"When I look at film and see him throw the football or see him run, I see the most talented person at the quarterback position that has ever come through that program. And that includes two Heisman Trophy winners and two first-round draft picks." Just to give you an idea of the type of expectations Winston faced before his first start consider that these words came out of former Florida State quarterback Danny Kannell’s mouth before Winston’s first start against Pittsburgh on Labor Day 2013.
The weight of defending both a Heisman Trophy and a national championship shouldn’t be a burden on his buoyant shoulders.
However, there is the content of the second half of Kanell’s comments to debate. Bobby Bowden was once forced to defend Ward’s legacy from Tim Tebow stans. Now the incursion comes from within and if Winston takes care of business this season, he may have a legit argument for being the greatest FSU quarterback in school history.
For the sake of this argument, we’ll remove Chris Weinke from the conversation and focus on the Godfather of FSU’s Heisman Trophy winning triumvirate.
Separated by two decades, Ward and Winston are inextricably linked by their connection to Doak Campbell Stadium, the Heisman Trophy and a national championship.
Yet, when the inevitable comparisons to Charlie Ward are made, they ignore one simple fact. Winston is a (red shirt) freshman. Ward started two seasons, but they were his junior and senior campaigns. Winston is also a multi-sport athlete, but he’ll be drafted highly following his sophomore year.
The differences don’t end there. That’s where they begin.
Winston’s voice booms in the locker room, while Ward led by example.
Ward was an exemplary figure, while Winston’s spent the past year dodging trouble.
In stark contrast to Winston’s actual gridiron debut, Ward’s first start at the controls for the Seminoles offense came against Clemson in Death Valley when the then-junior completed just 10 of his first 26 passes including four interceptions.
All Winston did was go out there like Mo’ne Davis and throw a near-perfect game. As the lone Monday night primetime game on Labor Day 2013, Winston completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yard and four touchdowns.
It was the most outstanding freshman entrance since Danny Kanell lit Maryland up for 341 yards, 5 touchdowns in a turnover-free outing while Ward nursed bruised ribs.
Winston’s Heisman campaign finished on a more modest note as he struggled finding his groove during the first half of the BCS National Championship Game.
The fact that we are comparing the accomplishments of a senior Heisman Trophy winner who held the highest margin of victory until Troy Smith swept the field in 2006 and nobody finds it to be blasphemous is a testament to the freshman.
Ward’s advantage is in his mobility. Ward’s diminutive size may have hurt his NFL stock, but it aided his elusiveness in the open field.
Conversely, Winston is known more for his crab legs than for using his motor to gain yardage, but don’t mistake Trinidad Jameis’ hesitancy to run as a freshman for lead feet.
Ward’s 504 rushing yards is more than double the 219 yards Winston rushed for during his freshman year, but this ignores the fact that Winston was a 1,000 yard rusher who tacked on 15 touchdowns in high school. Last season, he saved his elusiveness to scramble behind the line of scrimmage.
It’s impossible to weigh Winston and Ward’s passing yardage statistics against one another based solely on the eye test because they hail from different eras.
However, weighing them against their contemporaries sheds an interesting light on how dominant each was during their respective Heisman seasons.
Here’s how they ranked nationally in major passing categories during markedly different eras:
Yards Per Attempt
Aside from accuracy, Winston paces his football elder, but Ward’s schedule was more fraught with peril than the field of daisies FSU 2013 trampled through.
The '93 Seminoles faced No. 21 Clemson, No. 13 UNC, No. 3 Miami, No. 15 Virginia, No. 7 Florida, No. 2 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and stubbed their toe in a loss to No. 2 Notre Dame in early November.
Florida State’s non-conference schedule opens up this season with Oklahoma State and Notre Dame. Florida is expected to regain respectability while Petrino’s Louisville Cardinals pops up in late October. If Winston can avoid regressing and instead evolve as a quarterback in his second year as a starter, the Seminoles may have a new quarterback deity to glorify above all that came before him.