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Rix the key to FSU title chances

Chris Rix has become one of those Forever Players in college football, a guy with endless eligibility. We've checked the transcripts, and this is really it -- he's finally a fifth-year senior. It only seems like he's been at Florida State longer than Chief Osceola.

That's because he's as overexposed as Paris Hilton. He's rarely been out of the spotlight -- for better or for worse -- as a Seminole.

Rix has thrown for more than 7,500 yards at Florida State. But he's also the guy who freezes at the sight of green and orange.

He has 60 career touchdown passes. But he's also slept his way out of a bowl game and parked his way into infamy.

He has size (6 feet 4), speed (ran the 100 meters in a track meet for Florida State this last spring), a gun of a right arm (can throw the ball up to 70 yards) and even leading-man looks. But his detractors say he undermines it all with Homer Simpson's smarts.

He's the first four-year starter under Bobby Bowden and is on track to supplant Chris Weinke as the leading passer in Seminoles history. But he's the vilified No. 16 to Weinke's sainted 16.

He's been celebrated and suspended, ballyhooed and booed, hare-brained and Hurricaned. Now, at last, it's time for the final act in garnet and gold.

"This is my last go-round, last chance to win a national championship," Rix said. "That's the main reason I wanted to come here, the reason I took a recruiting trip here (from California) to visit coach Bowden and the staff. ... I believe this year we have as good a chance as anybody."

The Seminoles do. If Chris Rix comes through.

Rix has often played brilliantly in victory. He's rarely played even decently in defeat -- and there have been more defeats than spoiled FSU fans are accustomed to on his watch. That has set him up as the perfect fall guy.

In games Rix has played, FSU is 24-11. In 20 of the 24 wins, he's completed at least 50 percent of his passes, with 48 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He's only completed 50 percent in four of the 11 losses, with 12 TDs and 16 interceptions.

And then there is Rix's personal gallery of horrors, the series with nemesis Miami. The Seminoles are 0-4 in those games and Rix has committed 11 turnovers. He's a cumulative 47 for 110 for 636 yards against the Canes, with five touchdowns and seven interceptions.

And that's brought out the subhuman element in Seminole Nation. Rix said he's received death-threat e-mails and messages on his voice mail, including one sunny fellow who has threatened to cut off his arms and legs if Florida State loses its Labor Day opener to Miami this year.

"I know I can't please everyone," Rix said. "I know there's a lot of scrutiny and a lot of criticism. That's just the way sports is and life is. Not everyone is going to be loved.

"I am a person, I am a man. Obviously when you hear things or get crank calls, e-mails, yeah, it hurts to hear those things. ... But I just erase it. I simply smile. Naturally, I'd want to call them back or even give their number to police, but I just erase it. They're people who are just lost.

"But when things go great and you beat Florida, you get a lot of great calls and e-mails. A lot more good than bad."

That millstone of underachievement against arch-rival Miami is tough enough to live with. But Rix has widened the target on his back with a few Knucklehead Moments off the field.

As a sophomore he was suspended from the Sugar Bowl when he slept through a final exam. Then last year Rix was dinged twice within a week for parking in restricted campus spaces.

The first was for parking in a handicapped-only spot with a parking tag obtained from a family friend Rix says he drove to the hospital earlier that day -- students noticed him when he hopped out of his SUV near a class where he was a teaching assistant. The second, exactly a week later, was for leaving his vehicle in a spot reserved for cancer patients at the school's medical rehabilitation center -- a professor photographed him there.

This was not consistent with Rix's outspoken Christianity, especially as espoused on ChrisRix.com, a piety-intensive Web site operated by one of his former high school coaches. Where Would Jesus Park? Not there.

"I'll be the first to admit I made a mistake," Rix said of the first parking violation. "... I just used a lack of wisdom. In my heart I really felt sorry and apologized to people who are handicapped and need those spots.

"That situation made me realize, you really can't not be noticed in this town in the position I'm in. I don't say that to boast; that's just the way it is. I need to set a good example through my action. People who know me know I'm not that kind of person."

So what kind of person is he?

"I'm a man of God and I'm secure," Rix said. "That's a big reason I'm still here, haven't left, haven't quit. And I believe I have the support of my teammates and coach Bowden. I've never seen a coach support his players better."

Bowden believes he did Rix a disservice by throwing him into the starting lineup as a freshman. In fact, Bowden has rarely even played sophomore quarterbacks, much less freshmen. But he's happy to go into this season with a fifth-year senior playing behind a line that returns every starter from 2003.

In fact, Rix is sort of John Navarre South this year. Last season Navarre was the maligned four-year starter at Michigan, personally responsible for every loss and carried by his teammates to every victory. Navarre stoically rode out the rip jobs and had a fine senior season, throwing for 3,331 yards and 24 touchdowns and leading the Wolverines to the Rose Bowl.

Rix likes the comparison, right down to the jersey number.

"He just laid low and went about his business," Rix said of Navarre. "That's a great example for me."

The biggest thing Navarre did was to turn the tables on arch-rival Ohio State, knocking off the Buckeyes after losses the two previous years. But Navarre had to wait until November to do that.

The rehabilitation of Chris Rix's rep with Seminole Nation gets down to it right away. Florida State opens this season the way it closed last season: at Miami.

Let the pressure begin to build.

"I would feel obviously disappointed [if he finished his FSU career oh-for-Miami]," Rix said. "We have struggled against Miami, come close a couple times. We haven't gotten over that hill. I believe we're due."

Chris Rix seems past due to move on from college football, but he's not done yet. His legacy rides on this final season at Florida State.

Pat Forde covers college football for the Louisville Courier-Journal.