My player to watch in the Dr Pepper ACC championship game is Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel.
Manuel has been here before, and last time it didn’t turn out so well. Filling in for an injured Christian Ponder in the 2010 ACC championship game against Virginia Tech, Manuel threw two interceptions in a 44-33 loss to the Hokies, including one that was returned for a touchdown.
"In the future, we'll learn from it," Manuel said that day. "Just remember how to get back in this position and win."
He’s back, and there’s no question he’s better.
Manuel enters Saturday’s title game against Georgia Tech as one of the most efficient passers in the country. His career pass-efficiency rating of 151.54 would be the best in ACC history if maintained, surpassing the mark of 151.15 set by former FSU Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke during the 1997 to '99 seasons. Manuel has led Florida State to a 23-6 record as a starter, including consecutive bowl wins against West Virginia, South Carolina and Notre Dame. This season, he has thrown for 2,967 yards, 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Surprisingly, a third of those picks came last weekend.
Manuel is coming off an uncharacteristically poor performance in a loss to rival Florida during which he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble that eventually led to a touchdown. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said one of the biggest differences between Manuel now and the last time he played for the ACC title is his maturity in tough situations.
“I think how he deals with things from day to day and the ups and downs, and he understands there are ups and downs,” Fisher said. “There's going to be tough moments like [the loss to Florida] for him, and how he responds back and bounces back. I just think he's a much [more] mature player, and he has great knowledge of what we're doing.”
Manuel followed his own advice and got the Noles back to Charlotte. Now he's got to finish the job and help them win.