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Thursday, September 15, 2011
FSU's Manuel ready for national spotlight

By Heather Dinich

Yes, Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel said, he’s human.

But no, he’s not nervous about lining up against the No. 1 team in the nation. In prime time. With a "College GameDay" atmosphere. And national title implications.

As far as Manuel is concerned, bring it.

EJ Manuel
EJ Manuel, who is no stranger to big games, will face what might be his biggest challenge so far when Florida State plays No. 1-ranked Oklahoma.
“I’m excited,” he said. “This is one of those opportunities, [growing] up as a little kid, playing out front of my house wanting to play in big games. It didn’t really matter, whoever the big game was going on in college football when I was six, seven years old, that meant the world to me, and I always wanted to play in a game like that. This is definitely one of those games.”

Manuel has played in big games before -- including against No. 1-ranked Florida in Gainesville in 2009 -- but this is by far arguably the biggest in his young career. Manuel has earned the confidence of those within the program, not only as a playmaker, but also as a leader in his first season as the Noles’ full-time starter. Saturday’s game against Oklahoma, though, will reveal if Manuel is ready to lead the program back to national relevance. A win over the Sooners would immediately catapult Florida State into the national title conversation.

What more does Manuel have to do now that the competition skyrockets to an entirely different level?

“Nothing as far as preparation … just keep playing the same way,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “The team he plays every day in practice, the defense he plays against every day in practice, athletic, big, have a great scheme -- pretend like it’s that. He’s got to prepare every week, get ready every week and have confidence in himself to make decisions and play, which I think he is doing very well right now. The secret to this whole thing to me is there is no secret. You’ve got to do what you know and play the game and don’t look too much into it.”

Manuel enters this game with just eight career starts. Oklahoma’s Landry Jones is the veteran with 25 career starts. Manuel has been accurate, though, and has shown a lot of promise. He enters Saturday with a career completion percentage of 67.1 percent. His numbers obviously got a big boost from two lopsided wins this season against inferior opponents.

Still, it’s not like he hasn’t performed well before against elite competition.

Manuel last year started the ACC title game in place of injured starter Christian Ponder, and he led the Seminoles to a win over SEC East champ South Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. But if Florida State can’t get more out of its running game on Saturday, FSU might have to put more pressure on Manuel than he’s ready for.

Receiver Rodney Smith has no doubt Manuel will be prepared.

“I know he’s ready,” Smith said. “I’m not worried about that at all. I know he’s going to come to play on Saturday. He has a lot of experience playing in big games and he pretty much comes out on top at the end of the day. I’m very happy he’s going to be the one leading us into the game.”

So is Manuel.