Signs of trouble for Winston, favored Florida State


It’s not always easy being famous. The curious case of Jameis Winston, the Florida State quarterback and controversial face of college football, is another example.

Winston, it would seem, has it all. He won a Heisman Trophy and a national championship as a redshirt freshman, and he’s the favorite to be the top pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

What more could a kid want? Free seafood.

Winston’s right arm is getting overshadowed by his crab legs, the ones he shoplifted from a Publix grocery store in Florida in April. He was caught red-handed on security video and busted for the crime, five months after he escaped charges in a sexual assault investigation.

“Everything just seemed to fall into place so well for him last season,” said Bruce Marshall, handicapper for The Gold Sheet. “But he’s had so many off-field problems, you’ve got to wonder.”

Indeed, you do have to wonder about Winston and the Seminoles, and if everything on the field will fall into place so well again this season. On paper and in the estimation of oddsmakers, coach Jimbo Fisher has another team that appears untouchable.

But, in reality, it’s never easy to repeat. It rarely happens, and I’ll wager more than $32 worth of crab legs that perfection won’t happen again for Florida State.

Winston’s knucklehead antics off the field are just one sign of stormy skies headed for Tallahassee. The Seminoles lost two of their top three running backs, two of their top three wide receivers and five defensive starters. That’s a load of NFL-caliber talent to lose, even for an elite program that simply reloads.

Another issue is complacency. Florida State crushed the competition last season, when it finished 14-0 straight up and 11-3 against the spread. The Seminoles, who scored 41 points or more in 12 games, were double-digit favorites in all but one game.

“I think it’s going to be hard for Jimbo to keep that team playing with that sort of an edge,” Marshall said. “You couldn’t make the numbers high enough on the Seminoles last season, and they just kept covering. We’ll find out early if Florida State is going to continue being able to do that. I’m very curious.”

Marshall was a consultant in the process when Golden Nugget oddsmakers Tony Miller and Aaron Kessler opened lines on the season’s top games in June. What they concluded is that Florida State forecasts as a double-digit favorite in each game until the four-team College Football Playoff begins.

“The numbers are going to be so inflated for them,” Marshall said. “This could be unprecedented, but that remains to be seen.”

According to The Gold Sheet’s records, this could be historic in a point-spread sense. No team ever has been a double-digit favorite in every regular-season game. Southern California was a double-digit favorite in all but one game in 2004.

The Seminoles open the season Aug. 30 as 17½-point favorites over Oklahoma State at Arlington, Texas. And that, believe it or not, is one of the most competitive games on their schedule.

At the Golden Nugget sports book, these are the lines on Florida State’s other featured games: -19½ vs. Clemson, -28½ at North Carolina State, -23½ at Syracuse, -18½ vs. Notre Dame, -17 at Louisville, -15½ at Miami and -17 vs. Florida.

Is there a chance the Seminoles could be single-digit favorites in any regular-season game?

“Not one,” Miller said, “unless something happens to Winston.”

Of course, Winston is saying all the right things, apologizing for scrambling off with the crab legs and promising to play even better this season. As a freshman, he completed 67 percent of his passes for 4,057 yards with 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

All eyes are on him now, and not just those of the local police. Opposing defenses will target Winston and test him, as Auburn did in the Bowl Championship Series title game at Pasadena, Calif.

The Tigers, 10½-point underdogs, led the Seminoles 21-3 in the second quarter. Winston rallied Florida State to a 34-31 win, capped by his 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left. Benjamin, a first-round draft pick by the Carolina Panthers, will be missed.

Winston will have to be even better, because the Seminoles are not as strong as they were last season.

Nick Saban is back, so Alabama always has a shot to be one of the four teams in the new playoff.

Ohio State (Braxton Miller), Oklahoma (Trevor Knight), Baylor (Bryce Petty), Oregon (Marcus Mariota) and UCLA (Brett Hundley) are led by quarterbacks capable of taking down Winston.

I’ll bet more than a fistful of crab legs that Florida State will take a fall, but we might not see it until January.

■ BOTTOM LINES — A free football handicapping seminar staged by Jay Kornegay at the LVH sports book will be held Aug. 22, with panels focusing on the AFC, NFC and college football. ... South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro has posted early NBA lines. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are 3½-point favorites at Miami on Christmas Day, and Cleveland’s regular-season win total is 57½.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.