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QB Christian Ponder set to start for Seminoles

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ATLANTA (AP) - Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher on Tuesday proclaimed quarterback Christian Ponder "ready to go" as the team's starting quarterback for the Chick-fil-A Bowl against South Carolina.

That doesn't mean Ponder will play the full four quarters.

Fisher acknowledged he wants to see Ponder's sore right elbow make it through practice this week before he completes a plan for Friday night's game against No. 19 South Carolina.

Fisher said Ponder could split time with backup EJ Manuel.

"I want him to go a couple of hard days of practice and then the third hard day we'll make decisions on everything we're going to do," Fisher said.

Ponder missed the Seminoles' 44-33 Atlantic Coast Conference championship game loss to Virginia Tech with a right elbow injury. He has had problems with the elbow through all season but has played in 11 games.

Ponder had minor surgery after the ACC championship game to remove scar tissue around the elbow. He has had fluid drained from the elbow during the season.

Fisher praised Ponder's toughness and said the quarterback continued to play when other players would have given up on the season.

"Most guys would have played about two or three ballgames this year and sat down," Fisher said. "He hasn't missed anything until the end when he finally couldn't go in the championship game. He embodies everything I envision when I want people to think about Florida State football players."

Ponder, a three-year starter, set a career high by throwing 20 touchdown passes for the No. 23 Seminoles. He said Tuesday he has no swelling or pain in his elbow.

"It feels fine," Ponder said. "The past couple of practices, no swelling or anything, no pain. I am just getting my body back in shape and getting my rhythm back, but other than that I'm fine."

Ponder has been invited to play in the Jan. 29 Senior Bowl all-star game in Mobile, Ala., but he's not looking past his final game with Florida State.

"I think we'll have to see how my elbow turns out after this game," he said. "I want to play. It's a great opportunity and I'd love to take advantage of it but we'll see how it plays out."

Ponder, a three-year starter, has Florida State (9-4) in position for its first 10-win season since 2003. He ranks among the top 25 quarterbacks in ACC history with 6,866 yards passing for his career, but he is even more accomplished in the classroom.

Ponder had his master's degree in business before the season. He has been named a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete and won the James Tatum Award as the ACC's top student-athlete in football.

"You get close to a lot of guys but he's special, he really is," Fisher said. "He embodies everything. When you as a head coach think of what you want people to think of your program, the athletes you develop and who you have out there, he embodies all that. As a person off the field, what he does as a student and what he does as a competitor."

Ponder's highlights this season include wins over Florida and Miami. He has 2,038 yards passing and 177 yards rushing with four touchdowns.

Fisher said he is bolder in his play-calling with Ponder because he knows the senior won't force a bad throw.

"It allows you to stay ahead of the stick and lets you be very aggressive," Fisher said. "I know when I call it, if we get the right look, we're going downtown. If not, he's going to get me into something else and get me some yardage so we can call it the next play.

"It does change the whole way you call the game, big-time."

Manuel, a sophomore, threw two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, in the loss to Virginia Tech. Manuel also started for Ponder and rushed for 71 yards in a 16-13 win over Clemson this season.

Manuel was the MVP of the Seminoles' Gator Bowl win over West Virginia last season.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Ponder is "a tremendous talent" who also is a dangerous runner.

"He can run around, too," Spurrier said. "That's why I don't think there's a huge difference if either quarterback is in there."

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