FSU vs. UF: 2 programs headed in different directions

November 24, 2009

It is totally understandable that FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher is emphasizing the handful of good plays that Florida State managed to achieve in last Saturday’s last second win over 2-9 Maryland.

Because I think everyone instinctively knows what is coming next. And that’s a total drubbing at the hands of chief rival Florida.

If you want to see two programs moving in completely different directions it will be this Saturday in the Swamp. And there’s no amount of sugarcoating that will change that fact.

If Christian Ponder was still the quarterback then FSU could have had a chance to shock the world. I happen to think that the Gators have actually not faced a competent passing team the entire season. They have geared both their offense – and defense – to the largely boring style of the SEC. Yes, every now and then there is a moment of excitement, but for the most part SEC teams use the spread, use the option, use the dive to move the ball on the ground.

A team that can quickly and methodically move the ball down the field in the air would be the perfect antidote for the Gators.

That’s not going to happen on Saturday. For all of his talent E.J. Manuel struggled last weekend against Maryland. It won’t get any easier against one of the nation’s top defenses. And FSU won’t have any answers for Heisman hopeful Tim Tebow and the rest of the crew. This game will probably get ugly and out of hand quickly.

Now I  know that some will say that FSU has a bright future looking ahead to next year. Lots of talent will be returning and Fisher’s offense was actually among the most productive in the ACC. There’s also the argument that everyone should give head coach Bobby Bowden the graceful exit that he deserves.

Well think about that after Saturday. Florida – winner of two national championships in the last three years – will rip apart FSU. Tebow will be gone next year, but the Gators will be loaded again with talent and again be a national contender.

Meanwhile, FSU still has given no clues about who the next defensive coordinator is going to be, whether Fisher indeed will have the final say over the preferred candidate, and so on and so on. There is likely to be continued drama and chaos in the FSU program in the coming year unless there is a decision to make a clean start.

FSU fans may have to accept the fact that their team right now is the fourth best in the state. And that could trigger an ongoing decline as the Seminoles find themselves losing superior talent to both Florida and Miami and even USF in the years to come. What FSU fans may have to accept is that a 6-5 season is about to become the status quo.

Pro Bowl choices are few this year

November 14, 2009

(UPDATE – The news that Ronnie Brown is out for the rest of the season alters this list tremendously.)

The NFL has opened up its 2010 Pro Bowl voting, but unfortunately it looks like there probably won’t be a lot of players attending the contest in Miami who hail from Florida teams.

When two of your three NFL teams stumble through the season it’s hard to expect that they will beat out the talents of other 29 teams in the league.

But here’s some players who I believe deserve serious Pro Bowl consideration.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Ok, so I was sort of wrong about Mojo. He has had a great season stats wise as the feature running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He leads the league with 11 rushing TDs and is third in the AFC in rushing yards. This may not be surprising since Mojo is basically the only good thing going on with the Jags offense. But while I was wrong about whether or not Mojo could handle a full-time load – I also predicted that he couldn’t turn around the fortunes of the Jaguars. And that has turned out to be dead on.

Ronnie Brown: If the Miami Dolphins make the playoffs again this season it will of course be due primarily to Brown. He is the heart and soul of the Dolphins offense whether he’s running the Wildcat or taking the handoff from Chad Henne. He is 7th in the AFC in rushing, but that’s because he is dividing his rushes with Ricky Williams (who is also having a pretty decent season).

Jason Taylor: After a one-year exile with the Redskins, Taylor has been a welcome addition to the Dolphins defense. The 35-year-old veteran has already has 5 and a half sacks for the season and has forced two fumbles.

Aqib Talib: Talib has been one of the few bright spots in a dismal season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has five interceptions on the year, which ties him for third in the entire NFL.

Beyond these four players, there are a handful of others who I think you could make an argument for, including Jaguars wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker. Sims-Walker, a 2nd year pro, has helped out the Jags much more than their acquisition of Torry Holt. Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud has had a solid season as well and ranks 8th in the league with 68 tackles. Ruud also has an interception. Ted Ginn Jr. deserves some consideration because of his kick-returning skills, but we’ll have to see whether or not his 2 tds against the N.Y. Jets was a one-week wonder. Right now he’s not even on the Pro Bowl ballot as a returner.

So what now for FSU?

November 10, 2009

The devastating news that Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder will miss the rest of the season seems unfortunately like a fitting end to this dismal season for the Seminoles.

Without their top offensive player, it seems all but certain that FSU will be unable to muster the 2 wins it needs in order to become bowl eligible. It’ s hard to imagine that this team can put together an effective enough offensive attack to win on the road at either Wake Forest or Florida.

So now Ponder is gone for the rest of the year. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews is leaving after this season. And…..what’s next?

While FSU officials have said they will evaluate the direction of the program after the season, head coach Bobby Bowden has sent signals that he wants one more year at the helm. Bowden has also suggested that he should have a say in who should replace Andrews.

This is just a recipe for another disaster in the coming year.

At some point there has to be some accountability. At some point Bowden – who preaches the need for teamwork – has to realize it’s not about him anymore. It’s about the team, it’s about the program, it’s about the university. He has been duly rewarded with money, with fame, with honors during his masterful coaching career.

But at the end of the day what signal does it send to young players that some people don’t have to worry about their performance? Doesn’t that go against everything that football supposedly teaches? Why I should have to try hard if the coach doesn’t.

There’s no doubt that Bowden is owed tremendous amounts of gratitude by the FSU faithful. But if FSU ends the season without a bowl, without a winning season, then it is time to say thank you and move on. FSU can’t afford yet another season like this one if it wants to remain one of the top college football programs in America.

Tim Tebow vs. Christian Ponder: Who should be a Heisman contender?

November 2, 2009

While Tim Tebow had a masterful dominating performance on Saturday, let me ask you a question.

What should matter more when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and other honors – the number of wins you rack up, regardless of your performance, or how well you play week in and week out?

That’s because I think an argument can be made that Seminoles quarterback Christian Ponder is having a much better season than Tebow has so far.

But right now Ponder isn’t anywhere on the national radar screen when it comes to various postseason honors. Tebow’s 4 touchdown performance against Georgia helped brush aside the last few weeks of mediocrity and keep him in the hunt for the Heisman trophy. ESPN, for example, has Tebow ranked 3rd on its Heisman watch list. Tebow, along with University of Miami quarterback Jacory Harris, is also a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award.

Yet I think there’s a good argument to be made that the Gators have remained undefeated this season in spite of Tebow, not because of Tebow. The Gators defense has repeatedly clamped down on teams and has kept them in ballgames where the offense has struggled.

Meanwhile, Ponder has racked up 2,453 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and only 3 picks. He’s also rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Ponder is currently ranked 5th in the nation in total passing yards, which is higher than any other Heisman contender except Houston’s Case Keenum. He does closely trail Tebow in overall quarterback rating, but that is a bit of a mystery since Tebow actually has more interceptions than Ponder does. (Tebow has four vs. Ponder’s three.) Ponder also has a much higher completion percentage.

(And to make this QB rating even more mysterious – UM’s Harris score is a .03 points higher yet he has less yards and 8 more picks than Ponder.)

Let’s face it. The fact that FSU is 4-4 is not Ponder’s fault. Now I would agree that the offense had trouble getting revved up in a couple of games this season. But it’s hard for a quarterback to win every week when he’s under pressure to score 40 points because the Seminoles defense is so suspect.

Do I think that Ponder deserves the Heisman Trophy? Probably not. But I think there’s an argument to be made he’s having as stellar a season as his downstate counterpart. Now Ponder’s overall career doesn’t come close to Tebow’s as evidenced by Tebow setting the SEC rushing record against the Bulldogs.

But in this season I think Ponder is getting shorted, while Tebow may be getting more credit than he deserves.