Notebook: Kelly expecting Winston to play vs. ND; Vegas unsure

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — A day after Florida State head football coach Jimbo Fisher vehemently defended his starting quarterback and vowed Jameis Winston would play in Saturday night’s showdown with No. 5 Notre Dame, he encored Tuesday.

And Las Vegas started to backpedal.

Per ESPN, multiple sports books took the matchup between No. 2 Florida State (6-0) and the Irish (6-0) in Tallahassee, Fla., off the board because of uncertainty about whether Winston would actually be FSU’s starting QB in that game.

The drop-off between the reigning but troubled Heisman Trophy winner and backup Sean Maguire is the difference between the nation’s No. 12 passer and surging toward the No. 1 spot he finished in last year, and a player who would rate 98th nationally in pass-efficiency if he had enough attempts to qualify.

For comparison’s sake, former Irish QB Andrew Hendrix, now the starter at Miami (Ohio), is 76th.

“Well, we're preparing for their system,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said with a straight face when asked about how he would handle not playing against Winston. “Jimbo's system, we know it, so we've got a pretty good idea of what that system's going to be.”

Kelly neglected to say, but it would be safe to assume he’d do cartwheels if either the growing buzz about possibly selling signed memorabilia or an upcoming code of conduct hearing prompted Florida State officials to be proactive and take the decision out of Fisher’s hands.

The autograph issue is the bigger threat in the short term. Florida State is investigating whether Winston received money for the reportedly more than 900 autographs that were authenticated by the dealer that has been linked to suspended Georgia star Todd Gurley.

“Never taken a dime,” the Orlando Sentinel reported that Fisher said of Winston on Tuesday. “He’s signed thousands of things. That guys sits an hour and a half before baseball game and signs, an hour and a half after a baseball game. There’s thousands of things out there with his name out there. He’s very accommodating to people.”

Winston plays for the FSU baseball team as well, and actually faced the Irish last spring. The Seminoles took all three games in the series, two by one run. But Winston struggled at the plate, going 0-for- 5 with three strikeouts, and on the mound — three batters faced, two hits and a walk, zero outs recorded, two earned runs allowed.

ESPN reported the betting line moved seven points when Winston was suspended earlier this season for the Clemson football game, a game the Seminoles survived 23-17 in overtime, and that FSU would probably be a 3- to 3½-point favorite if Maguire is running the offense against the Irish.

The ND-FSU betting line opened with FSU as a 13½-point favorite and had moved to anywhere from nine to 12 points by Tuesday on the sports books that didn’t halt betting. The Seminoles have scored at least 34 points in every one of Winston’s 19 collegiate starts.

What Winston has not done is face many elite pass defenses in his collegiate career to this point. Two of his career starts came against FCS schools, The Citadel and Bethune-Cookman. Of the 17 that came against FBS teams, Winston has faced only three top 50 pass-efficiency defenses and two in the top 30.

By comparison, more than half (9) of Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson’s 17 career starts have come against top 50 pass defenses and seven in the top 30.

To Winston’s credit, he excelled against the two elite pass defenses he did face, racking up 444 yards passing and a 197.64 passer rating against Clemson’s 19th-ranked unit in 2013 and 327 yards and a 175.38 rating against Florida’s eighth-ranked unit in 2013, both well above his 2014 season rating of 159.5.

Notre Dame’s pass-efficiency defense sagged to 41st nationally after North Carolina’s Marquise Williams’ banner day in a 50-43 ND victory. Florida State’s pass defense is ranked 64th through six games after finishing second to Michigan State last year during the title run.

The Irish faced the nation’s 2012 leader in pass-efficiency, in Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game and a top-five passer, in Stanford’s Andrew Luck, in both 2010 and 2011. ND went 0-3 in those games.

“Anytime you're playing a quarterback that is so efficient, and that is what stands out here is efficiency — not turning the football over, minimizing any of the mistakes that they make — I think you have to look at yourself the same way,'' Kelly said.

“Not giving up big plays is important for us. Not forcing us in a situation where we make that big mistake. They're waiting for you to make a mistake, and I think that's where they've shown themselves to be very, very good, and Winston in particular. He's waiting for you to make a mistake.

“We have to be on top of our game. If we do that, we think we've got enough to make some plays as well. You can't let your guard down against him any play or he'll beat you.”

Odd and ends

Golson, despite a dizzying run of turnovers over the past three games, continues to gain in the Heisman Trophy race, at least according to Vegas. Per Bovada.LV, the ND quarterback, at 11-2 odds, trails only Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott (9-4) and Oregon QB Marcus Mariota (3-1).

He’s tied for third with Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. FSU’s Winston is listed as 20-1.

In the national title race, Florida State is the favorite at 6-1, followed by Mississippi State (7-1), Michigan State and Ole Miss (both 15-2), Alabama (8-1) and Notre Dame (10-1, down from 12-1 a week ago).

Safety in numbers?

Kelly had ruled grad student Austin Collinsworth out of the Florida State game with a dislocated left shoulder even before he was to undergo an MRI exam Sunday.

Then the MRI got pushed back to Tuesday, the results of which are unknown, but will determine whether Collinsworth is done for the year or whether he can return in some capacity to help a depleted safety corps.

Kelly has only four healthy scholarship safeties available for Florida State, one of those being a true freshman, Drue Tranquill, and another being senior Matthias Farley, who is the team’s top nickelback.

He said he has no immediate plans to move another player to that position, a stance he could revisit during the bye week next week and/or when Collinsworth’s tests come back.

Collinsworth made his first start of the season Saturday in a 50-43 win over North Carolina, but didn’t last a quarter before suffering the shoulder injury. He missed ND’s first four games this season because of a knee injury.

The Irish lost senior Eilar Hardy to the academic fraud investigation on Aug. 28 and junior Nicky Baratti to a season-ending shoulder injury Sept. 13 in a 30-14 win over Purdue.

Spoiled story line?

So much for nostalgia.

The 1993 “Game of the Century” between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 ND that’s getting so much play this week, wasn’t even a fleeting thought for Kelly, who was a third-year head coach at Division II Grand Valley State at the time.

“I have zero recollection of that game, I'm sorry,” he said.

Since being here have you seen highlights of it at all?

“No,” Kelly answered. "I don't think I've seen one highlight of that. Was it a good game?''

It was.

“Did we win?” Kelly asked.

Notre Dame won, yes.

“I like the game already.”

They were No. 1, Notre Dame was No. 2, and it was here. 31‑24 Notre Dame.

“I like that. Let's have a repeat of that one.”


Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will play Saturday night against Notre Dame, insists his coach, Jimbo Fisher. Las Vegas isn't so sure. (AP Photo/FRANK FRANKLIN II)