College Sports

Winston looking like next freshman Heisman winner

Barring one of the biggest ballot box surprises in Heisman Trophy history, Famous Jameis will follow in the footsteps of Johnny Football when college football’s top individual honor is presented Saturday night in New York.

Multiple straw polls suggest Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will become the second consecutive freshman to claim the Heisman after no freshman had won the award in the first 77 years of its existence. The native of Bessemer, Ala., is projected to be a landslide winner, possibly capturing 90 percent of all available points on Heisman ballots.

The two highest percentages in Heisman history belong to Southern California running back Reggie Bush (91.77 percent, 2005) and Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith (91.63 percent, 2006).

Winston, who leads the nation in passing efficiency (190.1 rating) and has helped No. 1 Florida State (13-0) grab a spot in the BCS National Championship Game, admits his candidacy has been aided by a trailblazer from last year: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who became the first freshman Heisman recipient in 2012.

“He broke the barrier. What he did was phenomenal,” Winston said earlier this week at the Home Depot College Football Awards show in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. “Hopefully, I get to do what he did. But what he did, you can never forget that because he was the first. That just shows that anything can happen. It doesn’t matter what age. When you’re on a great team that’s having a productive year, anybody can win.”

Winston, a redshirt freshman, will not celebrate his 20th birthday until Jan. 6, the night FSU meets No. 2 Auburn (12-1) in the BCS title game in Pasadena, Calif. But the 2013 Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award winner has put himself in position to celebrate in New York by ranking among the FBS’ top 10 players in passing yards (3,820), completion percentage (67.9) and points responsible for (252).

Winston has posted a 38-10 ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions while ranking No. 16 nationally in total offense (308.7 yards per game). His season has been dominant enough that other finalists headed to New York without plans for an acceptance speech.

“I think he’ll win it,” said Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, the 2013 Maxwell Award recipient and one of six Heisman finalists taking part in Saturday’s announcement show (7 p.m., ESPN). “I know he’s a great player.”

Manziel, one of the six finalists headed to New York, has a Heisman vote because of his status as a past winner. He said he did not put himself on top of his ballot and did not identify who he did. But Manziel made it clear that he is a big admirer of Winston (6-foot-4, 228 pounds).

“He’s a great quarterback and a great competitor, for sure,” Manziel said. “He’s a big kid and an incredible athlete. Guys go to these [private] quarterback coaches and people are working hard to take over these starting jobs early. You’ve just got to give it up to some of these young guys, like Jameis, for wanting to start at such a young age. It’s impressive.”

Asked about the possibility that Manziel might have voted for him, Winston said: “I hope so. I’m just overwhelmed by all of this.”

Manziel and Winston met at the awards show in Florida and formed an immediate bond, posing together for photos before the telecast began. Winston said he plans to seek advice from Manziel in New York about how to handle the Heisman spotlight … just in case.

“I want to talk to him just to ask him how it was and everything,” Winston said.

Manziel, who made multiple off-the-field headlines after winning his Heisman, is ready with an answer whenever Winston asks.

“It was nothing like I had expected,” Manziel said of the focus he received as a Heisman winner. “It’s incredible how big things boomed and it spread out across the entire country, the world, everything after that. To go from such a … small-town, College Station status and then take that to the national level, where you’re walking around Times Square and people are running into you and noticing you, it’s different.”

Among the six finalists who will be in New York, four are quarterbacks (Winston, Manziel, McCarron, and Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch) and two are running backs (Auburn’s Tre Mason and Boston College’s Andre Williams). But only Winston will have the track record of recent Davey O’Brien winners on his side in New York.

Six of the past seven O’Brien winners went on to win the Heisman in the same season, including Manziel in 2012. Florida State defensive back Lamarcus Joyner, a finalist for the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award, said Winston has the intangibles necessary to continue that streak.

“Jameis has that natural ability to be a leader as a young guy,” Joyner said. “I noticed that when he was on the scout team last year. I thought, ‘This is going to be a special kid.’ And to see it actually happen, it’s great.”

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram