New year, new outcome: Mariota dismisses Winston’s unbeaten ‘Noles

For 29 minutes and 57 seconds of play at the Rose Bowl, it seemed like maybe – just maybe – the Florida State magic would continue. Things weren’t quite clicking right for Oregon. They held a small lead, but they weren’t finishing drives. Not only that, something extremely rare had just happened.

The Seminoles had picked off a Marcus Mariota pass attempt.

A lot has been made about Mariota’s lack of interceptions, and rightfully so. Coming into the game, Mariota was at a career interception rate of just 1.1 percent. For all of us poker players, we should consider that it is twice as rare to see a Mariota interception as it is to get beaten by a one-outer on the river.

So when the former Saint Louis School quarterback threw high on a crossing route over the middle and Seminole defensive back Nate Andrews got his arms under the ball for a diving grab close to midfield, the pro-Oregon stadium quieted and Florida State seemed ready to pounce.

But another rare event occurred just after, which killed the momentum Florida State was hoping to claim. Seminole kicker Roberto Aguayo, who was 46 for 49 on field goal attempts coming into the Rose Bowl, had his 54-yard attempt bounce off the upright and back into the field of play. The kick had plenty of leg and would have brought the Florida State deficit to just two at 18-16 going into the locker room, but rather than clip the inside and go through, it clanked the structure and fell forward.

Those have been the types of breaks that Florida State has been accustomed to getting over the past two years as it built the majority of its 29-game winning streak. Their undefeated 2014 season featured one improbable comeback after another, to the point that it felt like they may not be a great football team, though their on-off switch was more drastic than any we’ve ever seen flipped before. But when the ‘Noles failed to capitalize on a gift like a Mariota miscue, things seemed to completely wither away.

The most recent Heisman Trophy winner led Oregon to a 59-20 rout, outscoring Florida State 41-7 in the second half. He accounted for three of the team’s five second-half touchdowns as the Ducks scored the game’s final 34 points, crushing any hope of another Seminole miracle comeback with every trek across the goal line.

The game was headlined by its superstar quarterback duo – Mariota versus Jameis Winston, the past two Heisman winners and very possibly the first two quarterbacks selected in the upcoming NFL Draft. Despite their similar resumes, they have completely diverged in terms of popular opinion. Mariota has become the poster boy for a prototypical student-athlete. His on-field success seems to be only surpassed by the volume of praise heaped upon him by anyone given the opportunity.

For Winston, he has been the face of a myriad of scandalous stories. Autographs, crab legs, point shaving, vulgar comments and, by far the most serious, a sexual assault allegation. Through it all, he led his team to win after win, tasting defeat Thursday for the first (and likely last) time as an NCAA quarterback.

The new year seems to have closed the book on Winston’s college career, but the final chapter for Mariota is yet to be written. He hasn’t made any official statements about his future, but the College Football Playoff National Championship will surely be his final in a Ducks uniform. Ten days from now, he’ll have the opportunity to finish a historic career with a memorable finale and push a good story even further to the forefront.

We had more than enough bad stuff happen in 2014. A good story to start off the new year would certainly be appreciated.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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