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Starkey: 'King Jameis' and Pitt's perpetual dilemma

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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston picks up yardage against Pitt's Shane Gordon during the fourth quarter Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, at Heinz Field.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, 9:21 p.m.

This space almost was reserved for Pitt, after yet another less-than-stellar season opener.

It was going to touch on the sad fact that the Panthers haven't had a quarterback drafted in the first round since 1983, or any round since 1993 (when Alex Van Pelt went in the no-longer-existent eighth round).

It was going to compare Paul Chryst with Walt Harris on the following basis: While both obviously are excellent quarterbacks coaches — guys who can wring the most out of average pedigree — that will only get you so far; Chryst needs to find a star.

It might have mentioned Dave Wannstedt, too, and how his entire head-coaching career — pro and college — was ruined by the inability to find a transformative player at the most important position on the field.

All of that was scrapped, however, because there really wasn't much news from the Pitt side of a 41-13 drubbing. Everything looked the same, from the product on the field to the near-empty stadium near the end.

What was the slogan the year Johnny Majors returned to Pitt? Back to the Future. It's always back to the future at Pitt, only not far back enough.

For 30 years, this program has been running a treadmill of mediocrity.

For 30 years, it has been looking for its next great quarterback.

But instead of talking about all that, we're going to talk about somebody else's great quarterback and what might be the biggest story in college football this year: King Jameis.

In a few years, Jameis Winston will be Florida State's third consecutive starting quarterback to go in the first round. He might go first overall. He might also pull a Johnny Manziel and win the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman.

He's that good.

I heard some cautionary, “Yeah, but …” talk after Winston debuted by going 25 for 27 for 356 yards, five total touchdowns and no interceptions.

He almost had his own 30 for 30 (literally) ESPN special by the end of the night.

Yeah, but he had open receivers all over the place.

Yeah, but it was only Pitt.

Please. The kid didn't throw a pass that hit the ground until the second half.

He made accurate throws on the run. He made subtle moves in the pocket (his first TD pass). He took a hit and delivered a 25-yard rope down the left seam. He made all the right decisions — including his touchdown run, when he cast a frightful sight sweeping to his left.

Consider the first-and-30 play late in the first half. It started with the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Winston pinned in the pocket as he stepped up. So he stepped back, rolled right and fired a dart 25 yards to the right sideline, hitting receiver Rashad Greene between the numbers.

After the game, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher flashed the smile of a man who knows he has a superstar quarterback. He got a kick out of the first question, when a reporter jokingly asked, “What happened on the two incompletions?”

After trying to downplay what we'd all just seen, Fisher had to admit: “You don't ever expect anybody to do that.”

Winston walked into the cramped visitors media room wearing a compression shirt that read “Be Elite.” He lit the place up. He projects a Cam Newton vibe, both in physical stature and charisma.

Somebody asked if he'd made any mistakes.

“I had two (play) busts,” Winston said. “I got sacked. I don't like getting sacked. I mean, there's so many things that are under the table that people don't see.”

I guess we'll have to wait for the first mistake we can see.

In the meantime, I was going to say that Winston is the type of quarterback Pitt never gets, but that would be unfair, because he's the type hardly anybody gets. It also would be unfair to paint a negative picture of Pitt quarterback Tom Savage after one game. Under Chryst's guidance, Savage might very well become a productive quarterback.

But until Chryst finds a star at the sport's most critical position, his rebuilding project will be stuck in neutral. Pitt will be stuck in the past.

Just not far enough.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at

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