Last year Florida State's Jameis Winston was the youngest-ever player to win the Heisman Trophy. Can he be the second to repeat? He is listed as the +400 favorite on NCAA football odds.
Best Season Ever For Freshman QB
It seems laughable now, but Winston wasn't even assured of being Florida State's starting quarterback last season, even though he was a touted five-star recruit. He had to beat out Jacob Coker, who has since transferred to Alabama, and might start there this year as A.J. McCarron's replacement.
Winston was brilliant from the opening game at Pittsburgh, a 41-13 Seminoles win that showed just how good this team was. Winston was a sick 25 of 27 for 356 yards, four touchdowns and an incredible 252.2 rating. Winston led the Seminoles to one of the most dominating regular seasons in college football history, and the ACC championship. He became the first freshman to win the ACC Player of the Year Award, also earning ACC Offensive Player of the Year, ACC Rookie of the Year, and ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, as well. He was the second straight freshman to win the Heisman, and the voting wasn't close. It would have been an even larger margin had Winston not been accused of sexual assault. Winston was left off 115 of the 900 ballots entirely because of that accusation, of which he was never charged.
FSU was a big favorite in the BCS national championship game over Auburn. Winston and the Noles started slowly, but he led a big second-half rally capped by a seven-play, 80-yard drive (which started with only 1:11 remaining) that ended on a 2-yard TD pass to Kelvin Benjamin for the epic victory. Winston was named the game's Offensive MVP. He finished the season leading the nation with a 184.8 rating, an ACC record. He also set national freshman records for touchdown passes (40) and passing yards (4,057). Those numbers would have been even bigger, but he played only 62 percent of FSU's second-half snaps, because the Noles were beating up on teams in the regular season.
Looking Ahead To 2014
Florida State is the preseason national championship favorite at +520 at sportsbooks. Whereas no one repeats in college basketball these days, Alabama has shown it's not too impossible in college football. It's hard to imagine FSU not in the new four-team College Football Playoff, because FSU will be favored in every regular-season game. The Noles are -310 to make the playoff and +230 to miss out.
The Seminoles are projected to return seven starters on offense -- four linemen -- and six on defense. They did lose two solid receivers in Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, as well as running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder. The schedule does look more challenging this season. The Noles had Nevada, Bethune-Cookman, Idaho and a really down Florida on the non-conference schedule in 2013. This season it's Oklahoma State at AT&T Stadium in the opener, the Citadel, Notre Dame (still technically non-conference) and Florida. Okie State was a very good team last year, but returns just nine starters, among the fewest in all of college football. More good news is the Irish, Gators and Clemson all visit Tallahassee. Florida should be better, but still might have quarterback issues. Clemson has to replace Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. The biggest challenges should come at NC State (Sept. 27), at new ACC member Louisville (Oct. 30), which might be rebuilding after losing Teddy Bridgewater, Coach Charlie Strong and others, and at Miami (Nov. 15). Then, perhaps Miami, Virginia Tech or North Carolina in the ACC title game. FSU is -300 to win the ACC championship again at sportsbooks.
Free NCAA Football picks: It's just about impossible for Winston to match last year's numbers -- they were that good. Think of how much Tim Tebow had to live up to after the Heisman, and he was beloved by the media. Winston isn't because he keeps running into off-field problems: crab legs anyone? Winston has a good shot at getting a second trip to New York as a Heisman finalist, but he, and the Noles, will learn what it's like to be the hunted.