TALLAHASSEE — Jimbo Fisher guided Florida State to 10 wins in his first year as head coach at the school and expects to be even better in Year Two.
He's not alone.
The Seminoles, who finished 10-4 last season, were an overwhelming favorite of the media covering the ACC to win their first league championship since 2005 and run their streak of winning seasons to 35.
They'll have to do it with a new starter at quarterback, but junior EJ Manuel is hardly untested. He has a 4-2 record starting games the past two years when Christian Ponder was sidelined with injuries.
Manuel, some believe, could be just as good or better than Ponder.
"Quarterbacks are the key guy," Fisher said. "I have an extreme amount of confidence in him and belief in him … in what he is going to do."
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Manuel has accounted for more than 2,000 yards offense and 11 touchdowns in his career and led the Seminoles to bowl victories over West Virginia and South Carolina.
"I think EJ is a little more athletic than Ponder was," fullback Lonnie Pryor said. "When it comes to throwing the ball and reading everything, I'm pretty sure they're on the same level."
Manuel and his teammates get what could well be their biggest test three weeks into the season when Oklahoma comes calling with quarterback Landry Jones, who passed for 380 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Sooners to a 47-17 win over Florida State last year.
Fisher emphasizes that teh Seminoles will be prepared this time for the Sooners, who will likely be ranked No. 1 when they visit Tallahassee.
Their Sept. 17 rematch has become the most anticipated game for the Seminoles since Bob Stoops' upstart Sooners upset Florida State 13-2 in Miami to capture the 2000 national championship.
"Even if you win that game, you've got to go on the road the next week and play a very tough Clemson team," Fisher said. "I think the Oklahoma game will take care of itself."
Fisher is counting on juniors Willie Haulstead and Rodney Smith and senior Bert Reed to lead a host of eager underclassmen fighting for playing time on the receiving corps while tailbacks Chris Thompson, Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas combined to rush for 1,862 yards and 17 touchdowns last year.
Defensive end Brandon Jenkins, linebacker Nigel Bradham and cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid lead defensive coordinator Mark Stoops' young defense that ranked third nationally with 48 sacks last season, led by Jenkins' 131/2 sacks.
The Seminoles also return one of the nation's best special teams, featuring field goal specialist Dustin Hopkins, punter Shawn Powell and Reid, who led the nation in punt returns in 2009.