Over 13 games, Jameis Winston proved himself the best player in college football. The Florida State quarterback proved a redshirt freshman could win the Heisman Trophy while leading his team to an undefeated season, a No. 1 ranking and a place in the BCS National Championship. He proved he could maintain his focus down the home stretch as the nation speculated for a month on whether he might be a felon.
HE IS IN FACT, HUMAN
On Monday night, playing No. 2 Auburn at the Rose Bowl, Winston proved something else entirely. He proved he is human, that he can be thrown off his rhythm, that he can telegraph his passes, that he can play a half looking like the first-year player that the roster says he is.
For more than two hours on Monday night, the Heisman winner looked worse than ever; he gave FSU supporters an ulcer with more incomplete passes than McDonald’s pumps out hamburgers. He was a mess for darn well near two halves of the biggest game of his career.
Winston proved he can do all of that and still lead his team to victory in the biggest game of his young life. With Florida State trailing Auburn 31-27 and only 1:19 showing on the clock, Winston took the Seminoles 80 yards in seven plays, and threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Benjamin with 13 seconds to spare, the winning margin in a 34-31 victory that sent the BCS out with a flourish.
Winston turned 20 years old that night.
UP AND DOWN
“It’s the best football game he played all year,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said, “and I’ll tell you why: Because for three quarters he was up and down, and he fought. And just like any great player, some nights you don’t have it. When you can go back like the great ones do — ‘It’s not my night, but we’ve got a chance to win this ballgame. It’s in the fourth quarter, I’ve got one or two touches left’ — and you can take your team down the field and lead to victory, that’s what a great player is to me.
Before the final drive, Winston had gone 14-for-28 for 160 yards and a touchdown. On the final drive, Winston went 6-for-7 for 77 yards.
LIKE THE GREATS
“I wanted to be in that situation because that’s what great quarterbacks do,” Winston said. “That’s what the Tom Bradys, Peyton Mannings, Drew Breeses, the Cam Newtons, that’s what they do. Any quarterback can go out there and perform when they’re up 50-0 in the second quarter.”
Winston led the Seminoles to a field goal on their opening possession. On their next five possessions, Winston led the Seminoles to four three-and-outs and a turnover. Credit the pressure the Auburn defensive front put on Winston. Credit dropped passes. And that turnover, Winston pulled the ball down to run and forgot to tuck it away. Auburn recovered his fumble on the Florida State 27 and converted it into the touchdown that gave the Tigers a 21-3 lead.
In the first half, Winston said, “I was so outcome-oriented. I was like, ‘Man, I’m trying to blow those boys out.’ I had to remember, ‘Hey, I’ve got to respect the game. I’ve got teammates around me. I’ve got a team for a reason, so I can’t go out there and do stuff by myself.'”
‘I ALREADY MESSED UP’
With the Seminoles playing like a Wall Street bubble about to burst, Winston led his team back into the game. The fumble, he said, settled him down.
“I was like, ‘There’s nothing to lose now,'” Winston said. “I already messed up.”
With the help of a fake punt that kept the drive alive, Winston drove the Seminoles for their first touchdown late in the half. Fisher called shorter passes, trying to find a rhythm for his quarterback and his offense.
“He stayed poised throughout the game,” said Chris Weinke, another Florida State quarterback who won a national championship (1999) and a Heisman (2000). “Things didn’t go their way. They adapted. … At halftime, Jimbo said, ‘Stick to the plan. It’s not about emotion. It’s not about the outcome. Stick to the plan.’ It’s not always about taking a shot down the field. Get patience. Complete balls. Move the chains.”
Following the 1998 season, Florida State suited up for the inaugural BCS title game and sustained a 23-16 loss to Tennessee. The Seminoles appeared in the next two championships, besting Virginia Tech for the 1999 title and losing the 2000 crown to Oklahoma,
Florida State won its first national title since 1999.
Here is a final list of the BCS winners going back to the year before FSU won their last national title (1998):
2013- FSU over Auburn
2012-Alabama over Notre Dame
2011-Alabama over LSU
2010-Auburn over Oregon
2009-Alabama over Texas
2008-Florida over Oklahoma
2007-LSU over Ohio State
2006-Florida over Ohio State
2005-Texas over USC
2004-USC over Oklahoma
2003-LSU over Oklahoma
2002-Ohio State over Miami FL
2001-Miami FL over Nebraska
2000-Oklahoma over Florida State University
1999-Florida State University over Virginia Tech
1998-Tennessee Volunteers over Florida State University