Here it is, America: Your moment of Zen. Happy 2015.
(And in an instant, one birthday party with MC Tom Rinaldi at the Rose Bowl some 360 days past, suddenly feels a lot closer to 360 years ago.)
Two starkly different moments, with two wildly-shifted and now-opposing public perceptions coloring the weeks and months in between them.
Indeed, yesterday, the karmic clouds gathered, the infamous Winston stumbled and fumbled, and 75 percent of SportsNation presumably stood at attention, smiled widely, and applauded. The New York Times marked Oregon's 59-20 stomping with a recap-headline fit for a celebratory electoral victory (Rose Bowl Rout!), USA Today declared the sport was "finally done" with Winston, and the saga of the Florida State Seminoles—and perhaps their quarterback's collegiate career (or maybe not)—came to a close. On the field, anyways.
Here's what we don't know: what a 30-18 FSU lead might've looked like. And whether or not we'd be here writing Winston and Co.'s eulogy had they cashed the 17 points from four subtle but major first-half moments: Winston's fourth-down option-keeper in the first quarter falling a knee-cap short; this missed pass-interference call on Nick O'Leary; Jalen Ramsey's dropped INT; and Roberto Aguayo's upright-skimming 54-yard missed FG. (The "What if?" question of referees and inches, if nothing else, worth pondering as a reminder of how close the game once was. And also, to remember what we do for that inch.)
Here's what we do know, then, when overanalyzing the one (albeit massively important) game sample: Winston exhibited his command and tools in the side's pro-style offense far better than the 39-point final deficit reflected; Mariota, meanwhile, showed off killer track-speed and passing skills that make him the likely 2015 No. 1 pick, but questions of his viability outside of Oregon's juggernautical offensive system remain, Pac-12 record 56 TDs or not.
Winston, for his part, certainly bears a strong resemblance to Ben Roethlisberger's hulking, shifty, and stout style; in the pocket, in spite of quiet afternoons from two of his biggest receiving weapons in Rashad Greene and O'Leary, he strung together two crucial touchdown drives following Duck touchdowns in the second and third quarter to keep the 'Noles alive ahead of Dalvin Cook's two empathy-inducing cough-ups (well, maybe from my U of O alumni mother, anyways, or presumably many human beings, though not from indigent FSU fans calling for Cook's resignation), that led to Oregon scores and a seemingly insurmountable 39-20 lead. And, for whatever it's worth, Winston in defeat was shockingly positive, encouraging his teammates, supporting Cook, and respectful in the postgame handshakes.
Meanwhile, to contextualize Mariota's historic afternoon, he completed about half of his passes via bubble screens, which also set up both of his touchdown throws to Darren Carrington, amidst severely busted FSU coverages; he came a Ramsey drop from throwing as many interceptions in the first-half as he did all season; and leading into the game, the LA Times even insinuated Duck teammate and offensive tackle Jake Fisher, in fact, was more important to Oregon's title hopes, evidenced by the 12 sacks allowed in an Arizona loss and Washington State narrow-win in Fisher's two missed games, compared to 14 sacks allowed in the eight contests after his return.
Objectively, it seems that Roethlisberger may be the best arc for Winston (the perhaps long-forgotten sexual assault allegations against the Steelers QB and two-time Super Bowl winner's reportedly settled for about the price of a game-check, withstanding), but given the rarity of Wilson's talents (he simply doesn't get blown-out, ever), a more fair spectrum at present is likely between Colin Kaepernick and RGIII. Proceed accordingly, draft evaluators.
And finally, we most certainly know this, too: that NFL teams, willing to sit idly by while potential starts like Vontaze Burfict go undrafted due to character issues, will undoubtedly weigh, analyze, and scrutinize the relative costs and benefits of both Winston and Mariota.
As far as "the character question" goes, we know Mariota is boring in the best way possible, and in all the ways Winston is believed not to be.
And ultimately, as it relates to the Florida State firestarter and his character, his intangibles, his pro-style preparedness, his ability to sell himself to teams, all of it, I know this much: I'm doing the best I can to make educated guesses; and that's about all I know.