Christian Ponder Won't Win Heisman, But He's Had Satisfying Season Thus Far
The Christian-Ponder-for-Heisman Twitter feed hasn't uttered a tweet since Oct. 13, the Facebook page has moved on to more pressing subjects and the website has been devoid of news for months. All that preseason hype churned out by Florida State turned out to be nothing more than multimedia-platformed overkill.
It was a spiffy logo, though.
As it turns out, Ponder's last season as quarterback of the Seminoles has been something less than Heisman material. And yet in many ways, this is the most satisfying year of his career at Florida State. Ponder will exit following this season knowing that he helped put the 20th-ranked Seminoles back on the national map.
That's no small feat given the path this program has followed the last few years.
"Oh, it's been an unbelievable year,'' he said on Monday during a media teleconference, the same day the All-Atlantic Coast Conference teams were announced. Ponder did not make the first- or second-team or even honorable mention.
Unbelievable because despite an injured elbow that has bothered Ponder for half of the season, and bruised ribs that kept him out of a game against Clemson, he has helped the Seminoles (9-3) reach the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2005. Florida State will play No. 12 Virginia Tech (10-2) on Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The winner will be awarded a slot in the BCS Orange Bowl. The Seminoles haven't played in that game since the '05 season, either.
It has been a season of recovery for Florida State, from an the academic scandal that ultimately stripped the team and legendary coach Bobby Bowden of victories in 2006 and '07, from the somewhat strained departure of Bowden after last season and from the dip to comparative mediocrity for most of the last five years.
In the first year of the Jimbo Fisher era, the Seminoles overcame all of that recent history and returned to contention in the ACC, a conference it used to own in football.
The Seminoles also knocked off in-state rivals Miami and Florida in the same season, the first time that has happened since 1999 when Florida State won the national championship.
Maybe it all makes the pain of his injured elbow a little easier to take. Ponder hurt his right elbow against Boston College on Oct. 16, although he has continued to play. He also sustained bruised ribs against N.C. State on Oct. 28 and sat out the Seminoles' victory over Clemson a week later.
"I mean, it hasn't been too tough,'' said Ponder, who received the ACC's Jim Tatum Award on Thursday as the top senior student-athlete. Ponder has already graduated and earned an MBA. He is working on a masters in sports management. "I mean, personally, obviously I would have liked to play a little bit better. I've been battling a lot of injuries and it's been a little frustrating at times.
"For us to be going into the ACC Championship Game, I couldn't wish for anything better. That's kind of the reason I came to Florida State was to compete at the ACC championship level, national championship level, and for us to finally get here definitely makes those frustrations go away.''
It won't make the elbow problem go away, though. Ponder acknowledged he had the elbow drained of fluid on Monday.
"No, I don't think it'll be an issue,'' Ponder said. "I think the biggest thing was just getting that fluid out so I could practice all week. I mean, I feel a lot better. It was hurting a little bit after the game. It was definitely swollen, they got it out. So I feel pretty good now.''
How much it has affected his performance is hard to know. But Ponder has not put up the numbers some would have predicted going into the season, when he was tabbed as the preseason ACC player of the year. He threw for 2,038 yards and 20 touchdowns with eight interceptions in 10 games.
Among ACC quarterbacks, Ponder ranked eighth in passing yards per game (185.3), far below conference leader Russell Wilson of N. C. State (274). He was third in pass efficiency rating behind Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor and North Carolina's T.J. Yates and sixth in total offense per game (201.4 yards). Taylor was the ACC first-team quarterback and player of the year, with Wilson on the second team and Yates receiving honorable mention.
Still, Fisher has few complaints about Ponder's performance this year.
"Christian, he never asks anybody to do anything that he doesn't do and he goes way above and beyond what most of them do,'' Fisher said of Ponder's leadership. "He's played injured all year. He's played banged up. He's bruised. He competes. He gets his butt chewed out just like everybody else and goes right on and handles everything.
"I think the standard he's setting not only by talking to him but by his actions, it's amazing. And that's why they have such great respect for him.''
Apparently, that doesn't extend to the opposition. The prospect of now facing Ponder didn't seem to rattle Davon Morgan, the Hokies' safety. He offered little when asked what Virginia Tech needed to do to stop him.
"Just the same things we've been doing all year,'' Morgan said, "move around, give the quarterback some things to look at, some different looks, and just try to stay ahead of him.''
For Morgan, there is little doubt which quarterback will have the upper hand on Saturday.
"Ponder's a good quarterback and everything, but I feel good with the quarterback that we have,'' Morgan said. "I think he's probably one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Tyrod.''
Seems Ponder and Florida State still have something to prove.