My bold predictions about the Florida State Seminoles have struck a nerve with some readers, if the mailbag is any indication:
From Paula in Gainesville: What makes you so confident FSU can be a BCS title contender with an unproven QB like EJ Manuel? Haven't we been down this road before with Chris Rix, Xavier Lee and Fabian Walker?
I realize Manuel's career TD-INT ratio isn't very good, but keep in mind that this is a young guy who was battling shoulder problems before. Manuel told me it was probably about 75 percent healthy last year, but now "it feels great." The junior quarterback will have a chance to show off his new and improved arm in the Noles' spring game Saturday (ESPN3.com, 4 p.m. ET).
The coaching staff has done a lot of revamping of his throwing motion. FSU quarterbacks coach Dameyune Craig spotted Manuel's bad habit of relying too much on his arm and not getting his legs more involved in his mechanics.
"We changed the whole motion," head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "It took really about two years, and we kept tweaking. He was an arm thrower and his elbow was behind his head." The result of the mechanics overhaul, Fisher says, is that the QB has improved his accuracy and arm strength.
From the mental side of things, Manuel has always gotten high marks, and he has already shown he can play under pressure. Remember, he won MVP honors in the Gator Bowl as a freshman.
When I visited FSU a few weeks ago, everyone there was raving about Manuel. Fisher, who has worked with more than his share of excellent quarterbacks, said the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Manuel "has all the tools and intangibles," and that he's got "it." In addition to the physical stuff, his maturity and makeup are the things that really jump out at you. Cornerback Greg Reid told me that after he met Manuel on his recruiting trip to Tallahassee, his mom suggested to him that he "should hang around" Manuel, sensing what a solid guy Manuel's parents had raised.
Manuel, who said he has made the dean's list twice at FSU and carries a 3.3 GPA, is the son of a former Air Force man who is a hazmat certifier for the Navy. As Manuel was going through the recruiting process, he asked star Seminoles defensive back (and future Rhodes Scholar) Myron Rolle about the challenge of juggling academics and big-time football.
"That was one of the main questions I asked Myron, not just about Florida State, but about colleges in general," Manuel said. "He said it was about maintaining your priorities. If you have your priorities in check, then you'll be fine. His were God, family, football. And [included in family was that] you take care of your work in the classroom."
Manuel, who told Rolle he wanted to wear his No. 3 jersey at FSU, says the Rhodes Scholar has served as a mentor to him off the field.
"Being a QB of the Seminoles comes with a lot of scrutiny and attention," Rolle said. "I felt EJ was ready and equipped with the necessary qualities and the right people around him to handle it. He wanted to wear my No. 3 and he asked me to wear it. He called me almost every day in high school to make sure he was doing the necessary things to prepare for his college experience. And so far, he's exceeded my expectations.
"Him, his parents, his grandmother looked at me as someone he could lean on for support, lean on for advice and use as the model for how to balance being a student-athlete and the hype that comes with being a highly touted recruit," Rolle continued. "If he saw an older individual such as myself doing what he wants to do in the future, I think wearing my number and associating himself with me, made the journey a little more realistic. I was honored when he asked me."
It sounds like the FSU offense is in very good hands.
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