- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Florida State was and still is the No. 1 team in the country, just one game away from playing for a national title. It still has arguably the best combination of offense and defense in college football. And the Seminoles still have the leading candidate to win the Heisman Trophy as they prepare to face Duke in Saturday’s Dr Pepper ACC Championship game.
If the legal system isn't going to derail Jameis Winston this season, it’s quite possible nothing will.
On Thursday afternoon, the state attorney’s office announced the decision not to press charges against Winston, who was accused of rape almost a year ago. If Florida State exhaled with the news, it wasn't louder than a whisper, because anyone who has watched the Seminoles play in November knows they weren't winning while worrying. Certainly not while they were beating rival Florida by 30 points, or Syracuse by 56, or Idaho by 66. Not once has Florida State or Winston allowed this heavy allegation to weigh it down. Not once during the regular season has Winston even addressed the incident with the media. Instead, he continued to play and win, week after week.
Winston’s status hasn't changed, so don’t expect the Noles to.
While Winston’s character and his guilt or innocence will likely continue to be a controversial topic among fans and media members -- especially those whose Heisman votes are due Monday -- the strength of Florida State with Winston orchestrating the offense is not debatable. He has proven -- repeatedly -- to be unflappable, both on and off the field. If he has played under any stress, it has been masked by his jaw-dropping accuracy, disguised by arguably the most talented group of receivers in the country.
If that’s how Winston plays under duress -- averaging 11.0 yards per attempt, completing 71 percent of his passes on third downs, and leading the nation with a 91.9 opponent-adjusted QBR -- then Duke’s defense will need a miracle now that Winston is free to play the two most important games of the season without any legal issues looming.
While the court of public opinion might still be deliberating Winston’s innocence, it’s not as if he has anything more to prove on the field. One of the biggest questions heading into this season was how Winston -- just a 19-year-old freshman -- would handle the pressure of playing for a national title contender in his first season as a starter. In one week, he answered it: 25 of 27 completions for 356 yards and four touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in a stunning performance in the season opener at Pitt.
One of the biggest questions across all of college football last month was how much of a distraction the allegation of rape would be. In three days, Winston answered it: 19-of-21 for 277 yards and two touchdowns in a 59-3 dismantling of Syracuse.
“It’s the same thing every single week,” Winston said matter-of-factly that day.
Remarkably -- almost even eerily -- the only thing that would have changed Florida State’s pattern of winning would have been a felony charge.
The only statement to come from Florida State’s football program regarding the state attorney’s decision was from coach Jimbo Fisher, who has already redirected the focus to Saturday’s title game.
“Right now, we’re all looking forward to what we have in front of us on Saturday,” Fisher said.
It’s the same thing every single week, right?
As far as Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox is concerned, “Winston’s status as a Florida State University student athlete remains unchanged.”
So does Florida State’s place in the BCS standings.