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Jameis Winston won the BCS National Championship as a freshman.The 2014 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the most talented group of quarterbacks in recent memory. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty are all being talked about as potential first-round NFL Draft picks, while Braxton Miller and Everett Golson have the chance to solidify their places in their respective school’s storied histories.
In preparation for the 2014 season, and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Today, we take a look at reigning Heisman Trophy winner and national champion Jameis Winston.
A Look Back at 2013
The case could be made that Jameis Winston had one of the most prolific single seasons in college football history. He became the third starting quarterback since 1950 to go undefeated, win a national championship and the Heisman Trophy all in the same season.
Heisman, Undefeated & National Title
Same Season Since 1950
As a redshirt freshman, Winston set the national freshman records for touchdown passes (40) and passing yards (4,057) despite barely playing in the fourth quarter. His team not only won the BCS National Championship, but finished one of the most dominant campaigns in college football history, averaging the best point differential (39.5 PPG) for any FBS team since Houston in 1989.
Winston burst onto the scene in style by completing 25 of 27 passes (92.6 percent) in his debut against Pittsburgh. He continued this accuracy and efficiency, twice completing more than 90 percent of his passes in a game and averaging 10.6 yards per attempt (second most by a QB in last 10 seasons behind Robert Griffin III in 2011).
His poise and composure in pressure situations and on plays in which he was pressured was unmatched last season. Winston gained a first down on 59 percent of his third-down pass attempts, the best rate for any quarterback in at least the last 10 seasons.
In the few instances Florida State trailed, Winston completed more than 71 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions. That includes a game-winning 80-yard touchdown drive to win the BCS Championship (Winston: 6 of 7, 77 yards, TD on that drive).
With pressure in his face, Winston was unmatched. He completed an AQ-high 60 percent of his passes and averaged 9.8 yards per attempt in such situations. To put that in perspective, the AQ average for completion percentage when pressured is 35 percent.
All of these factors resulted in Winston posting the top Total QBR in the nation last season while leading Florida State to one of the most dominant seasons in recent history.
A Look Ahead to 2014
The question remains whether Winston and Florida State can repeat their successes from a season ago.
Repeating as a Heisman Trophy winner is not easy. Thirteen players have returned to school after winning the Heisman, and only one – Archie Griffin – pulled off the repeat.
As noted above, Winston was nearly flawless in his first season starting for the Seminoles; however, there are areas in which he can improve.
Winston could do a better job of avoiding negative plays by throwing the ball away; he was the fourth-most sacked quarterback in the ACC last season (27 sacks), but threw the ball away on only two of his 445 dropbacks.
He also has room to improve his efficiency when teams drop seven or more in coverage. Winston proved that he was among the best in the nation at exploiting blitzes; however, he was more “human” against standard pressure and often forced the ball downfield.
Jameis Winston Passing - 2013 Season
The Seminoles return a lot of talent on offense, but Winston will be without his top two deep threats, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, who have both moved on to the NFL. Benjamin and Shaw accounted for 43 of Winston’s 73 completions of 20 yards or longer.
Even without these receivers, Florida State should again be one of the top teams in the nation; according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Seminoles have by far the best chance of any FBS team (40 percent) to finish the regular season undefeated.
However, as Jimbo Fisher noted at ACC media days, it is complacency that could hurt his team.
If Winston and the Seminoles maintain their drive to win, they may go down as one of the top teams in college football history and Winston may again be standing atop the college football world holding the Heisman Trophy.