TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The worst-kept secret in Tallahassee was confirmed on Friday night.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has named redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston as the starting quarterback for the season opener going into the game at Pittsburgh on Labor Day.
“Jameis will be the starter,” Fisher said. “Just a little more consistency for a longer period of time.”
He will be the first redshirt freshman quarterback to open a season as Florida State’s starter since Drew Weatherford in 2005.
Winston has not thrown a pass in a college game, but he spent 2012 learning Fisher’s playbook. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Winston then showed how much he had absorbed, completing 12 of 15 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns in the Seminoles’ spring game.
It was clear that he also impressed in preseason camp, too. Fisher emphasized that the decision was a tough one and that he feels the team has two good quarterbacks: Winston and redshirt sophomore Jacob Coker.
Coker completed 15 of 26 passes for a touchdown and two interceptions in the spring game.
“It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to go through,” Fisher said. “You’re splitting hairs.”
Winston is replacing EJ Manuel, who was Florida State’s all-time leader in completion percentage. Manuel was a first-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in April.
Fisher said repeatedly, “I’ll know when I know” who would win the starting job. After Wednesday’s second and final scrimmage of the preseason, Fisher indicated that a decision could be near, especially with the installation of the game plan for Pittsburgh beginning with Friday’s practice.
Fisher told Winston and Coker in separate meetings about his decision, and then he told the team before practice began.
“They raised each other’s performance every day,” Fisher said. “They just kept pushing each other, and they did it in a great way and a constructive way for the team. I think the team responded that way to it.”
All-ACC first-team cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said he felt the competition was close down to the final decision. While Winston is tall, mobile and smart, Joyner feels his intangibles bring something to the table.
“I think his natural ability to lead,” Joyner said. “That’s pretty rare as a young guy.”
Winston is a young guy, but he will have an experienced supporting cast surrounding him on offense. Florida State returns three veteran receivers, including playmaker Rashad Greene (57 catches, 741 yards, six touchdowns). The Seminoles have a pair of 600-yard rushers from a year ago in juniors James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman.
And the offensive line should be able to buy time for Winston. Four starters return up front, led by center Bryan Stork and left tackle Cameron Erving.
“I have complete faith in both of the quarterbacks,” Erving said. “It wouldn’t have surprised me either way it went. I have faith in Jameis, and I know he is going to do well.”