No more doubt about who is FSU's QB

Originally Published: October 27, 2004
By Doug Carlson | Special to ESPN.com

If Florida State quarterback Wyatt Sexton had been aboard the Titanic, he would have been one of the violin players -- a note of calm amid the panic.

Not that his current ship is sinking. Far from it.

The Seminoles are streaking behind their doe-eyed sophomore, whose unflappable demeanor initially created a consensus of confusion among coach Bobby Bowden, offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden and quarterbacks coach Darryl Dickey. All three questioned his "sense of urgency" in practice, thus choosing to stick with error-prone senior Chris Rix for a fourth consecutive season as the starter.

Even when Rix's four turnovers doomed FSU to an overtime loss at Miami in the season opener (which is starting to look like the only thing that will keep the 'Noles out of the BCS title game), they looked down the depth chart and decided the next guy wasn't yet a viable option.

To whom they referred is subject to interpretation.

The next guy, back then, just as easily could have been one of two highly touted freshmen quarterbacks who had arrived in August. Popular opinion held that either Drew Weatherford or Xavier Lee would emerge as Rix's successor, whether this season or next.

Sexton? He was No. 2 on the flip card (seniority, you know?) and No. 4 in your heart if you were an FSU offensive assistant with an eye on the future. He cut the image of the old standby -- a taller and less mobile version of Marcus Outzen, who lingered at FSU long enough to fill in during the '98 season after Chris Weinke broke his neck in a November game against Maryland.

Outzen started for FSU in the first BCS title game, a loss to Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl, then faded to obscurity for his final two seasons in Tallahassee.

Sexton, who leads the No. 5-ranked Seminoles against Maryland on Saturday, looks like anything but a one-year apparition atop the depth chart.

If he was a bystander pushed into action by necessity a month ago, he's now looking more the quarterback of the future in Tallahassee than either of the prized freshmen.

Now if he could just cure Bobby Bowden of his knee-jerk impulse to call on Rix.

In two road trips as the starter, Sexton has struggled to get going in the first half before leading the Seminoles to victory, by four points at Syracuse and by three last week at Wake Forest.

"I attribute that just to getting accustomed to a new surrounding. It's just a little bit of a different environment," Sexton said.

In both cases, Bobby Bowden quizzed Jeff Bowden and Dickey about yanking Sexton. In fact, had Rix's ankle been healthier at the time, Bowden said he would have had no qualms about going back to his old unreliable starter in the first half at the Carrier Dome.

Sexton was upset to learn of those doubts the first time. After hearing it again following the win at Wake Forest, in which he threw two second-half touchdown passes, he shrugged.

"I think you should always consider making a change if someone is playing horrible. They're not gonna not consider it," he said.

"But I think they have done a good job of not just evaluating me, but our offense, because it's more than just me out there. In their opinion I was doing enough, and they stayed with me."

Stayed, most likely, for the long haul. The old standby now is Rix, who not that long ago was on pace to break the FSU career passing record held by Weinke.

"We haven't had that option in the last however many years," Jeff Bowden said of Rix's availability as a (quality?) backup. "We have got that option now and I'm glad Dad seeks our advice on it, but he will ultimately make the decision.

"If we feel like it, we wouldn't hesitate to go to him and say that we feel it's time to get someone in there to get it done."

The trip to College Park, Md., will be Sexton's third start away from home. Bowden takes with him this time fresh memories to guide his impulses when, if, Sexton warms slowly.

At least, he's willing to listen to contrary opinion.

"There have been times when I felt like, 'No, we change right now,' but that's kind of a gut feeling, and I haven't had the gut feeling that strong yet," Bowden said.

Which begs the question: Is the old man going soft, or is Sexton starting to win him over?

From the sound of it, the latter is a strong possibility.

"He's getting some wonderful experience this year in being under pressure," Bowden said. "He's getting great experience, going away from home, to strange places, and having to do it the hard way.

"And I'm sure it will carry over into his future career."

Doug Carlson covers the ACC for the Tampa Tribune.