Jameis Winston will be directly in spotlight entering 2014 season


NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Jameis Winston, the stage is all yours.

Whatever the result of the BCS national championship game between Winston's No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn in the Rose Bowl on Monday night, the redshirt freshman quarterback will be the star attraction of the college football offseason in a manner no other player has ever had to deal with.

Winston will be on the cover of every preseason magazine, the subject of every preseason feature. His every move will be dissected and debated online and through social media, just as it was for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in 2013.

But Manziel had other high-profile players to absorb some of the attention. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was the prohibitive favorite to be the first player drafted, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville the presumptive first quarterback off the board. Alabama, with quarterback AJ McCarron at the helm, was the favorite to win the title.

Winston is going to have to deal with all those expectations. Florida State will be a strong pick to emerge from the first four-team playoff as national champions, Winston expected to join Archie Griffith as a two-time Heisman Trophy winner and be the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

(Winston also has to deal with the lingering fallout from the sexual assault allegations that emerged during the regular season. Though he was not charged with a crime, it took Winston out of the sports section and into national news.)

Based on the performance Winston has delivered this season and especially during the media availability leading up to this game, there may not be a player better prepared for such circumstances.

"He has an amazing ability to compartmentalize things and process things that I haven't been around for a guy that age, for sure," Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher told College Football 24/7.

"Jameis loves attention," wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin added. "You put a camera in front of him, he is going to act crazy. Jameis has always been like that. That's how we knew when he was coming in he was the guy for the job."

Winston is as engaging and charismatic with the press as he is on the field and sideline, able to charm even the most jaded reporter. It explains how, despite having just turned 20 years old on the day of the BCS championship, he was able to get veterans to embrace and accept him as a leader.

"That part is very natural for him," quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders said. "He just has that presence, that pied piper quality that says, 'Come on, guys, let's go.'"

It also provides a better understanding of Winston's innate ability to excel in the biggest moments. In the ACC championship game, Winston threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 59 yards and one touchdown. At No. 3 Clemson, Winston threw for a career-high 444 yards and three touchdowns, also adding a rushing touchdown. And in his college debut on Labor Day at Pitt, Winston exploded onto the scene with 356 yards and four touchdowns, completing 25 of 27 passes.

"We don't want no quarterback who doesn't like the moment," wide receiver Kenny Shaw said. "In our first game, the Pittsburgh game, the guy was so confident."

Auburn defensive end Dee Ford knows what that presence can provide. As a freshman on the Tigers' 2010 BCS championship team led by Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, he witnessed a similar force of nature in personality and performance.

Ford sees Winston having the same imprint on Florida State as Newton did on Auburn.

"It's amazing to watch," Ford said. "I can give him his props right now. I'm not ashamed to give him his props. He's a great quarterback and great leader. He is definitely that (same catalyst) for his team."

Newton, of course, went straight on to the NFL after his single season in the spotlight. Winston has one more year before he will be eligible for the draft, and Sanders says there is still plenty to work on.

"He is so talented with throwing the ball, has so much talent with his arm and his hand, sometimes he gets away with not being as fundamentally sound with his feet," Sanders said.

Sanders and teammates all expect Winston not to be distracted by what comes next. Winston himself certainly agrees.

"I'm always going to be myself. You need to be yourself when you are under pressure," said Winston, the very last words of media day.

Whether he lives up to his credo will determine how he handles everything that comes with 2014, the year of Winston.

Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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