For Florida State, the success of standout quarterback Christian Ponder has been the saving grace for an otherwise dismal season. But even Ponder faltered last Saturday against Clemson, throwing four interceptions and suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in a loss that all but put the kibosh on the Seminoles’ 2009 campaign.
With a slim chance of becoming bowl eligible, a great chance of taking another pounding from in-state rival Florida in a few weeks, and an 80-year-old head coach who sadly doesn’t really know what’s going on anymore, FSU’s season is essentially over.
So, while the spotlight now turns to redshirt freshman quarterback E.J. Manuel for FSU’s final three (possibly four) games this season, does it really even matter?
Well, for Seminole fans, it certainly should.
No one expects Manuel to come in Saturday against Wake Forest and deliver the performance of a lifetime or make up for all the agonizing moments the program has endured this season, but what the Seminoles do need from Manuel is a sign.
More than anything, Seminole fans need a sign that not all is lost. Saturday’s game is a chance for Manuel to prove there is hope for the future at Florida State, and that he has the potential to live up to his billing as an elite quarterback and Jimbo Fisher’s first prized recruit.
Sure, Ponder will most likely forego the NFL to return next season, but what happens the year after that? Will Manuel step up and provide the kind of smooth transition Florida State needs to continue to build on the progress Fisher’s offense has made thus far? Or will the defense turn around under a new coordinator just in time to see the offense regress with Manuel under center?
Granted, Florida State won’t have all the answers after Manuel’s first start in garnet and gold, nor would it be fair to put that kind of pressure on him, but like it or not, Florida State desperately needs Manuel to prove he can play.
After all, there are plenty of reasons why Florida State’s football program has fallen from grace, but none bigger than the fact that the big-time recruits that have kept FSU’s recruiting classes ranked among the best in the country have not delivered the big-time performances Seminole fans trusted they would.
Whether it was failing to qualify academically, disciplinary issues, or a lack of development on the part of the coaching staff, time and time again, prized FSU recruits have failed to contribute—none more so recently than the last highly touted duel threat quarterback recruit that committed to Florida State in 2004.
For those of you who do not already have a bitter taste in your mouth or a lone tear welling up in your eye, his name was Xavier Lee.
But it doesn’t stop there. DiShon Platt? Callahan Bright? Fred Rouse? Brandon Warren?
If you’re an FSU fan and these names don’t ring a bell, you’re not alone. Florida State has suffered through numerous five star recruits over the last several seasons who never, ever came to fruition.
Ironically, Christian Ponder—the best thing going for Florida State this season—was a three-star prospect from Colleyville, Texas that not many thought twice about.
As grateful as Seminole fans are for Christian Ponder and what he has meant to Florida State as a person, as a student, and as an athlete, it’s about time a big-time recruit came through for Florida State in a big way.
Saturday’s game against Wake Forest is the first of several opportunities for E.J. Manuel to do just that.
It may not matter this season, and it may not matter the next, but if Manuel can prove he's ready and willing to take the reigns and make a difference, the program may just be one step closer to making a comeback.