MIAMI GARDENS -- EJ Manuel's career was one of high expectations, so it's natural that because Florida State didn't win a national championship that there would be criticism.
Florida State players -- especially the seniors -- felt that this was their year. A season that could end in Miami, playing for a national championship. The stunning road loss against N.C. State ended that hope.
But Florida State's season did end in Miami, instead winning a BCS bowl game by pulling away in the second half with a 31-10 win over Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.
Manuel's career won't include a national title or a Heisman Trophy, something both Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke both earned.
But Manuel's name is right up there in the second tier of Florida State quarterbacks. Where exactly is up for debate forever in fans who will argue if Manuel was better than Casey Weldon or Danny Kanell or any of the others.
"EJ is the epitome of what you want in a player, in a leader, in a person, in a student," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I say this all the time: if my two boys grow up to be like him, I'll be the proudest daddy in the world."
Manuel chose Florida State at a time when it might not have been the popular pick for one of the nation's top quarterbacks. The program was struggling and finishing 7-6. But he chose Florida State in 2007, landed on campus the next year and was a fill-in starter in 2009 as he led the Seminoles to a bowl win.
Manuel accumulated wins and a respectable career record -- 25-6 overall. His critics often overlook the 25 and are dumbfounded by the 6.
But he was at his best in bowl games. Manuel was 3-0 as a starter in bowls and 4-0 if you count his long relief appearance -- playing a half for the injured Christian Ponder -- in the Seminoles win over South Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Bowl two years ago.
Few quarterbacks nationally get a chance to play in four bowl games. West Virginia's Pat White started four and won four. Oklahoma's Landry Jones can do the same in a few days.
No Florida State quarterback had ever started and won more than two bowl games. The last to do it was Kanell, who won the 1995 Sugar and 1996 Orange.
Manuel, of course, had the opportunities to play in more bowl games. Those are chances that quarterbacks like Ward and Kanell didn't have.
But Manuel also delivered in late December or early January. Perhaps not his best statistical performances, but they were winning marks.
Manuel completed 26 of 38 passes for 291 yards, with a touchdown to Rashad Greene and a 9-yard touchdown run. It was far from perfection, but in his final game at Florida State, it was more than good enough.
And for his bowl career, Manuel has completed 74 of 108 passes for 813 yards and three touchdowns. That's 108 passes without an interception, too.
Last year, on a broken leg he suffered at some point in the second half, he led Florida State back from a 14-3 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Notre Dame 18-14. Manuel completed 20 of 31 passes for 249 yards and a pair of touchdown passes.
In the 26-17 win over South Carolina, Florida State led 13-3 at the half. But Manuel led the Seminoles to three scoring drives in the second half, finishing with a 7-yard pass to Taiwan Easterling, to secure the win.
And as a freshman in 2009, Manuel helped coach Bobby Bowden retire with a 33-21 win over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl. Manuel had a touchdown run and completed 17 of 24 passes against the Mountaineers.
Manuel would love to have some moments back from his career. His competitive fire would have wanted a national title just like all leaders want for themselves and their teammates.
What Manuel has instead may be this: he was part of a group at Florida State that rebuild the crumbling end of the Bobby Bowden dynasty and rebuilt the foundation of the program under Fisher.
"A lot of the guys that came in the 2008 and '09 class, we wanted to leave a legacy here at Florida State and leave them -- change the culture of what we do here," Manuel said. "It wasn't an overnight process, but you're reaping the benefits right now."