During the 2013 college football season, the Florida State Seminoles not only experienced one of the best seasons in program history, but also featured one of the greatest individual campaigns that ended with a national championship and Heisman Trophy.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston put together a season for the ages, and did it as a redshirt freshman. His stellar play led the Seminoles to a perfect record while putting up video game-like offensive numbers.
Winston’s remarkable season featured too many plays to single out, but ‘Noles fans will remember it involved a ton of Rashad Greene, DeVonta Freeman, Nick O’Leary and the seemingly unstoppable Kelvin Benjamin. Winston and the 6-foot-5 wide receiver’s legacy at Florida State can be summed up by one very important play.
FSU Wins 2013 National Title On “Winston to Benjamin”
With his team trailing 31-27 late in the fourth quarter of the 2014 BCS National Championship game, Jameis Winston stepped up like a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback should.
The kid from Hueytown, Alabama, led a 77-yard drive down the field against Auburn. That was capped by a play remembered as “Winston to Benjamin.”
On first and goal, Winston dropped back and floated a pass into the end zone for his massive wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Auburn cornerback Chris Davis (yes, the same Chris Davis who produced the “Kick Six”) couldn’t play hero on that night.
Benjamin hauled in the pass and Florida State took the lead with 13 seconds left in the game. It was over. The Seminoles won, 34-31, to capture their third national championship.
“That’s a storybook moment right there,” Winston told The Palm Beach Post.
Winston was named the game’s MVP, a fitting ending to his Heisman season.
Jameis Winston’s Heisman Season
The 2013 Florida State team, led by head coach Jimbo Fisher, was extremely talented and put up numbers across the board, but it was Winston who brought it all together and was the face of a team which outscored opponents by nearly an average of 40 points per game. That was a combination of FSU’s offense scoring a bunch and the defense being extremely tough.
It wasn’t until the 12th game of the season that the ‘Noles were finally held under 40 points and they still beat the Florida Gators by 30 points. But game in and game out, Winston was picking defenses apart.
But what did he do in each game to earn the trophy? On the season, he completed 66.9 percent of his passes and threw for 4,057 yards, 40 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions while also rushing for 219 yards and four touchdowns. That is the second-highest passing yards total for a season in school history and the most passing touchdowns in a season.
Game 1: AT Pittsburgh
In his first game at Florida State, Winston showed what he can do and gave everyone a taste of what the entire season would hold. Opening their ACC schedule on a Monday night against the Pittsburgh Panthers, he completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns and carried the ball eight times for 25 yards and another score. His favorite target for the game was Rashad Greene, who caught eight passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. Nick O’Leary also had a great start to the season with three of his four of receptions going for a touchdown.
With a 41-13 win, this was the team’s lowest point total until their eighth game of the season when they would also score 41 points.
Game 2: Nevada
With eight players scoring touchdowns in the home opener and a 62-7 win in Tallahassee, Winston was not needed much and had his lowest number of passing attempts on the season with just 18. But of those 18 attempts, he completed 15 of them for 214 yards and two touchdowns while throwing his first interception of the season. He also ran for eight yards and a touchdown in the game. Kenny Shaw was his leading receiver on the day with 94 yards and a touchdown on six catches.
Game 3: Bethune-Cookman
Jumping out to a quick, big lead, Winston wasn’t asked to do much for the second consecutive week with a season-low in completions and yards. He finished 10-for-19 with 148 yards and two touchdowns. Shaw once again led the way in receiving yards with 89 yards on four receptions.
Game 4: AT Boston College
In the closest game Florida State played during the regular season, Winston did everything, including his best rushing performance of the season. After two weeks of easy wins, the Seminoles needed the freshman to play a great game and walk out of Alumni Stadium with a 48-34 win. Winston had an awesome all-around performance with 330 yards and four touchdowns on 17-for-27 passing while also rushing for 67 yards on 14 attempts, which were both team-highs. His biggest play of the game was as the end of the first half when he broke two tackles and was hit as he heaved the ball 55 yards to Shaw with no time left on the clock to take a 24-17 halftime lead. Shaw, Greene, and Kelvin Benjamin each had over 90 yards in the game.
Game 5: No. 25 Maryland
In their first game against a ranked opponent, the Seminoles didn’t fool around. They absolutely destroyed the 25th-ranked Terrapins, 63-0. Winston had his second-best game in passing yards and threw for the most touchdowns of the season. He finished with 393 yards and five touchdowns on 23-of-32 attempts. Shaw and Greene combined for 204 yards on nine catches while Benjamin and O’Leary hauled in two touchdowns apiece.
Game 6: AT No. 3 Clemson
To win a game against the third-ranked team in the country is huge. So what does that make a 51-14 win over the third-ranked team in the country on their field? Monumental, I would say. Winston had his highest passing yard total against the Clemson Tigers, finishing with 444 yards and three touchdowns on 22-for-34 passing as well as a rushing touchdown. Greene and O’Leary led the team and were Winston’s favorite targets. Greene finished with eight catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns, while O’Leary had 161 yards on five receptions. This is the game that, if there were any doubts, had to put him into the discussion for the Heisman Trophy. You don’t destroy one of the top teams and not be a serious contender for the top award. And, obviously, everyone had just realized the Seminoles were a serious contender for the national championship.
Game 7: NC State
How do you follow up a 37-point ass-kicking of the third-ranked team? You score 35 points in the first quarter against a division opponent. The Wolfpack fell behind early and big. Winston threw for three touchdowns in the first quarter of the game and had 292 yards and three scores in the game on 16-for-26 passing.
Game 8: No. 7 Miami
When a Florida State team is good and has hopes of winning a championship, they have to do two things: Beat Miami and Florida. After a 7-0 start to the season, wins over two ranked teams and three consecutive wins over the Hurricanes, Winston and the Seminoles entered the game ready to play, winning 41-14. Although this was the only game during the 2013 season he didn’t have multiple passing touchdowns, Winston completed nearly three-quarters of his passes, finishing 21-for-29 with 325 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Devonta Freeman was extremely important in this game with 176 yards and three touchdowns from scrimmage.
Game 9: AT Wake Forest
On the road, it didn’t take long for the Seminoles to jump ahead of the Demon Deacons, leading 42-0 at halftime and finishing with a 59-3 win. This game was more of a defensive showing by forcing seven turnovers, including six interceptions. Winston did go 17 of 28 with 159 yards and two touchdowns, though. With the turnovers, the offense was working on short fields the whole game and only gained 296 yards from scrimmage.
Game 10: Syracuse
This was another week of FSU jumping out to an early lead, scoring 28 points in the first quarter on their way to another 59-3 win. The Orange couldn’t stop Winston, allowing the Heisman-hopeful to complete 19 of 21 attempts for 277 yards and two touchdowns. At this point in the season, the talk was how many yards would he have thrown for if his competition was a little higher and he could play through four quarters of every game instead of leaving in the third because they are leading by 30.
Game 11: Idaho
In a school-record game for points scored, the Seminoles beat up on a bad Idaho Vandals team. FSU scored 80 points while Winston was probably his most distracted from off-the-field issues. He still had a pretty solid game, however, completing 14 of 25 attempts for 225 yards and four touchdowns, his fourth time passing for at least four scores in a game during the 2013 season.
Game 12: AT Florida
Like I said earlier: Most seasons the ‘Noles want to win a championship, they have to beat Miami and Florida. That was made easier in 2013 since the Gators were bad. They won just four games on the season and lost to Georgia Southern the week before this game. Four wins was their lowest total since 1979 when they went 0-10-1. The Seminoles took a 17-0 lead to halftime and pushed the lead to 27-0 before Florida would finally score, but it was too little, too late. Florida State would eventually win 37-7 and Winston went 19-for-31 for 327 yards and three touchdowns to lead his team to the first undefeated regular season since the 1999 title team. This also started a winning streak against the Gators that would be their longest in this series for the Seminoles at five consecutive wins.
Game 13: No. 20 Duke (ACC Championship)
It took a little while to get going, but once they started scoring, Florida State didn’t stop. After the first quarter saw no points, FSU scored 45 unanswered points before the Blue Devils finally got on the board with 61 seconds remaining for their second-consecutive ACC Championship. Winston went 19-for-32 for 330 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions and also had 59 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Jameis Winston Wins 2013 Heisman Trophy
At the Heisman Ceremony in New York, Winston was named the Heisman Trophy winner, the third player and quarterback in school history. He beat out AJ McCarron from Alabama, Jordan Lynch from Northern Illinois, running back Andre Williams from Boston College, and the reigning Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel from Texas A&M.
Game 14: No. 2 Auburn (BCS National Championship)
After being named the Heisman Trophy winner, the last thing Famous Jameis needed to do in the 2013 season was beat the SEC’s Auburn Tigers in the BCS National Championship game, which was played at the Rose Bowl. One year later, and they would have been playing in the College Football Playoff. And although he definitely didn’t have the best game of his amazing season, he did enough, especially when it counted most. Winston finished the game with 20 completions on 35 attempts for 237 yards and two touchdowns. With 1 minute, 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Tre Mason ran 37 yards for a touchdown to put the Tigers in the lead, 31-27.
Winston then had one of the biggest drives and plays in championship history with about a minute left in the game. On the final drive, he completed 6 of 7 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. Obviously, the big play was when he found Benjamin in the end zone with just 13 seconds remaining in the game to take a 34-31 lead. This game isn’t given enough credit as one of the best NCAA championship games of the last decade.
Winston’s NFL Career
Although he faced sexual assault allegations through this 2013 season, along with other off-the-field issues, Winston was eventually taken with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Marcus Mariota from Oregon was taken with the second pick by the Tennessee Titans, forever connecting the two to be compared for their careers.
Winston spent five seasons in Tampa, leading the league in passing yards (5,109) and interceptions (30) in 2019. He also became the first quarterback ever to throw for 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in one season. He signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2020.
This post was originally published on May 16, 2019.