Hand him the ...

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Brendan Bures | NCAA.com | October 28, 2014

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Hand Him The... Florida State's Jameis Winston

Each week of the college football season NCAA.com will take a look at the most impressive individual performances. Some weeks it may be one player who stands head and shoulders above everyone else. This week, Florida State's Jameis Winston re-establishes himself as a contender in the Heisman race.

How does anyone write anything about Jameis Winston with objectivity, without context and in a way that doesn’t seem biased one way or the other? At this point, words regarding Winston are as preemptively rejected as they are accepted. Everyone (kind of) has their minds made up.

  Winston has a 20-0 record as a starter.
He’s entered that rarefied zone of a college football athlete, like a Bo Jackson or Jim McMahon or Johnny Manziel, where his actions and feats hardly surprise anyone. Reality and fiction have blurred so that Winston is more character than he is person.

But if we’re trying to qualify Jameis Winston as a quarterback, here’s the factual evidence: He has never lost a college football game. That undefeated stat (20 consecutive wins) isn’t the only one that matters, but it might as well be. Too often we slap labels like Winner and Gamer and Champion to guys who don’t earn it. Winston does.

He has a tendency to overextend himself, believe he’s too elite of a quarterback and indeed can fit that throw there, or scramble away from a sack or overall just “make a play.” Winston, after all, is a showman; he’s willing to risk it almost always. It can lead to those numerous Heisman moments that happened each game last year, but his co-conspirators Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Devonta Freeman have departed. Understanding and connecting with Winston’s freestyle rhythms require experience with the overall system, which FSU doesn’t have outside of Rashad Greene who has 791 receiving yards already this season. Jesus Wilson, next on the list, only has 307 yards.

And so Winston hasn’t been as dazzling this season as he was previously. Gone too is any consistency of a run game. Florida State’s ranked 106th out of 128 FBS teams for rush yards per game 87th for rush average. Comparatively, FSU was ranked 28th and 10th in those categories last year. As much “talent” as the Seminoles may have on their roster currently, it’s all young and not ready to contribute. And this is to say nothing of the defense, which doesn’t need numbers to know of their regression.

Meanwhile, as everything around him falls and he’s asked to do more, Winston has improved this season quite a bit. Here’s a comparison between this season and last:

2014 149-211 70.6 1,878 313.0 8.9 35.2 13 6
2013 257-284 66.9 4,057 289.8 10.6 27.4 40 10

All things considered, it’s damn impressive Winston’s throwing more times per game at a more efficient rate while racking up more yards per game this season. He’s down in yards per attempt and his touchdown-interception ratio has declined, but that goes back to Winston trying to do too much.

Despite the mistakes he’s made, he’s found ways to erase them. Saturday’s game against Notre Dame was a microcosm for Winston’s frustrating genius. He played poorly throughout the first half, throwing an awful pick and looking out-of-sync with the offense. His second half: Three 70-yard-plus touchdown drives out of the offense four meaningful possessions, 15-of-16 passing, a touchdown and no picks. It was reminiscent of his second-half performance against Auburn in the national title game.

He has a sixth gear most quarterbacks -- most athletes, even -- don’t. When his teams need him most, when failure is forthcoming, he drops the childish act, the egoistic desire to create the big moment, and plays his best. Winston removes himself as variable from the process, instead becoming a constant force of efficiency.

What’s never mentioned enough about Winston (and there’s an outside reason for this) is how smart he can be. No college quarterback rivals Winston’s cerebral play; he understands defensive schemes and offensive playbooks so well, his intellect has internalized into instinct. This is what happens when a 12-year-old child memorizes coverage schemes and takes note on how best to beat each one, as Winston did.

He’s a top-three pure quarterback in the nation (you decide between him, Everett Golson and Marcus Mariota), but more vital to his team’s success than almost any player in the nation. Without Winston, Florida State would be a three-loss team by now. What Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott is doing remains more impressive and it’s still his Heisman to lose, but Winston should very much be a character included in this season’s Heisman story. Just because we’ve seen him do this before and he no longer surprises us doesn’t mean Winston’s play on the field has diminished or tarnished one bit. If football and winning is all that matters, he’d still be the talk of the town.

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