Then Florida State and Pittsburgh kicked off on Monday night and Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston calmly walked out onto the field and lived up to the hype.
All of it.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound redshirt freshman completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns (with no interceptions) and added another 25 yards rushing (with a score) in FSU’s 41-13 win over the Panthers.
Winston made it look easy against the hapless Pitt defense, hitting open targets and setting the school single-game completion percentage record while running the Seminoles’ attack with the poise of a seasoned veteran. The excellence he displayed in his debut overwhelmed a good early showing by the Panther offense and spurred the Seminoles to their fourth-straight season-opening win. On this night, at least, the ‘Noles looked like a national title contender.
Before the hype gets too out of control, though, consider that Pitt is not really a good barometer for where FSU stands as a team. The Panthers just didn’t have the talent to contain the ‘Noles. But other teams coming up on the schedule will be more familiar with the tendencies of Jimbo Fisher’s offense and that is when Winston will truly be tested. Last year’s FSU team was loaded with talent, but it still found a way to lose to North Carolina State.
But forget about that for now. FSU fans have a valid reason to feel good after tonight. After all, they’ve got at least two full years to watch this elite talent lead their team. It should be a fun ride. The challenge for Fisher will be to manage the expectations and not put too much on his young freshman, especially when it comes to the playbook. The challenge for Winston is to stay resilient when the inevitable drop-off from tonight’s otherworldly production takes place.
Is Winston a legit Heisman candidate? I’d say that’s a bit premature. Yes, voters gave the Heisman to a freshman last season, but based on the perception of how that’s played out, they might think twice before doing it again.