- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- EJ Manuel will have family there, but that doesn't mean the trip to Virginia Tech is an easy one for his parents.
Most people are surprised when Manuel tells them it's a six-hour drive from the sandy shores of Virginia Beach, Va., where he grew up, to the mountains of Blacksburg, and Thursday's game will mark just the second time in his life the Florida State quarterback has visited.
But while Blacksburg is hardly a homecoming for Manuel, he knows that the fans there view him as something of a traitor. They might use a broad definition of the term, but he's still the local kid who made good somewhere else.
"It's going to be crazy," Manuel said. "They're going to hate us, I can tell you that. And they're going to hate me being that I'm from Virginia and came [to FSU]. I already know what to expect."
Manuel was a prized recruit and he got an offer from Virginia Tech as a junior, but the Hokies already had their star quarterback. Tyrod Taylor had committed the previous year, and Manuel had no interest in playing second fiddle to another Virginia quarterback with a big arm.
It's no knock on Virginia Tech, Manuel insists, but he had other offers, and the Hokies were never a real factor in his recruitment. But seven years after his only visit to Lane Stadium -- for a camp he attended in 10th grade -- he's eager to prove to fans in his home state that he's the one that got away.
"It'll be my last opportunity to play a Virginia school in college, and I definitely want to get a 'W,' " Manuel said. "It's going to be a hostile environment, it's going to be chilly. It's going to be like playing back in high school, and I'm looking forward to it."
It's not just Manuel's last opportunity to earn a win in his home state, but it's also his first. He's never started a game at Virginia or Virginia Tech, so Thursday's affair represents his only opportunity to win a game in the state.
While the road trip to Virginia is unique, however, Manuel has plenty of familiarity with the two ACC schools there. He's faced the Hokies and Virginia Cavaliers each once as a starter, and Florida State lost both games.
That's not to say it's all bad memories though. Manuel was the surprise starter in the 2010 ACC championship game against Virginia Tech because of an injury to Christian Ponder.
"I don't think I knew I was going to start that game until the game started," Manuel said.
Despite the late notice, Manuel turned in a solid performance. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown, but he threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a score. Meanwhile, Taylor threw three TDs, and the Hokies won 44-33.
A lot has changed for Manuel in the two years since that loss. For Virginia Tech, this has been a lost season, with Frank Beamer's team at risk of finishing the year with a losing record for the first time since 1992. For Manuel, a win over the Hokies would all but assure him of a second chance at an ACC title.
While Virginia Tech is struggling, however, that doesn't guarantee an easy win.
"It's a hard environment," Manuel said. "Any team that goes in there and gets a win, you've earned it. We'd be fools to think we're not going to get their best game of the year. They may not have played as good as they had in years past, but I don't think we're going to see the same team we've seen on film the past couple weeks."
The road hasn't been particularly accommodating to Manuel this season either. While he's posted gaudy numbers at home, he's managed just two touchdown passes in his three road games in 2012, and he's posted a QB rating nearly 60 points lower away from Doak Campbell Stadium.
Jimbo Fisher brushes off the numbers as a combination of bad luck and circumstance. Eight of the 13 sacks FSU has allowed this year came on the road. The running game has averaged nearly 90 fewer yards per game away from home. In Miami three weeks ago, Manuel had several big plays called back on questionable flags from the officials.
"In Miami, you're going into a penalized group of things that was crazy," Fisher said. "The NC State game, we played well early in that game but the second half we didn't play well."
Of course, this isn't exactly the road for Manuel. Virginia is home, and he knows exactly what to expect.
"I know a lot of guys I grew up with play for them," Manuel said. "I know the mentality of those guys, and it's very similar to what we have. They want to win, they expect to win."
31mK. Lee Davis