In a season that saw Florida State run rampant through its schedule and earn a spot in the national championship game against Auburn, Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston was designated the top player in the land when he took home the 2013 Heisman Trophy.
Winston threw for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns and became the youngest player in history to take home the coveted award. He won the trophy in dominant fashion with 2,205 points, with Alabama’s AJ McCarron finishing second at 704 points. It was the seventh-largest winning margin in Heisman history.
The fact that Florida State was never really challenged behind Winston’s play (outside of a closer-than-many-realize Boston College game) is impressive in its own right, but the fact that he is only a freshman is astounding.
Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis believes Winston's emergence at such a young age represents a larger trend across the college football landscape:
Winston’s growth, personally and athletically, is a microcosm of a trend taking place across college football in recent years. No longer are players being forced to wait behind more experienced veterans on the depth chart.
The question now becomes whether he can do it again next season and what (and who) stands in his way.
For one, historical precedent does not favor Winston’s repeat chances. Winning the Heisman Trophy just once requires an incredible combination of pure talent, impressive teammates, a media-driven “Heisman moment” or two, health and a little bit of luck. Winston may have the brightest of futures ahead of him as a freshman, but that is no guarantee that he will perform at the same level with a target on his back next year.
Just ask 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.
It is a testament to Manziel’s once-in-a-generation talent and magnetism that he was a Heisman finalist at all in 2013, seeing as how he dealt with injury concerns and was plagued by turnovers all year. His Texas A&M team lost every time it took the field against a ranked opponent, which ultimately crippled his chances at winning the award again.
Manziel was just a freshman last season, but winning the Heisman puts a permanent target on your back for the rest of your career. It inspires the opponent to bring just a little more juice when lining up across the ball, and that alone will test Winston in 2014.
Furthermore, college football will be loaded with other candidates next year, and voters may be wary of giving the award to someone two seasons in a row if Winston is neck-and-neck with other players.
De’Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota at Oregon, Braxton Miller at Ohio State, T.J. Yeldon at Alabama, Tre Mason and Nick Marshall at Auburn, and Bryce Petty at Baylor immediately come to mind. This being the Heisman race, there are bound to be a number of dark-horse candidates that emerge with eye-popping stats throughout the 2014 season as well.
Throw in a whole new crop of freshmen to this list of immense returning talent, and Winston will have plenty of challengers in 2014.
Then there is the playoff factor. Team success isn’t the be-all, end-all for winning the Heisman Trophy, but in the first year of the College Football Playoff it’s difficult to imagine a candidate from a team that isn’t in contention for the postseason earning the nod as the sport’s best player. Florida State will certainly be on the short list of contenders for the playoffs, but if the Seminoles falter it could hurt Winston’s stock.
While there are a number of factors working against him, let’s not forget who we are talking about. Winston was far and away the best player in college football this season, and his immense talent isn’t going to suddenly disappear overnight.
Taking Winston’s abilities and the number of opposing forces and candidates into account, let’s tentatively set the chances at 20-1 for a repeat Heisman winner in 2014. That may seem like long odds, but there is a reason Ohio State’s Archie Griffin is the only two-time winner in college football history.
Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.
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