Redshirt sophomore QB Christian Ponder didn't come off sounding cocky, merely confident, about this weekend's showdown against Wake Forest.
"We're not going to lose this game," he said.
It's not that Ponder doesn't have a healthy respect for the Demon Deacons. How could he not?
He was on the sideline watching them beat his team the last two years, by a stunning 30-0 in 2006 in Tallahassee that prompted embattled offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden to announce his resignation, and 24-21 last year. He also has kept up with current events. Wake (2-0) is the highest-ranked ACC team; at No. 18, it's six spots ahead of FSU (2-0), which hasn't played a Division I-A opponent.
"Florida State lost its swagger a little bit," Ponder said. "A lot of these new guys … have come in and brought it back and really changed the attitude throughout this whole program. There's definitely a lot more confidence in this program right now and especially on the offensive side of the ball because we've proven we can move the ball. And the defense is playing really well as well. … This is a huge statement game."
Back when the Seminoles were supremely confident and played like it, they never would have been talking up a game against Wake Forest. But even if some fans still don't look upon Wake as an elite program (it won the ACC in 2006 and was 20-7 the past two seasons), coach Bobby Bowden, his staff and players see that little school differently.
"(Not) when you've lost two in a row and took the worst licking (in one)," Bowden said referring to the shutout, the only one at Doak Campbell Stadium in his 33 years. "Remember how I talk a lot about … 'Gee, we only lost by two. We only lost by three. We only lost by seven. You're talking about maybe only one player might make the difference.' Not in that game."
The Seminoles also expect to get a bounce from more fans in the stands than they had for Western Carolina and Chattanooga, and from a couple more players. WR Preston Parker and DT Budd Thacker are back after serving suspensions, Parker for an offseason arrest and Thacker for his involvement in the academic misconduct scandal.
"It's going to be tough, but everyone's going to be prepared and … excited," Ponder said. "It's going to be tough for us to lose this game."
Still involved: Redshirt senior QB Drew Weatherford, fallen to third on the depth chart, remains an important contributor. Bowden praises his leadership, pointing out how he's handled his situation with aplomb. Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher uses Weatherford to signal in some of the plays: "He'll remind me of things during the game; 'Hey, Coach, remember this?' Drew's been super."
Friends and rivals: Senior TB Antone Smith's cell phone has been blowing up in recent days. He's been trading calls and text messages with former Pahokee High teammate and Wake Forest senior DE Antonio Wilson. "I talked to him Friday, and he said, 'Go out there and do your thing. We're going to be watching,' " Smith said.
Poll talk: Bowden votes in the USA Today coaches' poll, and he's not sure what his brethren were thinking this week by putting his team at No. 25. "I was surprised that we even broke the Top 25," he said. "I didn't vote for us. We're not ready for that yet."
The bet here is that if FSU wins this week, Bowden will have no trouble voting for his team, and maybe higher than No. 25.
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347. Read his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/Seminoles.