As the college football regular season nears its completion, one team’s resume, playoff candidacy, and general existence is far and away the most polarizing and lightning rod-esque in the nation; the Florida State Seminoles. Although quarterback Jameis Winston has managed to stay out of any negative headlines in recent weeks, his two season tenure in Tallahassee has been defined by two things:drama and on-field success.
The Florida State defenders, and there don’t seem to be many of them outside of the Florida panhandle, state that an undefeated Florida State’s inclusion in the first ever four-team college football playoff is a no brainer. They are the defending champs, after all, and until knocked from their perch, the defending champ should have the opportunity to defend. But due to a grossly weak ACC, their schedule is the least impressive of all contenders, with the closest things to “quality wins” being home squeak outs over Clemson and Notre Dame and road wins at Louisville and the U, Those teams are respectively ranked 22th, Not Ranked, 24th, and Not Ranked in the most recent selection committee rankings. A football data analyst that I read, Massey-Peabody, has the Seminoles ranked 16th, reasoning that without their lofty preseason ranking, there is nothing about FSU’s 2014 performance that would have them worthy of a top four spot.
But I’ve buried the lede enough – this post was supposed to be about the enigmatic quarterback. And I am here to declare that I’ve done a complete about-face on Jameis Winston. Last year I HATED the guy. He was so pompous, so cocky, such an awful combination of Ray Lewis and Lebron James on the podium while accepting the National Championship trophy. Just the definition of hateable. He must have done an obnoxious offseason interview that I watched, as a quick search of my Twitter timeline has me stating on August 4th, “wow I really look forward to hating Jameis Winston for the next fifteen years.” Hate hate hate. I still hated him as recently as the Notre Dame game on October 18th; it takes a pretty special circumstance for me to root for the Fighting Irish.
I think it changed during FSU’s Thursday night road trip to Louisville in late October, three games ago. All week, the “wiseguys” were touting this spot as where the Seminoles undefeated streak ended, and the betting line came all the way down to FSU -3. Those wiseguys looked wicked smaht as the Cardinals led 21-0, Winston was throwing picks, and the stadium was rocking. The end of the line looked unavoidable for a team that likely couldn’t afford a loss on their resume. I’m not kidding you when I say that I just realized in real-time, mid paragraph, when my opinion of Winston changed. Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OcvNHEzfC8 . The first play of the second half, down 21-7, Winston throws his third interception of the game, putting Louisville in prime position to regain a three-score lead. But as the interceptor fights for yardage, who comes flying in at the last second to knock the ball loose but the Heisman Trophy winner. In hindsight, it’s got to be one of the most important plays of the college football season, although that’s surely an overly dramatic statement. Florida State went on to win 42-31, rolling up 374 second half yards as they silenced the hostile road crowd. Winston threw for over 400 yards and three touchdowns to go with his three picks, and the team moved to 8-0. But back to that play – how many established, star quarterbacks stick their nose in the middle and make that play? I don’t think many.
Last week, the script was the same. FSU was only a 2 point favorite as they went into a night game against rival Miami. Although I didn’t watch the game, I was refreshing my phone often enough to know that Miami led 16-0 and 23-7. Again it looked like Florida State had finally met its maker. But again, the team came all the way back and won it 30-26.
There is something beautiful about watching a team and a player continue to win while almost an entire country is rooting for them to lose. One thing I have not mentioned is the sexual assault allegations against Winston. From what I’ve read on the case, he is guilty as sin, and the city of Tallahassee is being governed in a state of institutional chaos that chooses to simply bend the laws for its star “student”-athletes. It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, but that’s not the part of the Winston story that I have changed my stance on.
What I’ve changed my mind on is who he is on the field. What I see is a guy that no matter what is happening around him, he remains pretty damn even-keeled for a 20 year old. I see someone who, when the bullets are flying, both on the field and in the legal system, doesn’t lose his focus and simply consistently makes the plays needed to win. And even though he seems to be a total moron, he’s a guy that I don’t think I would hate being drafted by the Rams. If someone can help him mature out of the moron-ness, which I think is possible, Jameis Winston the football player could be an elite pro.
So there is my ode to Jameis. My newfound appreciation to the king of the morons. Do I think they’ll repeat as champions? No I really don’t. I think they aren’t as talented as last season, and someone will truck them if they get into the playoffs. But would it surprise me if I was wrong? Not at all. Nothing would surprise me at this point, and a title defense would be the stuff of legend.