The ACC Kickoff (aka media days) is fast approaching. I’ll be using the blog to count down to what we media members consider the unofficial start of the football season. This isn’t a list of the 25 best players on Virginia Tech’s roster. It’s a list of 25 things/people that will determine whether the Hokies’ 2012 season is a success or not. That includes players and coaches from both Virginia Tech and, occasionally, a few of its opponents.
No. 19: EJ Manuel, Florida State quarterback
There is a pretty clear distinction last year between games Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel was healthy for and which ones he was not. With the exception of the Virginia game, the former have W’s next to them and the latter L’s.
Manuel might not be the best player on the Seminoles — that person would probably reside on a defense that could be the best in the country — but he could be the most important in determining whether FSU can ever make the step again from offseason darling to legitimate ACC contender.
Manuel, the Seminoles’ 6-foot-5, 238-pound signal caller from Virginia Beach, is primed for an impactful senior season under Jimbo Fisher, a Heisman contender in some peoples’ opinion and potential first-round draft pick.
He missed parts of three games early last season with after separating his left shoulder. FSU lost all three to Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest. When he got back to full strength, he helped the ‘Noles win seven of their final eight games, including a 15-point fourth quarter rally to beat Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl. Manuel guided the comeback win on a broken leg behind a makeshift offensive line.
He returned for his senior season and faces a situation strikingly similar to Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas. While he has some weapons at wide receiver, questions persist about the offensive line and running game.
Manuel finished last year with his best stats to date, coinciding with his first full season as a starter after Christian Ponder moved on to the NFL. Manuel completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 2,666 yards, with 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions, solid numbers that you’d expect to improve in his redshirt senior season.
He’s faced Virginia Tech once before, filling in for an injured Ponder in the 2010 ACC championship game. He passed for 288 yards and a touchdown but also threw two picks, one that was returned for a touchdown by Jeron Gouveia-Winslow in the Hokies’ 44-33 win in Charlotte.
He’ll get at least one more shot against Virginia Tech when FSU plays at Lane Stadium in a Thursday night game Nov. 8. That could very well be an ACC championship game preview too, considering both teams will probably be the preseason favorites to win their respective divisions.
That would make him a major factor in whether the Hokies reclaim the top spot in the ACC.
Coming Wednesday: He has a powerful goatee.