Posted by Chip Patterson
For the first time in a couple years, Florida State is once again the center of attention looking ahead to the upcoming football season. Coming off a WIN-win season with a Chick Fil-A Bowl victory over South Carolina, the Seminoles will return 17 starters and have already been dubbed a favorite to win the ACC next season.
But they will have to do so without Christian Ponder, who threw for 2,000 yards every season from 2008-2010. Luckily for head coach Jimbo Fisher, Ponder's replacement has gotten plenty of experience. During Ponder's last two seasons, rising junior E.J. Manuel has seen significant time under center for the Seminoles. As a whole Manuel has been a little spotty, but his play in the ACC Championship Game and following bowl game has Seminole fans expecting big things. His head coach seems to believe that the junior is ready for the spotlight.
“That’s E.J.’s nature,” Fisher said about Manuel feeling pressure, “but I don’t think that’s pressure that he can’t handle, or things that he knows that he can do. Like you said, the thing that he can revert back to is the fact that he’s done this before and he’s been successful. I expect him to handle it very well, but I do expect him to challenge himself."
Manuel entered then the second quarter when Ponder left with a concussion. The talented quarterback seized control of the program in those final three quarters, completing 11 of 15 passes for a touchdown and rushing the ball seven times for 46 yards. When South Carolina clipped the Seminoles' lead to 2 with under 12 minutes remaining, Manuel orchestrated a perfect 26 play, 63 yard drive that finished by finding Taiwan Easterling in the end zone to seal the victory for Florida State.
In Florida State's spring game however, Manuel struggled to make a similar impression. He struggled to get settled, completing just 17 of 36 passes in the intrasquad scrimmage. The performance might have gone less noticed were it not for the 53,818 fans in attendance.
But even with the off-day in Doak Campbell Stadium, few around Tallahassee are concerned about Manuel's ability to lead this team. Fellow teammates continue to mention his presence in the locker room and huddle, and despite spring frustrations he has remained focus on the Florida State's goal of bringing the ACC Championship back to Tallahassee.