Johnny Manziel wasn’t a fluke after all. He was just first. Jameis Winston is the proof.
Young college quarterbacks don’t need time to develop anymore in college football. They can show up just like basketball players, with mature games, ready to go. The convention has changed, and Saturday’s game in Death Valley proved it.
A redshirt freshman is not supposed to be able to handle a moment like this. Fans here were upset that fans at Arrowhead Stadium measured decibels and claimed to break the Guinness world record for crowd noise. So Clemson fans decided to break that record back on the first play Saturday, to not only claim their rightful place, but also to freak out Winston.
“It was loud when the game started, and we just started smiling,’’ Winston said. “We didn’t play against noise. We played against Clemson.’’
I guess. If Clemson was there. Florida State won 51-14, and Winston threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns, including one for 22 yards on his first pass attempt. He also ran for a touchdown.
And on the day that Manziel fell out of the race to win the Heisman again, Winston moved right to the top, equal to Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, who was in the race last year as a redshirt freshman.
I’m not giving Florida State’s defense enough credit. It caused four turnovers, including one on the first play of the game, when it stripped the ball from tight end Stanton Seckinger.
Florida State safety Terrence Brooks said that the defense got the ball and “We just let Jameis take care of the rest.’’
That first fumble set the tone of the game, but really, the tone was inevitable anyway.
Florida State was pushing Clemson around from the start.
Everyone knew the Seminoles would be good this year. The surprise, the reason they should jump over Ohio State to No. 3 this week, has been at quarterback. That was the question, and before the season, there was uncertainty as to who would even start.
Last year, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin didn’t know who was going to start at quarterback just a couple of weeks before the season started, either. He went with Manziel, who emerged through Sumlin’s system. Now Winston has emerged out of nowhere.
There will be more. This is the future.
Why? Earlier in the week on campus, I asked Clemson coach Dabo Swinney if he thought Death Valley could intimidate Winston.
“You would hope and think that maybe that’s an advantage for Clemson,’’ Swinney said. “This guy so far hasn’t flinched in any situation he has been in. He’s down 17-3 on the road versus Boston College and just showed the poise of a veteran and brought his team right back. So, we’re going to find out.’’
But he already knew what to expect. He said he wasn’t surprised by Winston’s poise, or Manziel’s or Mariota’s.
“I’m really not,’’ he said. “Just simply on what’s going on in the high schools. You know, these guys now they’re growing up and being in a shotgun, reading second level, third level. These high schools have gotten very sophisticated.’’
Sumlin told me exactly the same thing this summer.
This isn’t to say that Winston is the same as Manziel last year. A big part of Manziel’s appeal was his freelancing style, not to mention his success as a little guy. No, this is about poise at an early age.
In basketball, high school players travel around the country with AAU teams and already seem professionalized by the time they get to college. Maybe in football it does have to do with coaching of younger players.
And maybe it’s about being on TV already, and being comfortable in the spotlight as kids put their personal lives in public on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, wherever.
There is just such an emphasis on sports in general now, with kids focused on one thing, specializing when they used to play different sports based on the season.
Florida State tight end Nick O’Leary had 161 yards in receptions, including a 94-yarder. Afterward, his grandfather, Jack Nicklaus, stood in the tunnel where the players left the field. Nicklaus didn’t decide to be a golfer for a career until late in high school.
I once was on an elevator at the Final Four with some guy and his two sons. Michael Jordan got on and asked one kid if he was a basketball player. The kid said he wasn’t very good, and that he was 12.
Jordan said that was fine. That’s when he started to play.
No kid is like that now. These kids are pros by high school.
That’s why Clemson’s fifth-year senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, also a Heisman candidate before the game, didn’t have the advantage over Winston you might have expected. Boyd told me during the week that he felt he had a relationship with the fans here, that he was comfortable with them.
But he didn’t play well Saturday, while Winston smiled the first time he faced the atmosphere.
It was Winston’s proving moment. But he had already grown up long before he got here.