Florida State had not lost a game since November 2012, and quarterback Jameis Winston was personally undefeated since high school. That stretch included a national championship last season, plus a Heisman Trophy for Winston, but it also included an alarming number of close calls this season.
It appeared very often that FSU was college football’s foremost high-wire act, and against Oregon in Thursday’s Rose Bowl, the Seminoles finally fell. And no one fell harder — or more noticeably — than Winston.
In the first-ever College Football Playoff semifinal game, the Seminoles were trailing at halftime, 18-13, but that seemed no cause for worry, as the team had staged second-half comebacks all season. Even after a pair of fumbles by FSU running back Dalvin Cook had helped Oregon take a 39-20 lead late in the third quarter, it still seemed entirely possible that Winston could lead his team back.
Down 19 points, Florida State faced a fourth-and-5 situation and decided to go for it. That’s when the previously unflappable Winston committed a mind-boggling turnover:
All of a sudden, after Winston’s gaffe, it was 45-20, and the end seemed near. However, the Internet memes were just getting started:
On the sidelines, lip-readers picked up FSU Coach Jimbo Fisher telling Winston something that looked like, “If you don’t calm the [expletive] down, you’re going to the bench.”
Winston did not calm, um, down, at least if an interception on his second throw after that costly fumble was any indication. Eventually, Winston did go to the bench, but that was mostly because the game proceeded to get even more out of hand.
It was 59-20 when backup quarterback Sean Maguire entered the game, and that’s how it ended. Winston is widely expected to declare for the NFL draft, meaning that the Rose Bowl was almost certainly his last college game, and it certainly did not go the way he wanted.
Winston did some good things against Oregon, completing 29 of 45 passes for 348 yards and a touchdown, but his performance in the inaugural College Football Playoff game will likely be remembered for the ludicrous turnover that was returned for a game-sealing touchdown.
Florida State came into the game Thursday having won 29 straight games. That was a very big accomplishment, but it only served to reinforce the adage that begins, “The bigger they come …”