Florida State fans lavish Jameis Winston with support in final home game of season

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The young woman in the front row behind the Florida State bench was persistent.

"Sign the jersey, Jameis!" she yelled repeatedly at Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who stood about 20 feet away.

She clutched a garnet No. 5 jersey with "Jay-boo" – Winston's nickname – on the back. A pen was in her right hand. She wore a black peekaboo top that showed plenty of cleavage, and garnet pants. The No. 2-ranked, undefeated Seminoles were putting the finishing touches on an 80-14 demolition of Idaho, and the only remaining drama in Doak Campbell Stadium was whether the woman was going to get her jersey signed.

"I know you hear me!" she yelled at Winston, who indeed looked her way but never took a step in her direction. "Pleeeease!"

A guy next to her had his own No. 5 jersey, with the word "Innocent" on the back.

"Jay-boo, baby!" he yelled. "Give us some love over here! We're students! The students are behind you!" Neither the man nor woman wanted to give their names when asked. But they gladly gave their opinion of the controversy swirling around Florida State's star quarterback.

"We've looked at everything that's been released," the woman said. "We're confident he's innocent."

They're more confident than State Attorney Willie Meggs. He told the Associated Press on Saturday that his decision on whether to charge Winston with a crime related to an alleged 2012 sexual assault of an FSU student is not likely to come before Thanksgiving. Meggs is still weighing evidence and gathering information, still trying to make what will be one of the most scrutinized decisions in his 28 years on the job.

If Winston is charged with a felony, the Florida State student-athlete code of conduct calls for an immediate suspension – unless there are extenuating circumstances. Competition for a national title and the Heisman Trophy may qualify as extenuating circumstances to some, but playing Winston if he's charged with sexual assault would produce a deluge of criticism.

[Photos: Week 13 college football highlights]

Unless Meggs changes his timeline, Winston probably will be in good standing – and in the starting lineup – for the regular-season finale at Florida next Saturday. The question is whether he's still playing Dec. 7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game and, potentially, the BCS championship game in January.

While anxiety and uncertainty swirl in the panhandle, the supporters gathered at Doak Campbell Saturday. The Florida State fans who were here – an announced crowd of just 65,061 in an 82,300-seat stadium – were all-in for Winston.

Before the Seminoles' first offensive snap, the P.A. announced Winston as the starting quarterback. Accusations be damned, the response was a standing ovation.

"I didn't even pay attention," Winston said, grinning. "I was just in the zone."

The boos and jeers will come next week in The Swamp. This final home game was one last chance to bathe in the warm embrace of a fan base that is determined to believe the best of its savior quarterback. The reaction likely would be very different if he wore another uniform – Gator blue or Hurricane orange – but he doesn't.

He's their guy. Some undoubtedly will have a change of heart if charges are filed, but for now the fans who were here are behind him.

"The football field is a sanctuary for me," Winston said. "And it's like that for all my teammates."

After throwing for 225 yards and four touchdowns in a little more than two quarters of work, Winston retired to the sideline to watch backup Sean Maguire. He was the third-string QB until second-stringer Jacob Coker was injured, and Maguire's performance has become much more important in the two weeks since the Winston bombshell dropped. If Winston is suspended, redshirt freshman Maguire would be the starter in some very important games.

[Related: Questions abound as Jameis Winston case crests]

  Winston certainly did not look like a burdened man on the sidelines Saturday night. With a wad of sunflower seeds in his left cheek, he ambled around to various teammates, talking and smiling. Associate athletic director Monk Bonasorte pulled him aside for a couple minutes, speaking to Winston and patting him on the back.

"I just told him, 'Great job, hang in there,' " Bonasorte said. "I appreciate what he's doing. He's a good kid. A good kid."

After the game, Winston was one of the last players off the field. He signed plenty of autographs – but not the jerseys that were held up behind the bench. He posed for a picture with a cheerleader on either side of him. He slapped hands with the fans, who roared their approval as he left the arena and disappeared into the locker room. He soaked in the moment.

FSU did not shield Winston from the media, but it did warn reporters against asking non-football questions for the second straight week. Appearing in coat, tie and black flip-flops, he had a gold chain hanging over the collar of his dress shirt.

The necklace is from his girlfriend, who is a basketball player at Rice. A reporter asked Winston if he wears it every game.

"Every game," he said, smiling.

After a few more safe, controversy-free questions and answers, Winston was finished with his trickiest task of the day. The cluster of FSU administrators on the outside of the interview scrum looked visibly relieved. Athletic director Stan Wilcox, relatively new on the job, shook the quarterback's hand.

Kerwin Lonzo of the FSU sports information staff escorted Winston out of the interview area, with a cop close behind. They walked down a stairwell and were gone.

What happens next in this saga, nobody knows. But for one final Saturday in Doak Campbell Stadium, Jameis Winston was treated like a hero by Florida State fans. Accusations be damned, he's their guy.