Samford-Florida St. Preview

For the first time in 35 years, it won’t be Bobby Bowden calling

plays on the Florida State sidelines.

After the legendary coach retired following another mediocre

season, Jimbo Fisher will try to start returning the No. 20

Seminoles to prominence as they open the season at home against

Samford on Saturday.

With their program being eclipsed by the state’s other big

football schools, Florida State is counting on Fisher to bring new

life after several mediocre final seasons under Bowden.

Despite winning two national championships and posting 14

straight top-five finishes, Bowden hadn’t coached a team to a

10-win season since 2003 and his squad finished 7-6 in three of the

last five seasons, including 2009.

While Bowden said in an interview last week that the decision to

retire wasn’t completely in his control, all sides seem ready to

move on.

“He was my hero, but we have to move forward,” Fisher said. “I

have to control what we do now.”

Fisher, who was an offensive coordinator under Bowden for three

years and had been named the coach-in-waiting two years ago,

quickly began making changes. He brought in a sports psychologist

as well as a nutritionist to improve players’ diets.

He also named Mark Stoops as defensive coordinator. Stoops

previously held the same position at Arizona, and he’ll be trying

to improve a Florida State team that had one of the nation’s worst

defenses last season.

The Seminoles ranked 108th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in

yards allowed per game with 434.6 and were 94th in average points

allowed with 30.0.

“We’ll never be a great team until we’re great on defense,”

Fisher said. “I like where we’re going. We’re not there yet.”

On offense, there’s a lot more confidence. Christian Ponder is a

third-year starter and he’s especially eager to get back on the

field after his 2009 season was cut short by a separated shoulder

suffered in November. He said he had been considering leaving for

the NFL, but believes the injury may have been a blessing in

disguise.

“In the long run it’s definitely better (returning),” said

Ponder, who had surgery on the shoulder. “A lot of juniors who come

out don’t really pan out.”

Ponder threw for 2,717 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven

interceptions in nine games in 2009, completing 68.8 percent of his

passes. He’s already being talked about as a possible first-round

draft pick.

“He does not want to be average in anything he does, and he’s

willing to put the sweat in to get the glory,” Fisher said.

However, Ponder will be looking for a new target after losing

leading receiver Rod Owens to graduation. Also, Jarmon Fortson, who

had 45 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns, was dismissed

from the team. Bert Reed is back after recording 710 yards

receiving.

While Samford is a Football Championship Subdivision team and

doesn’t figure to pose much of a challenge, Florida State is trying

to avoid looking ahead to its matchup at No. 7 Oklahoma on Sept.

11.

For Bowden, who attended Samford, he said he’ll keep his

distance but has no ill will toward Fisher or the program and

wishes them luck.

“I love Florida State,” he said. “I’ll be pulling for them. I’ll

be pulling for Jimbo.”

Samford went 5-6 last season, losing 28-24 to Central Florida in

its season opener in the only game it played against an FBS

opponent in 2009. The Bulldogs were led by Chris Evans, who rushed

for 1,152 yards and seven touchdowns, and Dustin Taliaferro threw

for 1,692 yards and nine touchdowns while completing 59.2 percent

of his passes.

Ponder will provide a big test for Samford’s defense, which was

the team’s strength last year. The Bulldogs ranked 15th in the FCS

in yards allowed per game with 284.5 and were 19th in scoring

defense with an average of 17.5 points allowed.

“The first thing you noticed about (the Seminoles) is the talent

and the overall speed,” coach Pat Sullivan, entering his fourth

season at Samford, told the Bulldogs’ official website. “I really

think this is the most talented football team we’ve played since

we’ve been at Samford.”

Florida State lost its home homer to Miami last season, 38-34.

This is the second time these teams have met and the first since

Florida State’s 20-6 win in 1950 when Samford was known as Howard

College.