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Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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Winston, Noles pass eyeball test easily

TALLAHASSEE — All week long, Florida State University redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston wears contact lenses. But for some reason, during games, he takes them out.

So there he was Saturday night, practically driving the nation’s television viewers to distraction as he strained and grimaced while picking up play signals from the FSU sideline.

Hey, somehow it works.

The Splendid Squinter?

You’d have to be blind not to see it now after FSU’s 41-14 thumping of the previously unbeaten Miami Hurricanes before a record gathering of 84,409 fans at Doak Campbell Stadium.

The Seminoles have thoroughly passed the eyeball test. They will undoubtedly move to No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series standings tonight. Maybe that’s temporary status in the weekly BCS beauty contest, because Oregon can return serve Thursday night if it defeats the Stanford Cardinal.

But assuming No. 1 Alabama wins out, if you’re looking for a team with a legitimate shot at ending the SEC’s unthinkable streak of seven consecutive national championships, give me FSU.

Give me Winston, who could author the best freshman year ever for a quarterback, better than Michael Vick, Marcus Mariota, Sam Bradford, Robert Griffin III or even Johnny Manziel, who won the Heisman Trophy in his first season.

Give me those receivers, who help make it happen for Winston. They get open, catch with their hands instead of their body, separate from defenders and grab anything in the area.

Give me that backfield, led by the rugged James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman.

Give me that defense, which applies pressure and makes game-altering plays.

For a while, it looked like Miami was capable of hanging with FSU. For the first time, Winston threw a pair of interceptions in one game. The Hurricanes twice took advantage, closing the halftime gap to 21-14. And Miami got possession to start the third quarter.

Stranger things have occurred in this rivalry, where the Hurricanes have ruined FSU’s championship-bound seasons about a half-dozen times.

Not this time.

“It’s just like baseball,’’ Winston said. “Sometimes, you strike out. Then you have to bounce back. When I threw those interceptions, I still had a smile on my face even though I messed up.’’

Maybe he knew what was coming.

FSU put it out of reach with a 20-point second half.

For openers, FSU’s Terrance Brooks crashed into the backfield, dropping UM quarterback Stephen Morris for a 13-yard loss on third-and-8. The Seminoles promptly mounted a 10-play, 83-yard drive with Winston going 3-for-3, including a 22-yard deep out to Rashad Greene and a 26-yard rifle shot to Kenny Shaw.

Wilder finished it with a 5-yard run.

After that, the Hurricanes had no answers.

How do you stop Winston, anyway? He is unruffled, unbothered, having so much fun as he slices and dices an opposing defense. He delivers the deep ball with precision. He has magnificent touch. And if things are covered, his formidable 6-foot-4, 228-pound frame is an imposing sight in the open field.

Through much of the game, UM’s defense didn’t play that poorly. Winston and the Seminoles are just that good. Trying to make something happen, the Hurricanes went on an all-out blitz. Winston, on a perfect call by Jimbo Fisher, calmly dropped a screen pass into the hands of his back.

Winston was 21 of 29 for 325 yards. It was the most yards for an FSU quarterback in an initial meeting with Miami, better than Heisman winners Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke.

Through eight games, Winston has completed 70.3 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

Ridiculous numbers.

And these are equally gaudy.

FSU was 11-for-15 in third-down conversions. For the season, the Seminoles are 44-for-45 in scoring from the red zone, when entering the opponent’s 20-yard line.

“That’s a high-powered offense,’’ Miami coach Al Golden said. “Once we got behind, it unraveled.’’

The Seminoles took full advantage of their prime-time stage – and it was needed. The closing schedule not stylish – at Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho and at Florida, which, at this rate, might be headed for its first losing record since 1979.

There might be another meeting with Miami in the ACC Championship Game.

It could come down to computer points between Oregon and FSU. Ohio State is undefeated, but hasn’t played a good enough schedule. Ditto for high-flying Baylor, which won’t have enough muscle to barge into the championship talk.

Oregon or FSU?

FSU or Oregon?

“We’ve just got to keep playing well and let people judge,’’ Fisher said.

Give me the Seminoles.

After Saturday night’s impressive show, after yet another unreal display by Winston, everyone should be able to see that by now.

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