A dream debut season for Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston reached another level Thursday night at the Home Depot College Football Awards show.
Winston, a redshirt freshman who has led the top-ranked Seminoles (13-0) to a berth in the BCS National Championship Game in his first season as a starter, became the second consecutive freshman to earn the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award.
Winston follows in the footsteps of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, last year’s O’Brien and Heisman Trophy recipient who was one of three finalists in balloting for the 2013 O’Brien honor.
Winston leads the nation in passing efficiency (190.1 rating) and ranks among the FBS’ top 10 players in passing yards (3,820), completion percentage (67.9) and points responsible for (252). He has posted a 38-10 ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions while ranking No. 16 nationally in total offense (308.7 yards per game).
Only the second freshman winner in O’Brien history, Winston will be honored Feb. 17 at the Fort Worth Club.
“It’s a prestigious award. I’m honored. It felt great to hear my name and smile,” said Winston, who also won the Walter Camp Award, given to the nation’s top player. “These are once in a lifetime opportunities, so you’ve got to enjoy the moment. You never know if this comes around next year.”
Winston, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner in most straw polls, introduced himself to college fans in memorable fashion in his first career start. Winston completed 25-of-27 passes, including the first 11 he attempted, for 356 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-13 rout of Pittsburgh on national television. He also rushed for another score.
That game, said Winston, remains his favorite memory from a breakthrough season in which he set an FBS freshman record for touchdown passes (38) and has the Seminoles positioned to claim their first national title since the 1999 season.
The performance placed Winston on the radar for national honors and triggered creation of his nickname, “Famous Jameis.” His candidacy receive a boost Dec. 5 when Florida state attorney Willie Meggs announced no charges would be filed against Winston after he was implicated in a 2012 sexual assault case.
Winston declined to field any questions about his off-field situation at the awards ceremony. But during the telecast, he told an ESPN reporter: “I know I did nothing wrong.” After last week’s ACC Championship Game, Winston said the situation showed him, “I got to get more mature. I got to get better at everything I do.”
From a football standpoint, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins said Winston is the best he’s seen at the quarterback position. He saw more than enough to realize that during FSU’s 51-14 rout of the Tigers in Clemson, S.C.
“He’s definitely the top quarterback that I’ve seen in college. And I’ve been around a great quarterback in Tajh Boyd,” Watkins said, referring to his Clemson teammate. “But Winston’s the top guy. The way he throws the ball, controls the game, manages his players and the poise that he’s got in the pocket … it’s impressive. He’s definitely a complete player.”
None of the six players from Texas colleges who were finalists for Thursday’s honors took home any hardware. Winston edged Manziel and Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron in voting by members of the O’Brien selection committee.
Manziel, who posed for photos with Winston before the telecast, called Winston “a great quarterback and a great competitor, for sure.” He also said he was impressed by Winston’s mental toughness while dealing with a significant off-field issue.
“In the past couple of months, he’s had to deal with a lot of stuff,” Manziel said. “It’s impressive how he’s handled that and continued to play and help his team. That’s all you can ask for from a guy in his position.”
Now, he’s joined Manziel on the short list of freshman winners in O’Brien history. Winston said that was not something he expected when he earned the Seminoles’ starting job in fall camp.
“I never really thought about all the awards and stuff,” Winston said. “But as the season went on, some of the guys would call me ‘Famous Jameis’ or sneak in a little joke about the Heisman in practice. I was like, ‘Man, chill with that. We’re here to play football. We’re here to do things right. And we’re here to win.’”
As of Thursday night, Winston became the latest freshman recipient of the award given to college football’s top quarterback.