Quarterback Jameis Winston #5 of the Florida State Seminoles warms up before playing the Maryland Terrapins at Doak Campbell Stadium on Bobby Bowden Field on October 5, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida. The eightth-ranked Florida State Seminoles defeated the 25th-ranked Maryland Terrapins 63-0. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment it happened for Johnny Manziel, but when he disappeared into a crowd of linemen last year in the first quarter against Alabama and came out the other side as a touchdown-slinging legend, everything changed both for him and us.
No longer was he a nice little feel-good story, neatly contained to the world of college football but rather a full-blown phenomenon that everyone - Manziel included - struggled to get their arms around.
We have not yet reached that point with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, but we're close. And as Winston authored his YouTube moment of the week, escaping a sure sack late in the third quarter, ducking under a Maryland linebacker and spinning away to throw a touchdown, it was impossible not to flash back to Tuscaloosa last November and wonder just how big "Famous Jameis" is about to get.
"Jameis is the real deal," Florida State athletics director Stan Wilcox said. "We have enough really good people around him that I feel very comfortable he's going to handle this."
No. 8-ranked Florida State obliterated Maryland on Saturday, 63-0, the latest in a long line of Atlantic Coast Conference upstarts who have left Doak Campbell Stadium unable to deal with the plethora of sheer talent and speed that the Seminoles seem to have on an annual basis.
In other words, this was neither the quality of opponent, nor the kind of pressure and national stage upon which Manziel proved he was worthy of the Heisman Trophy and the unprecedented acclaim that came with it.
But five games into his career, it is now clear that Winston is every bit the special talent those around the Florida State program touted him to be. If anything, Winston has been better than the hype that built last year as he sat behind first-round draft pick E.J. Manuel and then shuttled between spring practice and the baseball field, where he is also considered a top-flight prospect.
And for Florida State, it's only a matter of time before some of the same hysteria that has overwhelmed Texas A&M for the past 12 months descends on Tallahassee and the world demands more, more, more of a 19-year old redshirt freshman who may or may not be ready for his life to change.
"Yeah, he's changed," receiver Kenny Shaw said. "He became more humble. That's backwards for most people when they get all the fame and all that, but he's become more humble."
If Winston has an advantage over Manziel, it's that attention is not exactly coming out of nowhere. Winston came to Florida State from Hueytown, Ala., as a blue-chip recruit in two sports, choosing the Seminoles after a tense recruiting battle with Alabama. In fact, what largely sold Winston on Florida State was not football but the tag-team recruiting Jimbo Fisher did with baseball coach Mike Martin, whose program is usually among the best in the country. (For Winston, baseball was not an afterthought; some scouting services ranked him among the nation's top-25 prospects coming out of high school and the Texas Rangers drafted him in the 15th round.)
For all those gifts, though, it was hard to envision Winston was capable of this: Through five games, he has completed 73.2 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
"I think with the team that I have it's always been easy," Winston said Saturday after shredding Maryland for 23-of-32 completions, 393 yards and five touchdowns in a little more than three quarters of work. "It's probably slowing down a little more because I'm getting used to the speed and everything, but I have so many weapons it's always looking like that out there just from my viewpoint, seeing the defense and everything and how we prepare for other teams."
It's not just the numbers, though. Winston combines John Elway's strength with Cam Newton's charisma with Manziel's how-did-that-just-happen escapeability. He doesn't make big mistakes. He throws deep balls with ridiculous accuracy and touch. He throws frozen ropes on the run. And when he has to scramble, he's mobile and strong enough to turn busted plays into positive yards.
"He just does as good a job of getting out of pressure, once he gets out, and finding guys down the field as he's elduing," Fisher said. "He's still getting away and he can transfer from his eyes, what he sees, to his hands and gets the ball out."
It's a rare gift, and it has made college football look like child's play for him thus far, albeit against marginal competition.
But in two weeks, Florida State will travel to No. 4 Clemson in arguably the biggest ACC game in years. Win that one, and Winston is no longer an unusually skilled freshman but rather a Heisman favorite playing on a national title contender, a full month earlier than the Johnny Football phenomenon hit full force in 2012.
And if that happens, everything changes, his life in many ways no longer his own. Fair? Of course not, especially for a 19-year old. But in the 24-hour media/Twitter/YouTube world in which we live, that is what lies ahead for Winston. The only question is whether it happens in two weeks or a little later. He really is that good, and most of all, that likeable.
Is he ready?
"He'll stay the same," Fisher said. "You talk to him the same way. It's like I say, when you want to get better you go work and get better. If you don't want to do as well, don't work as hard. You tell him the same things, you tell him every day and you have to hope he believes you, which I think he does, and he understands the big picture. He eliminates the clutter outside that doesn't matter."
Everyone around Winston swears that he is humble enough, grounded enough and cognizant enough of what he will become to handle everything that's coming. Let's hope so, because Famous Jameis is right on the verge of turning a nickname into a self-fulfilling prophecy.