Winston earns his stripes for BCS performance

In another year, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will be focused on the NFL Draft, and he probably will be the top pick. If eligible, the redshirt freshman might have gone first this year. Regardless, he’s already got a No. 1 on his resume.

Winston is ready for the Monday night spotlight, and that much is certain after he drove the Seminoles to a 34-31 victory over Auburn in the Bowl Championship Series title game in the perfect setting of Pasadena, Calif.

The finale of this college football season — the last before a four-team playoff is implemented — presented an ideal ending to a flawed bowl system. Winston’s 2-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left capped a furious comeback by heavily favored Florida State.

The wiseguys were enamored with Winston, showering sharp money on the Seminoles until they closed as 10½-point favorites at most Las Vegas books.

“I like Florida State to win the football game,” Wynn sports book director John Avello said before kickoff. “But in a big game like this, there’s got to be an argument for either side.”

Avello, who made the line 8, said his book was “extremely heavy” on favorite money. In the end, Auburn was the answer to the point-spread argument, but the Seminoles and the books were the biggest winners.

The game was wagered similar to a Super Bowl — on a much smaller scale, of course — with most bettors laying the points and many ‘dog players taking the Tigers at about plus-300 on the money line. The books needed Florida State to win but not cover and for the score to stay under the total of 67½.

In the past month, Winston overcame a clumsy sexual assault investigation and a serious Auburn defense that put him in a 21-3 second-quarter hole.

Thirty-five bowls are in the books, underdogs finished 18-17 against the spread, and here’s a review of the best and worst of the bowl season:

■ Best comeback: Colorado State did not have a lead in the season-opening New Mexico Bowl until time expired. The Rams trailed by 22 points in the second quarter and by 15 with three minutes remaining. But two late fumbles by Washington State, combined with coach Mike Leach’s time mismanagement, allowed Colorado State to make a great escape with a 48-45 victory on Jared Roberts’ 41-yard field goal.

■ Second-worst collapse: Up 38-17 at halftime, Duke could smell its first bowl win since 1961. Anthony Boone passed for 427 yards, but he also threw a pick-six that turned the game, and the Blue Devils went down in Georgia. Texas A&M scored 21 fourth-quarter points, capped by Toney Hurd’s 55-yard interception return with 3:33 to go, to win 52-48 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

■ Best performance by an underdog: The nominees are Central Florida, Oklahoma and Texas Tech — all 17-point ‘dogs. The Knights beat Baylor 52-42 in the Fiesta Bowl. The Sooners stunned Alabama 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl. The Red Raiders dominated Arizona State 37-23 in the Holiday Bowl.

The award winner is Oklahoma. Any team that whips Nick Saban by two touchdowns deserves a curtain call.

■ Worst performance by a small ‘dog: The nominees are Miami, Michigan and Fresno State. The phony Hurricanes ran out of steam in a 36-9 loss to Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Wolverines, behind a backup freshman quarterback, were picked apart by Kansas State, which coasted to a 31-14 win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

The award loser is Fresno State, touted as a live 4½-point underdog in the Las Vegas Bowl. But quarterback Derek Carr broke down, and the Bulldogs were buried in a 35-6 hole in a 45-20 loss to Southern California.

■ Best quarterback: Before departing for the NFL, Teddy Bridgewater left Louisville with a parting gift. Bridgewater completed 35 of 45 passes for 447 yards and three touchdowns to beat his hometown team, Miami.

■ Worst coach: Stanford was the Rose Bowl favorite, but some of the bloom was off coach David Shaw after a 24-20 loss to Michigan State. On fourth-and-5, and trailing by seven points with 4:15 remaining, Shaw settled for a 39-yard field goal. A first down was attainable, so why cut the deficit to four when a touchdown was needed? The game ended with a Cardinal fullback getting stuffed on a fourth-and-1 run up the gut near midfield.

■ Best goodbye: Assuming Johnny Manziel leaves for the NFL, the redshirt sophomore quarterback saved one of his best games for last, passing for 382 yards and four touchdowns and running for 73 yards and a touchdown to lead the Aggies’ comeback against Duke.

■ Worst goodbye: Mack Brown fizzled out in his finale as Texas coach, a 30-7 loss to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. Brown won a BCS title in 2006 in Pasadena, but eventually met his demise because of recruiting failures.

Consider this list of quarterbacks who were interested in playing for the Longhorns but not recruited by Brown: Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Nick Foles, Manziel and Winston. Brown’s staff actually did pursue Griffin and Manziel, but as defensive backs.

“If I’d gotten an offer from Texas,” Winston told ESPN this season, “I’d be going to Texas right now.”

Instead, Winston is going to Disney World — or something like that — and Brown went down at the Alamo. How ironic.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached 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.