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Take 2: Will Winston be better in 2014?

3/5/2014

Florida State opens spring practice in just two weeks, and there are plenty of big questions waiting to be answered. Before Jimbo Fisher gets his chance to weigh in on those discussions, however, we’re taking a crack at finding the answers.

First up: Can Jameis Winston manage to eclipse last year’s Heisman Trophy-winning numbers in his second season as Florida State’s starter?

Jared Shanker says 2014 will be an even bigger year for Winston.

JS: There are certainly several different approaches to how you quantify whether 2014 will be a bigger year for Winston. He scaled college football’s toughest peaks in 2013. In just 19 weeks he went from a relative unknown outside of recruiting circles to becoming arguably the face of college football thanks to an unrivaled arm and charming smile. Undoubtedly it will be tough to top everything he did last season: records, a Heisman and a national championship.

But if we are strictly talking about the numbers Winston will accumulate in his second season as the starter, I believe 2014 will be a better season.

A season ago, Winston threw for more than 4,000 yards and tossed 40 touchdowns, but even those numbers fail to accurately portray his 2013 campaign. Florida State dominated nearly every one of its opponents, leading to Fisher pulling Winston in the second half and putting a cap on Winston’s yards and touchdowns. Backup quarterbacks Jacob Coker (seven games) and Sean Maguire (eight) appeared in at least half of FSU’s games.

Gone are running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., which could force Fisher to keep the ball in Winston’s hands at least through the early portion of 2014. And two of the Seminoles’ first three opponents are Oklahoma State and Clemson, which both finished in the top 15 in scoring last season. Those games quickly could turn to shootouts, and remaining on the schedule in the second half of the season is Notre Dame, a Louisville team now led by top offensive mind Bobby Petrino, Miami and Florida.

While Winston will not have as many elite weapons around him, one of the country’s best offensive lines will stand guard as Winston drops back and surveys the field. There might not be a single program outside of Alabama that has recruited better than Florida State the last four cycles, too, so there are bound to be a few names to emerge at receiver and running back.

It would be unfair for Winston to have to duplicate everything he did from a season ago in order to have a bigger year. Only Archie Griffin has won the Heisman Trophy twice, but he wasn’t coming off a national championship when he went to repeat in 1975.

David Hale says life will get a bit tougher for Winston this time around.

DH: In his first season as Florida State’s starter, Winston set school and ACC records for passing, became one of college football’s most recognizable stars, endured a massive off-field controversy, won a Heisman trophy and led his team to a national championship that included a final-minute touchdown drive for the victory.

So, really, how much more can he do in 2014?

There’s no question Winston is as talented a quarterback as college football has seen in recent years, but the standard he set last season is an awfully high one. It would be nearly impossible for any player to duplicate -- let alone, improve upon -- those numbers, particularly with an even bigger spotlight on him from Day 1. In the past 10 years, four Heisman Trophy QBs returned the next season, and none accounted for more TDs the following year. Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel all had impressive enough second acts, but none managed to repeat their Heisman victories.

But more than the struggle to build upon greatness, Winston will be working with far different weapons in 2014. As a redshirt freshman, he was buoyed by Freeman, Wilder, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw. All are gone this season, meaning a supporting cast that might not be quite as reliable as what Winston worked with in 2013. Yes, Rashad Greene brings some veteran savvy to the receiving corps, but the rest of the group is young and unproven.

Add in a far tougher schedule than last season, and it figures to be a bit more rocky a road in 2014 than it was in 2013 for Winston. Of course, he’s made a habit of proving critics wrong, and with a year of experience now under his belt, it’s probably silly to start putting any limits on what Winston might accomplish.