Key matchup: Seminoles with things to prove

Christian Ponder's counterpart Friday night is the man that replaced him at Florida State, E.J. Manuel. The two quarterbacks share a lot of similarities in their situations.

With the Vikings starting to sprinkle in the starters as the preseason goes to its second week of games, they will be facing more of the opposition's top-line players as well. With the starters expected to get action into the second quarter Friday, the frontline players will get their first extended look, including quarterback Christian Ponder.

The Buffalo Bills are in a similar situation, looking to get a young quarterback of their own established. Although they won't be on the field at the same time, the battle between quarterbacks Ponder and E.J. Manuel is this week's key matchup.

Ponder is entering his third year and few players in the NFL have more pressure leveled on their shoulders. The team has made every effort to give Ponder the weapons he needs – adding Kyle Rudolph in 2011, Jerome Simpson, John Carlson and Jarius Wright in 2012 and Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson this year. With Adrian Peterson as the ultimate security blanket behind him, Ponder has been given everything he needs to succeed – the best running back in football, weapons at wide receiver and tight end and the full confidence of the organization and the coaching staff. All he needs now is to back up that investment on the field.

Ponder has been the talk of training camp because, while he led the Vikings to the playoffs in his first full season as a starter, he was erratic and had some brutal performances along the way. But he started the season strong and ended strong, backing his supporters' belief that he is the future of the franchise at quarterback. He arrived in Minnesota in the post-Brett Favre era. Donovan McNabb was in front of him and veteran Sage Rosenfels was looking over his shoulder. The Vikings systematically got rid of his competition – cutting McNabb midway through the 2010 season and releasing Rosenfels prior to the start of the 2012 season. With veteran Matt Cassel, who has more career starts behind him, Ponder needs to prove he's up to the challenge of taking his game to the next level to be successful.

On the flip side are the Bills. Buffalo surprised the NFL world when it used the 16th pick of the draft on Manuel, Ponder's replacement at Florida State. As with the Vikings' selection of Ponder, most NFL analysts thought Buffalo reached too high to take Manuel. He has skills but was viewed by most scouts as a second-round prospect that would need time to adjust to the NFL game. The Bills took a strikingly similar path to what the Vikings did with Ponder. They released veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick before he arrived, got rid of backup Tarvaris Jackson after he was drafted and signed veteran Kevin Kolb to either serve as a veteran backup or hold down the starting job until Manuel is ready.

With Kolb sidelined for the preseason opener last Sunday against the Colts, Manuel got the start and completed 16 of 21 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown – posting a passer rating of 102.1. In addition, he had a key 24-yard scramble that kept a scoring drive alive. His debut was a resounding success and he is heading into the Vikings game with a lot of momentum.

Kolb will get the start Friday night, but Manuel may be the starter by the regular season opener.

Ponder's debut was all of two plays – a completion and an interception. While he wanted to play a little longer, the Vikings pulled the plug and told him his preseason essentially starts Friday.

Two quarterbacks from the same college program are both looking to take what they learned as Seminoles to the next level in the NFL. Both have more question marks than they have guarantees, but both have the confidence of their organizations and, for better or worse, first-round quarterbacks get every chance to succeed – making this an interesting matchup to watch under the Friday night lights in Upstate New York.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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