Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel throws during the first quarter of a game against Oklahoma.
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Not many teams based outside of Florida have plucked more recruits from that state than Wake Forest. All those Floridians on the roster want nothing more than to show Florida State's coaches what they missed.
The 23rd-ranked Seminoles hope their first victory in nearly a month comes today when they visit a program once nicknamed "Wake Florida" because it regularly scours that state in search of players.
"You know Florida State's a perennial power who plays for the ACC Championship consistently. You have to go through them to get where you want to be," said Wake Forest safety Daniel Mack, a Miami native who's one of 30 Floridians on the team. Among non-Florida schools, only Troy and Western Kentucky have more.
"The amount of Florida players on our team extends to Florida State," Mack added. "You already just get amped for it."
The matchup features teams with a pair of deceptive records that help explain why Florida State is favored by nearly two touchdowns.
The Seminoles (2-2, 0-1 ACC), the preseason favorites to win the conference, followed two season-opening routs of lower-level competition with consecutive losses to a pair of teams currently in the top 10, No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 8 Clemson.
Wake Forest (3-1, 2-0) has won three in a row following a season-opening overtime loss to Syracuse, but those victories came against Gardner-Webb of the FCS and a pair of struggling ACC teams that have yet to beat any FBS opponents. A win over Florida State certainly would validate the Demon Deacons' first 3-0 start to ACC play in school history and their first 4-1 start overall since 2008.
"The mature teams have been in enough of those games that it's kind of second nature," coach Jim Grobe said. "That's not going to be the case for us. Now we've played in some big environments. We did last year. We just got our rear ends waxed every time. It'll be nice to see how much these guys have grown up, if we can compete with these guys, because this is a really fantastic football team."
The Seminoles have the best passing offense in the ACC -- Wake Forest is No. 2 -- averaging 328 yards per game, but the question is which of their quarterbacks will be the one flinging the ball all over the field.
Starter E.J. Manuel injured his non-throwing shoulder in the Oklahoma game, missed the Clemson game and says he expects to play against Wake Forest, though coach Jimbo Fisher has been noncommittal. If he doesn't play, redshirt freshman Clint Trickett will make his second straight start.
A return by Manuel could bring life to a ground game that ranks last in the ACC, averaging fewer than 80 yards, and it could bring a bit of symmetry. His first career start came at BB&T Field two years ago when he helped Florida State snap a surprising three-game losing streak in this Atlantic Division series.
"It's definitely bringing back some memories," Manuel said, adding that the shoulder injury affected the torque his body generates while throwing.
"Especially with your left arm, that's really what you try to use with your momentum, when you're coming through," he said. "That's the main reason why I wasn't able to play. I wasn't able to rip when I wanted to -- when I wanted to throw a 60-yard bomb or something like that."
It seems those long passes are a prominent feature of the Florida State playbook. With a talented receiving corps that can go eight players deep, the Seminoles have hit a 50-yard touchdown pass in every game.
Not to be outdone, Wake Forest averages 314 yards passing and has seven passes of at least 35 yards -- with two of those thrown by receivers.
"Wake can throw the heck out of the ball," Fisher said.
The key, Grobe says, is which team can maintain its composure in what amounts to a matchup of two teams full of Florida natives who are so familiar with one another.
"I think we're going to get a good energy level out of our kids, and I think Florida State's going to bring a good energy level because they know it's an important game," Grobe said. "The thing for us, for the young guys, is to play emotionally at a high level but to think while they're doing it.
"Typically, in big games with a lot of energy out there, (players) have a tendency to make mental mistakes. So that'll be an interesting thing for our players, to find out how they'll handle it, being in a game where they're jacked up to play. Can they take their brain out there with them?"
Want To Watch?
WHO: No. 23 FSU (2-2, 0-1 ACC) at Wake Forest
(3-1, 2-0 ACC).
WHAT: FSU's second ACC game.
WHEN: 12:30 today.
WHERE: Winston Salem, N.C.
TV: ACC Network or ESPN3.com.
LINE: Seminoles by 11 1/2 points.