Jameis Winston easily handled the pressure of Death Valley. Now can he handle Heisman hype? (Mike Stewart/AP)
In the end, the epic ACC clash between Florida State and Clemson did exactly what many expected for college football’s Heisman race: One quarterback saw his stock rise sky-high, while the other saw his plummet.
But few expected Jameis Winston and the visiting Seminoles to be as explosive as they were in Saturday’s 51-14 beatdown of the Tigers. A game that had been billed as Winston’s first true test turned out to not be much of a test at all. The redshirt freshman repeatedly picked apart Clemson's defense in front of a stunned crowd at Death Valley. Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd, on the other hand, often appeared befuddled in the pocket, a stunning contrast to the senior’s normally poised demeanor.
Thanks to a dominant performance, Winston jumped past Boyd to become the top mover and shaker in our Heisman Watch. We’re not ready, however, to dethrone Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota from the top spot just yet.
Heisman Watch -- Week 8
1. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
2. Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
3. Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M
4. Bryce Petty, QB Baylor
5. AJ McCarron, QB Alabama
6. Tajh Boyd, QB Clemson
7. Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville
8. Aaron Murray, QB Georgia
9. Braxton Miller, QB Ohio State
10. Melvin Gordon, RB Wisconsin
STAPLES: FSU looks like dominant 'Noles teams of past in Clemson rout
Player of the Week
Jameis Winston, Florida State QB
Week 8 stats: 22-of-34 for 444 yards, three touchdowns, one interception; seven rushes for two yards, one touchdown
Are there any doubters left? Winston’s production in Florida State’s last two games -- both expected to be challenges for the ‘Noles -- proved that the country has another freshman sensation on its hands. Two weeks after toasting an unbeaten Maryland team in a rout, Winston did the same against No. 3 Clemson in Death Valley in what many billed as the biggest ACC game in regular-season history.
Winston’s first pass of the game went for a touchdown when Kelvin Benjamin hauled in the 22-yard toss, and the quarterback found Rashad Greene for a 72-yard score in the second quarter to help the Seminoles build a stunning 27-7 halftime lead. In all Florida State’s 51 points were the most Clemson ever gave up at home.
Winston’s 444 passing yards were a season-high for the first-year starter, who has now completed 71 percent of his throws for 20 touchdowns and only three picks. He has a chance to replicate Johnny Manziel’s success and become the second freshman to take home the Heisman Trophy. Luckily for Winston, his Seminoles are in great shape in the national title picture. Florida State debuted at No. 2 in the first BCS rankings released Sunday, and the last time the program boasted a 6-0 record (1999), it won the BCS championship.
ELLIS: Florida State debuts at No. 2 in first BCS standings
In terms of ball security, Saturday wasn’t the sophomore quarterback’s best outing. His two fumbles in the first half on Saturday led to two Washington State touchdowns. Nevertheless, the Ducks blasted coach Mike Leach’s Cougars 62-38, and Mariota was responsible for 394 yards of offense (327 passing, 67 rushing) and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing). He also did not throw an interception, and now has 19 touchdown passes with no picks this season. Most importantly, second-ranked Oregon is still undefeated.
Yes, the Aggies were narrowly upset by spirited Auburn 45-41 in College Station to fall to 5-2, but don't forget that Texas A&M’s two defeats last season were not enough to prevent Manziel from winning the Heisman Trophy. History doesn’t favor Johnny Football to repeat, but if the sophomore keeps putting up numbers like he did against the Tigers -- he threw for 454 yards and four touchdowns, while running for 48 yards and another score -- he will remain a serious contender.
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The junior quarterback for the high-octane Bears has thrown for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns in each of Baylor's six wins. In a 71-7 whipping of Iowa State on Saturday, Petty throw for 343 and two touchdowns. He finished the weekend as the country’s leader in passing efficiency (221.8) and yards per attempt (14).
He is the lone tailback with a realistic chance of winning this season’s quarterback-heavy Heisman race. In the Badgers' 56-32 trampling of Illinois on Saturday, the sophomore ran for three scores and 142 yards, and became the second player in the country to reach 1,000 rushing yards this season. Gordon’s Heisman hopes seemed bleak after Ohio State held the tailback to a season-low 74 yards and no touchdowns in a 31-24 Wisconsin loss on Sept. 28, bu in the two games since he has rushed for 314 yards and four touchdowns while averaging more than eight yards per carry.
Johnny Manziel overcome two losses by Texas A&M last fall to win the Heisman Trophy. (Bob Levey/AP)
The wheels came off for Boyd on Saturday night in the Tigers' loss to Florida State. Against a stifling Seminoles defense -- which had forced a turnover in 10 straight games -- the senior tied a season-high with two interceptions. Things really started to go downhill for him late in the first quarter when, with Clemson already trailing 10-0, Florida State defensive end Mario Edwards returned a Boyd fumble 37 yards for a touchdown. Boyd completed only 45.9 percent of his passes and overthrew his receivers a number of times. Prior to Saturday, his least-accurate performance had been in the Tigers' season-opener against Georgia, when he completed 60 percent of his throws. Unless Winston stumbles along the way and Clemson wins out, Boyd’s shot at winning the Heisman is likely over.
It’s easy to feel bad for Murray, who’s Heisman chances have fallen victim to the Bulldogs' injury-riddled roster, but his performance in a shocking loss to Vanderbilt was not up to the senior's usual high standards. Murray completed 16-of-28 passes for a season-low 114 yards, the third-lowest output of his career. He rushed for two touchdowns, but he also threw a pick and did not complete a touchdown pass. Regardless of his stats, Georgia has fallen way short of preseason expectations, which is perhaps the biggest knock on Murray's candidacy.
Tweets of the week
That’s pretty sharp for Florida State's freshman:
The hype surrounds Winston, but the season isn’t over yet:
It was a major slip-up on a big stage for Boyd:
Video of the week
It’s difficult to pick a single moment from Winston’s performance against Clemson, so let’s just enjoy the entire highlight video. Take note of the leadership exhibited by the redshirt freshman in his pregame speech.
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