TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel remembers the day well, too well.
Manuel watched helplessly from the sidelines three years ago as Christian Ponder's understudy while an untested freshman from Tallahassee, B.J. Daniels, led South Florida to a 17-7 upset of the Seminoles in his first collegiate start.
"It was a bad feeling," Manuel said. "We haven't forgotten it at all."
Saturday the two fifth-year seniors square off when Florida State (4-0) hits the road for the first time this season to play South Florida (2-2) in Tampa. The fourth-ranked Seminoles are a 17-point favorite.
Manuel, who was frustrated with being redshirted a year earlier, marveled at how Daniels shined in what was his first collegiate start.
"B.J., being from Tallahassee, was kind of his coming out party," Manuel said. "He had a huge game."
And Daniels has had many more since. He has amassed 9,333 total yards, sixth best in Big East Conference history.
Manuel put himself into the Heisman Trophy discussion with his performance Florida State's 49-37 win over Clemson last week. Manuel passed for 380 yards and ran for another 102 in a performance similar to what Daniels did to the Seminoles when he threw for 215 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 126.
"He's a phenomenal athlete," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said of Daniels. Fisher, who was in his final season as the Seminoles' offensive coordinator during that game in 2009, added: "No play is ever dead" when Daniels has the ball.
Daniels' teammates know that as well.
"You never know how he can come out of any situation," Bulls' wide receiver Terrence Mitchell said. "He's a different kind of quarterback."
Although Daniels played at Lincoln High School about five miles east of the Florida State campus, he wasn't recruited by the Seminoles. Fisher wanted Manuel — the signature recruit for the eventual head coach.
There are many similarities between the two QBs. Both are 22 and are known by their initials, although Daniels — Bruce Jr. — uses the conventional periods between letters while Manuel — Erik Jr. — doesn't.
There are some differences too.
The 6-foot Daniels played as a freshman and sophomore at USF, the more highly recruited and taller Manuel picked up most of his experience those two years in six starts behind an oft-injured Ponder. Manuel took over fulltime last season after Ponder departed for the NFL.
Manuel's 67.2 completion percentage is the best career average in the Atlantic Coast Conference, slightly above former Virginia star Matt Schaub's 67 percent mark.
"It's what you do to win games whether you're having a great game or having a bad game," the 6-5 Manuel said. "How to put your team in situations to win games. That's what I want to do."
Manuel, who is 11-1 in his last dozen starts and 17-4 overall as a starter, played his best game for the Seminoles last week. He was the first Florida State quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards and run for 100 or more in a game since former Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward in 1992.
Ward is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks to play at Florida State, in large part because of his come-from-behind performances in wins at Clemson and Georgia Tech his junior year and in the 1993 national title game over Nebraska.
Manuel would like to join Ward and a second Seminole Heisman-winning quarterback, Chris Weinke, in leading the Seminoles to a national title.
"When they talk about the great players in college football, they were consistent," Manuel said.
And while his named has bubbled up in Heisman talk, Manuel is trying to steer clear of any thoughts aside South Florida at the moment.
The Seminoles are a 17-point favorite as they try to square the series at 1-1.
That doesn't surprise Daniels. The USF signal-caller said:
"I don't think anybody gave us a chance in Tallahassee either."