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The battle continues

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Amid the postgame media circus Saturday, Jacob Coker sat quietly in a chair, a protective boot securing the still gimpy foot that limited him at times during the past month, even if he wouldn't use it as an excuse.

A few yards away, the crowd gathered around the day's hero. Jameis Winston hasn't officially won the Seminoles' quarterback competition, and Coker hasn't officially lost it, but Saturday there was a clear line of demarcation.

Winston was a star. His performance matched the immense hype, at least for a Saturday in April. Coker was defeated, a marginally effective performance undermined in the waning moments of a meaningless scrimmage with two unfortunate interceptions.

"I wish that the end of the game hadn't happened like that," he said. "I'm just kind of thinking about that and not real happy right now."

Jimbo Fisher insists there is no resolution to the biggest story of the spring, but Saturday's game seemed to hold a hint of finality. Whether Coker's second interception represented an official or metaphorical end to his quest to become Florida State's starting quarterback doesn't matter, because in the moment, there was a clear distinction between the winner and the losers.

This can still change. The shuffling could continue throughout the summer and into fall camp. The debate could linger beyond Florida State's opener and well into September. But with Winston's impressive performance, there was another reminder that eventually a line will be crossed in which the Seminoles' luxury of four talented quarterbacks becomes a problem for FSU.

"I probably haven't thought about that," Fisher said with a sly grin before acknowledging the obvious. "No, you do, and I have. ... It could be tough. We've got some talented guys."

Fisher might not have invited the fan base into his thought process, but his quarterbacks understand that only one can win the job. After that, life gets complicated.

If Clint Trickett, the veteran of the group, lands the starting gig to open the season, how long can he endure the fans' demands to see more of Winston? If Coker comes from behind the pack and snags the starting role, will there be a quick trigger if he struggles early? If Winston's fall camp mirrors his impressive spring and he secures the role for the next four seasons, what's to keep Coker and Sean Maguire -- and potentially even Trickett -- in a Florida State uniform when a myriad of other programs around the country could offer them a bigger share of the spotlight?

"I knew exactly who was here, and it's not like I haven't seen them play," Maguire said. "I could've taken the easy way out and gone to some school up north and been starting, but I'd rather compete with the best. That's the way I look at it."

It's an admirable approach, but the stark reality of another three or four seasons riding the bench provides clarity that no springtime clich├ęs could match.

For Trickett, Coker, Winston and Maguire, their pedigree is as a starter, and each has the potential to be that again. But at Florida State, only one man can have the job, and even then, too much competition could provide an unending soundtrack of second-guessing.

Trickett admitted that some of his struggles in Saturday's game were born from a desire to impress the fans. He's been a backup long enough to understand that it's the second-string quarterback who enjoys the most love from the fan base, and the cheers don't last as long for the starter.

All that experience could push Trickett ahead in this competition, particularly with a tough road game at Pittsburgh looming to start the season. But he knows even if he wins the starting job this fall, that won't be the end of the story.

"I hear the stuff that's being said," Trickett said. "I try to be oblivious to it, but it's a different world we live in now with social media. That's part of it, and I knew that was going to happen."

Of course, the fans won't have the final say.

Fisher has publicly laid down the ground rules. He wants to see command of the huddle, knowledge of the playbook, leadership in the locker room, execution on the field. If there's been a marked distinction among the candidates in any of those categories, Fisher has kept that behind closed doors -- but he hasn't kept it from his quarterbacks.

"You're honest about what's going on, our response," Fisher said. "If you're honest every day with them, that's the key. The key is to be open and honest with them -- and they know. They know what you're looking for. In the end, they'll know."

On Saturday, Coker knew. He understood that his performance didn't stack up with what he'd hoped for, and that left him in a precarious position moving forward.

Trickett knew, too. He knew he'd need to win over a fan base far more enthusiastic about the shiny new toy waiting behind him on the depth chart, and he pressed.

And perhaps Winston knew, too, though his confidence seems so unflinching that it's tough to judge when he's celebrating or defeated. While the future remains utterly indecipherable for all four men battling for the job, Winston leaves no room for self-doubt.

"I don't think about that stuff," he said. "That's what the fans talk about, but I'm not thinking about that right now."

Indeed, Winston's coming-out party ended abruptly Saturday, with the two-sport star ducking out after just a few minutes with the media so he could switch from one uniform to another and dash across the parking lot in time to play in Florida State's baseball game against Duke.

For Winston, what comes next, what chaos follows all this handwringing and tea-leaf reading, is incredibly simple.

"It's baseball season," he said.