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Rix turned into scapegoat at FSU

When Bill Clinton left office, Saturday Night Live suffered. So did Leno, and Letterman.

When Chris Rix leaves Florida State, after an eternity as the Seminoles' on-again, off-again starting quarterback (sometimes in the same game), the backlash may fall on offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden.

After all, who else will be left to blame?

For years, Florida State's problems almost always have been pinned on Rix. And he didn't help his reputation by sleeping through a semester final in a religion course, subjecting himself to a university rule that disqualified him from playing in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. Or by illegally using a handicap-parking permit and getting turned in by FSU students.

The bowl-eligibility rule, enacted after Deion Sanders admitted he skipped almost his entire final semester at Florida State before starring in the Sugar Bowl against Auburn, has been scrapped.

But Rix insists his career will continue after he plays (or just watches) his final regular season game on Saturday night against Florida.

"Football, at least at Florida State, will be over. But football, in general, I don't think will be over,'' Rix said. "I'll just be moving on to that next season, and that next stage in my life.''

The NFL is the ultimate goal, though Rix's running ability and strong-but-sometimes-erratic arm may be better suited for the wide-open CFL. The anonymity crossing the border offers might not be a bad way to go, either.

For Rix, a little quiet time is well deserved.

Few college quarterbacks have been knocked around by fans as much as Rix has. During his time as Bobby Bowden's only four-year starting quarterback, Rix has seen FSU students raise banners urging him to transfer, been lustily booed in numerous home games and has been the subject for T-shirts ("Rix Happens'') still sold on game day along an avenue leading to Doak Campbell Stadium.

No matter, Rix kept a positive public face on his relationship with the fans. And he took his demotions well -- twice this season as Bowden tried to gauge his own commitment to Wyatt Sexton, and once in 2002 when Adrian McPherson took over before theft and gambling issues ended his college career.

Each time, Rix forged a smile and waited.

In piecemeal fashion, he climbed the school career passing records list, but stalled after he suffered a sprained ankle on Sept. 25 against Clemson. He'll leave school No. 2 behind Chris Weinke (who preceded Rix as FSU's starter, for those who can't remember that far back) in passing yards, touchdown passes, completions and total offense.

In four seasons, Rix, who turns 23 in May, has thrown for 8,083 yards, 61 touchdowns and 37 interceptions, with a career completion percentage of 55.3 percent.

The irony won't be lost on Rix that his final home game comes against archrival Florida. For most FSU fans, beating the Gators is tantamount to a successful season.

And though Rix happened against Miami (FSU was 0-for-5 against the Hurricanes with him as a starter), he was a happening against Florida. He got his job back from McPherson five days before the '02 Florida game, and used his legs to ruin the Gators' defensive scheme on the way to a 31-14 victory.

Rix's signature moment, however, came last year at The Swamp. He bailed FSU out with a fourth-and-14 completion to Dominic Robinson one play before a 52-yard touchdown pass to P.K. Sam with 55 seconds remaining for a 38-34 victory.

Ah, memories.

"I've had fun against Florida,'' Rix said. "I'd love to get another chance of playing against them my last game at home, but we'll see what Saturday has in store. I just have to be ready.''

Florida State fans have to be ready, too. They wildly embraced Sexton when he trotted onto the field after Rix's injury against Clemson. The relationship has cooled somewhat after four road trips under Sexton in which the 'Noles were static on offense in a four-point win at Syracuse, a three-point win at Wake Forest and a loss at Maryland.

And you have to wonder what the reaction would have been if Rix, like Sexton, absentmindedly missed the team football banquet last January to attend a Florida-LSU basketball game in Gainesville? Or if Rix, like Sexton, had been photographed in the stands at last week's Florida-South Carolina game at The Swamp wearing a Florida sweatshirt?

Last week, Bowden stuck with Sexton in a 17-10 Thursday-night victory at North Carolina State, in spite of an offensive performance (121 total yards) that was the lowest output of a Bowden-coached team in his 39-year career.

Where was Rix while that was going on? Standing on the sideline, hoping to go in.

That's where he'll be on Saturday night, right to the bittersweet end. If the fans are glad to see him go after that, he doesn't seem fazed.

"I just feel very privileged just to be out there in uniform and be a part of this team and this program,'' Rix said. "Nothing could ruin Saturday, no matter what happens.

"Best-case scenario: I play and we win. Worst-case scenario: I don't play.''

Either way, Rix won't be around next season to take the heat. The question is whether or not Jeff Bowden, or Sexton, eventually will be ready to join him in a faraway place.

Doug Carlson covers the ACC for the Tampa Tribune.