In an anticlimax of a ceremony Saturday night, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston became the 79th winner of the Heisman Trophy.
In real terms, Winston claimed the most coveted individual award in sports nine days earlier. That’s when Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs announced that his office would not file charges against Winston after he was accused of a 2012 sexual assault. That decision removed the only major impediment between the quarterback and the Heisman.
Winston won the award in a landslide – receiving 668 first-place votes to end up with 2,205 points total – despite being left off 115 of the 900 ballots that were returned. It was the fifth-largest margin of victory in the modern history of the award. At 19 years old, he's also the youngest player to ever win the Heisman.
The only real drama Saturday night was seeing who would finish second in the balloting. That honor went to AJ McCarron of Alabama, who ended up with 704 points. He was followed by Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch (558), Boston College running back Andre Williams (470), 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M (421) and rounding out the ballot was Auburn running back Tre Mason (404).
It was just the second time in history that six players were invited to the ceremony.
In football terms, Winston was the easy choice. He leads the nation in pass efficiency, throwing for 3,820 yards with 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and completing 67.9 percent of his passes. And his team in undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation, with every victory by two touchdowns or more.
Winston’s star began to rise immediately. In his first college game, on Labor Day night at Pittsburgh, the redshirt freshman completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns. It ranks among the most impressive debut games in college football history.
His 252.2 passer rating for that game was his highest of the season, but Winston’s numbers never dipped very far. In 13 starts, he has yet to have what could be considered a bad outing. The Hueytown, Ala., product has never had a college game completing less than half his passes, has thrown a touchdown pass in every game, and only against Miami did he have a game with more interceptions (two) than TDs (one).
It wasn’t until mid-November that Winston encountered any kind of adversity. That’s when reports surfaced that Winston had been accused by a fellow Florida State student in December 2012 of sexual assault. A police investigation that had been dormant was reopened, and Winston’s future suddenly was thrown into doubt.
If charged with a felony, he would have been immediately suspended under guidelines of the Florida State student-athlete code of conduct. That would have imperiled the Seminoles’ national championship dreams and scuttled Winston’s Heisman hopes.
When charges were not filed after several tense weeks, Winston’s path to this night was cleared.
He becomes the third Florida State quarterback to win the Heisman, following Charlie Ward in 1993 and Chris Weinke in 1999. Both of those QBs went on to win the national championship a few weeks later.
In recent years, Heisman voters have been increasingly willing to disregard old-school voting doctrine. This is the second year in a row that the award has gone to a redshirt freshman in his first season of college football competition, with Manziel in that role last year.
One trend that is alive and well is voter fixation on quarterbacks. Winston is the fourth consecutive QB to win the Heisman, and the 12th in the last 13 years.