EJ Manuel rises to occasion in big game, enters Heisman conversation

EJ Manuel is finally reaching his potential, which means he's a legit Heisman candidate. (US Presswire)

EJ Manuel has been a Heisman candidate in waiting for quite a while.

He was fifth in my most recent Heisman Watch, but it was mostly a nod to his potential rather than his actual play on the field. 

On Saturday night, Manuel finally lived up to that potential. He was 27 of 35 for 380 yards and two touchdowns through the air and he added 102 yards on 12 carries on the ground as Florida State dominated Clemson 49-37.

That's 482 yards of total offense, for those keeping score at home.

For the first time this year, Manuel was called upon to perform for four quarters and he responded. He had no problem slicing and dicing the Clemson secondary or gaining tough yards with his legs. He looked for real ... and so did his team.

As a result, he's a bona fide Heisman candidate, the first for FSU since Chris Weinke actually won the trophy in 2000. It should come as no surprise that he's now in this position. After all, he's a talented senior quarterback on a traditional Heisman power that is also contending for the national title. To add to that, he just performed at a high level in arguably the biggest game of the season to date, with tons of people watching.

The more FSU keeps winning, the more the narrative will be about the 'Noles and their "return to glory.'' And who will get the credit for guiding FSU back to glory? It will be Manuel.

Through four games, Manuel has 905 passing yards with eight touchdowns and just one interception. He has also rushed for 188 yards and a score. A good chunk of that yardage has come despite missing portions of games due to blowouts, so I imagine he'll increase his yardage totals considerably as he gets more playing time in conference. If the Clemson game is any indication, he'll have no problem putting up Heisman-worthy numbers.

There's a long way to go, but the race is starting to take shape. Unless FSU stumbles badly or Manuel gets in a slump in the next five weeks, look for him to enter November as one of the favorites to win the Heisman.

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