ACC: Christian Ponder

There is a similarity in their names, yes, but a commonality in their stories, too.

Both USF quarterback B.J. Daniels and Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel have had to deal with high expectations for their entire careers. Folks saw their talent -- their ability to both run and throw, to make spectacular plays out of nothing -- and figured championships would follow.

Manuel had to wait longer than Daniels to get his opportunity to be the full-time starter. But both went into 2012 staring down a now or never season to bring home those long-awaited championship rings. This -- their senior seasons -- would be their final shot.

Now the two prepare to face each other Saturday in Tampa, diverging from the common path they once seemed to share. Manuel comes into the game getting Heisman buzz following an impressive 482-yard day against Clemson last week, and FSU is in the driver's seat in the Atlantic Division.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Daniels
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI B.J. Daniels accounted for 341 total yards -- 215 passing, 126 rushing -- and two touchdowns in the 17-7 win over Florida State in 2009.
Daniels had a magic moment of his own earlier this year -- leading USF to a stunning-come-from behind win over Nevada with 416 all-purpose yards of his own. But if the Bulls are going to win a Big East championship, they are going to need some help after losing to Rutgers earlier in the year.

Of course, both quarterbacks need this game -- Manuel to keep national championship hopes alive; Daniels to deliver a twin moment to the stunner he piloted in Tallahassee 2009. Though both players are at different schools and are from different states -- Daniels is actually from Tallahassee -- the two have commiserated on occasion about life and the pressure that goes with having their job.

"I’ve gone back home many a time, guys I know on the Florida State team, I’ll hang out with them and EJ happens to be around," Daniels said in a recent phone interview. "We’ve talked. We’ve gone through similar things. We have war stories that we’ve shared before about being a quarterback on the Division I level. I definitely have a lot of respect for him."

Manuel came into Florida State with much more hype as the No. 2 quarterback recruit in the nation out of Virginia Beach, Va. He made several starts as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and again in 2010 when Christian Ponder got hurt. Manuel became the starter at Florida State last year, but was a much more known commodity when he got his opportunity to take the reigns of his team. That, combined with his pedigree, led many to believe FSU would win the ACC.

Daniels, on the other hand, was an unknown backup when he trotted onto the field at Doak Campbell Stadium on Sept. 26, 2009, set to make his first career start against No. 18 Florida State. No hype, no expectations. The 19-year-old Daniels stood on the field for pregame warmups, taking in the moment, not knowing where the day would take him.

"I remember looking up at the seats I used to sit in when I was a kid, and I thought that it was pretty cool, how I was going to be in an atmosphere and environment where people were going to be cheering against me, and for the team I was going to be playing," Daniels said. "I was a freshman starting, and a lot of people didn’t believe in us. But I just remember feeling really comfortable. I felt like I was at home."

Daniels was not intimidated. He was motivated. And he set about leading USF to one of the biggest upset victories in school history -- in his very first career start. Daniels accounted for 341 total yards -- 215 passing, 126 rushing -- and two touchdowns in the 17-7 win. That moment was so big, so unimaginable that expectations skyrocketed. If he could beat FSU on the road as a freshman, what else could he do? The possibilities delighted USF fans.

Manuel, meanwhile, watched the jubilant Bulls celebrate from the FSU sideline.

"It was a bad feeling," Manuel recalled during his weekly press conference. "Those guys, they won. B.J. being from Tallahassee had his coming out party, rushed and threw the ball great. We’re looking forward to going down there, not necessarily for payback, but we want to go out there and take care of business and play well."

Though USF is a heavy underdog, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has seen Daniels beat him. "He can run, he can throw, he’s strong, he’s competitive. He’s a phenomenal athlete. No play is ever dead," Fisher said.

Sounds just about the way you would describe Manuel, too.

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 14, 2012
School presidents will have the final say on the future of college football.

ACC's lunchtime links

October, 21, 2011
Exciting news for former FSU quarterback Christian Ponder, who should get his first NFL start on Sunday.

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 1, 2011
Happy August! Shark week, anyone?

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 12, 2011

Mark Herzlich won't quit

June, 27, 2011
Former Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder isn't the only ACC player who is training at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. Former Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich is also there, working harder than ever to try to continue his career in the NFL.

In Part I of this series, you'll see how golf has been an important outlet for Herzlich during his battle with Ewing's Sarcoma Cancer, and during his training for the NFL. In Part II, you get a good glimpse into just how seriously Herzlich is taking his training both on and off the field. Best of luck to @MarkHerzlich, @cponder7 and the other ACC players still hoping for their shot.

You haven't seen the last of Ponder and Herzlich, though.

Their younger brothers are on their way up, too.

My vote: Can't-miss league game

May, 20, 2011
There are several matchups in the ACC that always have and always will play a bigger role in the conference race than others. There is one, though, that seems to have taken on a greater importance this fall: Florida State at Clemson. Historically, the winner of the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech game has decided the Coastal Division winner, but ACC fans aren't buying into Georgia Tech's chances this year, according to last week's poll. The spotlight has turned to the Atlantic Division race. Agreed.

My vote: Florida State at Clemson

Making the case for Sept. 24 in Death Valley: This game will define the Atlantic Division race early. The Tigers will have home-field advantage, and they'll have had three games to work out the kinks in first-year coordinator Chad Morris' offense. A Clemson win over Auburn the preceding week will add to the intrigue of this game because momentum can do wonders for a team. Just ask Auburn, which couldn't be stopped after its overtime win against Clemson last year. It's equally as interesting from the Florida State perspective because if the Seminoles are going to live up to the hype and preseason expectations, they can't afford to be derailed so early in the season -- regardless of what happens in the Oklahoma game.

Don't forget about: NC State at Florida State. Did you guys see this game last year? NC State won and it was one of the best games of the fall. I think I referred back to that game for the entire season because it had such an impact on the Atlantic Division race. Just because Russell Wilson is gone doesn't mean the Wolfpack aren't contenders. Christian Ponder is gone, too. So is Kyle Parker. Things have changed, including the fact that NC State is deeper and healthier than it's ever been before under coach Tom O'Brien.

Florida State spring wrap

May, 5, 2011

2010 overall record: 10-4

2010 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters

Offense: 8, defense: 8, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners

QB EJ Manuel, WR Bert Reed, WR Taiwan Easterling, LT Andrew Datko, RG David Spurlock, RT Zebrie Sanders, RB Chris Thompson, RB Jermaine Thomas, DE Brandon Jenkins, DT Jacobi McDaniel, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Greg Reid, CB Xavier Rhodes, PK Dustin Hopkins, P Shawn Powell

Key losses

LG Rodney Hudson, C Ryan McMahon, QB Christian Ponder, DE Markus White, LB Kendall Smith, LB Mister Alexander

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Thompson* (845 yards)

Passing: Ponder (2,044 yds)

Receiving: Reed* (614 yds)

Tackles: Bradham* (98)

Sacks: Jenkins* (13.5)

Interceptions: Rhodes* and Mike Harris* (4)

Spring answers

1. Depth on both sides. Florida State returns all three leading rushers from last year, each of whom had at least 400 rushing yards in 2010. All of the Noles’ top receivers are back, but coach Jimbo Fisher was also pleased with young receivers like Jared Haggins and Greg Dent. The defensive line is deep, and the staff learned that Lamarcus Joyner can play safety at the collegiate level. The kicking game will be a strength, as FSU might have the best punter/kicker combo in the country. Dustin Hopkins booted a 60-yard field goal in the spring game.

2. Defensive improvement: The defense really made some strides in terms of knowing what it has to do, and has become more comfortable in the second season under coordinator Mark Stoops. The Noles found more depth on defense, as playmakers emerged even with players sidelined with injuries. The young linebackers were a particularly promising group.

3. It’s EJ’s offense now. In what was the first spring session he was healthy enough to participate in, quarterback EJ Manuel emerged as a leader heading into his first season as a full-time starter. He showed he can take command of the offense and goes into summer camp with nobody looking over his shoulder. He’s 4-2 as a starter and was able to take another step forward this spring.

Fall questions

1. Backup quarterbacks: Clint Trickett and Will Secord will take their competition into the summer, but Trickett got more opportunities in the spring game and made the most of them. He completed 13 of 22 passes for 137 yards. Secord completed 3 of 9 passes for 25 yards, but a clear No. 2 has yet to be named.

2. What will the offensive line really look like? It was a patchwork group this spring, as left tackle Andrew Datko was out with a shoulder injury, right tackle Zebrie Sanders was out after abdominal surgery, and left guard David Spurlock, who started the first seven games of 2010 before suffering a concussion, was only about 50 percent because of a hand/wrist injury. Key reserves like Rhonne Sanderson (foot injury) and Blake Snider (ankle injury) were missing. Jacob Fahrenkrug was supposed to take over at left guard, but finished the spring starting at center. This fall, the starting lineup will consist of LT Datko, LG Bryan Stork or Spurlock, C Fahrenkrug, RG Spurlock or Stork, RT Sanders. Despite the losses of Hudson and McMahon, there is experience up front, but building depth remains an issue.

3. How good is the defensive line? There’s no doubting Florida State’s defensive line will be good, but with the offensive line riddled with injuries, it was impossible to tell how good it can be. Newcomer Tank Carradine didn’t get a chance to go against Sanders or Datko, leaving for an unfair assessment.

ACC's lunchtime links

May, 2, 2011
Winter conditioning -- check.
Signing day -- check.
Spring football -- check.
NFL draft -- check.

No offseason in the blogosphere -- check ...

NFL draft rewind: ACC basics

May, 2, 2011
ACC Players Taken in the NFL Draft

1 12 Christian Ponder, Florida State, QB Vikings
1 14 Robert Quinn, North Carolina, DE Rams
1 22 Anthony Castonzo, Boston College, T Colts
2 33 Ras-I Dowling, Virginia, CB Patriots
2 38 Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech, RB Cardinals
2 40 Bruce Carter, North Carolina, LB Cowboys
2 41 Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson, DT Redskins
2 46 Orlando Franklin, Miami, OL Broncos
2 50 Marcus Gilchrist, Clemson, CB Chargers
2 51 Da’ Quan Bowers, Clemson, DE Buccaneers
2 52 Marvin Austin, North Carolina, DT Giants
2 55 Rodney Hudson, Florida State, C-G Chiefs
2 58 Torrey Smith, Maryland, WR Ravens
2 59 Greg Little, North Carolina, WR Browns
2 60 Brandon Harris, Miami, CB Texans
3 67 Nate Irving, NC State, LB Broncos
3 79 Leonard Hankerson, Miami, WR Redskins
3 81 DeMarcus Van Dyke, Miami, CB Raiders
3 86 Allen Bailey, Miami, DE Chiefs
4 100 Da’Norris Searcy, North Carolina, S Bills
4 109 Colin McCarthy, Miami, ILB Titans
4 122 Chris Hairston, Clemson, T Bills
4 127 Rashad Carmichael, Virginia Tech, CB Texans
4 130 Jamie Harper, Clemson, RB Titans
5 133 Johnny White, North Carolina, RB Bills
5 152 T.J. Yates, North Carolina, QB Texans
6 171 Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina, LB Cardinals
6 173 Byron Maxwell, Clemson, DB Seahawks
6 180 Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech, QB Ravens
6 181 Richard Gordon, Miami, TE Raiders
6 192 Matt Bosher, Miami, P-PK Falcons
7 218 Ryan Taylor, North Carolina, TE Cowboys
7 221 Da’Rel Scott, Maryland, RB Giants
7 224 Markus White, Florida State, DE Redskins
7 225 Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech, RB Ravens

ACC Selections by Rounds

First 3
Second 12
Third 4
Fourth 5
Fifth 2
Sixth 5
Seventh 4

ACC Selections by Teams

North Carolina 9
Miami 8
Clemson 6
Florida State 3
Virginia Tech 3
Maryland 2
Boston College 1
Georgia Tech 1
NC State 1
Virginia 1

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 29, 2011
Never woulda guessed it ...

Ponder ACC's highest draft pick in '11

April, 29, 2011
It what might have been the biggest surprise of the entire first round of Thursday night's NFL draft, former Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder was the first player drafted from the ACC when he was chosen 12th by the Minnesota Vikings.

Ponder, whose durability has been a question but his talent hasn't, was picked ahead of former ACC defensive ends Da'Quan Bowers and Robert Quinn, and Boston College offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo -- all of whom were projected by many to be the ACC's top draft picks this year. Instead, the ACC's string of five straight seasons with a top-10 pick was broken, and a quarterback who wasn't even a second-team all-conference selection was the first of three ACC players chosen in the first round.

That's not a knock on Ponder -- when healthy, he is undoubtedly one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, if not the best. He was my 2009 first-team all-conference quarterback. It's puzzling why Bowers' previous injury is more of a concern. In spite of it, he was still one of the best players in the country last year. Ponder would have been had he stayed healthy.

Ponder became the highest quarterback in FSU history taken in the NFL draft as well as the first FSU player taken in the first 12 picks since linebacker Ernie Sims in 2006 by the Detroit Lions. Ponder also became the highest offensive Florida State player drafted since offensive lineman Alex Barron in 2005. Before Ponder, Gary Huff was the highest drafted FSU quarterback as the 33rd overall pick in the second round of the 1973 draft.

Mel Kiper's take on this surprise pick:
First of all, this is no shot at Ponder, who some personnel folks believe might be the most ready-to-play quarterback in this draft. But the Vikings looked like a team that panicked with this pick, given the context. They had no shot to trade down? Andy Dalton is still available going into the second day, and in taking Ponder, you also passed on Fairley and Quinn, a couple of guys who can help this team. Again, it's not called "Pick your favorite player." It's a draft. Order and the value of each pick are components that factor in. Should note: This doesn't mean the Vikings are done looking for solutions at quarterback. They could target one in a trade or via free agency.

Much of the pre-draft attention went to Bowers and Quinn. Bowers, whose previous knee injury has obviously scared away some teams, is still available.

Quinn was selected with the No. 14 overall pick by the St. Louis Rams. Quinn becomes Carolina's 19th overall first-round selection and the highest pick since defensive tackle Ryan Sims (No. 6) in 2002. He became the first UNC defensive end taken in the first round since Julius Peppers was chosen No. 2 by the Carolina Panthers in 2002.

Castonzo was the No. 22 pick, taken by the Colts.

Round 2 could be a big day for the ACC. Along with Bowers, former players in the latest mock draft include:

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 21, 2011
Spring ball is coming to an end. It hurts.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 23, 2011
My bracket has been destroyed ...

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March, 17, 2011
Greetings from Tallahassee ...