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Turning to Maguire Not End of FSU’s Title Hopes

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Redshirt freshman Sean Maguire could be called upon to lead the Seminoles to Pasadena. (Phil Sears/AP)

One of if not the biggest story around college football of late, has been the sexual assault case against Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback and Heisman Trophy hopeful, Jameis Winston. On Tuesday, DNA evidence linked Winston to the alleged victim which neither proves Winston’s guilt nor his innocence. What it does prove however, is that Winston was with the victim on the night of December 7th, 2012 that the alleged assault took place.

Make no mistake that matters of rape are much bigger than football or sports in general and what is most important is that justice is served for Winston and the alleged victim. However, after the DNA results on Tuesday connected Winston and the accuser, there is at the very least a possibility that Winston could be charged and suspended. While the football ramifications should run secondary in this case, having to start redshirt freshman quarterback, Sean Maguire, would not necessarily spell the end of the Seminoles’ dream of a national championship.

Should Winston miss time due to suspension, Maguire would be the guy that head coach Jimbo Fisher would turn to to lead the Florida State offense. Maguire began the 2013 season third on the depth chart, but recently moved up to second due to a knee injury suffered by backup quarterback and redshirt sophomore Jacob Coker, in a 59-3 victory over Wake Forest nearly two weeks ago.

Maguire, who had never thrown a pass before Saturday’s victory over Syracuse, went 4-for-7 passing for 32 yards against the Orange. Maguire’s seven attempts included a beautiful throw to Nick O’Leary in the corner of the end zone for his first career touchdown pass and an ill-advised interception that also took place in the Syracuse end zone. The good news for Florida State is that the three games in between the Seminoles and an appearance in the final BCS National Championship are not overly tough.

All indications point to Winston starting Saturday’s home finale against Idaho, but the Vandals are just 1-9 on the season and there’s a very good chance that FSU won’t need a long outing from Winston. Fisher made an effort to play Maguire with the first team early in the second half last week against Syracuse and could do so again versus Idaho to help develop a rapport between Maguire and the team’s other offensive starters.

Following Saturday’s contest with Idaho, Florida State will visit rival Florida before playing an opponent that will not be known until the final week of the regular season, in the ACC Championship.

Florida is in the midst of its worst season in more than three decades, currently sitting at 4-6, but a visit to the storied “Swamp” of Gainesville should never be taken lightly. Florida State will also be the overwhelming favorite in the ACC Championship and with an automatic BCS bid on the line, it will be the Seminoles that have everything to lose.

Although Jameis Winston is having an outstanding year for Florida State, the Seminoles are far from a one-trick pony. Offensively, Florida State is solid at every position. The Seminoles have a great offensive line, its best receiving corps in decades and the three-headed monster at tailback of Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams that is averaging nearly 200 yards-per-game on the ground.

Junior wide receiver Rashad Greene, who is on pace to become Florida State’s first 1,000-yard receiver since 2002, is tied for the ACC lead with nine touchdown receptions while junior Nick O’Leary ranks second nationally among tight ends with seven touchdown grabs. FSU ranks eighth in the nation in total offense and only Baylor has scored more points than the Seminoles this season.

While Maguire might not be able to put up the monster numbers or make the highlight reel touchdown passes that Winston seems to on a weekly basis, he probably wouldn’t need to for FSU to be successful. Maguire’s biggest task would be instead to take care of the football and be able to deliver the ball in space to Florida State’s many playmakers.

While Florida State has scored at least 41 points in every game this season, just getting into the high 20s might be more than enough for Florida State’s defense. The Seminoles lead the nation in interceptions, are allowing the third fewest points-per-game and have not given up a touchdown in more than 10 quarters.

Though getting to Pasadena with Maguire under center seems feasible, having to potentially beat a team like two-time defending champion Alabama, is much more difficult. Florida State however, would have nearly a month to prepare for the game and Fisher has a proven history of getting inexperienced quarterbacks ready in a very short period of time.

When Fisher was still offensive coordinator in 2009, starting quarterback Christian Ponder went down with a shoulder injury in a 40-24 loss at Clemson. Florida State at the time was just 4-5 and in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 1981.

Fisher went to redshirt freshman E.J. Manuel, who went 15-for-20 passing for 220 yards and a touchdown in his first start, a 41-28 victory, against a Wake Forest team that had beaten FSU in three straight years.

Manuel led a 3-1 finish in Florida State’s final four games which not only extended the nation’s longest bowl streak, but moved the Seminoles’ string of 32 straight winning seasons to 33. Manuel was also named the Most Valuable Player of Florida State’s 33-21 victory over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl that sent legendary head coach Bobby Bowden out a winner.

After Manuel went out with an arm injury against Oklahoma in 2011, Fisher got the most out of redshirt freshman Clint Trickett in his first start. Although Florida State fell to the eventual ACC champion Clemson Tigers 35-30 in Death Valley on September 24th, 2011, Trickett passed for 336 yards and three touchdowns.

Should the Seminoles be forced to turn to Maguire, it would not be unprecedented for a quarterback that was once a third-stringer to lead FSU to the BCS title game.

Florida State reached the title game in 1998 where they would fall in the Fiesta Bowl to Tennessee 23-16. The Seminoles however, got there with a little-known backup known as “the Rooster” named Marcus Outzen.

Outzen replaced eventual national championship and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Chris Weinke, who went down with a neck injury late in the season. Weinke however, had not become the Florida State quarterback until projected starter, Dan Kendra, suffered a knee injury in the spring’s Garnet and Gold game. Weinke, who had overcome a slow start to have an outstanding season, was lost for the year in an early November home game against Virginia.

Outzen had never thrown a pass prior to the season and led victories at Wake Forest and at home against rival Florida. Outzen did not put up gaudy numbers like Weinke, but he managed the game and did enough to get the Seminoles to Tempe. The Florida team that Outzen led Florida State past was ranked fourth in the nation and better than any team that Maguire would have to face between now and January 6th.

While it is impossible to predict what will come of the sexual assault case against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the fact that it is in question has certainly put a damper on an otherwise outstanding season for the Seminoles and their freshman quarterback. All that anyone can hope for is for justice for all parties involved and that could mean the end of a promising young football career and significant jail time for Winston. Winston has been a big reason for Florida State’s success in 2013 and while his loss would certainly hinder the Seminoles’ chances of taking home the Sears Trophy, it would not be a definite death sentence.

Mike Ferguson is an ACC staff writer for the College Sports Network and can be followed on Twitter @MikeWFerguson. Also, be sure to LIKE College Sports Net’s ACC page on Facebook!

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