TALLAHASSEE -- For the second consecutive Saturday, the Jameis Winston sexual assault case will overshadow the No. 2 Florida State Seminoles.
Last week it was a planned celebration of the 20th anniversary of Florida State’s first national championship that got lost in the commotion. This week it’s Senior Day.
The fact that there’s a whole team at Florida State beside Winston — an offense littered with future NFL talent and the nation’s third-ranked scoring defense — is secondary.
All anyone can talk about is Jameis. That’s nothing new, either.
But just as Winston’s rising national profile helped rocket Florida State to the forefront of the BCS National Championship conversation earlier this year, now the backlash and negative publicity generated by the sexual assault allegations facing him are threatening to tear the Seminoles’ season back down.
And just as the Seminoles were happy to be obscured by Winston’s success earlier in the year, now they’re resigned to being obscured by the media circus surrounding the sexual assault allegations facing him at the season’s end.
It has cast a pall over the Seminoles’ entire 2013 campaign. It’s thrust them into a state of uncertainty. And after state attorney Willie Meggs announced Friday that he wouldn’t reach any kind of decision until next week at the earliest — that state of uncertainty is bound to linger a little longer.
Last Wednesday things kicked off in earnest when the Tallahassee Police Department released a heavily redacted report outlining an alleged sexual assault that occurred on Dec. 7, 2012.
Things have only gotten weirder in the 10 days that followed.
Meggs — who began investigating the case after his office received it Nov. 12 — stopped just short of alleging Winston and his associates were covering things up to The Associated Press in an interview last weekend.
“Now they've been talking to lawyers, they've been talking to each other and getting their stories together,” Meggs said. “People have had 11 months to decide what they're going to say.”
That prompted Winston’s attorney, Tim Jansen, to respond publicly and request silence from all parties involved with the “supposedly confidential investigation.”
The victim’s family then followed with a statement of their own through the Tampa Bay Times in which they laid out her account of the events that night and alleged improprieties on the part of the TPD.
Hours later a leak provided ESPN with blood test results linking Winston to the victim.
By Thursday evening, ESPN’s SportsCenter was broadcasting hourly updates from reporters posted in front of Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee.
All the while, Jansen has proclaimed Winston’s innocence — adding after the release of the DNA results that the sex was consensual — and that witness testimony would “completely exonerate” his client.
And as all this has happened around their program, Winston’s teammates have been left to shoulder on.
Last weekend they didn’t seem too fazed as they beat Syracuse 59-3. But at some point this is going to start impacting the Seminoles. This is starting to become too big for anyone to block out.
“Guys are being very professional about how they’re going to practice and remembering why we’re having success,” coach Jimbo Fisher said Thursday. “They’ve done a great job. Like I said, [we] can carry it over to the field on Saturday. Guys have done a good job of that, and we’ll have to continue to see and, hopefully, we’ll play another good ball game.”
It helps that on Saturday that ball game will be against Idaho — a 1-9 team that is ranked 115th in scoring and gives up more than 44 points per game.
But with no end in sight — Meggs’ office hopes to have a decision on whether to press charges sometime next week — Florida State’s biggest opponent the rest of the way might be the uncertainty created off the field by a state attorney and a redshirt freshman quarterback.