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Manuel ready for his first FSU start

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

As senior Riley Skinner plays his final home game for Wake Forest Saturday, Florida State freshman E.J. Manuel will make his first collegiate start.

The two quarterbacks at opposite points in their careers do have one thing in common, however: their teams are in desperation mode.

With no margin for error left in their disappointing seasons, the Demon Deacons and Seminoles meet in Winston-Salem, N.C., in what's basically a bowl elimination game.

Florida State (4-5, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) needs to go 2-1 to extend the nation's longest bowl streak to 28 years. But with the season finale against No. 1 Florida, a victory Saturday is essential.

Wake Forest (4-6, 2-4) must finish 2-0 for a fourth straight bowl trip in a season of missed opportunities. The Demon Deacons have a school record five losses by three points or less.

"There's no wiggle room, we know what we've got to do," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "Wins are the only thing that's going to help us now."

Victories are what embattled Florida State coach Bobby Bowden needs, too. But in his first game since turning 80, Bowden will turn to an untested 19-year-old QB.

Manuel, who was redshirted last year and has completed one pass for four yards this season. But he's been pressed into duty after Christian Ponder, who has thrown for 2,717 yards and 14 touchdowns, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in last week's loss to Clemson.

"I'm not trying to make a big deal about me starting," Manuel said. "I just want to win and continue to do well for the university."

The 6-foot-4 Manuel was highly recruited out of Virginia Beach, Va., but was expected to wait behind Ponder. Now offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher has spent the week getting Manuel up to speed.

"The thing he's got to be careful of is don't let the anxiety of wanting to play so bad overcome him," Fisher said. "I think the way he prepares and his personality will help him. He'll make sure to dot the Is and cross the Ts."

With Florida State's defense ranked last in the ACC and giving up 40 or more points in three of the last four games, Manuel may have to be sharp for Florida State to have a chance. Wake, led by senior defensive tackle John Russell (41/2 sacks), will try to force him from the pocket.

"It'll affect them like it would us if we didn't have Riley Skinner," Grobe said. "I'm sure the young player is very capable. You very rarely have a backup quarterback that can't get the job done. In our case Ryan McManus is very capable. But anytime you lose a guy with all that experience, especially one of the top quarterbacks in the league, it hurts."

Skinner will be one of 22 seniors honored before kickoff. The class has won more games (33) than any other at the school, but this season has been filled with frustration. There was the overtime loss to Boston College, the blown lead and one-point loss to Miami, then last week's overtime heartbreaker against now-No. 7 Georgia Tech.

"Our guys don't enjoy playing good teams just tough," Grobe said. "We need to win, we need to keep our heads up and come back and play a great effort Saturday against the Noles."

One of the many signs of a power shift away from Florida State in the ACC has been this series. Wake Forest had lost 14 consecutive games to the Seminoles until the 30-0 road win in the Deacons' 2006 ACC title season. Wake, despite being just 5-21-1 against Florida State, now seeks its fourth straight win in the series.

Keeping that streak alive means a lot to Skinner, who grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., but was ignored by the Seminoles and the state's other big schools.

"To play a program like that with their history and the legacy that coach Bowden has and to be able to beat them three times in a row and have an opportunity to do it a fourth time is pretty remarkable for a school of our size," Skinner said. "There is a lot at stake this week and hopefully it will be a great game Saturday and great last experience at BB&T (Field)."