminoles against Auburn in the BCS title game and gets set for big expectations in his upcoming sophomore season.
“Famous Jameis” may be just days away from becoming “Jameis Heisman”.