TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State offensive lineman Bobby Hart was livid. He had supposedly just gotten his eyes poked at the bottom of a third-quarter scrum with Miami defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo, and he came off the field in a torrent.
"He was trying to get his hand into my facemask," he said. "I was pissed off."
Head coach Jimbo Fisher got in Hart's face and tried to talk some sense into him. Then Fisher felt a hand push him out of the way.
It was Jameis Winston.
The freshman quarterback literally removed his coach from the situation and spoke directly to his teammate.
"Calm down!" Hart heard. "Everything is going to be all right. We need everybody out there."
Winston's version of the discussion was a lot more forceful than that.
"That was me saying 'It's on,' " he said after the game. "At first we respected them. After that skirmish, it was over."
So was the game. A back-and-forth first-half battle between two old rivals turned into a 41-14 Florida State stomping by the end. The Seminoles scored minutes after that "skirmish" to go up 14 points, and the 'Canes wouldn't score again in the game. That's the second blowout of a top-10 team in three games for the Seminoles, and the combination of physical aggression and sheer skill should be cause for some concern in Tuscaloosa and Eugene. If you can't make a legitimate case for Winston as a Heisman favorite, and if you can't make a case for Florida State as the best team in the nation, you're probably squinting at the television the way Winston squints at his receivers before he threads another completion.
Regardless of what the pundits believe, the 'Noles believe in Winston, they believe in each other, and they believe they are the nation's best team.
"Oh yeah," said defensive back P.J. Williams. "Definitely. We have from the beginning. We knew what we had. We're supposed to kill them."
The nation is just recently catching onto what Fisher has in his quarterback and in his team. The players, however, have known for a while. "Since the season ended last year," said defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. "We all made an agreement. The older guys, they set a standard."
Winston was a leader even last season, before he played a down here, standing in the tunnel and yelling at teammates before games even though he was just a member of the scout team.
"He would talk to us, make sure we're all good," said Williams. "Make sure our head is right. As a redshirt, he did the same thing."
Hart shrugged when asked if it was odd that a freshman moved a head coach out of the way to address a junior.
"That was nothing I haven't seen before," he said.
It's hard to say we've seen someone quite like Winston before. Fifth-year senior quarterbacks who lead veteran teams are hard enough to find. Here's a stacked team that seems to be happy taking cues from a freshman. Yes, that happened last season with Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, but it's becoming clear Winston is more mature than Johnny Football and it's becoming clear the Seminoles have what it takes to beat the Aggies and probably every other SEC team.
"I keep forgetting he's a freshman, too," Fisher said of Winston on Saturday.
Winston's pep talk with Hart sums him up well: There's a little bit of calming influence about his presence, yet there's an equal dose of fire and brimstone. There's both grin and vinegar. He certainly wasn't perfect on Saturday, with two interceptions that led directly to Miami touchdowns, but there was no let-up in him or the team. There's just too much talent in Florida State's running backs and receivers, and just too much poise in the quarterback.
The Winston vs. Manziel vs. Marcus Mariota debate will last into December, and the Seminoles vs. Tide vs. Ducks war of words could go into January, but here's one stat to consider for the doubters:
The Seminoles have been to the red zone 45 times this season and they've scored 44 times. They've gotten points all but once within the opponents' 20-yard line. That speaks to a team with depth, size, leadership and above all, options. Winston can throw, Winston can run, Winston can hand off. It all seems to work and now two top-10 teams have been beaten into submission by this Florida State team.
Winston himself sidestepped a question about whether he feels Florida State deserves a shot at Alabama. He called his team "one of the best" in the country.
He's saying the right thing at the right time – something he's quite good at ‐ but his play and his results say something else to Alabama and Oregon: