The Scene: The 2010 Gator Bowl
The Crime: An unproven redshirt freshman quarterback by the name of E.J. Manuel hijacks the game and puts on an MVP performance much to the chagrin of West Virginia fans like myself, who were left wondering why they just traveled all the way down to Jacksonville to watch a 6-6 team with a backup quarterback dominate their beloved Mountaineers.
As I sat in the far-too-cold-for-Florida stands of EverBank Field on that damp New Year’s Day, I watched and learned a little about this young man named Manuel and came away supremely impressed.
Walking out of the stadium that day and listening to the Seminole faithful sing the praises of departing coach Bobby Bowden, I couldn’t help but feel that it was actually Manuel who deserved to be hoisted onto shoulders and heaped with praise instead of the old coach.
Because unlike Bowden, who represented the Florida State past, it was Manuel who was holding the key to the program’s bright future.
You could call it a coming-out party or whatever trendy phrase they have for events as such, but in its purest form what it really was, was a young star in the making stepping onto the big stage and thriving in a way only the true great ones can.
E.J. Manuel had arrived.
Sadly, with senior quarterback Christian Ponder returning from injury for his senior season, we’d be forced to wait before the Manuel party could really kick into full swing. Sometimes though, a little patience only enhances the ultimate end result.
With Ponder off to the NFL and with coach Jimbo Fisher bringing back a 90's era attitude to this Seminole crew, the stage is once again set for E.J. Manuel to shine. The former five-star recruit out of Virginia Beach now has the opportunity to carve out a name for himself on the national college football scene.
Is the 6’4’’ junior a household name just yet? No, but at this time last year, exactly how many of you college football enthusiasts had incoming Auburn QB Cam Newton pegged as a Heisman hopeful? If my recollection serves me well, exactly zero.
We’d be getting a little ahead of ourselves if we flat out said E.J. Manuel is the next Cam Newton, but if you look at some of the parallels between the two—first year as a starter, playing for fringe national title contenders and overall just eerily similar types of players—it’s hard not to draw comparisons.
What we saw from Manuel in small spot duty last year was encouraging. He completed 70 percent of his passes on the year and looked real solid in the Chick-fil A Bowl.
So let’s, at the very least, be encouraged and intrigued by what E.J. Manuel and the rest of this Florida State team have in store for us in 2011.
I could be getting a bit ahead of myself. Remember, this is coming from the same guy who watched highlights of Xavier Lee at Seabreeze High School and thought, "Wow, that kid’s got All-American written all over him." So take out the salt-shaker and pour a few grains on the computer screen if so desired.
I don’t know though. I’ve got a good feeling about this Florida State team under Fisher and I can’t help but feel excited about Manuel’s potential.
Is E.J. Manuel the next Cam Newton?
Who knows, that stuff is too difficult to try and forecast. You kind of just have to let it happen. Let the college football gods work their mysterious magic.
All I can say though is color me excited to see what E.J. Manuel and Florida State have to offer in 2011. There should be reason for great optimism down in Tallahassee right now.
Make sure your arms are stretched out because if Manuel lives up to his potential, there could be a lot of tomahawk chopping going on this season .