Return of the Quarterback: The Christian Ponder Story



Christian Ponder came to Florida State with low expectations. Many believed he would become a good backup quarterback, or an okay starter.  Before the fall of 2008, senior quarterback Drew Weatherford was still the starter for the Seminoles; however Coach Jimbo Fisher had become impressed with Christian’s intelligence, accuracy, and athleticism. Despite this, Drew was still the starter and there was no definitive second stringer with D'Vontrey Richardson also challenging Drew with his 4.4 speed.  However, the depth chart was anything but set for the 2008 season.

Shortly before their first game of the season against Western Carolina, Florida State announced that Christian Ponder had won the starting quarterback position over Drew Weatherford. It was said to be a very tough decision in which Christian very narrowly won out. Quarterbacks Coach Jimbo Fisher attributed the promotion to the same impressive athleticism, intelligence, and accuracy he had mentioned before. Also noting he was the most consistent quarterback out of Richardson, Weatherford, and himself.

The season began well, but it was not surprising given the Seminoles first two games were against D1-AA opponents. Christian threw for 6 touchdowns, no interceptions, and 376 yards in these first two games. Next came Wake Forest and their defense. In this game, Ponder threw 3 interceptions, zero touchdowns, and had an efficiency rating of just 24.3. He was benched in favor of Richardson in the second half. To many, it appeared that Ponder’s early success was merely the result of playing cupcake opponents. Ponder remained the starter and improved in the next game against Colorado but still failed to throw a touchdown pass, threw an interception, and once again posted a poor quarterback efficiency rating of just 81.8. In the fifth game of season, Ponder began to really pick it up rushing for 144 yards against Miami for 7.6 yards/carry. He threw for 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, and 159 passing yards.

At this point, many could no longer deny his athletic ability but many still doubted his passing ability. What many failed to account for was the fact that he was playing behind one of smallest and the youngest offensive lines in the country. The pocket frequently collapsed around him and was often forced to make throws under intense pressure. He also had only started 5 games in his college career. Fisher even stated that Ponder had the potential to become the best quarterback he has ever coached, a bold statement seeing as he had previously coached JaMarcus Russell (#1 overall draft pick in the 2007 draft). I remember hearing this and thinking it must have been a bit of an exaggeration but as the season progressed I began noticing things beyond the stats. His delivery, arm strength, quick release, lateral speed, and competitive nature blew me away. He also played the second half of the season while injured, yet continued to improve statistically. And one more thing, he is smart, really, really smart.

Ponder caped off the season with 2006 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, a quarterback efficiency rating of 115, a 55.7 competition percentage, and a dominating victory over Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl. When looking at his performance against DI-A opponents, Ponder has amassed a mere 8 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, a completion percentage of 54.8, and 1630 passing yards in 11 games. Despite these statistics the Ponder faithful believed there was more to this quarterback than these stats. This idea was cemented for me after Georgia Tech last year in the 4th quarter as Ponder drove down the field twice against Georgia Tech for what should have been 2 scores to win the game with 45 seconds left. Despite the loss, Ponder looked like the hungry quarterback that FSU had lacked for nearly a decade.

Coming into the 2009 season, Jimbo and Christian both consistently stated that the number one improvement Ponder had made was in his confidence. This had allowed him to calm down make his read, stop forcing throws, and just find what was open. He had faith in his O-line and was planning to spend much more time in the pocket finding his receivers. I thought about this increase in confidence and then though about my own performance in high school football. I played o-line, d-line, and all special teams but my strength was as an offensive tackle. My junior year I had a grasp of all the plays but really only had been familiar with them for about a year and I also was not confident at all about my ability. I ended up being just a 1st-Team All District and All Conference player at the end of the year. I also was plagued by a broken wrist throughout the second half of my season. As a senior, I finally played my first year with absolute confidence and an a complete understanding of my ability. I also knew the playbook like the back of my hand. I really had not improved elsewhere as I had pulled my hamstring (thus limiting my speed/agility training) before the season started and had only moderately improved strength wise. But I was confident now and didn’t second guess myself. I finished the year being a 1st Team All-State Offensive Tackle and believe it was almost solely the result of being confident in myself. While many may have seen Ponder’s resounding claim of total confidence in himself as a rather pedestrian statement, I was extremely excited to hear it over and over. To me, nothing excited me more about this season than his improved confidence.

Despite critical game changing drops, countless fumbles, a poor run game which simplifies the defenses concerns, a knee injury (and perhaps now an elbow injury), many young receivers, the loss of a great tight end, a defense that demands the offense be able to score on almost every drive, a coaching staff in disarray, disappointing losses, an offense composed of mostly rivals 3-star players, and losing receivers that produced nearly two-thirds of all receiving yards before 2009 began, Christian Ponder has thrown for 2176 yards, 12 touchdowns, just ONE interception, for a 70 percent completion percentage, and a quarterback efficiency rating of 155.79 in just 7 games against one of the hardest schedules in the country!

He threw for 3 touchdowns, 395 yards, for an 82.5 percent completion percentage and QB rating of 190.2 against the number one pass defense in the country!

Seminoles vs Tar Heels recap

If he continues to play as he has, he is projected to throw for 21 touchdowns, just two interceptions, and over 3700 yards in the regular season alone.

To give you an idea of how good this is here is what Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, and Jimmy Clausen are projected to do this season against a much easier schedule:

Player                   Passing Yards     TD           INT         Completion %    QB Rating

Colt McCoy              3074                      22           14                    70               137.85

Tim Tebow              2064                      16            4                     65.5            164.63

Jimmy Clausen     3608                      28            4                     64.9            166.35

If the FSU defense was just an average defense, not even a good defense, FSU could likely have been 6-1 at this point and Ponder would be a Heisman candidate. I would also confidently state that I do not believe another quarterback in the country could do what Ponder has done given his supporting cast and against this schedule.

The only thing more exciting than Christian Ponder in 2009 is Christian Ponder 2010.

Thank you, Number 7, for being the bright spot on this otherwise dark season and giving Seminole fans everywhere a reason to watch.

Oh, and one more thing, if you don’t think Jimbo Fisher can coach then just look at what he has done with this kid who was projected to be a backup quarterback during the recruiting process.

"There are some great ones out there. I know. But I wouldn’t trade ours for anybody in America. Period. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody in America." - Jimbo Fisher

I couldn’t agree more. Thank you number 7.

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