This is part of a two-game road swing that will define FSU's season. Pollsters aren't convinced, either, that FSU is a better team following the Oklahoma blowout three weeks ago.
"We haven't really done anything yet to prove that we belong in the rankings," Ponder said.
While the defense has shown noticeable improvement, even considering the competition, the past two games, FSU still has been sporadic on offense. The Seminoles led Wake Forest only 10-0 in the third quarter last week and have spent many possessions struggling to get a first down.
"We've still got a lot of room for improvement. It's exciting that we can do so much more," Ponder said.
The Seminoles are expected to win at Virginia, but the game presents a gauge of sorts to see whether this team can continue a level of consistent play. It would be a mental disaster if FSU was unable to beat the Cavs and had to go into next week's game at Miami trying to pick up the pieces again.
--The Seminoles have not strung together three consecutive 200-yard rushing performances in 10 seasons. That will be one of the team goals for Saturday's game at Virginia. Running backs Ty Jones, Chris Thompson and Jermaine Thomas have combined to average 7.1 yards a carry, and the Seminoles have shown a more balanced offense.
--PK Dustin Hopkins has made five of seven field goals, including a 52-yarder, but most importantly he has been able to kick the ball through the end zone on kickoffs. The Seminoles are No. 2 nationally with 16 touchbacks.
--If you toss out the first half of the Oklahoma disaster for FSU, the Seminoles' defensive numbers become more impressive. In the last two and a half games, they have allowed just 23 points and 522 total yards.
"We just weren't ready for the (Sooners) hurry-up," defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. "And after that we looked at film and we talked to the coaches and got everything straight."
SERIES HISTORY: Florida State leads Virginia 13-2-0 (last meeting, 2006, Florida State 33-0).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The biggest issue with the Seminoles has been slow starts. They have scored just 17 points combined in the first quarter this season. Fortunately, their defense has allowed only 14 points. Aside from scoring on their first possession against Oklahoma, the Seminoles have been consistently sluggish. It's a trend that needs to change with two consecutive road games. The Seminoles are starting to show some depth in their backfield and receiver corps, which may lead to increased production.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: What a turnaround this has been. After looking so inept last season and ranking statistically as one of the worst defenses in major-college football, the Seminoles currently lead the nation with 19 quarterback sacks, rank 21st in total defense and 12th in run defense. Now, granted, all of this must be put into perspective of the competition. Remember, the Seminoles were blown out in Week 2 against Oklahoma, looking like they could never stop the Sooners. But the past two games have been an improvement, and this team couldn't stop anybody last year.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are just looking out for ourselves. We know if we keep doing what we're doing we will get that recognition and support. We are going to play no matter what. If you want to join us and support us that's great, but we are supporting each other as a team." -- Florida State QB Christian Ponder, taking a shot at FSU fans who have stayed away in droves this season for the first three home games.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Florida State (3-1, 1-0 ACC) at Virginia (2-1, 0-0), Oct. 2 -- The Seminoles make their first trip to Charlottesville, Va., in five years. They hope for a better memory. That game commemorated Virginia's 10-year anniversary of being the first ACC team to defeat the Seminoles in league play, and the Cavs did it again that night for their only other victory in the series. It's hard to know what to make of Virginia. The Cavs have two wins over former 1-AA teams (Richmond and Virginia Military Institute), but did travel to Los Angeles and put a scare into USC before losing 17-14. The Seminoles seek to maintain the same level of play they have displayed in two lopsided home wins. This is a huge game for FSU in many respects. Most notably it leads into the annual rivalry game against Miami next weekend.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Seminoles will face a solid defense. Virginia has yielded the fewest first downs and is No. 2 in the ACC -- one spot ahead of FSU -- in total defense. The Seminoles must continue developing their passing game with a more confident Christian Ponder spreading the ball to a variety of receivers. On defense, the Seminoles must contend with two top players. Virginia tailback Keith Payne leads the ACC in scoring, and his five rushing touchdowns are second-best in the league. The Cavs' Kris Burd (three TDs) will test the FSU secondary.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
LB Brandon Jenkins - The sophomore finished with a career-high-tying two sacks, career-best three tackles for loss, and six total tackles in the shutout win against Wake Forest. His two sacks were among the six FSU produced in the game.
WR Taiwan Easterling -- After missing spring practice to participate in baseball, Easterling may be rounding into form. The junior had a career-high for receiving yardage last week with 112 yards. His five receptions also tied a career-best. The Seminoles need him and sophomore Willie Haulstead to help support top go-to receiver Bert Reed.
QB Christian Ponder -- He passed for 200-plus yards last week for the first time in four games and started to resemble the way he played prior to his shoulder injury late last season. The Seminoles have given Ponder more of a green light to run and have called some delayed draws for him. This seems to suit his game better and gets him more in a proper flow.
--OT Andrew Datko (arm) practiced Monday no longer wearing a sling, but he said it was doubtful he would play against Virginia. Henry Orelus and Garrett Faircloth took most of the reps with the first team at left tackle.
--CB Xavier Rhodes (leg) practiced and should be OK for the game.
--RB Ty Jones (ankle) is uncertain for Saturday.
"We'll just have to go day-to-day and see how it goes,'' FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.