In case you haven't heard the Florida State University Seminoles are coming to town Saturday. They bring with them one of the most highly touted Quarterbacks in the nation in Christian Ponder. Ponder has been mentioned in a few circles as an early front runner to win the Heisman. So what's all the hype about anyways?
Well the hype starts with an incredibly efficient and productive 2009 season... at least through the first eight games. Going into last year's match-up with Clemson Ponder completed 206 of 330 passes for 2,453 yards and 13 TDs to 3 INTs. Ponder had an incredibly Landry Jones like game against Clemson, completing 21 throws for 264 yards and 1 TD to 4 INTs, before a season ending injury in the fourth quarter (separated throwing shoulder on a tackle on an INT return). If he had completed the season he most likely would have finished with something like 3,600 yards, 20ish TDs and 10ish INTs. He also ran for 179 yards and 2 TDs through those first nine games. All and all a good three quarters of a season. Provided the 'Noles can win 9 games and Ponder can stay injury free, it's reasonable to see him sitting in New York at the end of the season. I'd like to think that the Sooners will be a huge obstacle.
Christian's dad, David Ponder was a defensive lineman for the 'Noles from 1980-83. Christian got his start playing at Colleyville Heritage High School in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where, as a senior threw for 2,214 yards and 20 TDs while rushing for 911 yards and 12 TDs. He was named to the all-district 1st team by the Dallas Morning News and Scout.com named him the 20th ranked QB while Rivals.com had him as the 14th ranked pro-style QB. Ponder spent his first year redshirting and his second season, 2007, playing back-up to the once highly touted Drew Weatherford. In his sophomore year Ponder won the starting job from the senior Weatherford. In his first season as full-time signal caller Ponder 177 of 318 passes for 2,006 yards and 14 TDs to 13 INTs while rushing for 423 yards and 4 TDs on 119 carries. The 'Noles finished the 2008 campaign 9-4 with a victory over Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Ponder sat out the entire second half in FSU's first game of the 2010 campaign against FCS also-ran Samford. The redshirt senior finished the FIRST HALF with an amazing 265.92 QB rating, completing 12 of his 14 passes for an 11.9 yard average and 4 TDs to 1 INT. With an incredibly difficult schedule that includes this week's trip to Norman along with games against BYU, Florida, Boston College, Clemson, Miami, and North Carolina, Ponder should nearly be a lock for the Heisman if the 'Noles return to 10-win form and he throws for 3,000+ yards and 20+ TDs. Of course the 10 wins in a rebuilding year (at least as far as the coaching staff goes) is doubtful. The first real stop to FSU's return to the promised land will be at Gaylord-Memorial Stadium.
Ponder has all the tools he needs to make this weekend's game a nightmare for the Sooners. Much of wether he is able to utilize these tools comes down to the match-ups on the lines. The FSU offensive line returns five starters who have a combined 142 starts coming into the season, so I suppose that's 147 starts now. Oklahoma made Diondre Borel look like a potential Heisman candidate (minus the 3 INTs) and unless there is a radical turn around with the addition of Adrian Taylor and Frank Alexander, look for a repeat of last weekend. The other major match-up that Ponder's performance depends on is between FSU's young receivers and OU's young defensive backs. Oklahoma's new corners struggled against what should have been an overmatched Utah State receiving corps. Stoops has made a lot about opening the defensive playbook against the 'Noles. Let's hope this, and a hefty dose of crowd noise makes life difficult for Ponder on Saturday. OU fans can get loud, but for 85,000+ there is a little to be desired. Let's remind the 'Noles what it's like to play in Clemson's Death Valley or Florida's Swamp. On paper Christian Ponder looks like a world beater and the Sooner defense looks lost in the wind. This weekend could go a long way towards setting or breaking that trend.