EJ Manuel's biggest victory

Following Florida State's loss to rival Florida in the regular-season finale, FSU quarterback EJ Manuel was heavily criticized for his performance. He took the heat, and never once flinched when he met with reporters after that game.

Never once did anyone in his family or inner-circle reveal what an emotional game it was for him. It was his last game in Doak Campbell Stadium, and his mother, Jackie, had made the 11.5-hour drive from their home in Virginia Beach, Va., to be there with him, just days after receiving a chemotheraphy treatment for Stage 1 breast cancer.

All season long, Manuel cheered his mother on. In the end, they both came out winners.

Thanks to Erik, Jackie and EJ for sharing their story.

Many of us get so wrapped up in the emphasis placed on winning a national championship we tend to forget that there are bigger, more important struggles in life. Through his mother's battle with cancer, EJ Manuel gained a new perspective on life. There is no looking back on what could have been. He is thrilled to be going to the Discover Orange Bowl, regardless of what has been said about the matchup against MAC champs Northern Illinois, or what the critics have said and will continue to say. He said he's going to play loose, have fun. And if you truly take the time to consider the milestones that Manuel met during his career -- and where the program is now compared to where it was just a few years ago -- you'll realize that Manuel has won far more than he has lost.

It can't be easy to be the face of a program as under-the-microscope as Florida State, where expectations are to win a national title every year. But to do it in a season in which his mother is fighting cancer? Manuel is more of a leader than many of us gave him credit for.