TALLAHASSEE -- EJ Manuel doesn’t ask for anything during Christmas anymore. He feels he’s not the sort of guy who needs a whole lot from anyone.
“I haven’t asked for anything for Christmas since I was 13,” Manuel said in jest. “The last thing I asked for was a Sega Dreamcast.”
But something Manuel might want to consider asking for — something Florida State Seminoles fans seem to have a hard time giving him — is a break.
EJ Manuel is 24-6 as a starter over the course of his career. He piloted the Seminoles to their first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in seven years this season. He will play in the Orange Bowl on Jan.1 with a chance to go 4-0 in bowl games (though he will have only started three, he will have played in four extensively) — and a chance to deliver Florida State its first BCS win in 12 years.
And still, as Manuel prepares to depart from Florida State after five years, the fan base he leaves behind has mixed feelings on his legacy.
Coming out of high school in Virginia Beach, Manuel was pegged by soon-to-be Florida State offensive coordinator (and future head coach) Jimbo Fisher as the Seminoles’ quarterback of the future. From the moment the 6-5, 240-pound quarterback stepped on campus, he was marked for greatness.
He played after Christian Ponder was injured in his redshirt freshman year and salvaged the Seminoles’ season, helping FSU climb back above .500 and avoid their first losing season in the Bobby Bowden era. He was named MVP of the Gator Bowl that year.
Over the next three years Manuel would go on to compile the highest completion percentage in Florida State history. He is ranked third all-time in the ACC, and also third all-time in the ACC in passer efficiency.
But none of that matters at title-hungry Florida State.
Manuel was supposed to be the guy to bring the Seminoles back to the top of the mountain, back to college football glory. He was hand-picked by Fisher to breathe life back into a program that had grown stale in the final years of the Bowden era.
So has he?
“Our ultimate goal was to win a national championship,” Manuel said. “But at the same time, we understood that we still have to win the ACC championship because if we had gone [undefeated] and then lose the ACC Championship Game, none of that would have mattered.”
Despite the lack of a national title, it’s hard to argue that Manuel and the class he entered with haven’t turned the Florida State program around.
With a win in the Orange Bowl, this Seminole team will be just the second in school history to reach12 wins. It won that ACC title. It will leave behind a program that is trending upward.
“I feel like it was a successful season,” Manuel said. “We lost those two games, and we hate losing. But I think the games we needed to win like [the ACC title game] and the pivotal games like the Clemson game and Virginia Tech, [we won]. I think it’s still a successful season.
“Moving forward, these guys understand how to win. The seniors are leaving this program in a good place. Guys that came in ’08 said we wanted to leave this program in a better place than when we got here, and having this kind of season we feel like we did.”
Ultimately, though, Manuel’s career and the legacy he leaves will be determined by the fans. It’s undeniable Florida State is miles ahead of where it was when Manuel stepped on campus.
But whether or not that’s enough to ensure him a favorable legacy with the Florida State faithful remains to be seen.