As the Florida State Seminoles prepare for a
season-defining contest on the road against their Atlantic Coast Conference rival Clemson Tigers on Oct. 19, it's useful to consider how, in just a few short games, the 'Noles team has incontrovertibly staked its claim to being the best college football team in the state — if not the country.
For evidence of the Seminoles' superiority, one need only look back to their last game — a 63-0 drubbing of the previously ranked Maryland Terrapins. As absurd as it may sound, that contest was not as close as the score indicated as, even with second-teamers playing the second half, it was clear Maryland had given up — the game should have been called under some sort of mercy rule provision.
Whenever a sports program experiences a renaissance, there are many reasons why. One of them has to be Jimbo Fisher taking the reins from Bobby Bowden — a great coach in his day, which unfortunately ended late in the 20th century. The Bowden of the 21st century was clearly a caretaker, the equivalent of those ancient Soviet leaders of the early 1980s or Pope Benedict — more for show than for go. His teams had amazing talent, but relatively speaking, they underperformed compared to what they could have done.
When Fisher officially became head coach, it took a little time for his rebuilding to bear fruit. This year, it finally has. Loads of talent on FSU's roster, not least of which is the freshman quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate, "famous" Jameis Winston. He's kicking butt, taking names and enjoying every moment of it, if his comments after the Maryland massacre are any indication.
"It felt like a little league football game out there," Winston said. "It was 12 o'clock, the sun was out. I don't think I saw a cloud in the sky. It was a beautiful day."
Sports fans can forgive Winston's reference to "little league football" as opposed to Pop Warner; he pitched 17 games with a 3.00 ERA and 21 strikeouts for Florida State's baseball team in the spring. That was after the Texas Rangers drafted him in 15th round in 2012.
On the football field, rankings this early tend to be laughably soft, and Maryland hasn't been much of a powerhouse recently. However, when a team is ranked, even at No. 25, the assumption is that they'll put up a fight. That assumption was wrong. Winston smoked the Terrapins at every turn, up until the second half, when he took a smoke break and watched his understudies accelerate the demolition.
It was fun stuff to watch, burnishing the Winston legend. The defense did its part, too, of course, obliterating memories of the sloppy shootout in Chestnut Hill against Boston College. But no one is really talking about defense. Not when we have the rock star magnetism of Winston to consider. In Winston, we definitely see talent that brings to mind phrases like "once in a generation." And we see comparisons to other larger-than-life quarterbacks, such as Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow.
To be sure, there are similarities to the Manziel arc. Little did we here in Florida know, at the start of last season, just how good Manziel would be: a lights-out player whom people, even then, imagined as the savior for an NFL franchise lucky enough to draft him.
In terms of talent, Manziel has it all. Attitude off the field? A different matter. His drunken escapades in the last off-season are legend. Will they hurt him in the end? I doubt it. Even if moralizing sports writers fail to acknowledge it, kids are kids and they get into things.
Well, maybe one kid didn't — the aforementioned Tebow. There are similarities between the arcs of Tebow and Winston also, though Tebow didn't get the keys to the kingdom until Chris Leak left Gainesville. Winston already seems to have better fundamentals than Tebow has even now. But Tebow, above all, has been the rock star quarterback of college football this century.
Until now, that is.
Winston is going to be the guy kids pretend to be when they play backyard football. That's a fact — there's always one, and his time in Tallahassee will confer benefits on the Florida State program, such as improved recruiting, for years to come. Watch and see: Winston is going to be the key to Fisher's legend. And we're the lucky ones; we get to watch.