GREENSBORO, N.C. — EJ Manuel spent 37 minutes one day this week sitting in a dimly-lit ballroom at the Grandover Resort, speaking to writers at this year's ACC Kickoff. In that time period, he was asked the same question, posed eight different times and in eight ways.
He knows because he counted.
"That was about to be No. 9," he said, chuckling with a reporter who joked about asking yet another similar question.
At the two-day preseason conference event, there was but one on-field, game-related topic writers from across the conference discussed most: Is Florida State for real this year?
"This has to be the year," Manuel said. "It's my last year."
The fifth-year senior quarterback believes the Seminoles in 2012 will finally live up to the preseason hype.
"As far as (a) personal goal, that will be to help us as seniors leave a legacy at Florida State," Manuel said. "We can say we helped bring back a national championship. We helped put Florida State back where it used to be in the 1990s and early 2000s."
Monday, a day after Manuel made those statements, the same media members picked FSU to win its first title since 2005. The Seminoles headed the preseason ballot the second straight year.
Of 95 media members who voted, 72 put Florida State on top in the Atlantic Division. Defending champion Clemson was second and had 17 first-place votes followed by North Carolina State (five), Wake Forest, Boston College and Maryland.
Virginia Tech was again chosen to win the Coastal by 83 voters; Georgia Tech had 10 first-place votes. North Carolina (two) was third, followed by Virginia, Miami and Duke.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney wasn't reading too far into the news.
"I don't make anything of it," Swinney said. "… It's kind of the same-old, same-old for us. Y'all don't ever pick us to win (the ACC's Atlantic Division)."
Last season there was talk that the Seminoles were a BCS bowl contender and coach Jimbo Fisher wanted his group to embrace the expectations that surrounded it. But FSU scuffled through untimely injuries and had four losses by a combined 21 points, sliding down to the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando.
"You still have to embrace them. You still have to live in them," Fisher said of expectations. "But what you have to do is you can't dwell on them."