DURING AN April scrimmage backup quarterback Christian Ponder stepped to the line, scanned the defense and spotted a weakness in coverage. The sophomore checked out of a running play and threw a touchdown pass to wideout Greg Carr. Later Ponder told reporters that last season he probably wouldn't have seen the soft spot, much less have had the nerve to change the play.
When those comments got back to offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, he cracked a smile. "When you haven't had success, you're scared to do anything," says Fisher, who was hired from LSU before the 2007 season to resuscitate an offense that had flatlined. "You don't want to make a mistake." Apparently Ponder and other Seminoles have finally gotten over that fear.
Fisher hopes the newfound confidence will carry Florida State into the end zone more often. Though the offense produced 3.2 fewer points a game than departed coordinator Jeff Bowden's 2006 unit did, the Seminoles gained 38.9 more yards per game and Drew Weatherford cut his interceptions from 11 to three. Still, the team went 7--5, then lost to Kentucky in the Music City Bowl. That's far below expectations at a program that ended each season from 1987 through 2000 ranked in the top five.
Fisher's top threat is Carr (above), a 6'6" senior who can create matchup problems. Also counted on to be a playmaker is hybrid receiver-tailback Preston Parker, whom Fisher plans to use in the manner that Florida plays speedster Percy Harvin, but Parker's arrest last week on gun and marijuana charges raised questions about his future with the program.
Even without Parker, the Seminoles should have more big-play potential than they did in '07. They'll need it early on, when at least six key defenders serve three-game suspensions to open the season in the wake of last year's academic scandal.
PHIL COALE/AP (CARR)