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Busby steadies FSU's hopes

You wouldn't know it by watching him or even talking to him, but Florida State senior quarterback Thad Busby is excited.

Through the good times _ nearly flawless performances the past couple of weeks that have generated Heisman Trophy hype _ and through the bad _ inconsistency that has left coaches and fans grumbling _ Busby remains unchanged.

He doesn't sulk on the bench or fling his mouthpiece.

He doesn't celebrate jubilantly.

Heck, even his voice knows only one octave: a monotone.

"He's such a laid-back kid, it's like his adrenaline doesn't pump until he's on the verge of, well, I don't know what," FSU offensive coordinator Mark Richt said.

"You talk to him and say, "Try to do this or do that,' and he's, "Yes, sir, yes sir'; sometimes I wish he'd just slap me and say, "Shut up coach,' or do something (emotional)," coach Bobby Bowden said. "He's just very cool. It blows our minds sometimes. He doesn't seem to have highs and lows. That's probably one of the greatest characteristics he's got. He's always the same old Buzz."

But against No. 5 and undefeated North Carolina on Saturday, Busby can prove emphatically he is not the same old player.

Far from it.

Last year he was the man who was asked not to lose games, which he did to perfection in the regular season, but he could not rescue the offense when cramps felled Warrick Dunn in the Sugar Bowl loss to Florida.

Although he is on pace to shatter the FSU single-season passing record of 3,124 yards, set by Peter Tom Willis, and to pass Heisman winner Charlie Ward for third place on the school's all-time list, he isn't mentioned in the same breath as Ward or Danny Kanell or Casey Weldon or Brad Johnson or even heralded backup Dan Kendra.

"This game in particular, but also the next four," Richt said, "will really define what kind of career Thad had here."

The No.

3 Seminoles not only will try to maintain their stranglehold on the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, which they have won every year since joining the league in 1992, they will try to stay the course for a shot at the national championship.

If they win out, including at Florida on Nov. 22, FSU will earn a spot in the Orange Bowl.

With a loss to the Tar Heels, the Seminoles will have to beat Wake Forest and then the Gators to have a chance for an invitation to the Sugar Bowl against, in all probability, Tennessee.

"It can definitely help you in the way people look back on your senior season and you as a player," Busby said. "Big games are the times you need to go out there and have a good performance."

But can he?

UNC, which puts eight and nine men in the box to attack the line of scrimmage and get to the quarterback, is No. 2 nationally in total defense and No. 3 against the pass. In a steady rain against the Tar Heels last season, Busby completed just 9 of 17 passes for 65 yards and was intercepted twice.

Nevertheless, his teammates, coaches and, most important, his numbers categorically say: Yes, he can.

"Thad's come a long way," Richt said. "Our standards here have been pretty high, and he's had a hard time meeting those standards last season and some of this season early on. We expected him to play better, although he's played well. But now the last two or three games, he's put it together the way we've expected him to."

Beginning with the final possession of the first half against Georgia Tech on Oct. 18, which marked the Seminoles' return to the shotgun, no-huddle formation almost exclusively, and continuing through last week against North Carolina State, Busby has excelled.

He has completed 65 of 106 passes (61 percent) for 1,072 yards, including a career-best 463 last week, and 10 touchdowns.

"Thad's right where he needs to be," sophomore receiver Peter Warrick said. "His confidence level is up and he's playing real well. That's what we need. We need him to step up."

He has thrown for at least 250 yards in every game this season, one shy of the school record held jointly by Ward, Willis and Gary Huff, and he is fifth nationally in total offense, averaging 316 yards. That's more than the Heisman front-runner, Tennessee's Peyton Manning.

"I'm as comfortable as I've ever been," Busby said. "Having confidence and being comfortable go together. Going into big games, you've got to have that confidence. This time last year, I don't think I'd be able to go out and put together these kinds of games."

Although Bowden said he wasn't going to put the outcome of this game solely on his quarterback, he knows the strength of his team is its passing game.

It's clear his confidence in Busby is at an all-time high.

"I've gotten better as the season has gone along and I think I've progressed," Busby said. "Last year I was playing the role of going out there and not losing the game and letting Warrick run the ball. This year is different. I'm more in the role that Warrick was _ to go out and win the game. And I like that."

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