By most standards, Christian Ponder had a fairly successful rookie campaign leading the Seminoles to their best record since the 2004 season.
In addition to guiding the 'Noles to a 9-4 mark, he also came though in the clutch directing the offense to a game-winning drive at Miami. He also led a couple key fourth quarter drives at NC State.
While Ponder had a productive first year, Seminole fans are used to seeing rookie quarterbacks get off to a quick start only falter down the stretch. Both Chris Rix and Drew Weatherford had promising first years under center but never built on their early success and were benched by their senior seasons.
Unlike his predecessors, the junior from Texas has an established and respected quarterback coach in Jimbo Fisher showing him the ropes and overseeing his development. And with the season opener versus Miami just a week away, the 'Noles' offensive coordinator is anxious for the world to see just how much his starting quarterback has progressed over the past year.
"I really am. I feel very confident about it," Fisher said. "I think he's ready and he's got that look in his eyes.
"The key thing too is one of the reasons that he has been able to function is the guys around him are functioning better. I give credit to the receivers, the backs, the line up front doing more things that allow him now to show his abilities. I am anxious to see (how he does)."
But nobody is more anxious than Ponder to show that he is a quarterback capable of directing a passing attack at a high level.
"I am excited. I have been given an opportunity to show improvements especially on the big stage that is occurring next Monday," Ponder said. "I'm ready to go out and do it. I'm comfortable and confident. I've worked hard and I'm looking forward to it paying off."
In addition to the recent history of rookie quarterbacks falling off after a fairly successful first year, Ponder's passing numbers in 2008 were nothing to write home about.
As a sophomore, Ponder's 14-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio falls to a mediocre 8-13 when you throw out the first two games against FCS (non Division 1A) weaklings Western Carolina and Chattanooga. And without those two creampuffs, his quarterback rating would drop 10 points. That would rank him fourth to last in passing efficiency for bowl subdivision quarterbacks.
While those numbers show that Ponder didn't do much in the passing department, Fisher says he judges his quarterbacks by much more than statistics.
"The thing I've always said about Christian is you get so caught up is he a passer, or a (runner), is he a winner? That's what I'm interested in," Fisher said. "Is he a competitor? How does he compete? Do guys follow him? Go back and look at Brett Favre when he was first in the NFL. He would throw 30 touchdowns and 30 picks, but does that make him great? But you always knew you had a chance to win because he was competitive, he was tough, and the guys love him and they played with his passion. And that's what Christian does."
While Ponder's passing numbers were probably below average last year, since then he has been tearing it up in practice. His aerial exploits started last spring when he was nearly perfect in scrimmage play leading up to the spring game. He hit a bump in the road in the spring game throwing two interceptions, but his hot hand picked back up in a final spring scrimmage and that has continued through August preseason practices. In fact, over the past month in practice he has consistently completed between 70 to 80 percent of his attempts with very few turnovers.
While those numbers look great in the practice reports, Ponder realizes that he will be judged solely by what he does next Monday night and over the course of the season. And after an average outing in Saturday's scripted scrimmage combined with the poor effort in last April's spring game, the junior signal-caller insists that he will have the right attitude going into the season opener against Miami.
"I think what happened to us on Saturday kind of humbled us a little bit," Ponder said. "I think having a bad day like that can bring us back down to earth. I'm glad that happened. I think that will make us even more ready for Monday. These next few practices we need to make sure we are not overly eager and excited. I think we learned from that spring game - we came out and embarrassed ourselves. We definitely don't want to do that against Miami."
Last year as a sophomore, Ponder was faced with the uncomfortable situation of having to look over his shoulder and see senior three-year starter Drew Weatherford on the bench. With Weatherford's graduation, Fisher says he sees a big difference in his starting quarterback's confidence and how he carries himself around his teammates.
"Anytime you have controversy where a young guy overtakes and older guy you always have that when you are on a team," Fisher said. "You see it in pro ball when you have two guys going back and forth. I think this year that distraction has gone away and I think that has had a big effect on him. Not that the other guys were negative, but it's a comfort zone for him."
The 'Noles' offensive team captain will be put to the test in less than seven days against a Miami team desperate to get off to a quick start with a daunting early schedule that includes four straight ranked opponents.
Gene Williams is the founder and administrator of Warchant.com and writes stories and features covering all of FSU's sports with an emphasis on football and football recruiting. For seven years, Williams hosted a weekly sports radio show in Tallahassee. He currently appears as a weekly guest on 1010 XL Sports Radio in Jacksonville and 1270 The Team in Tallahassee during football season. Williams is also a former ACC correspondent for College Football News (weekly national newspaper), and contributes to The Osceola. Story about Gene Williams & Warchant.com.