FanPost

What's So Great About Ponder?


Quarterback <a class='sbn-auto-link' href='http://www.sbnation.com/ncaa-football/players/4827/Christian_Ponder'>Christian Ponder</a> #7 of the Florida State Seminoles throws a pass during the game against the <a class='sbn-auto-link' href='http://www.sbnation.com/ncaa-football/teams/Georgia%20Tech'>Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets</a> at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field on November 1, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Yellow Jackets beat the Seminoles 31-28.

My general impression from posts here and elsewhere is that people are enthusiastic about Christian Ponder.  But by FSU standards, the numbers don't seem to support this enthusiasm.  So can someone tell me what is so great about Ponder?

(This post should be a nice contrast to the Kool-Aid I offered in the Jermaine Thomas/Warrick Dunn comparison.  It's also unlikely to be ripped-off by Fearthespear.com)

Long-time followers of Seminole pigskin will recognize one undeniable fact:  We get more 'W's with 'W's.  That is, we've won more games with Willis, Weldon, Ward, Weinke and Weatherford than with any 5 non-W quarterbacks.  (I'd love to see someone check the numbers on this.)  All the 'W's (except Drew) had 10 or more wins in a season.  So when P-O-N-D-E-R becomes W-O-N-D-E-R, I'll look forward to 10 wins and an ACC championship.  Unfortunately, he has yet to show any resemblance to the W-inners of the previous decades.

In what follows, I argue that Ponder is mediocre by FSU (and perhaps any) standards.  My analysis of Ponder goes both vertical (comparing Ponder with other FSU signal callers in the last 20 years) and horizontal (comparison with 2008 ACC QBs).  In either comparison, Ponder comes out average or worse.  It is true that he compares well with fellow ACC signal-callers, but given the mediocre talent among ACC QBs, all that follows is that Ponder is above-average among mediocre colleagues.  This may be obvious to some, but others may be like me -- optimistic prior to careful study of the numbers.

VERTICAL COMPARISON

The following charts show how Ponder compares to other (selected) successful Seminole QBs.  Quarterbacks were selected by no scientific procedure.  Mostly, they had gobs of passing yards.  I simply took 12 (apparently) good years of FSU QB performance and compared them using various metrics.  This may be a very bad way to do a comparison, but it's good (and interesting) enough for a Fanpost.

Pass Efficiency Rating

Quarterback/YR. Pass Eff. Pass Yds. Tot. Yds. TDs Int. Pass Att. Comp.
Rix 2001 168.02 2734 3123 27 13 286 165
Weinke 2000 161.20 4167 4070 34 11 431 266
Ward 1993 160.60 3032 3371 31 13 380 264
Willis 1989 149.97 3124 3094 22 9 346 211
Busby 1997 147.38 3317 3301 27 10 390 235
Weldon 1991 145.48 2527 2497 22 8 313 189
Kanell 1995 144.66 2957 2916 32 13 402 257
Weinke 1999 142.70 3103 2994 25 14 377 232
Ward  1992 138.98 2647 3151 28 17 365 204
Kanell 1994 136.06 2781 2654 18 13 380 264
Ponder 2008 126.17 2006 2429 18 13 318 177
Weatherford 2005 120.79 3208 3180 21 18 469 276

Pass Efficiency = [ { (8.4 * yards) + (330 * touchdowns) - (200 * interceptions) + (100 * completions) } / attempts ].  This is the NCAA formula as far as I know. 

Quarterback Score Per Play (QBSPP)

Quarterback/YR. QBSPP* Plays Int. Total yds
Weinke 2000 5.1 461 11 4070
Willis 1989 4.5 377 9 3094
Rix 2001 4.1 385 13 3123
Busby 1997 3.7 447 10 3301
Ward 1993 3.7 445 13 3371
Weldon 1991 3.4 351 8 2497
Weinke 1999 3.3 408 14 2994
Kanell 1995 3 421 13 2916
Ward  1992 2.7 465 17 3151
Kanell 1994 2.6 407 13 2654
Weatherford 2005 1.9 536 18 3180
Ponder 2008 1.7 437 13 2429
AVG. 3.3 428.33 12.67 3065.00

Quarterback score = (total yards-(3*total plays)-(30*turnovers))
QBSPP = Quarterback score/total plays
*I didn't have time to dig up the numbers on fumbles, so turnovers=interceptions.
For more on QBSPP, you can view Statistical Thinking in Sports, by Albert and Koning here.  QBSPP is, I suppose, primarily an NFL metric.  If you don't think it's a good metric for NCAA football, help me out by explaining why.

Yards Per Play (passing and rushing)

Weinke 2000 8.83
Willis 1989 8.21
Rix 2001 8.11
Ward 1993 7.58
Busby 1997 7.38
Weinke 1999 7.34
Weldon 1991 7.11
Kanell 1995 6.93
Ward  1992 6.78
Kanell 1994 6.52
Weatherford 2005 5.93
Ponder 2008 5.56


Total Offense per Game

Quarterback/YR. Tot Off/Gm
Weinke 2000 339.17
Ward 1993 306.45
Busby 1997 300.09
Ward  1992 286.45
Rix 2001 283.91
Weinke 1999 272.18
Kanell 1995 265.09
Willis 1989 257.83
Weatherford 2005 244.62
Kanell 1994 241.27
Weldon 1991 208.08
Ponder 2008 186.85
AVG. 266.00

Conclusions from Vertical Analysis

What can we conclude from this?  We can reasonably claim that Ponder doesn't stack up well to our best passers, historically.  I suppose this should temper our expectations about the passing game in 2009, but not necessarily about wins.  One huge difference between these QBs from the good (and not so good) ol' days and Ponder is that in the good ol' days, we were pass first, run second.  Perhaps Ponder can function as a care-taker QB in the model of Trent Dilfer (a very mobile Dilfer), assuming our defense is up to par. 

One interesting note is that while Weatherford, who won 8 games in 1995, is near the bottom along with Ponder in virtually all the above charts, Rix 2001, who also won just 8 games, comes in near the top in almost all of them.  Why is this?  We could blame it on the defense in 2001, who allowed 26.1 points per game.  This number is almost 10 pts. above the average for the group, which is 17 points per game allowed.  That is, all of the other QBs listed had a much better-performing defense backing them up.  The best performance was, of course, the 1993 D which allowed 9.4 ppg.  Last year, Ponder's defense allowed 20.2 ppg.

At the end of the day, these numbers concern me.  None of the 10-win teams I looked at had a QB with a QBSPP lower than 2.5.  I suspect that no 10-win FSU team in the last 20 years has had a QB with numbers like Ponder's.  Unless Jermaine Thomas fulfills my prediction of a 1,000-yard season, we could be looking at 8 or fewer wins.  Not only that, but even if Ponder cranks up his QBSPP to 3.0 or better, it will be in vain unless our defense can hold down opponents' scoring.  Rix had a QBSPP of 4.1 in 2001, but the defense couldn't keep up.

HORIZONTAL COMPARISON

How does Ponder stack up to other ACC QBs based on 2008 stats? (These stats are from College Football Stats.)

Yards Per Game:  #8

Name Team Yr Pos G Att Comp Pct. Yards Yards/Att Int TD Rating Att/G Yards/G
1 Cullen Harper Clemson SR QB 13 360 221 61.4 2601 7.2 14 13 126.22 27.7 200.1
2 Thaddeus Lewis Duke JR QB 11 361 224 62.0 2171 6.0 6 15 122.96 32.8 197.4
3 Chris Turner Maryland JR QB 13 374 214 57.2 2516 6.7 11 13 119.32 28.8 193.5
4 Marc Verica Virginia SO QB 11 354 226 63.8 2037 5.8 16 8 110.59 32.2 185.2
5 Riley Skinner Wk Forest JR QB 13 363 232 63.9 2347 6.5 7 13 126.18 27.9 180.5
6 Russell Wilson NC State FR QB 12 275 150 54.5 1955 7.1 1 17 133.94 22.9 162.9
7 Chris Crane BC SR QB 11 307 169 55.0 1721 5.6 13 10 104.42 27.9 156.5
8 Christian Ponder FSU SO QB 13 318 177 55.7 2006 6.3 13 14 115.00 24.5 154.3
9 Robert Marve Miami (Fl) FR QB 11 213 116 54.5 1293 6.1 13 9 107.18 19.4 117.5
10 Jacory Harris Miami (Fl) FR QB 13 194 118 60.8 1195 6.2 7 12 125.76 14.9 91.9

QB Rating: #6

Name Team Yr Pos G Att Comp Pct. Yards Yards/Att Int TD Rating Att/G Yards/G
1 Russell Wilson NC State FR QB 12 275 150 54.5 1955 7.1 1 17 133.94 22.9 162.9
2 Cullen Harper Clemson SR QB 13 360 221 61.4 2601 7.2 14 13 126.22 27.7 200.1
3 Riley Skinner Wk Forest JR QB 13 363 232 63.9 2347 6.5 7 13 126.18 27.9 180.5
4 Thaddeus Lewis Duke JR QB 11 361 224 62.0 2171 6.0 6 15 122.96 32.8 197.4
5 Chris Turner Maryland JR QB 13 374 214 57.2 2516 6.7 11 13 119.32 28.8 193.5
6 Christian Ponder FSU SO QB 13 318 177 55.7 2006 6.3 13 14 115.00 24.5 154.3
7 Marc Verica Virginia SO QB 11 354 226 63.8 2037 5.8 16 8 110.59 32.2 185.2
8 Robert Marve Miami (Fl) FR QB 11 213 116 54.5 1293 6.1 13 9 107.18 19.4 117.5
9 Chris Crane BC SR QB 11 307 169 55.0 1721 5.6 13 10 104.42 27.9 156.5

Yards Per Attempt: #5 (not too bad)

Name Team Yr Pos G Att Comp Pct. Yards Yards/Att Int TD Rating Att/G Yards/G
1 Cullen Harper Clemson SR QB 13 360 221 61.4 2601 7.2 14 13 126.22 27.7 200.1
2 Russell Wilson NC State FR QB 12 275 150 54.5 1955 7.1 1 17 133.94 22.9 162.9
3 Chris Turner Maryland JR QB 13 374 214 57.2 2516 6.7 11 13 119.32 28.8 193.5
4 Riley Skinner Wk Forest JR QB 13 363 232 63.9 2347 6.5 7 13 126.18 27.9 180.5
5 Christian Ponder FSU SO QB 13 318 177 55.7 2006 6.3 13 14 115.00 24.5 154.3
6 Robert Marve Miami (Fl) FR QB 11 213 116 54.5 1293 6.1 13 9 107.18 19.4 117.5
7 Thaddeus Lewis Duke JR QB 11 361 224 62.0 2171 6.0 6 15 122.96 32.8 197.4
8 Marc Verica Virginia SO QB 11 354 226 63.8 2037 5.8 16 8 110.59 32.2 185.2
9 Chris Crane BC SR QB 11 307 169 55.0 1721 5.6 13 10 104.42 27.9 156.5

Total Offense Per Game: #5

Name Team Yr Pos G Rush Yards Pass Yards Plays Total Yards Yards/Play Yards/G
1 Thaddeus Lewis Duke JR QB 11 96 2171 430 2267 5.3 206.1
2 Russell Wilson NC State FR QB 12 388 1955 391 2343 6.0 195.3
3 Riley Skinner Wk Forest JR QB 13 144 2347 467 2491 5.3 191.6
4 Cullen Harper Clemson SR QB 13 -140 2601 414 2461 5.9 189.3
5 Christian Ponder FSU SO QB 13 423 2006 437 2429 5.6 186.8
6 Chris Turner Maryland JR QB 13 -154 2516 417 2362 5.7 181.7
7 Marc Verica Virginia SO QB 11 -71 2037 386 1966 5.1 178.7
8 Chris Crane BC SR QB 11 225 1721 388 1946 5.0 176.9
9 Tyrod Taylor Va Tech SO QB 12 738 1036 320 1774 5.5 147.8
10 Josh Nesbitt Ga Tech SO QB 11 693 808 295 1501 5.1 136.5

(I didn't have room for the chart, but if you adjust the above numbers to "Total Offense Per Game vs. Winning Teams Only," Ponder drops to #7.)  Interesting note:  in both the Big 10 and SEC, five passers would have finished ahead of Lewis in Total Offense per game; in the Big 12, eleven QBs did better than Lewis.  Even in the PAC-10 and Big East, 3 passers outperformed our best on this metric.

Rush Yards per Game among Running QBs: #3

  Name Team Yr Pos G Att Yards Avg. TD Att/G Yards/G
1 Josh Nesbitt Ga Tech SO QB 11 172 693 4.03 7 15.64 63
2 Tyrod Taylor Va Tech SO QB 12 147 738 5.02 7 12.25 61.5
3 Christian Ponder FSU SO QB 13 119 423 3.55 4 9.15 32.54
4 Russell Wilson NC State FR QB 12 116 388 3.34 4 9.67 32.33
5 Chris Crane BC SR QB 11 81 225 2.78 7 7.36 20.45

I'll give Ponder a thumbs-up on this comparison, but it's a stretch to think that 32.54 YPG is significant in terms of winning games. 

Finally, what about QBSPP among other ACC quarterbacks?  Ponder comes in at #7 with a QBSPP of 1.67.  The top score of 2.92 went to Russell Wilson.

Conclusions from Horizontal Analysis

Clearly Ponder compares better with other ACC QBS than he does with the FSU hall of fame, and this is no shock.  But this may be due to mediocre quarterback play all around in the ACC.  If so, then Ponder is just slightly above-average in a mediocre conference.

Some may argue that defenses in the ACC are better-than-average, which brings down QB numbers.  If so, then this reflects better on Ponder.  But I'm not sure I buy this line of argument.  It seems very reasonable to think that the ACC is populated with average QBs.  Here's one reason why:  Matt Ryan.  If QB mediocrity in the ACC was due to tough defensive play, then Ryan shouldn’t have had numbers too far beyond those of his counterparts.  But Ryan blew the competition away.  Ryan amassed 4507 total yards and 321.9 YPG in 2007.  Cullen Harper came in second place with 2991 total yards and 230.1 YPG.  It seems reasonable to conclude that Ryan was an elite QB in a crowd of unremarkable QBs.  In 2008, the ACC had no elite QBs.

Top quarterbacks in other conferences had numbers (in 2008) far beyond those of their ACC counterparts.  E.g., Colt McCoy had a QBSPP of 4.35, Mark Sanchez a 3.99, and Tebow (peace be upon him) had an eye-popping 4.71.  (Note:  Tebow was 4th in passing yards per game in the SEC.)   My suspicion is that they would do just fine against ACC defenses.  For instance, Tebow was able to match his season average of 7.2 yards per play against us last year; Stafford eclipsed his season avg. of 8 ypp against Tech with an impressive 9.1 ypp and almost 400 yds. passing; and John Parker Wilson beat his season avg. of 5.7 ypp with 5.9 against Clemson.  (Anyone have numbers on how other elite QBs performed vs. ACC?)

Final Conclusions

Ponder is mediocre, by FSU (or any other) standards.  If we are going to return to 10-win seasons and contenting regularly for the National Championship, then it won't be with Ponder-as-he-is or as-he-was-in-2008.  In my amateur opinion, Ponder needs to be more efficient.  If he can improve (1) average yards per rush attempt; and (2) average yards per completion, each by a full yard, we will win more games than we did last year.  Both (1) and (2), but especially (1), should be helped significantly by a more experienced O-line this year (fewer sacks -- Ponder was sacked 19 times last year).  But I will remain skeptical about our future until Ponder starts to resemble the QBs of old -- not in terms of yards, but at least in terms of efficiency.  It will be interesting to see Ponder's numbers after the first few games.

If Ponder can improve his efficiency and lead us to an ACC Championship this year, then I will be the first to move that we change his name from Ponder to Wonder.

Here are my questions for you:

  1. Should we be excited about Ponder in 2009?
  2. If yes, then why? (Are there any metrics that make Ponder look better?)
  3. Why should we think that ACC defenses are tougher than those in other conferences?
  4. How can Jimbo help Ponder to improve efficiency?
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