Jimbo Fisher, who spent the past three years as the "head-coach-in-waiting," will now wait no more. It's his program and he has overhauled much of the way FSU has been doing things.
The legendary Bowden plans to be in Panama City, where he keeps a home near the beach. But his presence will be everywhere at the stadium.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet and probably won't until the game," Ponder said. "Coach Bowden was probably the biggest reason I came to Florida State and not having him on the sideline will be different.
"It's crazy to think we had, what, 34 or 35 years of a constant and now he's gone. But we've been working so hard [that] you don't think about it and you don't notice as much."
Ponder revealed that when he was a high school sophomore he attended an FSU reunion with his father, David, who played defensive tackle under Bowden in the early 1980s. Bobby Bowden grabbed Christian's arm and announced, "We could use this arm one day." Sure enough, that was the selling pitch for Ponder to try and follow his father to FSU.
Now, it's Ponder who has become the face of the Seminoles program. Because of his academic prowess and passing production as a two-year starter, the Seminoles chose to launch a Heisman Trophy campaign, complete with a website, for Ponder.
It has added more pressure on his shoulders. This is supposed to be a breakthrough season for the Seminoles, the year when they shed a mediocre past 10 years.
So much is riding on whether Ponder can stay healthy, stay consistent, and keep this team winning. The Seminoles should not have any problem beating Samford, but the schedule quickly ramps up with games against Oklahoma and Brigham Young in September.
"I've been given a heck of an opportunity to get this thing turned around, and I get to be part of this whole transition with coach Fisher," Ponder said. "I have to take advantage of it and leave a mark on this program."
--Make room for the youth movement on the Seminoles' defense. Only four seniors made the two-deep roster that FSU revealed Monday. While seventeen -- nine freshmen and eight sophomores -- were underclassmen. Among the seniors, LB Kendall Smith and DE Marcus White are returning starters. Five of the freshman listed on second team -- DE Bjoern Werner, CB Lamarcus Joyner, and LBs Telvin Smith, Christian Jones and Jeff Luc -- are true freshmen.
--Despite renewed excitement among FSU fans about a regime change and optimistic forecast for the season, it has not translated into ticket sales. School officials admitted there were more than 15,000 unsold tickets as of last week. Blame one of the reasons on the kickoff time. Because of television, specifically ESPN, the Seminoles were forced to have a 12 p.m. kickoff. There could not be a hotter time of the day in late summer in Tallahassee, provided it's not raining. And throw in the fact that FSU's Doak Campbell Stadium is like an oven with no breeze. FSU's fan base was built on night games, but the Seminoles had no choice but to accommodate TV. So many fans have shown a preference for watching the game in air-conditioned comfort at their home areas.
--The Samford game was originally set up to accommodate Bobby Bowden, who played quarterback at Samford when it was known as Howard College. This was to be one of the parting gifts for Bowden, a game against his alma mater. Coincidentally, new head coach Jimbo Fisher also played quarterback at Samford under Bowden's son, Terry. This is how the relationship with the Bowdens was forged.
SERIES HISTORY: Florida State leads Samford 1-0 (last meeting, 1950, 20-6 Florida State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: So much rests on how sharp QB Christian Ponder looks. The Seminoles will hope he can come out with crisp throws and strong decisions and set an early tempo with touchdowns in the first quarter. The Seminoles will be showing two sophomore receivers, Willie Haulstead and Rodney Smith, both of whom had productive preseason camps. Given the fact FSU plays at Oklahoma in the next game, the Seminoles don't want to unveil many new looks with their offense and are seeking to get this game in control by the third quarter.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This is a completely new FSU defense. New coaches, new scheme, new philosophy and many new players either in starting roles or as backups. The question: Can this be a much-improved FSU defense? Last year's Seminoles were often like matadors on defense, flailing away as teams piled on points. New coordinator Mark Stoops has junked the press-man coverage that longtime coordinator Mickey Andrews made a staple. He is a believer in more zone coverage and zone blitzes. The players have bought in. The Seminoles have looked solid on defense in preseason and have not allowed the big plays that were so common in recent years. Now, it will be seen whether this translates into games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't like to put a win total on it. You get caught up in that, and you lose track of where you're trying to go as an organization and a program. That, to me, is outcome-oriented. Right now, we need to be process-oriented. We've got one game on our mind: Samford University. We have to play well in this game, and then move on to the next game." -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher on how he would define a successful season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
Samford at Florida State, Sept. 5 -- One of the most significant moments in FSU football history as the Seminoles being the post-Bobby Bowden era with rookie head coach Jimbo Fisher, who played and later coached at Samford. This game marks the first time in 34 years that legend-in-waiting Bowden won't be on the FSU sidelines. There is also a revamped assistant coaching staff, the Seminoles' new defensive scheme and the return of quarterback Christian Ponder to add more intrigue to how this game plays out.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Seminoles will seek a run-pass balance with their offense, running tailbacks Jermaine Thomas and Chris Thompson, along with fullback Lonnie Pryor, then combining the rushing attack with a downfield passing game they hope is much improved. New head coach Jimbo Fisher likes to run the ball and shows more patience doing it than Bobby Bowden in his later years. But how quickly this game gets in control for FSU depends upon how well the Seminoles revamped defense plays. Samford has practiced all spring and summer for this game, while the Seminoles are mindful of their first big game Sept. 11 at Oklahoma. Samford coach Pat Sullivan is well respected, and he'll probably take some chances with play-calling. Emotions will be a factor, as always, when a heavy favorite faces an underdog at home. But the Seminoles will have to control the game with their defense to put this one away quickly.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
CB Greg Reid -- He has the confidence that reminds of past FSU cover corners like Terrell Buckley, Corey Sawyer and even Deion Sanders. After leading the nation in punt returns as a freshman last season, plus being a backup cornerback, Reid steps into a full-time role in the Seminoles' defense. Will he be the shutdown corner that FSU has lacked? Time will tell.
QB Christian Ponder -- He launches what FSU is hoping can be the best season by a Seminoles quarterback in a decade. Ponder missed the final three regular-season games, plus the Gator Bowl, after sustaining a separate shoulder last November at Clemson. At issue is whether he can regain the form that made him the ACC's most productive quarterback and a 2010 preseason contender for the Heisman Trophy. But he must cut down on bad throws and hope his receiver corps can show improvement.
TB Jermaine Thomas -- In and out of the coaches' favor, Thomas produced a big effort in preseason camp and will step into a role as the lead tailback again. He can be a breakaway runner if the Seminoles get him into space on sweeps, delays and misdirection runs.
--Starting FS Nick Moody (groin) missed a bulk of preseason camp, but returned to practice Monday. But in this case, the Seminoles have experienced senior Ochuko Jenije in his place. Jenije has performed well in practices and will likely start.
--Starting LT Andrew Datko (shoulder) also missed a bulk of preseason, but has returned to practice and should start. The Seminoles' coaches have been impressed with his backup, sophomore Garrett Faircloth.
--The biggest loss was projected starting WR Jarmon Fortson, who was kicked off the team two days into preseason camp. It was later reported in several media outlets that Fortson had triggered a three-strikes policy on failed drug testing. His absence creates a huge void. He led the receiver corps last year with four touchdown catches, a modest total that reveals plenty about the lack of big-play production from the receivers. He was a stretch-the-field receiver and was coming off his best year. The Seminoles were hoping he would be a difference-maker. Instead, the Seminoles will now hope two returning players, Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling, can become dependable. Easterling played baseball, so he fell behind on the depth chart before regaining his status. The Seminoles also like sophomore Willie Haulstead, who may have outperformed everyone in preseason practices.
--The backfield is in good shape and has the best depth in years. TB Jermaine Thomas, a starter last year, has apparently regained his No. 1 role after Chris Thompson began camp as the top player at this position.
--Aside from having a new head coach Saturday, the Seminoles will also be dealing with new communications among five new assistant coaches, led by defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot, and linebackers coach Greg Hudson.