Florida State’s reign over the college football world collapsed on Thursday in a crushing torrent of turnovers that humbled the defending national champions for the first time in more than two years.
The Seminoles’ 29-game winning streak crumbled under the weight of five second-half turnovers that Oregon used for a 59-20 victory in the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Rose Bowl.
“It’s just not the right way to end that record because we shot ourselves in the foot,” said Jameis Winston, who experienced his first loss in two seasons as Florida State’s quarterback.
Given how the second half unraveled on the Seminoles, it was more like they shot off both feet.
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The second-ranked Ducks transformed all five turnovers — four fumbles and an interception — into five touchdowns.
“We just turned the ball over a couple too many times,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said of his team’s second-half meltdown.
“We had one of the worst quarters we had [all season].”
He was speaking of a disastrous third quarter that spiraled out of control for FSU, which had spent much of the season pulling out victories in the second half.
The Seminoles (13-1) turned the ball over four times in the third quarter alone, and what was an 18-13 halftime lead for Oregon erupted in a scoring frenzy that FSU was helpless to overcome.
Seminoles freshman running back Dalvin Cook coughed the ball up twice on fumbles, Winston blundered into a fumble of his own, and the FSU quarterback — who was very likely playing his last college game — also threw an interception.
Many expect Winston to declare for the NFL Draft.
For Winston and Florida State, the end came suddenly.
All of it occurred in a nightmarish 121/2-minute span for the Seminoles, who couldn’t recover from the mistakes and went down to defeat for the first time since November of 2012, when they fell to Florida.
“It was a tough day out there,” Fisher said.
It had been a fairy-tale run ever since for FSU, which reeled off 29 consecutive victories, back-to-back undefeated regular seasons and the school’s third national title last year.
But a bid for a second consecutive championship ended in stunning fashion at the Rose Bowl, where Winston and the Noles knocked off Auburn a year ago to win the national championship.
In what was the first of two semifinal games in the first College Football Playoff (Alabama took on Ohio State in the other semifinal, the Sugar Bowl, later on Thursday), the Ducks ended the dynasty.
Oregon (13-1) will face the Alabama-Ohio State winner on Jan.12 in Arlington, Texas, for the national title.
“For it to come to an end is definitely a bitter taste,” FSU defensive end Mario Edwards said.
The miscues by Florida State, coupled with the play of Oregon’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Marcus Mariota, culminated in the blowout victory.
Mariota completed 26 of 36 passes for 338 yards.
But until the wheels came off for Florida State in the third quarter, the Seminoles managed to keep the score close.
When Winston connected with Travis Rudolph on an 18-yard scoring pass midway through the third quarter, it trimmed the Oregon lead to 25-20.
Then came the collapse.
After recovering Cook’s second fumble, it took the Ducks only two plays to find the end zone on a 30-yard pass from Mariota to Darren Carrington.
Not long after that, Winston stumbled and lost the ball while dropping back to pass on a fourth-and-5 play.
Tony Washington scooped up the loose ball and ran it 58 yards for another touchdown.
“I never thought I could slip and throw the ball backwards,” Winston said.
The rout was on.
Winston would throw an interception later in the third quarter, and the Seminoles fumbled the ball away once again in the fourth as Oregon stampeded its way to victory.
FSU will remember Thursday’s loss for the turnovers.
But the Seminoles could also point back to blown scoring chances in the first half that hurt them.
The Seminoles had the ball inside the Oregon 12-yard line three times on their first four possessions of the game, but they had only a pair of field goals to show for those deep penetrations.
And the Ducks defense snuffed out one FSU drive with a goal-line stand.
On fourth-and-1, Winston appeared to score what would have been the go-ahead touchdown.
But replays showed his knee touched the ground before he was able to reach across the goal line with the ball.
Oregon took over and ended up kicking a field goal to make it 11-3.
After a Florida State field goal made it 11-6, Oregon widened its lead on a Thomas Tyner 1-yard touchdown run.
Even though the Seminoles piled up 528 yards in total offense for the game, they had only the 20 points to show for their effort.
“This game could’ve went the other way,” Winston tried to argue after it was over.
“But we turned the ball over a lot.”