Winston wins Heisman, now he’ll have to live up to it

Jameis Winston bound onto the stage at the Best Buy Theater in the heart

of Times Square, a group of 24 past Heisman Trophy winners behind him.

The newest member of the fraternity shook hands with the likes of Johnny

Lattner, Paul Hornung and Archie Griffin, flashing a broad smile as he

took the podium.

The span of a career, at Florida

State and beyond, will decide how the Florida State quarterback

shoulders the weight of being a Heisman winner. But we’ve already seen

him deal with a far more difficult situation on the path to winning

it.

“I trusted in the process that evaluated facts

and truth would deliver positive outcomes,” Winston said in a speech in

which that trust was the central subject.

That the

redshirt freshman won was of no surprise, amid a trophy chase that saw

candidates fall in droves and another, Auburn’s Tre Mason, who would

join the race too late to make a serious challenge. Winston was, for all

intents and purposes, the only logical option.

He

led the Seminoles to a spot in the BCS title game opposite Auburn,

boasts an FBS-best 190.1 pass efficiency rating while throwing for 3,820

yards and 38 touchdowns, both NCAA freshman

records.

All that was in doubt was the margin of

victory for the player who is now the youngest winner in history at 19

years, 342 days, and there any hang-ups played out in tangible

numbers.

Winston won by 1,501 points over Alabama QB

AJ McCarron (704), while Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch was third

(558), Boston College running back Andre Williams fourth (470), last

year’s winner, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel fifth (421) and Mason

sixth (404).

It was a sizable win, with Winston

receiving 79.2 percent of the maximum possible points Winston received

ranking seventh all time, just below O.J. Simpson’s 80.6 percent in

1968.

Considering Winston was such an overwhelming

favorite it’s surprising he didn’t win by a wider margin, though that

surely had its root in voters not willing to get behind him amid legal

troubles.

The investigation Winston found himself in,

accused of sexually assaulting a former Florida State student last

December, ended with him not being charged. The timing of the State

Attorney’s press conference to say as much came five days before Heisman

ballots were due, paving the way for Winston to win without controversy

swirling.

Still, there were obviously voters who

didn’t feel they could vote for him with a clear conscience as he failed

to appear on 115 of the 928 ballots.

*In full

disclosure, Winston earned this writer’s vote, with Mason second and

McCarron third.*

Even after he

had been cleared, the probe became part of Winston’s narrative,

following him to New York City while he was taking part in Friday’s

activities with the other six finalists.

Over 1,100

miles from Manhattan, attorney Patricia Carroll, the lawyer for

Winston’s accuser held a 90-minute press conference. She blasted the

investigation and the Tallahassee Police Department’s handling of the

case and the treatment of her client.

“The bulk of

the investigation was into the rape victim,” Carroll said. “I’m looking

at an investigation of a rape victim, not a rape suspect.”

Winston, during his pre-Heisman availability Friday,

told reporters “I knew I could respect the process and eventually be

vindicated.”

The case is closed, and now a BCS title

game date with Auburn awaits, as do a whole new set of expectations on

and off the field.

Of that, Manziel can

attest.

The Aggies QB, in a testament to just how

difficult it is to one-up yourself, threw for more yards and this season

(3,732 and 33, respectively) than he did through his bowl game last

year (3,706 and 26) — and he finished fifth. That ties Tim Tebow in

2009 for the lowest finish of any former winner who was invited to the

ceremony.

It was fitting that college football’s fist

star of the social media age was on hand for the crowning of the next

one, coming up on stage after Winston’s speech and giving him a hug

before Manziel joined the rest of the past winners.

The Seminoles QB will be the ninth Heisman winner to

return to the following season, but only one of them ever dealt with

their ever move being news, their every tweet the foundation for a news

cycle and tat was Manziel. He’s the only one who fully grasps what

awaits Winston. But if anything positive came out of the investigation,

it’s that there’s no question that Winston can remain poised on the

field with chaos swirling off it.

It was almost

prophetic this summer when Winston, who had yet to attempt a pass in

college, was asked whether he could handle the spotlight. “If I ever get

Manziel disease, I want all of you to smack me in the head with your

microphones,” he told reporters.

Reminded of that

comment after the Seminoles’ 51-14 rout of then-No. 3 Clemson on Oct.

19, a performance that thrust him to the top of the Heisman

conversation, Winston only laughed.

Famous Jameis

isn’t Johnny Football. Like Manziel he dealt with a scandal and Winston

followed him as the award’s only redshirt freshmen winners. But while

Manziel claimed the Heisman and afterward became TMZ fodder, saying at

July’s SEC Media Days “I’m still going to life live to the fullest,”

Winston’s case is very different.

Crowned despite

controversy, Winston won’t be afforded the same leash Manziel had. He

earned the Heisman on the field; now, he’ll need to show he’s ready to

live up to the trophy off it.