CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Players
Who were the top 20 players since CFN started in 1998? No. 6 Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
CFN Era Top 20 Players: No. 6 Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, so we’re looking back on the greatest players, games, coaches and more since we first kicked things off back in 1998.
For the Top 20 Players since CFN started, the rules are simple. Who made the biggest impact, who were the most important, and who were ones who generated the most buzz – for good and bad?
This isn’t necessarily a list of the most talented players – that’s what the NFL Draft is for. Who were the defining players of the last 20 years?
Also, nothing before 1998 counts.
Jameis Winston, QB Florida State (2012-2014)
Jameis Winston’s Florida State career was never, ever boring.
Coming off the Cam Newton controversy of 2010, and then the Johnny Manziel era, college football had dealt with its superstar quarterbacks as part of the national sports discussion for more than just their stellar play on the field.
Enter Winston, who sat behind E.J. Manuel in a redshirt freshman season of 2012, and then took over and dominated the landscape in a special career at a school good at cranking out special career-caliber quarterbacks.
One of the top prospects in the country in a relatively week 2012 QB recruiting class, there was Gunner Kiel going to Notre Dame – at least to start – and there was Winston, who had the skills to be special, but hadn’t quite filled out his skinny 6-4 frame.
Fortunately, he went though an almost-perfect learning period. Manuel would become the first quarterback taken in the 2013 NFL Draft, but the buzz during the 2012 season was growing louder and louder about what Winston was doing in practices.
Manuel might have been good enough to lead Florida State to the 2012 ACC Championship and an Orange Bowl win, but something special was on the way.
And it all came together in 2013.
Florida State was loaded.
The 2013 team had 18 players taken in the next two NFL drafts including eight that would go in the top 50.
Years of phenomenal recruiting had made the defensive line a rotating factory of talent, the running back situation special, and with jaw-dropping athleticism and skill at just about every position.
Everything was in place to go on a potential national title run – except a veteran quarterback.
And that was the one big question mark coming into the season.
“Famous Jameis” put on a show in spring ball, and he looked like he was about to turn into something special, but the Seminoles had to go to Clemson and Florida, and it had to deal with an improved Miami as part of a decent ACC slate.
The 2012 team was phenomenal, too, but two misses kept it out of the national title picture. In 2013, there couldn’t be any mistakes.
Sept. 2, 2013 vs. Pitt
The opening weekend of college football was almost over, and the NFL was a week away from kicking off. All that was left was a nationally televised Monday night game for the football-starved world to focus on.
Florida State travelled to deal with a road game against a decent Pitt team with just enough talent to make it a battle, especially if the newbie quarterback melted down and couldn’t get the job done.
Instead, if it’s possible to win the Heisman on September 2nd, Jameis did it.
Again, with the sports world watching, Winston came up with one of the all-time greatest debut performances, completing 25-of-27 passes for 356 yards and four scores, and running eight times for 25 yards and a touchdown in the 41-13 win.
Quarterback concerns? Problem solved.
The Dominant Run
Florida State had to barely break a sweat during the 2013 regular season.
It wasn’t just winning, it was killing teams at a whole other level.
How ugly did it get? The Seminoles beat Boston College 48-34. Over the first 13 games, that was the only time anyone scored more than 17 points – and NC State was the only other team to score more than 14 – and that was the only time anyone got within 14 points.
No, really, how ugly did it get? Over those first 13 games, FSU rolled through the schedule, ripped through Florida, and destroyed Duke in the ACC title game by an average score of 53-11.
But as good as everything was on the field, suddenly, there was an ugly cloud off of it – Winston was included in allegations of rape and sexual assault of a fellow student.
While he was never charged with any crime, the situation wouldn’t go away with problems with the process and the handling of the case becoming a part of the season’s narrative.
Winston eventually settled out of court a few years later, and he didn’t miss any time during the season, but it took the focus off a great team and an amazing season.
Even with the controversy not going away, it didn’t make a lick of difference in the Heisman voting.
The Heisman chase became the Jameis Winston Invitational, as he finished up the season completing 67% of his passes for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns with ten interceptions, and running for 219 yards and four scores to earn a landslide victory over Alabama’s A.J. McCarron.
All that was left was to win the final game in the BCS era.
2014 BCS Championship
Jameis wasn’t having his best game.
He struggled against the Auburn pressure, missed on too many easy throws, and struggled to get the offense moving as the Seminoles got down 21-3.
But slowly, FSU fought its way back early in the fourth to pull within one on Winston’s first touchdown pass of the game.
After the two teams traded scoring punches in a late flurry, Winston and FSU had one last shot.
Down 31-27 with just over a minute to play and 80 yards to go, it was all on Winston to pull out a championship.
Seven plays and a two-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin later, Winston did it. He didn’t have a great game, but when he needed to, he marched Florida State to a national title.
While Winston was growing into an elite NFL prospect and a possible No. 1 overall draft pick, there was a major question about his maturity.
While he was a smart student, a peerless leader, and had the personality to make a franchise all his, but in the offseason before his sophomore season, he was cited for shoplifting after allegedly stealing crab legs from a store.
He claimed they were given to him, and he walked out without paying, but it was yet another problem Winston and the FSU program had to deal with.
Crabgate blew over and nothing was coming from the rape allegations, but head coach Jimbo Fisher still wanted his star to take on even more of a leadership role.
But just before the ACC opener against a strong Clemson team, Winston got in hot water after jumping on a table in the FSU student union and yelled sexually explicit phrases, imitating a viral video.
Fisher had enough, suspending Winston for the game against the Tigers. Winston was on the sidelines for the 23-17 FSU win, and the rest of the season went on.
Partly because of Winston’s issues, the encore to the magical 2013 run was a grind.
Florida State wasn’t nearly as good, and Winston struggled way too much, forcing too many throws and pressing too hard in game after game. He finished with 15 fewer touchdown passes and eight more interceptions than his freshman campaign, but the team kept finding ways to win.
The Seminoles were 13-0, won a third straight ACC title, was the only unbeaten team going into the inaugural College Football Playoff, and went back to Pasadena with another shot at a national championship. The team pressed on.
And then Oregon happened.
The great 27-game winning streak in the Winston era came to a screeching halt, as the Ducks were far too explosive on both sides the ball in a breathtaking 59-20 win. Winston threw for 348 yards and a touchdown with a pick. Under pressure all game long, he was never comfortable.
Just like that the Winston era was over.
Winston won every major offensive award and was everyone’s All-American in 2013, taking home the Davey O’Brien and the Walter Camp along with the Heisman.
It was Marcus Mariota’s 2014 season as the nation’s top quarterback, but Winston again was a First Team All-ACC quarterback and finished sixth in the Heisman voting.
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo Credit: Florida State Athletics