Quarterback Chris Rix won't play in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia on Jan. 1 after he was declared ineligible Tuesday for failing to take a final exam. The moves leaves the Seminoles (9-4) without their top two quarterbacks as they prepare to play the Southeastern Conference champion Bulldogs (12-1). Backup Adrian McPherson was kicked off the team last month.
FSU coach Bobby Bowden said sophomore Fabian Walker from Americus, Ga., would move into the starting job while Matt Henshaw becomes No. 2 , moving from tight end, and wide receiver Anquan Boldin, a high school quarterback who was in contention for the starting job one time, would be third string. Walker played in three games, completing five of eight passes for 74 yards.
Rix said he slept through a religion exam, an automatic suspension under a rule established after former Seminoles' star Deion Sanders played in the '89 Sugar Bowl despite not taking any final exams.
Senior Brett Williams said the news was another blow to a program that has struggled on and off the field the past two seasons.
"I hate to see to it happen but it doesn't surprise us after all the stuff that has already happened," Williams said. "It is just something else to us. I think everybody is numb to it now. We can't worry about it, this has been pretty much like our whole last two years. We have to take our licks and move on."
Rix set an Atlantic Coast Conference record for freshmen in total offense last season but lost his job after seven games this year. After McPherson was dismissed, Rix led FSU to a 31-14 win over Florida on Nov. 30. McPherson was dismissed Nov. 25 for his involvement in a check-writing scam that led to his arrest on felony and misdemeanor charges the next week.
"The reaction of the team was totally different from when we heard A.D. couldn't play, this is like the second time around," Williams said. "So your like, 'What?. Oh well, let's get back to practice.' That is how it is around here. It's sad to be that way but with the stuff that has happened, it just doesn't bother us any more...you just have to roll with it."
Senior defensive end Alonzo Jackson agreed with Williams, though he says the Seminoles must rally behind one another again. Georgia, of course, is ranked in the top five for the first time since 1983. Coached by former FSU offensive coordinator Mark Richt, the 'Dogs' 12 wins ties a school record for most wins in a season. Heading into the Sugar Bowl, UGA is ranked fourth in all the major polls and eight players have earned first-team All-SEC honors.
"It has been up and down...every week is something different," Jackson said. "Before the last game we had to worry about what happened to Adrian and putting Chris back into the starting lineup. The unfortunate thing that happened to AD brought the team closer together, makes us focus harder. I hope that is what happens this time, we are gonna need all the help we can get."
Now the onus falls on Walker, who has traveled quite the path to FSU. Walker originally signed with FSU with the 2000 class and enrolled, but was ruled ineligible. He returned to the program after playing one year of football in junior college and earning his junior college degree. Walker returned to FSU and competed in spring football last April - this after contemplating attending Georgia and reuniting with Richt. Walker was a high school teammate of Jackson at Americus.
Walker will face a Georgia defense that is ranked among the country's best. The Bulldogs have scored 64 points off 28 turnovers.
"Fabian has a lot of dumb luck. He has had bad luck ever since he left high school," Jackson said.
"Being a phenomenal high school quarterback, then the NCAA, didn't get the score, had to go to JUCO. Got banged up, came back played well, had to sit out. It has been a strange road he traveled to get here. But I know Fabian has been waiting in the wings, really focusing and studying, even when he was third team. focusing week in, week out like he was going to play.
"He never had a bad attitude about anything."
Williams said Walker, who completed 5-of-8 passes for 74 yards with a long of 39 this season, performed well in Tuesday's practice. Walker, who saw action against Maryland, Duke and Virginia, was limited by shoulder problems early in the year. He left the training room Tuesday with ice wrapped on his right shoulder and elbow - a customary sight for all FSU quarterbacks.
"He is very calm in the huddle, you can sense the confidence he has," Williams said. He is a guy that sits in the pockets and looks for his receivers. You could tell he was a little rusty today but we have plenty of time to get the rust off and get him ready for the game. He doesn't show any frustration with anything.. he has a lot of confidence, we get that off of him in the huddle, even if he hasn't had al of of playing time or experience, we know he can get the job done."
Rix, meanwhile, once again must watch from the sidelines.
"I am disappointed this happened, especially after how hard he worked and handled being benched earlier in the year and got back and proved himself," Williams said. "I am disappointed to see this happen to him.