Former Florida State QB Marcus Outzen can empathize like few others with the position EJ Manuel finds himself in as the unexpected starter.
Their paths to the top job are strikingly, and even eerily, similar.
Outzen, a seldom-used redshirt sophomore, was thrust into a pressure-packed role when standout Chris Weinke suffered a season-ending neck injury on Nov. 7, 1998. His first start came a week later at Wake Forest.
Fast-forward to now, and it's Manuel, a redshirt freshman who has appeared briefly in just three games, taking over for a rising star. Christian Ponder suffered a season-ending shoulder injury on Nov. 7. Manuel's first start is Saturday at Wake Forest.
"There's a lot of pressure, but this guy was highly touted coming out of high school. We regard him as our next star-in-waiting, so to speak," Outzen said. "I think he's going to be up for the challenge to prove that he can step in there and win a game."
He expects Manuel, despite his impressive career at Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside, is hearing the same kind of talk he heard — the Seminoles don't have much of a shot to win.
"I took it as a challenge," Outzen said. "The pressures and the negativity that kind of comes with not much being expected of you, I feel, can be used to focus and challenge yourself because you're being challenged by everyone."
In 1998, the Seminoles were in the national championship picture (and did reach the inaugural BCS finale, losing to Tennessee).
Fast-forward to now, and the Seminoles just hope to win at least two of their last three to qualify for a bowl.
"Getting used to the speed of the game was the biggest issue, and until you have some experience behind the center taking snaps in true games, everything's really fast," Outzen said. "In my opinion, that's where he's going to struggle as I did a little bit."
Against Wake, the game plan was pretty vanilla. Outzen, an option QB in high school with 4.5 speed in the 40, was 11-of-19 for 164 yards and one interception. FSU won 24-7 thanks to its defense, keyed by CB Mario Edwards' four interceptions.
But today's D hasn't been as dominant.
The burden has been on the offense to score and score a lot.
"At a big-time football program, you're not given a break," Outzen said. "You're expected to step in and pick up almost where (the starter) left off."
Some good news … : Sophomore RB Jermaine Thomas seemingly has found his stride. He rushed for a career-high 186 yards against N.C. State on Oct. 31 and had 119 against Clemson on Saturday.
"He missed a cut here and there, but he's running the ball hard, sticking his nose in there, playing pretty good," offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher said.
Teams are more apt to lean on the running game with a neophyte QB, so Thomas' timing couldn't be better.
A complete player: Freshman K Dustin Hopkins turned some heads when he leveled Clemson's Crezdon Butler, who returned Hopkins' missed 58-yard field goal.
"I think he tackles better than some of our DBs," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said, joking. "That was pretty impressive, wasn't it? But he played DB in high school. He's an athlete just like (former kicker Graham) Gano was."
Some birthday: Bowden turned 80 on Sunday, but no one in his household felt like balloons and cake. His team lost on Saturday. Son Terry's North Alabama team, which was No. 1 in Division II, lost for the first time. In four overtimes. Even Bowden's son-in-law, Jack Hines, a prep coach, suffered an L.
"So our whole family got whipped," he said. "We ain't celebrating nothing."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347. Read his blog at blogs. tampabay.com/seminoles.