Throughout the spring and fall, everyone who covers Florida State football has believed that Jameis Winston would be named as Florida State's starting quarterback. It's what good, trusted sources who get to watch closed practices believed. I maintained that after his Winston's spring performance, Jacob Coker would have to clearly beat him out in order to be named as the starter. Both quarterbacks are very talented, though Winston comes with a lot more recruiting hype and a somewhat higher ceiling.
But as Friday winds down, Fisher has still not named a starting quarterback. And my opinion of the race is changing.
Some think this is a ploy to prevent Coker, a red-shirt sophomore, from transferring. The thought being that if Coker is enrolled at Florida State for the fall semester, and attends classes, that he would have to sit out the spring 2014 and Fall 2014 semesters. If that is true, and I want to stress that I do not know that to be the case (I called the NCAA and was on hold for 20 minutes before being cut off), then it would make more sense for Coker to stay in the Fall of 2013, get his degree, and then be able to graduate and play immediately at another school. The downside to staying, of course, is that he would not be learning the new offense of his new school in the fall of 2013.
I am waiting on a call back from other sources on the transfer rule, and do not know how many credit hours Coker needs to graduate. I don't believe the school can release that information due to FERPA.
But I do not believe the delay is a ploy to keep Coker from transferring. I now believe there is a real, fierce battle brewing, and that Coker has played much better than anyone expected. And Winston has had some struggles in camp. There seems to be a bit of a deadlock.
I also don't believe that Coker has clearly and soundly beaten out Winston. I think Coker's talent, which has always been highly regarded, has shone through more than anyone expected after his foot injury in spring ball.
Further, with an anticipated excellent running game and what should be another top defense, there is worry that Winston trusts himself too much. Winston does make plays, but he has also struggled some with forcing the ball and trying to make too much happen, instead of playing within the confines of the offense and then improvising if something is not available.
Winston is the better runner, but Coker is much more mobile than people believe. Recruiting fans will remember that he was quite a basketball and baseball player.
I believe that Jimbo Fisher and his staff are truly torn. And with what I've been told about how they played through the final week of camp, there is merit to playing either player. At this point, I don't know when to expect a decision. It could, in theory come at 8 pm on September 2 in Pittsburgh.
If I had to guess who will be the starter, I would probably side with Winston, but I'm not in the head of the offensive coaching staff. I don't know how much they believe they can limit Winston's downside through play calling so that his freakish talent can shine through. I don't know how much of a drop-off, if any they believe the running game will experience with Coker in there as opposed to Winston (the idea being that the defense must respect the threat of the quarterback keeping the ball off the backside, otherwise defenders will chase down runners and ignore the quarterback).
I also don't know how either move could impact team chemistry.
If Coker has beaten out Winston soundly, and Fisher were to play Winston, the team would not believe that Fisher plays the best player, and would lose faith in him. But there doesn't seem to be the indication that it's obvious to all involved that Coker would start. Who does the team believe is best to lead? This is a small, but not insignificant consideration. Remember that players are notoriously poor at evaluating other players.
This could get very interesting.