- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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There is a similarity in their names, yes, but a commonality in their stories, too.
Both USF quarterback B.J. Daniels and Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel have had to deal with high expectations for their entire careers. Folks saw their talent -- their ability to both run and throw, to make spectacular plays out of nothing -- and figured championships would follow.
Manuel had to wait longer than Daniels to get his opportunity to be the full-time starter. But both went into 2012 staring down a now or never season to bring home those long-awaited championship rings. This -- their senior seasons -- would be their final shot.
Now the two prepare to face each other Saturday in Tampa, diverging from the common path they once seemed to share. Manuel comes into the game getting Heisman buzz following an impressive 482-yard day against Clemson last week, and FSU is in the driver's seat in the Atlantic Division.
Daniels had a magic moment of his own earlier this year -- leading USF to a stunning-come-from behind win over Nevada with 416 all-purpose yards of his own. But if the Bulls are going to win a Big East championship, they are going to need some help after losing to Rutgers earlier in the year.
Of course, both quarterbacks need this game -- Manuel to keep national championship hopes alive; Daniels to deliver a twin moment to the stunner he piloted in Tallahassee 2009. Though both players are at different schools and are from different states -- Daniels is actually from Tallahassee -- the two have commiserated on occasion about life and the pressure that goes with having their job.
"I’ve gone back home many a time, guys I know on the Florida State team, I’ll hang out with them and EJ happens to be around," Daniels said in a recent phone interview. "We’ve talked. We’ve gone through similar things. We have war stories that we’ve shared before about being a quarterback on the Division I level. I definitely have a lot of respect for him."
Manuel came into Florida State with much more hype as the No. 2 quarterback recruit in the nation out of Virginia Beach, Va. He made several starts as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and again in 2010 when Christian Ponder got hurt. Manuel became the starter at Florida State last year, but was a much more known commodity when he got his opportunity to take the reigns of his team. That, combined with his pedigree, led many to believe FSU would win the ACC.
Daniels, on the other hand, was an unknown backup when he trotted onto the field at Doak Campbell Stadium on Sept. 26, 2009, set to make his first career start against No. 18 Florida State. No hype, no expectations. The 19-year-old Daniels stood on the field for pregame warmups, taking in the moment, not knowing where the day would take him.
"I remember looking up at the seats I used to sit in when I was a kid, and I thought that it was pretty cool, how I was going to be in an atmosphere and environment where people were going to be cheering against me, and for the team I was going to be playing," Daniels said. "I was a freshman starting, and a lot of people didn’t believe in us. But I just remember feeling really comfortable. I felt like I was at home."
Daniels was not intimidated. He was motivated. And he set about leading USF to one of the biggest upset victories in school history -- in his very first career start. Daniels accounted for 341 total yards -- 215 passing, 126 rushing -- and two touchdowns in the 17-7 win. That moment was so big, so unimaginable that expectations skyrocketed. If he could beat FSU on the road as a freshman, what else could he do? The possibilities delighted USF fans.
Manuel, meanwhile, watched the jubilant Bulls celebrate from the FSU sideline.
"It was a bad feeling," Manuel recalled during his weekly press conference. "Those guys, they won. B.J. being from Tallahassee had his coming out party, rushed and threw the ball great. We’re looking forward to going down there, not necessarily for payback, but we want to go out there and take care of business and play well."
Though USF is a heavy underdog, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has seen Daniels beat him. "He can run, he can throw, he’s strong, he’s competitive. He’s a phenomenal athlete. No play is ever dead," Fisher said.
Sounds just about the way you would describe Manuel, too.