Florida State Seminoles Season Preview 2010: Quarterbacks

This is first in a multi-part series previewing the 2010 Florida State Seminoles.  Today we'll be looking at the quarterback position.  Florida State only lost 2 starters from its record-setting 2009 offense.  Remarkably, FSU returns 19 of the 22 players in the offensive two-deep and looks to be one of the best in the country for the second consecutive year.

QB Coach Dameyune Craig

Quarterback is the most important position on the field and Florida State has a history of having great quarterbacks.  FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher is regarded as one of the top QB coaches in the country.  He  will continue to mentor the quarterbacks as head coach, but will also be joined by new quarterback coach Dameyune Craig.  Craig played for Fisher at Auburn before coaching at South Alabama.  He knows Coach Fisher's system.  He also worked under Nick Saban for a year during Saban's brief stint with the Miami Dolphins.   His bio is here.  If Craig is anywhere near the QB coach Fisher is, FSU has a good one.

The 'Noles attack features red-shirt senior Christian Ponder.  Before separating his shoulder against Clemson, the 6'3" 228 lb Ponder was arguably playing better than any quarterback in the country.  Ponder had shoulder surgery around Thanksgiving.  He went through a rigorous and structured rehab process and was able to fully participate at the end of spring practice.  Ponder earned the top draft grade among returning college quarterbacks by a service that NFL teams contract with.  Ponder is extremely smart.  He graduated in only two years, then earned his MBA last season and is now working on a coaching certificate.  Coach Fisher routinely calls multiple plays and Ponder will diagnose the defense and check the offense into the best play.  In that regard, he is a bit like the Peyton Manning of college football.  The level of trust that Jimbo shows in Ponder is special and not something often seen in college football.  

Ponder is also very athletic, posting the best shuttle time on the team a few years back.  And of course he has a good arm with excellent touch in the intermediate game.  He's the best quarterback to step foot in Tallahassee since Chris Weinke and some believe he's better (with a lesser supporting cast, no doubt).  Florida State is promoting him for the Heisman Trophy and Vegas currently lists Ponder as one of the ten favorites.  Last year Ponder was 227-330 (69%) for 2718 yards, 14 TDs and 7 Interceptions in only nine games.  Against a brutal schedule, he posted a QB rating of 148.  

But it is the nine game season that troubles folks.  If Florida State is to contend for the Atlantic Division and make it to the ACC Championship game, Ponder must stay healthy.  He's a great leader, but he needs to understand when to pull up and when to dive for the extra yard.  I'd make a comment about cutting the 7 interceptions down to a lesser number, but when you think about the interceptions he threw, you quickly realize more than half were not his fault.  Against Miami he threw up a jump ball deep before half that was picked off in a 1-on-1 situation (1).  At the worst, the receiver needs to bat the ball down there.  Then Ponder didn't throw any picks in the next six games.  In Game seven against NC State, he threw an interception when a certain unpolished tight end ran the wrong route (2), and then had a ball tipped by a defensive linemen who the right tackle failed to properly cut (3).  Then against Clemson, with cracked ribs, he threw one when recently dismissed wide receiver Jarmon Fortson failed to make the correct route read (4) and then threw three more and was visibly hampered by the rib injury (5, 6, 7).  Four of the seven were clearly not directly on Ponder.  This is really about health and the continued maturation of the rest of the offense.  

Ponder can improve to historic levels if he just stays healthy.  If he does, Ponder could be looking at a regular season (12 games) in the neighborhood of 270-400 for 3250 yards with 21 TDs and 5 interceptions (a QB rating of 150).  Against a top-10 schedule, that is unimaginably good.  I arrived at that projection by taking Ponder's performances from last year, figuring FSU will throw a bit less this season because it should have the lead more often, and then extrapolating it over 12 games.  The touchdown figure might seem a bit low, but coach Fisher has shown a tendency to prefer running in the red zone.  If Fisher wants to pad Ponder's stats a bit, 3-4 more touchdowns are not out of the question.  Ponder is also probably good for 250 on the ground (400 without sacks as college football counts sack yardage as rushing yards).  It's not a stretch to say that Ponder could be the best quarterback in college football.  No, because of Florida State's stupidly-difficult schedule, he will not post the best numbers in the country.  But his performance will stack up against any QB in the country.

Backup E.J. Manuel missed Spring after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a very partial tear in his rotator cuff.  The 6'4" 233 lb red-shirt sophomore's procedure was done as a precautionary measure to clean out some debris.Due to some bad luck last year (compound finger fracture), Manuel has not yet gone through a Spring practice.  The former mega-recruit did, however, look markedly better in Fall camp and is one of the best backups in the country.  His delivery has continued to improve.  FSU fans hope to see the 'Noles jump out to large leads in the few games against lesser opponents so the Gator-Bowl MVP can get in and grab some reps as he prepared to take the reigns in 2011.

Redshirt-freshman Will Secord is the 3rd-string quarterback.  Secord was really a bit more than the backup for Spring, however, because of Ponder's limited work load and Manuel's absence.  In case you don't follow recruiting, you should freshen up on the 6'3" 215 lb quarterback from Texas.  Here's some film.  He was rated a three-star prospect by all of the services.  Rivals had him as the #32 pro-style QB, Scout as the #57 QB, and ESPN: #60 QB.  Secord was heavily courted by Bobby Petrino of Arkansas.  Secord spent his redshirt year learning the offense and refining his footwork. 

The fourth quarterback is freshman Clint Trickett.  He is the son of Florida State Offensive Line Coach Rick Trickett.  His brother Travis is on staff as well.  Clint was probably the top quarterback prospect in the state this past year.  He enrolled in January completed spring practice.  Trickett is expected to redshirt as he learns the system and continues to mature physically.

Depth Chart

7 Christian Ponder 6-3, 228, R-Sr.
3 EJ Manuel 6-4, 233, R-So.
16 Will Secord 6-1, 215, R-Fr.
9 Clint Trickett 6-2, 185, Fr.

There are absolutely no worries at the quarterback position for Florida State.  Combine tremendous talent with great quarterback coaching and time, and you get a recipe for excellence.  You'd be hard pressed to find a team with a better situation at quarterback than the 'Noles.  

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