Winston and Florida State still winning despite the noise

BY foxsports • November 18, 2014

I know what it's like to try to defend a national championship. It's incredibly hard.

In this day and age of college football it seems that strength of schedule and passing the "eye test" are more important than winning football games. I've only been an analyst for six months, I am not a numbers guy and I don't have a lot of personal relationships with insiders who cover college football except for my colleagues at FOX Sports 1. That being said, I played the game, won two national championships at USC and came inches away from a third (Thanks a lot, Vince Young!). I won a Heisman Trophy and was a part of one of the greatest runs in college football history. I know what it's like to be the best team in the country and have every team gunning to beat you. I've been in the locker room down at halftime and have won in the last seconds of games while taking every team's best shot.

There are very few people who know exactly what it feels like to be Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, a Heisman winner who's attempting to defend a national championship.

I'm one of them.

I'm not here to cast judgment on Winston for off-the-field issues; there's been enough of that. What I'm here to tell you is that what he and Florida State are doing on the field is remarkable. They have an enormous bull's-eye on their backs, and it will make every other team's year to beat them regardless of what else happens. With all the attention and all the pressure and all the people rooting for them to fail, what have they done in response? WIN.  

I'm sick and tired of listening to people discredit what they're doing. Most of those people wouldn't know how to put their pads in their pants, let alone play in front of 80,000 people defending a title (I'm looking at you, Clay Travis. I can't wait to see you in a loin cloth when Mississippi State doesn't make the playoff).

Yes, Florida State has looked average at times. The Seminoles do tend to get off to a slow start. Winston has been awful in the first half of a few games this year. But I know what it's like to press and feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, trying to be perfect every single snap. It is hard. But great players and teams — championship teams — always find ways to win. We did it against Notre Dame, Arizona State and Fresno State my senior year, much like Florida State has done it multiple times this year, whether it's a backup quarterback leading them (against Clemson), a defensive stop at a key time or Jameis Winston being Jameis Winston, the most clutch quarterback in college football. The Seminoles are champions for a reason. 

When you win your first title the feeling is indescribable, knowing your hard work, blood, sweat and tears paid off. The feeling is a little different as you start your quest for a second one. There are more expectations, and every team wants to beat the defending champs. I can tell you firsthand it is much harder to win a second title than it is the first. It's why so many teams fail to repeat; the intensity is on another level.   

My senior year was difficult. I was coming off a championship run and a Heisman, and many thought I would leave school early. Instead I came back. During my senior year there were times when I felt overwhelmed by it all. I'll never forget after the Notre Dame game, in which I played awful until the final two minutes, the pressure was intense. We won in the last seconds and the next week I met with Steve Sarkisian, my offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. I sat down and unburdened myself. I told him I was upset with myself and my performance and how hard it was for me to manage the expectations. The pressure of great expectations was getting to me because we were really close to making history.

Everyone thought I was having a great time, living the life of a college senior without many classes, as the quarterback of a great team in Los Angeles, and it actually wasn't very fun. The expectations made it hard to enjoy the wins. From the outside looking in, it appeared that times were great at USC. We had everything. But inside that circle it was hard to be perfect every game. It was hard to win football games, period. We kept winning because we had great coaching and a great team and we knew what it took to be champions, much like what I see from Florida State now.

I'd say the biggest difference between winning a first title and going for a second or third is the intense outside pressure from media and fans and the pressure you put on yourself to be perfect because that's the expectation that is set now. You can sneak up on a lot of people when you win your first title. It's a fun ride; no one really expects that much from you. But to win when everybody expects you to win? That's hard. It takes a lot of resiliency and heart to do what FSU is doing.

That's why I believe the Seminoles will finish the season undefeated, win the ACC and have a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. And I guarantee you no other team wants to face Winston and FSU on a neutral field come January. If FSU loses, it will take an extraordinary team playing an extraordinary game to pull it off.

So all you experts, sit back and enjoy yet another one of the greatest runs in college football history. I know I will!


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