ESPN.com on Monday debuted its picks for the greatest seasons of all time at all 128 FBS schools. Among the ACC’s best, probably the most difficult single-season representative to pick was Florida State's. Each of the four guys listed below had eye-popping numbers that could justifiably make his top season the best in FSU history. Read our cases for Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke, Jameis Winston and Deion Sanders, then tell us what you think by voting in the poll to the right and on Twitter using #TheSeason.
Charlie Ward (QB, 1990–1994)
Ward played football? Relax, #FSUTwitter, I'm kidding. But for a New York kid who was raised on those '90s Knicks teams, I was always amazed whenever I heard that this guy who was a starting point guard on one of the NBA's better teams had, in fact, won college football’s most coveted individual honor several years earlier.
Looking back, though, it is no surprise, and it is difficult to argue that anyone had a better season in a Florida State uniform than Ward did in 1993. He won the school's first Heisman Trophy and its first national title, which also helped lift his head coach, the legendary Bobby Bowden, to rarefied air. Ward was a mobile quarterback before it became fashionable, and he frustrated opposing defensive coordinators to no end. At a modest 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Ward completed 69.5 percent of his passes in '93, better than both Jameis Winston (66.9, 2013) and Chris Weinke (61.7, 2000). His 3,032 passing yards were significantly lower than his contemporaries (4,057 for Winston; 4,167 for Weinke), but they came in one fewer game, and he made up for it with 339 rushing yards and four scores on the ground. (And by making better decisions -- he had just four interceptions in 1993, six fewer than Winston and seven fewer than Weinke.)
Then, of course, there is the gauntlet of a schedule the Seminoles faced in '93: No. 3 Miami, at No. 2 Notre Dame, at No. 7 Florida, No. 2 Nebraska ... in addition to three other ranked opponents. Sure, the Seminoles fell short of perfection, losing in South Bend in the so-called "Game of the Century," but that was hardly Ward's fault, as he executed a furious rally and finished with 297 yards passing with three touchdowns and one pick. Winston faced five ranked teams last season. Weinke faced four in 2000, losing to two of them. -- Matt Fortuna
Chris Weinke (QB, 1997-2000)
It’s funny to think that if baseball had not lured Weinke away from FSU out of high school, he would’ve been part of the same depth chart as Ward in the early 1990s. Instead, the Seminoles got two all-time greats eight years apart. It wasn’t until Weinke was 25 years old that he finally enrolled at Florida State in 1997, but he quickly made up for lost time.
In three years as Florida State’s starting quarterback, Weinke lost just three games, led the Seminoles to three straight national championship appearances, and led the ACC in passing yards three times and touchdowns twice. In 2000, Weinke followed in Ward’s footsteps by winning the Heisman Trophy. During Winston’s Heisman run last season, he topped 343 yards in three games. Weikne averaged that number for the entire season in 2000.
Weinke brings both thrilling highs along with a longer-lasting career than the other candidates in this debate, which sets him apart. He certainly wasn’t as athletic as Ward, wasn’t as flashy as Sanders and he didn’t have the same NFL-caliber talent as Winston, but he was the architect of FSU’s offense for the most successful three-year stretch in the program’s history, which makes him as important a player as any who has taken the field in Tallahassee. -- David M. Hale
Jameis Winston (QB, 2013-present)
Two long balls -- one over a frat house and one that went for a touchdown in the spring game -- precipitated Winston’s legendary status before taking his first career snap, but his 2013 season cemented it. Nobody was quite sure what to expect out of the redshirt freshman entering his first season as the starter, but all involved were acutely aware of the exceedingly high expectations already placed on the former No. 1 high school quarterback. Florida State had arguably the country’s most talented roster and had a schedule that could set it up for a national championship bid, but did the Seminoles have the quarterback to get them to Pasadena?
It did not take long for Winston to emphatically quell any concerns, putting together a nearly flawless game at Pittsburgh in his first career start. His entire rookie season could be described as flawless, too. His 40 passing touchdowns set a school record as well as a national freshman record, and his 4,057 yards were also tops among freshman passers in NCAA history. He orchestrated an offense that was the most prolific in NCAA history, despite leaving most games well before the fourth quarter. And when his team needed him most, Winston rose to the occasion, lifting Florida State out of an 18-point deficit in the national championship game. When Florida State began its final drive trailing Auburn 31-27 with 1:19 left, Winston completed six of his seven passes on the drive, the last culminating in the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left.
As you can see, there is no mention of Ward, Weinke or Prime in my argument. Winston’s case speaks for itself. Negative recruiting not necessary. -- Jared Shanker
Deion Sanders (DB, 1985-1988)
Sure, Ward and Winston are impressive as two-sport athletes. But they have nothing on Sanders, who played and excelled at three sports -- making him one of the best overall athletes in NCAA history.
The 1988 season turned out to be his finest. Sanders ran a 10.26 in the 100 meters with the Florida State track team; the Yankees drafted him to play baseball; he won the Thorpe Award as the best cornerback in the nation and led the country in punt return average.
Incredible, yes. But let us focus on his greatest football season. Sanders set the gold standard as one of the finest cover cornerbacks in football history. So good that he won consensus All-America honors. So good that teams rarely threw his way. When they did, they paid dearly.
Look to his final collegiate game, the '89 Sugar Bowl against Auburn. On the very last play of his Florida State career, Sanders came up with an interception in the end zone to seal the victory. Afterward, he said, “There is no quarterback who can pick on me.”
Sanders spoke the truth, and forever revolutionized the position he played. Aspiring cornerbacks dream of becoming the next Deion Sanders. Quarterbacks are supposed to lead, but a lanky defensive back took over Florida State as the face of the program in 1988. His flair, flamboyance and swagger only added to his “Neon Deion” persona. Sanders always talked a big game. But he always backed it up.
We can debate where Ward and Weinke and Winston rate among all-time collegiate quarterbacks. There is no such debate with Sanders. He is the best who ever played his position, and the 1988 season only added to his legend. --Andrea Adelson