Florida State beat Notre Dame because Jameis Winston was the best player on the field in the second half.
Though the penalty on Notre Dame’s fourth-down play that disallowed the go-ahead touchdown has dominated the headlines, the lede has been buried. Notre Dame deserves all the credit in the world for going toe-to-toe with the defending champions in their building. Everett Golson looked like a potential Heisman Trophy winner. Brian Kelly drew up the plays that have made him an annual NFL target. The lines dominated Florida State on both sides of the ball.
There was one thing Notre Dame couldn’t account for and that’s Winston, who threw only one incompletion in the second half.
On Sunday morning, I was watching College Football Final when Rece Davis declared, “Marcus Mariota is the best quarterback in college football” after Lou Holtz said Mariota “may be” the best. Apparently Rece Davis didn’t watch the Florida State/Notre Dame game.
The Jameis Winston saga has been a drain on the sport of college football for a multitude of reasons. It began last year when Winston was accused of rape, to which sportswriters started blindly defending him for reasons I have yet to figure out. It was quickly revealed that regardless of what happened between Winston and his accuser, the Tallahasse Police Department made sure the truth would never get out because they never sought to find it.
This year, Winston has been suspended one game for shouting a vulgar phrase in a student cafeteria and was not suspended despite suspicion of signing autographs for money, which got Heisman frontrunner Todd Gurley sent to the sidelines.
It all adds up to a general sense of malaise and frustration with Winston, from nearly everyone who is not rooting for Florida State.
We watch sports to escape the reality of the world. Jameis Winston – in one college athlete – is everything we’re trying to escape from.
Whether it’s sexual assaults on college campuses, the absurdity of Internet memes, the entitlement of student athletes or the reasoned belief that players should get paid – Winston forces you to consider all of those as you watch the game. It’s not fair. It’s not what we want from our sports.
Yet, on Saturday night, Winston delivered a virtuoso performance that showcased why Florida State is going to stand behind their quarterback.
How can anyone think Marcus Mariota is the best quarterback in the country when Jameis Winston is now 19-0 as a starter, has won a Heisman Trophy, has won a National Title and will almost certainly lead a less-talented Florida State team than 2013 into the first college football playoff with an undefeated record?
When Johnny Football angered the sports media last year, it had to do with simple, adolescent arrogance. Then, Manziel wowed us against Alabama and all was forgiven. He then became the sport’s biggest draws and one of the biggest television draws in the history of college football. Millions upon millions of people tuned in specifically to watch Johnny Football, even if Texas A&M was a fairly average team in 2013.
For Winston? America is tuning out. In fact, Saturday provided a rare glimpse into a world where people rooted for Notre Dame because they wanted to be rid of the Winston story. People found the one entity they liked less than Notre Dame. The academic scandal that Notre Dame dealt with in August seemed like small and distinguished potatoes compared to Winston’s travails over the past 12 months.
It can never be about football with Jameis Winston at Florida State and that’s a shame. It’s not a shame to Winston, since he brought it all upon himself, but a shame to everyone else. It’s a shame to the Florida State coaches, teammates and officials who have stood up for him. It’s a shame to those who love the sport and can’t fully appreciate his talents. It’s a shame to those who believe student athletes are too entitled because Winston has never been punished.
So on it goes and nothing will change between today and Winston’s next appointment-viewing game on New Year’s Day in Pasadena or New Orleans.
There is one nugget of information that we can glean from his game against Notre Dame – an NFL team will draft Jameis Winston in the first round. He is simply too good. For all the bluster about NFL teams taking him off the board, which team lacking a franchise quarterback would do that?
Florida State on Saturday night revealed that winning cures everything. Do you think any Seminole fans left Doak Campbell wondering about their school’s perception?
If you’re the Raiders, or the Titans, or the Texans, or any moribund NFL team needing an answer at the game’s most important position, can you really afford to knock Winston off your radar?
Jameis Winston is the best player in college football. Jameis Winston will be a first-round NFL Draft pick. Talent trumps everything, and we should know that by now.
Follow me on Twitter