The smiley-faced, birthday kid, the Heisman trophy winner and the one with the nickname “Famous Jameis,” was kissing the championship trophy Monday night. He smiled, pounded his heart, grabbed the hardware, tried a few poses for photos and hoisted the ultimate birthday gift.
This was amazing, we now know, as the memories of the Bowl Championship Series era in college football came to an end. By the time this night was over, No. 1 Florida State beat Auburn 34-31 in the national championship game and ended the Southeastern Conference’s seven-year run of national championships. The road to this remarkable finish came down to the biggest comeback in the history of the BCS Championship and a title-clinching pass with 13 seconds left. The fans roared at the Rose Bowl, of course, trying to fire up the 20-year-old quarterback and the Seminoles.
Winston, who came alive at the right time, led the Seminoles on an 80-yard, game-winning touchdown drive with just 1:18 left in the game. The range of emotion inside the Rose Bowl was electric when the Seminoles piled up 14 points in the fourth quarter, which was capped by Winston’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin. So Florida State won the game, beginning a new era to Seminoles football, maybe? Let’s say Winston opts to stay in school, my guess after an FSU team rallied past Auburn is that it can make a run for another national title.
This season saw no better story than that of an underdog fighting against the odds to stun America. For a moment there, it looked as if Auburn was minutes away from being crowned winners, following a 22-yard field goal by Cody Parkey with 4:42 remaining for a 20-24 lead. For a moment there, the Tigers looked hungrier and more engaged, and as it turned out, they jumped out to a 21-3 lead. It was quite clear that FSU was by far the more talented team.
With the game nearly slipping away, the Seminoles were not as advertised, and for the first time this season surprisingly, Winston played like a confused freshman who was just inserted in the game without having a chance to decipher the offense. That’s especially true, when he had a horrid night at best and underachieved at the quarterback position with a heavy burden on his shoulder. He had completed only 11 of 24 passes, and had been sacked four times, and had accounted for a fumble after three quarters. It was, essentially, against an Auburn team that ranked 89th in the country in yards allowed per game and 104th in pass defense.
Without a doubt, FSU looked sort of lost and had that jittery feeling for much of the first half. Winston, for a while there, looked uncharacteristically shaky with missed throws and a lost fumble, but as the game progressed, he was more confident, more comfortable and unnerved. At that point, it was a whole new ballgame, and for the Seminoles, it was one of those dream-come-true moments that brought tremendous joy.
In a dramatic final few minutes, it was late-game theatrics between these two teams that brought the folks to their feet. As a way to get back in the thick of things, FSU’s Kermit Whitfield shifted momentum in the game when he returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to give the Seminoles a 27-24 advantage with 4:31 left. The Tigers, however, retook the lead at 31-27 with Tre Mason breaking for a 37-yard touchdown run. But by virtue of Winston’s resilience, Florida State claimed its first national title since 1999.
It was football at its best, and at the end when it all came down to who wanted it badly Winston came to life. From my perspective, I believe this topped all of the instant classic games in the past. The game stretched over three dramatic hours, and Winston turned in one of the most remarkable performances at the most historic setting in college football. He is, as a redshirt freshman, the nation’s top-rated passer who helped the Seminoles to the promised land. And perhaps one day he will become an NFL star, mainly because of his otherworldly talent, along with his humility, intelligence, maturity and grace.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this game, it’s that Winston — at least statistically — is the best quarterback in Florida State history. And best of all for Florida State, he’s a winner — that’s all that matters. The world knows now that he’s the best player in college football, and maybe he’ll likely be the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL draft. Winston, as you probably know, is multi-athletic and plays on the Florida State baseball team.
He truly loves the sport, and the Texas Rangers organization has developed a relationship with Winston, after selecting him in the 15th round in the 2012 draft out of Hueytown, Ala. It’s only a matter of time before he makes his decision on a sport, but from what we’ve seen, he’s an eventual NFL star that has the intangibles and leadership qualities of a quarterback. Or maybe he’s the next Bo Jackson? Hmmm. Winston, for sure, the biggest name in college football, is well coached in a program where head coach Jimbo Fisher has set a standard for the way FSU wants to play football.
This might be the start of strong new era for the FSU program with Winston and Fisher in the mix. The Seminoles aren’t backing down. They are just getting started.