Ponder picked over veteran Weatherford for FSU starting QB job

Updated: September 4, 2008, 10:40 AM ET
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

Florida State redshirt sophomore Christian Ponder will start at quarterback on Saturday in the season opener against Western Carolina instead of returning starter Drew Weatherford.

Weatherford, a redshirt senior with a 20-13 record as the Seminoles' starting quarterback, entered summer camp as the starter, but Florida State offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, the Seminoles' head-coach-in-waiting, made the final call.

"We'll find out what we've got with the first guy," Fisher said. "I'm not a short-leash guy. You can't play yo-yo quarterback."

Coach Bobby Bowden said both Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson made "wonderful progress" this summer and that Ponder is a more mobile quarterback than some might expect.

"Friday night's going to be a long night for me," said the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Ponder, whose dad, David, was a defensive lineman for the Seminoles under Bowden in the early 1980s. "Finally, the starting job is here."

Ponder played in one game last season when he had to replace Weatherford, who was injured in the second quarter at Virginia Tech. The first pass of his career was a 23-yard completion and he guided the Seminoles to 15 second-half points. Ponder finished the game 8-for-18 with 105 yards and one touchdown.

"When he came in here you could tell he was a good passer and a good student," Bowden said. "He's an A student. In fact, he's already graduated ... then when he got into the Virginia Tech game, we could not believe how good he played until he started making freshman mistakes, which is fumbling the football and throwing interceptions. Until he did that, a lot of people don't realize we led that game in the fourth quarter 21-20. He had brought us back two touchdowns up. That's when we began to suspect we might have something here."

Ponder runs a 4.6-4.62 time in the 40-yard dash. He's extremely athletic, a great decision maker and is intelligent and accurate. He graduated with a degree in finance with a GPA around 3.7.

Weatherford showed significant improvement last season, cutting down his 18 turnovers in 2005 to just three last season. But he also cut down his 18 touchdowns in half, too. Fisher had said that Weatherford needed to work on his decision-making and accuracy, along with his ability to protect the football and make big plays.

Still, Weatherford's name is all over the FSU's record books as he enters this season just three pass attempts shy of passing Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke for the school's career attempts record. He is also the ACC's active leader in total offense (7,474 yards), passing yards (7,411) and passing touchdowns (39).

Aside from Ponder, there will be a host of new starters in the Seminoles' first three games. Six key performers remain suspended from an academic cheating scandal in early 2007.

That includes TE Caz Piurowski and five defensive players: CB Patrick Robinson, LB Dekoda Watson, DE Neefy Moffett and DTs Budd Thacker and Paul Griffin.

And the Seminoles' best offensive player, junior receiver Preston Parker, will miss the first two games because of an arrest last spring on drug and weapons charges. The legal issues were resolved, allowing Parker to remain on the team.

Heather Dinich covers the ACC for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.