Jameis Winston became the second redshirt freshman quarterback in as many years to win the Heisman Trophy – following Johnny Manziel – last season, completing 66.9 percent of his passes for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns while leading Florida State to an undefeated record (14-0) and its first national championship since 1999.
Now preparing for his required third year in school, Winston has been projected as the lead candidate for a second Heisman, and the Seminoles are again the favorite to win the ACC Championship and to make another title run in the first College Football Playoff.
That said, it’s possible that Winston could be the next victim to fall to the infamous sophomore slump – and it’s pretty much inevitable.
Think about it: Winston was a 19-year-old kid that put up numbers that some college quarterbacks fail to compile over their entire collegiate careers. His yards per attempt (10.6) ranked No. 1 in the country; his 184.8 passer rating was head and shoulders above anyone else’s; his 40 touchdown passes fell second to Derek Carr’s 50 (who competed in the MWC and with a stat-stuffing vertical offensive approach); his adjusted QBR (88.5) finished just behind the all-versatile Marcus Mariota, and his completion percentage was inside the top 20.
Winston broke plenty of records last season, including the ACC single-season passing touchdown record, along with the FBS freshman record.
Only two quarterbacks since 2004 have surpassed his super-inflated passer rating: Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III (2007). One is the starter for a Super Bowl champion, and the other was a No. 2 overall draft pick.
If you are expecting a performance like that to be replicated or improved upon, then you are part of the reason why Winston’s impending regression will even be worthy of a second thought.
I won’t sit here and say that Winston can’t be better. In fact, I think the challenge of losing offensive stars like Kenny Shaw, Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. will ultimately make him a stronger quarterback. Heck, there’s a reason why Mel Kiper Jr. said Winston would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft “by a mile.”
But when you throw lofty expectations on someone and assume they’ll be great, it creates a lot of room for letdown. That’s been known to happen before, and it happens more often than not.
Florida State isn’t going to beat teams by an average of 39.5 points like it did in 2013. With defensive superstars like Terrance Brooks, Timmy Jernigan, and Lamarcus Joyner that were so vital to the Seminoles’ win against Auburn, Winston is going to be forced to play some close games.
ACC competition will elevate. Clemson is recharged, Louisville is a strong addition and rival Miami (Fla.) is always a coin flip. Non-conference matchups like Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and a healthy Florida will also be difficult tasks.
Winston is too good to be bad, but there’s a good chance his overall efficiency and voluptuous numbers will come back to earth.
What if Florida State wins 11 or 12 games, but misses out on the College Football Playoff? What if Winston becomes the second player in college football history to win two Heisman Trophies, but vastly underperforms in the national championship? What if he only throws 25 touchdowns throughout the season, but the Noles win it all?
In other words, Winston’s sophomore slump is going to be what you make of it.
One way or another, it’s coming.