TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State plowed through the easier part of its schedule with relative ease. After hitting the meat of the schedule, the Seminoles' fortunes changed quickly.
Things don't get any easier this week.
Quarterback Christian Ponder is still recovering from an injury to his throwing arm and resurgent Clemson (5-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) up next.
"We'll circle the wagons and get better," said coach Jimbo Fisher, who met with players at 6:45 a.m. on Monday. "We're all disappointed."
With good reason.
The Seminoles (6-3, 4-2) started 6-1, but Miami was the only winning team among the teams they beat that had a winning record. The other schools that fell victim to the Seminoles are a combined 18-26.
"We had some athletic advantages at times that aren't so drastic right now," Fisher said.
Ponder missed his weekly media session Monday to visit with doctors on soreness and swelling in the elbow that he originally hurt in a 24-19 win over Boston College last month.
Fisher said he wouldn't know the extent of Ponder's injury -- other than it was sore -- and wouldn't venture a guess on his availability. Ponder did not practice Monday, and backup quarterback E.J. Manuel took all the snaps.
The coach was already trying to do some healing of his own after the Seminoles failed to pull out a win in the last minute for the second straight week when Dustin Hopkins' 40-yard field goal try sailed wide right.
The Seminoles need to win out to stay in contention for winning the Atlantic Division and qualify for a spot in the ACC title game next month.
A Clemson win would put the Tigers right back into the middle of things in the jumbled Atlantic Division since they have already defeated Maryland and North Carolina State, which have two losses each as does Florida State.
"Clemson's probably better than anybody we've played up front on the defensive side," Fisher told boosters attending his weekly luncheon.
A pair of last-minute failures have cost Florida State an 8-1 start.
Ponder fumbled in the final minute at NC State as the Seminoles threatened to score a winning touchdown and Hopkins missed a 40-yard field goal in the final seconds Saturday to let North Carolina escape with a 37-35 victory -- its first ever in Tallahassee.
"We have to let this team try to learn how to win," Fisher said. "We have to learn to get over the hump."