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No Ponder? No problem for FSU

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- For the first time in a generation, Clemson and Florida State face each other without a Bowden coaching on the sideline.

Bobby Bowden patrolled the Florida State side of the field for 34 years, including nine when he faced his son. Tommy Bowden coached Clemson for nearly 10 seasons before giving way to Dabo Swinney in 2008.

The much-hyped "Bowden Bowl" disappeared after Tommy Bowden was fired part way through the 2008 season, but Saturday's game could be just as important by helping determine one of the entries in next month's Atlantic Coast Conference title game.

The elder Bowden, who celebrated his 81st birthday Monday, was nudged out at the end of the regular season last year after a sixth straight loss to in-state rival Florida. While he remains active by writing his memoirs and making speeches and Tommy Bowden contemplates coaching again someday, Florida State and Clemson move on.

"It's the biggest game of the year for us," Swinney said. "We're trying to have that good finish and get eligible for a bowl, and keep us alive in our conference."

Swinney's Tigers will have to do it without sophomore tailback Andre Ellington (toe injury) and Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder's availability won't be known until game time.

Ponder has been troubled the past several weeks by a painful elbow injury suffered Oct. 16. He didn't practice until Thursday when he only threw lightly for a few minutes.

"It's not going to matter who is under center," Swinney said. "They are going to do what they do regardless. This is the best offense we've played all year."

Redshirt sophomore EJ Manuel, who is 3-1 as a starter in emergency roles, took all the snaps in Florida State's first three practices this week.

Clemson (5-4, 3-3 ACC) climbed back into contention with wins in three of its last four games, including a 14-13 victory over North Carolina State last week.

Florida State, Maryland and North Carolina State are effectively tied in the ACC's Atlantic Division with two losses apiece. Clemson remains alive as well and has potential tie-breaking wins over the Terrapins and Wolfpack.

The Seminoles (6-3, 4-2 ACC) dropped out of the rankings after two straight losses and need a fast finish to ensure coach Jimbo Fisher has a successful first season.

"We're one of the few teams in the country where November could mean a lot," said Fisher.

Ponder's status has been questionable all week as doctors worked to relieve elbow pain in his throwing arm from a ruptured bursa sac suffered four weeks ago, but Fisher was confident that his veteran quarterback would be good to go by kickoff.

"I think he'll feel good. I really do," Fisher said after Thursday's practice. "The rest has helped a lot."

While the game is no longer a family affair, the Bowden influence has been crucial in the development of Swinney and Fisher.

Swinney readily acknowledges that much of his coaching style comes from the Bowdens. He played for Tommy one season and then coached with him for several more, eventually succeeding his mentor. He expects the elder Bowden's influence will still be felt although he won't be there.

"It's still Bobby Bowden Field and I'm sure his presence is still very much surrounding the area down there," Swinney aid. "The Bowden name won't be forgotten, that's for sure. It's going to be ... different."

Fisher, meanwhile, coached with three Bowdens, including Terry, for whom he also played for at Samford.

"The Bowden name won't be forgotten, because of what they mean to college football," Fisher agreed.

Now, the two new guys will try to make names for themselves.