CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Scandal involving Jameis Winston isn't necessarily end of a title run

The quarterback has been linked to a sexual assault criminal complaint, but teams have dealt with off-field distractions before and still come out on top. Florida State has to just let it play out.

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Jameis Winston

Quarterback Jameis Winston talks to Florida State teammate Bryan Stork during a victory over Wake Forest last month. (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)

What can stop Florida State now?

The Seminoles wiped Clemson out on national television on Oct. 19 and then were gifted with last week's Stanford win against Oregon. That Nov. 7 upset secured Florida State's hold on No. 2 in the Bowl Champion Series standings.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's less-than-perfect performance also elevated Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston as the Heisman front-runner.

Florida State (9-0) controls its fate to the BCS title game with a row of clay pigeons left to shoot down on its schedule. Saturday's home game against Syracuse starts the countdown clock to the BCS title game Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl.

Florida State's opponent in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game could be — get this — Duke!

The future is candy canes and rainbows and …uh-oh, this just in: Winston has been linked to a sexual criminal complaint filed last December.

Top programs don't mind national publicity, but the one outlet you don't want working your beat is TMZ Sports.

Winston's situation is what we call a potential "game changer." You try to plan around unforeseen events such as injuries, but it's hard to prepare for certain out-of-nowhere bombshells.

What happens next could have a profound effect on Florida State's championship run. Serious charges levied could lead to Winston's suspension — and no one player in the nation is more valuable to his team.

The details are murky and Winston's lawyer is denying any wrongdoing. However, the case is open, so we know it's not yet open and shut.

Winston is expected to start Saturday's game and there is no reason, yet, to panic. Coach Jimbo Fisher said Winston has taken every rep in practice and offered that being successful comes with a certain level of "clutter."

Florida State isn't the first school that has had to deal with serious off-field distractions during a championship run. Florida State dealt with one during its last title run, in 1999.

That was the year star receiver Peter Warrick was suspended during the season for taking player-friendly discounts at a local department store.

Coach Bobby Bowden was a master at making people laugh during a crisis. "I'm praying for a misdemeanor," he said.

And Bowden got it.

Warrick was deeply remorseful once he moved past his knee-jerk response: "It's not like I shot the president." Warrick received a two-game suspension and endured some vicious invectives in rival stadiums.

The incident cost Warrick the Biletnikoff Award, and maybe the Heisman, but Florida State won the national title with Bowden's only undefeated season.

Florida State hopes the Winston story is just another blip.

Off-field problems have been overrated in terms of dream derailments.

In 1995, Lawrence Phillips was a huge distraction for Nebraska. The star tailback was convicted of misdemeanor assault on his ex-girlfriend in September of that year.

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