Imagine this night through the eyes of a 19-year-old. Imagine the swirling colors. Imagine the relentless noise.
Imagine the sensory overload.
This can be overwhelming stuff for a teenager, all right. There is smoke hovering in the air, and the replay screen flickers like a strobe light, and there is enough orange in the stadium to blind an onlooker. The cameras are pointed at him, and the headlines suggest this is the biggest ACC game in a decade, if not ever, and the home team comes charging down the hill and past Howard’s Rock as if it is something to behold.
As for Jameis Winston?
He seems to think he’s going to the bowling alley to hang out with the guys.
This was the sixth college football game in the life of Winston. And what else do you have? This was a Top 5 matchup, one that Florida State has lost in recent years. And what’s the big deal? This was one of those stadiums where the air gets thin for freshmen and the eyes get wide. For Winston, however, it was just another back yard to play in.
Did people really wonder if this night was going to be too big for Winston? Did they really think he would freeze up and finally play like a redshirt freshman? Haven’t they caught on yet?
In the end, Winston was wonderful again and No. 5 FSU trampled the third-ranked Tigers 51-14. By the third quarter, all that was left to argue was just how high you rank Winston — already — on the list of the best quarterbacks who have ever played for Florida State. Is he third? Is he second? For crying out loud, could he already be first?
Yes, the kid is good enough to enter the debate. If there had been any doubt about the soft competition, this should dispel it. If there was any question whether he could stand up to the pressure of a big game, this should answer that.
These days, when fans talk about the Winston 500, they might not be talking about a car race. If FSU ever turns him loose, you might be talking about his passing yards.
This time, he ended up throwing for a career-high 444 yards. It was the fourth time in six games he had thrown for more than 300. He threw for three touchdowns. He ran for another. Just a hunch, but no one should expect Clemson to be ranked third this week.
You know how long it took to figure out that Winston was going to be all right on Saturday night? One throw. Just one.
It came on the Seminoles’ third play. Winston threw to the right corner, a pass just precise enough that only Kelvin Benjamin could catch it. And he did, for a 22-yard touchdown. As quickly as that, FSU was off and running.
Remember, this was supposed to be a battle between Winston and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd? Boyd never had a chance. The senior finished with 156 yards, roughly a third of Winston’s total.
There are those who suggest that Winston is the perfect quarterback for FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, who can be wound a little tight. Winston, with his grin, with his boyish sense of fun, might turn out to be a perfect foil.
Six games into his career, it is easy to wonder just what FSU has in Famous Jameis. Yeah, yeah, he is just starting his career. Counting bowl games and ACC title games, Winston might play in 50-something games before he’s done. He’s at six now.
But at the other end, how good can Winston be? Even Bobby Bowden suggested last week that he might be as good as FSU has had at quarterback.
Ah, but let’s not suffer from short memories. Charlie Ward was a terrific college quarterback. He won a Heisman and a national title. Chris Weinke wasn’t the same athlete Ward was, but he also won a Heisman and a national title. Casey Weldon finished second in the Heisman voting. Danny Kanell was a fine quarterback as was Peter Tom Willis. EJ Manuel was a first-round pick. So was Christian Ponder.
But did any of them have the size, the skills, the flair that Winston has?
And if you can’t say that Winston is among the most dynamic quarterbacks that FSU has had yet, how long do you think it will before you can?
He had a 93-yard completion. He had a 72-yard touchdown pass. He converted a second and 30.
That’s the thing about Winston. He makes plays. He has a fine arm, and he has good feet, and he has the poise of a 30-year-old. But it is his impact on the game, the way he takes over at the tough times, that separate Winston.
Look, other young quarterbacks have played well for FSU, too. Drew Weatherford started 5-0. Chris Rix had good numbers at the outset, too. Neither of them had staying power.
Winston? He has the look of a guy who plans to be good for a very, very long time.
On a night like this, it looks like it’s going to be some kind of a ride.
Winston delivers for FSU against Clemson