Outzen's confidence is without reserve

Florida State: Despite being a starter by default, Marcus Outzen says he can lead the Seminoles to a win over No 1. Tennessee -- and a national title

January 03, 1999|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN STAFF

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Florida State quarterback Marcus Outzen won't be playing in the NFL someday. He doesn't even expect to be starting for the Seminoles next season if Chris Weinke recovers from the neck injury that ended Weinke's year and gave Outzen his chance.

But Outzen expects to lead No. 2 Florida State (11-1) to victory -- and to the national championship -- tomorrow night against top-ranked Tennessee (12-0) in the Fiesta Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium. Outzen might have some shortcomings as a quarterback, particularly his arm strength, but he is not lacking in confidence.

"I think my teammates feed off my confidence," he said yesterday.

A 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore who played at the same high school in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., that produced former Florida star and Fiesta Bowl hero Danny Wuerffel, Outzen was recruited for his overall athletic ability. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews envisioned Outzen as a strong safety.

"I knew that was a possibility," said Outzen. "But once I got here I improved very quickly as a quarterback. I remember they [the coaches] were surprised by that."

After redshirting in 1996, Outzen was the fourth-string quarterback and first-string holder on extra points and field goals last season. After Thad Busby graduated and heir apparent Dan Kendra blew out his knee in spring practice, Outzen came into this season as Weinke's backup.

Outzen began to have doubts about his career when Weinke stayed on the field during Florida State's 24-7 loss at North Carolina State in late September despite throwing five interceptions. Those doubts were reinforced when Outzen was pulled after a couple of series against the Wolfpack, and Weinke returned to throw his school-record sixth interception.

"It was frustrating to be sitting when I knew Chris wasn't having one of his better days," said Outzen. "And then not to do anything to give the coaches the confidence in me was disappointing."

Weinke was in the midst of putting together a remarkable season when he was injured against Virginia Nov. 7. At the time, he had thrown 218 straight passes without an interception and had passed for at least 200 yards in nine of his 10 starts. Florida State coach Bobby Bowden had no other choice but to bring in Outzen.

Some confidence had been restored when Outzen completed five of six passes and helped the Seminoles ring up 17 second-half points in a 45-14 win over the Cavaliers. When it was learned that Weinke had sustained a herniated disk that required surgery, quarterback coach Mark Richt gave Outzen the news.

"I think mentally he was probably excited to be a one-game stand-in," Richt told the Tallahassee Democrat that week. "But when the realization came that he was going to be the guy for the year, it was like, `Whoa.' "

His debut as a starter against Wake Forest -- 11-for-19 for 164 yards with one interception and no touchdown passes -- did not evoke memories of any former Florida State quarterbacks. Nor did it raise Bowden's confidence leading up to his team's next game, against rival Florida.

"We won't have as many choices as we've had," Bowden said at the time. "But we can find something he can do."

Recalled Outzen, "My number one goal [against Florida] was to remain as calm as I can be. If I got rattled, I would be in trouble."

Outzen didn't totally achieve his goal, getting sacked six times, including once for a safety. But he managed to rush for 61 yards on 17 carries and to throw for 167 more and a touchdown while completing 13 of 22 passes in a 23-12 victory.

"Outzen was a winner," Bowden said after the game. "He played within himself and did the things he can do. We haven't had a running quarterback since Charlie Ward. So now, all of a sudden, here's a guy who might run."

With two starts and another three weeks of practice leading up to tomorrow night, Outzen has become more comfortable with the offense. And his relative inexperience might be to his advantage in that Tennessee has only two game tapes of Outzen to watch.

"He kind of reminds us of [Syracuse quarterback Donovan] McNabb," said Tennessee corner Duane Goodrich. "Watching him in only two games, we couldn't really pick up on his tendencies or his technique. But he's a good quarterback. He could start for any team in the country."

Even if he should lead the Seminoles to victory here, the player his teammates call "Rooster" for his closely cropped reddish-blond hair doesn't expect that will be enough to earn him the starting role for next season. He and Weinke have become good friends, and he views the 26-year-old former Toronto Blue Jays farmhand as another coach helping him prepare.

"I find it hard to believe [that I will be the starter] because that's not the way they do it at Florida State. You don't lose your job because of an injury," said Outzen. "At most, I see them having a little package for me to come in as a surprise [next season]. Chris is the starter."

Not here at Sun Devil Stadium. Not against Tennessee. Not in the Fiesta Bowl.

It will be Outzen's game. And perhaps, his national championship.

Fiesta Bowl

No. 1 Tennessee (12-0) vs. No. 2 Florida State (11-1)

Site: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m. TV: Chs. 2, 7

Line: Florida State by 5 1/2

Pub Date: 1/03/99

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