Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tebow's Eye-Black: Phil 4:6-7

Tim Tebow is wearing "Phil 4:6-7" on his eye-black against Georgia: Phillipians 4:6-7

Here's your quote:
"Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts, offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then, because you belong to Jesus Christ, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel."
"Don't worry about anything." Seems pretty appropriate after this week of questioning Tebow's effectiveness in the red-zone and with the offense. Hmm: Message for the fans?

(And based on the Gators' first two drives -- ending in two TD passes from Tebow to Riley Cooper -- "don't worry about anything" seems pretty prescient.)

Tebow Gameday: Cocktail Party Finale

This will be Tim Tebow's fourth and final Cocktail Party against Georgia. Freshman year was a win. Sophomore year was the infamous end-zone stomping. Junior year was Revenge.

And senior year?

First, it will be about winning the game. Second -- and not unrelated -- it will be about getting the offense back on track in the red zone. And that might just mean less Tebow, not more.

From today's Gainesville Sun game preview:

One change we might see is less Tebow running in the red zone. He's has been UF's No. 1 weapon inside the 10-yard line throughout his career, but defenses are loading up the line of scrimmage and waiting for him now. He was stuffed on the goal line several times in last Saturday's game.

Addazio said it may be time for the tailbacks (and others) to share the load. It worked against Mississippi State in the fourth quarter. Tebow lined up under center and handed off to Chris Rainey, who ran untouched into the end zone from 8 yards out.

"We have some really good football players, and we want to utilize them," Addazio said. "We want our tailbacks to carry the ball down there more. We trust those guys.

The proof will be in the play-calling, particularly on that first series inside Georgia's 10:

*Tebow as ball-carrier... or Demps-Rainey-Moody?

*Tebow in shotgun... or under center?

*Touchdown... or field goal?

*Heisman afterthought... or Heisman re-contender?

Again, I'm predicting a huge breakthrough game for Florida and Tim Tebow. TDs in the red zone. Plenty of effective passing. Scoring galore (at least, by Florida -- I expect the Gators' D to be as lights-out as it has been all season). And Tebow re-emerging as a Heisman contender.

Haven't felt this confident since before the Kentucky game -- wow, it's been a long month.

Tebow NFL Watch: Dungy Supports

"As a coach, I always like winners. Tim Tebow doesn't have the classic throwing motion, he doesn't have the accuracy, maybe, right now that some people are looking for, but I think when he gets into a pro system that really stresses throwing the ball accurately, the big thing is he makes the people around him better. And he's won. ... I think he's going to be a great player in the NFL."

-- Tony Dungy, on Tim Tebow's NFL prospects. I will completely unpack this next week, but I like the analysis from my Sporting News colleague Mike Tunison.

Let's repeat the general point -- the one that Urban Meyer makes all the time: System, system, system. It's the same with Vince Young. It's the same with Alex Smith (see last week).

And it's why, to have a successful NFL career, Tebow has to be with an innovator like Bill Belichick, who has no interest in using Tim Tebow as a full-time starting QB -- but every intention on creatively unleashing him on the league.

Halloween: Anyone's Kids Going as Tebow?

Anyone's kids dressing in a Tim Tebow costume? (Um, any adults going as Tim Tebow?) Send pics, and I'll post the best ones on Sunday.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tebow vs. Cannon, Via Wright Thompson

I extend a huge welcome to a very special guest contributor: ESPN.com senior writer Wright Thompson -- for my money, the best sportswriter in America today. Thompson has just published a (typically) phenomenal piece at ESPN.com about Billy Cannon, the LSU All-American celebrating the 50th anniversary of his most famous play... this weekend. Must-must-read! Thompson graciously offered an exclusive Cannon-Tebow analysis for TimTeblog.com. It is my thrill to have him here. Enjoy:

****

It’s hard to imagine today’s players being old. I look at Tim Tebow and don’t much think about how he’ll handle the rest of his life, what demons he’ll face, where his journey will take him. We see these guys now, burning like a star, then they’re gone. Some show up on Sundays. Some have their names on car dealerships and insurance companies in college towns. But many just disappear. I don’t mean they’re forgotten. The legend never burns out. I mean the men themselves. They live in their own shadow. There is no way they could possibly better, or even live up to, that legend. Yet we are surprised when they don’t. Walking out of the Ole Miss game last weekend, I found myself next to a former star Rebel. Once, I’d owned a t-shirt with him on it. Now he was drunk and wobbly and I found myself wishing I’d never seen him again. But that’s not fair. There is life after they walk off the field for the final time. That’s why, while reporting the ESPN.com story of Billy Cannon, I found myself thinking of Tim Tebow.

It first hit me last year at the College Football Hall of Fame ceremony in New York. I stood in a suite in the Waldorf-Astoria and watched two young women ogle a picture of him as a young man. They stared at him and one of them said, “What a stud.”

I realized.

Cannon was the Tim Tebow of the 1950s.

Intense locker room speeches; Cannon wasn’t scared to grab a teammate by the jersey. Ridiculous plays. Rock star looks. Besieged in public. Unavailable therefore desired by women (Tebow because of his V Card; Cannon because he was married.) A commenter on the Cannon story just posted this: In his younger days he kind of looks like Tim Tebow.

There’s your thought as the 50th anniversary of Cannon’s Halloween Punt Return approaches. The way your grandparents feel about Cannon, one day you’ll feel about Tebow. I wonder where he’ll go between today and 2059. Maybe he’ll grow old gracefully. Maybe he’ll fall and never come back. Maybe he’ll fall and one day, as an old man, find peace and redemption.

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at [wrightespn]-[at]-[gmail]-[dot]-[com].

Tebow Links for a Friday Afternoon

Some great must-reads about all things Tim Tebow -- as if my deconstruction of Lil Wayne's Tebow name-check earlier today wasn't enough...

*Chris Brown from Smart Football and a fellow regular contributor to Yahoo's Dr. Saturday has an incredible post breaking down Florida's issues with pass protection. You'll feel smarter reading it.

*Clay Travis of Fanhouse on Tebow vs. Herschel Walker.

*Ben Volin from the Palm Beach Post polls some Heisman voters and gets some feedback on Tebow. Money quote: "If he puts up mediocre stats, but no one else emerges, I’ll vote Tebow."

*Wright Thompson from ESPN.com with an incredible story -- perhaps the definitive story -- on Billy Cannon, who was, arguably, the Tim Tebow of his time.

(Psst: I'm trying to get Thompson to file something special for TimTeblog.com about the comparison between Cannon and Tebow. If so, I will post as soon as I get something.)

All four are great ways to kill your Friday afternoon, getting ready for tomorrow afternoon.

Tim Tebow and Lil Wayne: "Grim Reflow"

In case you hadn't heard, Tim Tebow enjoyed a name-check in a new Lil Wayne version of "DOA."

Because there is nothing Tebow-related I won't intrepidly report, I tracked down the song lyrics -- and the couplet in which Tebow appears. Here you go:
Yeah, Young Nino [n-word],I do it for my team Tim Tebow [n-word]
I’m killing this [s***] grim reflow [n-word]
So there you have it: If you have been grasping for a rhyme for "Tim Tebow," the correct answer is "Grim Reflow."

UPDATE: I stand corrected? Via Twitter, @tomas_verde suggests that, given the context, the phrase was "grim reap-flow." Anyone have a definitive answer?

Somehow, I doubt you'll see this referenced on Tebow's eye-black ("LIL" on the right, "DOA" on the left. Ummm.... No.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tim Tebow vs. Herschel Walker: Compare the TD Rate

I don't buy this "Herschel did it in 3, Tebow did it in 4" reasoning that Georgia fans (and Walker nostalgics) use to discount the SEC career rushing TD record Tim Tebow is about to set.

Actually, I'd argue that Georgia fans don't want to go there. Here's why:

In those "only three" years, Herschel Walker had 994 rushing attempts: 274 as a freshman, 385 as a sophomore, 335 as a junior. His 49 TDs came at a rate of 1 TD per 20 carries.

In 3.5 seasons -- and let's end this "4" bunk, because Tebow has only played half a season this year and was a part-time player as a freshman, as you'll see -- Tim Tebow has had 596 rushing attempts: 89 as a freshman, 210 as a sophomore, 176 as a junior, 121 as a senior.

Tebow's 49 TDs came at a rate of one TD for every 12 rushing attempts.

Let's say that again: Herschel enjoyed 66 percent more carries than Tebow. Tebow could play SIX years in college and not get as many carries as Walker got in 3.

What's the point? That while Walker played "only" three years, he had many many many more chances to carry the ball -- to score a rushing TD -- than Tebow had.

And yet, here they are: They still have the same number of TDs, because Tebow scored TDs more efficiently when he did rush the ball.

So beyond the superficial error that Tim Tebow has played "four" years to Walker's "three" -- which discounts Tebow's part-time freshman year and half-played senior year, which probably amounts to LESS than Walker's 3 years -- it's really all about usage rate.

With 66 percent more carries than Tebow, it is Walker -- not Tebow -- that had the vastly expanded opportunities to score more TDs.

Tebow was simply more efficient at running the ball into the end zone, both from a relative sense (based on the use-rate above) and -- as soon as Saturday afternoon -- in an absolute sense, too.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Follow-Up: Tebow and Religion

The Gainesville Sun's Nathan Crabbe got more responses to his blog post about the pair of columns coming down against Tebow's religious expression than anything he's ever filed.

I will point everyone to the post I wrote two weeks ago -- "Tebow Religious Critics Miss the Mark" -- that I think brought a little more depth to the subject than the two columnists in question.

Reactions?

Is Tim Tebow Having Any Fun?

The bloggers at Tebow's Eye-Black ask the question: "Where is Tebow's smile?"

It sounds hokey, but it might be the biggest question of the season, because it seems like it captures everything that has happened over the last month -- which, let's be honest, is NOT how anyone thought it would go.

The concussion.
The stats. (Worse than Christian Ponder!)
The red-zone troubles.
The skepticism.
The questions.

You get the sense that Tebow's faith in himself -- and, frankly, things larger than football -- is so great that while he might be temporarily frustrated, he is not down.

I would like to think it was his fiery competitiveness that kept him from the post-game media scrum last Saturday -- he just cares that much that he couldn't talk about the game.

I also think it would have looked odd if he was smiling throughout the game -- particularly after the tough interceptions. (He was, presumably, smiling widely after the wins.)

Forget the individual honors. Forget the stats. Forget the superlatives or Tebow's place in history.

As long as Florida keeps winning, Tebow will find a reason to keep smiling.

Tebow Quote of the Day: On Herschel

"It has been an honor to even be mentioned with Herschel. It is very humbling and I’m sure when I sit back and think about I’ll realize how cool it is. To be able to break the record against Georgia would be extra-special."

-- Tim Tebow, on the opportunity to break Herschel Walker's SEC record for career rushing touchdowns... ironically, against Walker's Georgia Bulldogs this weekend. (h/t: Only Gators)

*****

We will dig into the Tebow-Walker dynamic later in the week, but -- given the superlative-driven, history-making nature of Tebow's season (which has gotten lost in the crazy of the last month) -- this record-breaking moment is a big deal... and not just for the symbolism.

If there is one player who has more cred than Tebow among "Greatest College Football Player of All Time" contenders, it is Herschel Walker, who enjoys an on-field mythology as great as any player in college football history. Topping Walker's record would be a huge notch in the Tebow-GOAT argument.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Can Tebow, Florida Struggle to a BCS Title?

Let's start with this: If you asked any team in the country if they could switch places with Florida -- personnel, coaches, the whole thing -- every single team would do it. (And if, say, Alabama and Texas don't want to do it, they will learn their lesson -- directly -- down the road.)

Related: I will take issue with one point Jeremy Fowler made in his must-read blog post about why we shouldn't count out Tim Tebow:

"There's only so long you can hold onto an undefeated record with defense and the kicking game."

I disagree, actually.

First of all, it's not like the offense is completely stalled out -- as Tebow pointed out yesterday, they are still moving the ball... just not scoring TDs in the red zone.

But, more importantly, I think we're watching one of the greatest defenses in college football history. This is the group that shut down Oklahoma last year -- a better group, actually.

Florida will not see an offense as good as Oklahoma's was last year for the rest of the season -- or at any point this season, actually.

No team should score more than 10-12 points on this defense. Consider that MSU scored two TDs on interceptions -- that had nothing to do with Florida's defense. Take away those, and the Bulldogs score 6 measly points.

(Arkansas' 20-point "binge" was an aberration you won't see again -- frankly, directly attributable to two instances of blown coverage by the normally reliable Janoris Jenkins, one that led to that 75-yard TD pass to vault Arkansas from 13 points to 20.)

And so even with red-zone TD issues, the offense will produce more than 12 points a game, just on field goals, field position (via special teams) and defensive touchdowns.

It isn't pretty. And it's too close for comfort -- at least for Florida fans.

But it is effective.

Effective enough to keep winning games, through the end of the regular season. Through the SEC title game against Alabama. Through the BCS national-title game against, say, Texas.

You might ask "Well, how will Florida score on juggernauts like Alabama or Texas?"

Perhaps the better question is: "Well, how will Alabama or Texas score on Florida?"

UPDATE: You absolutely positively must read Saurian Sagacity's latest post, related to this topic. It will not only make you feel better about the state of things -- it will make you question why you are even concerned.

Tebow Must-Read: "Don't Count Him Out"

Jeremy Fowler of the Sentinel with today's must-read about Tebow, a blog post that delves into a little (appropriate) pop psychology about Tebow's state of mind.

It all hubs around this quote from Tebow:
"I think it could possibly be a good thing," said Tebow about the offensive struggles. "It could give us a little bit of an edge of, 'Hey, we haven't arrived. We still have a lot of work to do.' That's something to really motivate us."
Key points from Fowler:

*"You've got to think Tebow is fired up beyond comprehension right now. Every time he's been doubted, he's responded."

*"In his last year of a storied career, I have a hard time Tebow is going out like the new version of Craig Krenzel, methodically managing the gmae with the occasional touchdown pass or run."

*"I think he's got some spark left. Not like last year's team -- those comparisons should be buried, because this simply isn't the same team -- but just some consistency...."

Worth your time to read.

Although I do disagree with one point Fowler makes. That follow-up is coming at 3 p.m....

Heisman Watch: Spinning Tebow's Drop

It is either a testament to -- or indictment of -- Tim Tebow's Heisman candidacy that he remains on the radar.

In the latest HeismanPundit.com straw poll, Tebow plummeted to 4th place. Positioned differently, he is still in the Top 5.

His numbers are a shadow of 2007 -- or even 2008. His performance last weekend against Mississippi State was the worst of his career.

And yet... Florida is 7-0, ranked No. 1 in the country and firmly in control of its own BCS destiny.

That makes Tebow this year's Torretta or Dorsey or fill-in-USC-or-Notre-Dame-QB-here -- the candidate who gets to be near the top of the list simply for being the QB of the No. 1 team in the country.

(Tebow's reputation obviously helps, and I'm not dismissing that.)

Here's the big point: Tebow has hit the low point of his season -- and career. And he's STILL in 4th place.

What does that mean?

It means that when Tebow and Florida turn it around -- as soon as this weekend vs. Georgia -- Tebow will skyrocket back up the rankings...

...Helped in part because voters seem stuck to find any candidate they feel really strongly about.

Look at who is ahead of Tebow: Among QBs, he is topped by Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame novelty) and Colt McCoy (still the favorite, I think). Ingram at the top is a wash, because voters will give the edge to the player on the team that wins the Alabama-Florida SEC title game.

There are 5 regular-season games left for Tebow -- more than enough time to make people forget about this stalled start. (After all, he was No. 1 in the straw poll as recently as two weeks ago, when hints of Florida's offensive issues were foreshadowed.)

And that doesn't even consider the SEC title game -- in which a big performance by Tebow could make voters forget how they were thinking about him on, say, October 27.

Tim Tebow In The Red Zone

Let's unpack some of the things that Urban Meyer said yesterday about the performance -- and future -- of Tim Tebow and the Florida offense in the red zone.

Meyer, on the play calls: "We watched every red-zone snap of the year. We evaluated every snap. What we're finding out is it's not play-calling. We've got to hold to the plan. Sometimes we're making calls that are not on our call sheet. That's my fault. We're going to stick to the call sheet."

Analysis: I'm not sure I get what Meyer is saying here. If it's not the play-calling, is someone not executing the plays? If they're "making calls that are not on our call sheet," isn't that play-calling?

Meyer, on Tim Tebow getting the calls: "He's certainly our guy because of the single-wing element. It's been so successful here and across college football. It takes someone else (on defense) out of the box. That's No. 1..."

Analysis: Agreed.

Meyer, with more on Tebow getting the calls: "...No. 2, he's a very good, powerful runner. He's also Tim. He's going to give you every ounce of effort he's got."

Analysis: No one is questioning whether Tebow is a good, powerful runner. Or that "he's Tim" and will try really hard. What defenses have exposed is that relying exclusively on one good powerful runner (particularly without any other options in the backfield to draw away defensive attention) or trying really hard is not a successful offensive strategy.

(That's why the Demps TD against Arkansas was so refreshingly successful, and why the Rainey TD against Mississippi State -- where Tebow went under center and then handed the ball off -- was so refreshingly successful.)

Meyer, on giving players other than Tebow the ball in the red zone: "Other guys can do that also. That's in discussion. We haven't finalized it yet."

Analysis: My bet is that no matter how strongly Meyer feels about Tebow, they will diversify. I'm not even saying that Tebow shouldn't be the No. 1 option to carry the ball in the red zone -- but why not throw Demps or Moody back there with him to give him an option or force the defense to key on someone besides Tebow?

Meyer, on using Moody more: "We're having that discussion."

Analysis: I can understand not trusting Moody a year ago, but the guy has done nothing but earn trust all year long, with powerful runs in the limited action he has seen. Given the problems, hasn't he at least earned a try?

Meyer, on Tebow going under center more: "We want to do that. That might be a little more part of our plan."

Analysis: Seemed to work against Mississippi State. Why not give it a few more opportunities, if only to evaluate it?

I'll give the last word to Tebow:

"Obviously, we're not excited about watching how we play in the red zone. We're going to get better. That's all I can really say about it."

Analysis: Agreed. They're going to get better, for two reasons: (1) They will revamp the play-calling to take advantage of the 3 RBs plus Tebow moving under center, and (2) it can't get much less effective than it is right now.

Prediction: Florida will be back to 2008 red-zone efficiency levels this weekend against Georgia, and the dominant meme will be "Florida's offense is back."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tebow Quote of the Day: Dan Mullen

"Go win another title."

-- Dan Mullen to his protege, Tim Tebow, after Florida beat Mississippi State on Saturday night. It's a nice sentiment -- and would go a long way to affirming the G.O.A.T. legacy of Mullen's own legacy to college football: The development of Tim Tebow, which will define Mullen's career, no matter how well he does as a head coach.

The Low Point of Tim Tebow's Career

In my latest Tebow-related column for Yahoo's Dr. Saturday, I make the case that Saturday was the low point of Tebow's career.

But it wasn't for anything that happened on the field -- but off of it, when he skipped out on talking about the game with the media.

Consider that "The Promise" was the single most memorable highlight of Tim Tebow's career -- and it was made under conditions far more stressful than the ones on Saturday night. What happened in Starkville was the opposite of The Promise.

If nothing else, Tebow is the greatest leader in the history of college football -- as that great leader, he owed it to his team, his fans and his media to talk about the game, even if he wasn't happy with his performance in it.

If it was good enough for a loss to Ole Miss, it should be good enough for a win over Mississippi State.

Read the whole thing here.

UPDATE: Here's what Tebow said about missing the media session, from his media session today (the OS's Jeremy Fowler sounds dubious):

"There was a lot of other things I wanted to do. Not that this isn’t important. I’ve always been very courteous to do that. And I’m sorry I didn’t see y'all. But I wanted to see coach (Dan) Mullen. I wanted to go see my family, I had a lot of friends at the game…We were in meetings for a little bit after the game there talking. It’s not like we got out quickly either."

Tebow Quote of the Day: Meyer Critical? No.

"He's not playing at his highest level. He's playing as hard as he can."

-- Urban Meyer, on Tim Tebow (via Meyer's Monday media availability.)

"High-level" and "hard" are not incompatible ideas, by the way.

More Meyer, on the team's problems on offense:

"I don't put it on Tim. I put it on the surrounding cast."

Wow: Strong statement. Very strong.

Tebow Called Out By Sentinel's Bianchi

"[Tim Tebow] is my choice for Dud of the Week. Not only did he play the worst game of his career... he stiffed the media for the first time in his career. Disappointing to see a player who has been so classy and reaped so much positive media attention blow off his genuflecting media when times get a little rocky. Bad form. Very bad form."

-- Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi, on Tim Tebow's missing media appearance on Saturday night.

To build on Bianchi's point: Tebow's greatest quality has always been his leadership, and it felt a little awkward -- even immature -- for him to avoid making himself accountable for the offense in front of the media. Maybe Tebow was THAT ticked off -- not sure that's a good enough excuse.

Tebow Quote of the Day: Tim Frustrated?

"He's very frustrated. He's used to playing at a certain level."

-- Urban Meyer, about Tim Tebow's state of mind -- which may have contributed to Tebow avoiding a post-game talk with the media for the first time in his career.

For what it's worth, Meyer was not about to leave it at that. The coach added:

"I'm not worried about Tim. He's a very secure grown man."

Coming a little later: Why Gator fans are a little panicky... and why they shouldn't be.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tim Tebow's Worst Game Ever

That was Tim Tebow's worst game ever.

That is the bad news from last night's Mississippi State game.

He threw the ball poorly, with mediocre efficiency and inconsistent decision-making. He wasn't effective running the ball in the red zone. And -- oh -- those two "pick-6s."

(This is fairly unimportant, but it is fair to say that Tebow's Heisman hopes been derailed -- if not eliminated completely, as there is still 6 games left in the regular season + SEC title game.)

Here's truly how bad the game was for Tebow: He did not speak to the media after the game, for the first time in his career (at least as a starter).

If that isn't the ultimate symbol of his most frustrating game as a QB, I don't know what is.

Here is the good news: The Gators won the game -- in the end, decisively. This was no Arkansas-style close-call.

And, despite the ignominy of the two interceptions returned for TDs, Tim Tebow tied Herschel Walker's SEC record for career rushing TDs -- which he can break next week versus Georgia.

But -- make no mistake -- this was as bad a game as there has ever been for Tim Tebow.

And yet the Gators still won, in an insanely hostile road environment, against a team that had maximum advantage in terms of Xs and Os understanding of Tebow and Florida's offense.

What a dichotomy.

Complete analysis of all of the topics listed above coming tomorrow and throughout the week. Suffice to say, Tebow needs to shake this one off and start preparing for Georgia.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tebow's Eye-Black: Eph 4:32

In the game against Mississippi State, Tim Tebow is wearing eye-black featuring "Eph 4:32"

That, of course, is Ephesians 4:32, which says:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

That seems kind of appropriate for a game where he will be facing off against his longtime mentor, Dan Mullen.

Tim Tebow Ties Herschel Walker SEC Career Rushing TD Record

Tim Tebow just tied Herschel Walker's SEC career rushing TD record: 49.

And it was a fantastic run -- catching a too-high snap, then winging his way 20 yards through the secondary (including a stiff-arm to the face of a Bulldog defender), then finishing with a dive over/through the pylon. Fun one to break the record with.

(Oh, and it puts Florida up over Mississippi State 10-3, after two unsatisfying series that ended with a missed FG and a meh FG -- the result of being stuffed at the goal line three times.)

Tebow Game Day: Mississippi State

Countdown to 7:30 tonight in Starkville, and recapping the dominant Tebow-related memes of the week:

*What's wrong with the Tebow-led offense? (Not nearly as much as the conventional wisdom says there is.)

*Is Tebow still a Heisman contender? (Of course he is.)

*Hey: Did you hear that Dan Mullen and Tim Tebow used to be close? (Will be glad to get this one behind us.)

The Miami Herald's Jo Goodman gets your must-read game-day link, with a savvy analysis of where the offense stands -- in short, don't blame the offense... blame the expectations.

More later.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Defending Tebow's Heisman Consideration

I'm not quite sure I get the premise of Israel Guttierez's wannabe-contrarian, link-baiting column in the Miami Herald this morning about Tim Tebow and the Heisman.

*Is he trying to say that Tim Tebow doesn't deserve the Heisman?

*Or is he trying to say that he shouldn't even be a contender?

It's hard to tell. Both variations seem premature. But the headline is "Tebow not worthy of a second Heisman."

It probably would have behooved Gutierrez to hedge by saying "Through six games, he isn't worthy of being a top contender."

Because that's where things are right now -- it's pretty well-established that Mark Ingram took over the front-runner position after last weekend. (So it's not even a true contrarian angle to say Tebow doesn't deserve the Heisman -- the polls don't suggest he should be either!)

And so by extension, all Tebow is... is a contender. And I don't think that, through six games, it is crazy to call him a contender. Is that really Gutierrez's argument -- that Tebow doesn't even deserve to be a Heisman contender? I'm certainly willing to wait another seven games to make that determination. But let's unpack his argument through six games:

Gutierrez cites Tebow's pedestrian -- by previous Tebow standards -- stats. I don't think it's a bad thing that the Heisman moves away from mere pinball numbers as the key criteria.

Let's set aside the whole "Is Tebow the best college football player ever?" thing and focus on this Heisman-ish question: Is Tebow the best player in college football THIS season?

I think the answer -- as of now -- is "He might be." The point is: He's in the conversation. It's hardly unreasonable to list him as a contender.

And I think that, for better or worse, he (like all Heisman candidates) will be judged on a combination of his stats and Heisman mythology, which has always mattered. (That myth a combo of team success, hype and things like "Heisman moments.")

His individual stats are down -- Florida is still among the leaders nationally in both rushing and passing efficiency. He runs that show.

Florida is still 6-0, with the biggest win of the season so far by any team -- a night win at then-No. 4 LSU, with Tebow coming back from a concussion.

His hype has actually cooled a bit -- the concussion stuff created a bit of a frenzy, but it's not like last week's performance didn't ding him. (See the Heisman leap for Ingram ahead of Tebow.)

And Tebow hasn't had a "Heisman moment" yet. Coming back from the concussion -- the SI cover, I guess you could say -- was OK, but not exactly an affirmative argument. The pass on 3rd-and-10 to Riley Cooper? A great, game-impacting play, but overblown as a "Heisman moment."

And that's OK. Because there are 7 games left for him to have a moment -- or boost his stats, to whatever extent that will matter.

In fact, I'd argue that you can throw out the stats and just sit back until the SEC championship game. As long as Florida is 12-0 going into the game, Tebow's Heisman candidacy will live or die on that game.

Not how he's done against Troy. Or Tennessee. Or LSU. Or Arkansas. Or any of the other regular-season opponents. If Florida loses, he's done as a Heisman contender. Period. If they keep winning, it will all rest on the SEC title game.

Gutierrez dismisses Tebow's "leadership" as a Heisman factor -- I'd file that under "mythology-building" qualities -- because it wasn't enough to carry him to a Heisman a year ago, so why will it work now?

First, last year's Heisman loss was a factor of lots of other things Gutierrez ignores: Bradford's insane stats and "Tebow fatigue" -- particularly from the voters in the Midwest and Far West, who intentionally downgraded Tebow on their ballots to ensure he wouldn't beat out their favored candidates, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy.

Remember: Tebow earned more first-place votes than either Bradford or McCoy.

Second, this season is much different than last season. Rather than rolling to an unbeaten season, it is a struggle -- the narrative couldn't be more different than what had been projected in the summer... except that Florida is still unbeaten. Still: It is precisely because of Tebow's leadership "intangibles" (ugh, hate that word) in the context of how this season has gone for the Gators that is why he is still in contention. Consider that after the LSU slog -- poor stats and all -- Tebow was still in first place in the Heisman straw-polling. Why? "Leadership."

In the end, Tebow is still a Heisman contender because he deserves to be. There's an abstract collection of qualities that make for Heisman contenders -- Tebow has them.

It's not just that Gutierrez is jumping the gun on declaring Tebow's unworthiness -- it is that, on the merits of the Heisman "criteria" (such as they are), Tebow still fits fine as a contender.

Tebow-Mullen Relationship a Distraction?

That headline is misleading. I'm not suggesting that the longstanding, sibling-like (or even parent-like) relationship between Tim Tebow and Dan Mullen is a distraction to either guy.

I guess that's the point.

As it relates to the game, I don't think Tim Tebow gives a Dan about Mullen. I think, as always, Tebow wants to crush-kill-destroy. Tebow wants to win.

That's why, when he heard Mullen was leaving for Mississippi State, one of Tebow's first reactions was earnest concern for Mullen that the coach didn't realize he was setting himself up to lose to Florida 10 months later. Why would his mentor want to do that?

It doesn't matter that Tebow deeply cares for Mullen. He cares about winning more. He cares about his team more. He cares about Gator Nation more.

The same goes for Mullen: I think he would do anything short of having his players club Tebow in the head to win this game. (Heck, MSU gave LSU's defense a tougher time than Florida did.)

The Tebow-Mullen history is a sub-plot to the game, but ultimately one that matters exclusively off the field, rather than on it.

Mullen is not Tebow's mentor, not Tebow's friend. At least not tomorrow. Tomorrow, Mullen is simply "Coach of Mississippi State." And that coach must be beaten.

So is the relationship a distraction? To fans and media: Yes. Frankly, thinking about their history and dynamic is a nice way to pass the time this week until gameday.

But a distraction to Tebow and Mullen? No way.

(Be sure to read Pete Thamel's reporting on Dan Mullen's first year at Mississippi State. No one understands Meyer, Mullen and Tebow like Thamel.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tebow Myth: Role Mississippi State Plays

Forget the Tim Tebow-Dan Mullen storyline. Let's walk back the key role that Mississippi State plays in Tim Tebow's mythology:

(1) Florida loses to Mississippi State in 2004. Ron Zook is fired. Zook would have inevitably been fired anyway, but perhaps it would have taken until the end of the season -- or longer.

(2) During Ron Zook's lame-duck remainder of his coaching career, Florida AD Jeremy Foley is able to do the groundwork necessary to gain the edge over Notre Dame to hire Urban Meyer.

(Given Meyer's interest in Notre Dame, it is hard to imagine that Florida would have been successfully able to recruit Meyer if UF didn't have a two-month head start on the Irish.)

(3) Meyer makes it his recruiting mission to land Tim Tebow. Sure, Tebow would have considered Florida with Ron Zook as coach, but Alabama with Mike Shula -- Tebow's second choice -- would have had a much better shot.

(4) Tebow commits to Florida. History unfolds as we have seen it.

It is impossible to understate how history would have changed had Tebow gone to Alabama. Mike Shula surely would have kept his job another year or two... or more. Florida would not have won the national title in 2006. Or 2008. Jevan Snead would probably be your starting Florida QB. I don't know where Nick Saban would have been. Alabama, inevitably? Michigan?

There you have it: The 2004 loss to Mississippi State was the single-greatest thing to happen to Florida in school history, because it begat Meyer, who begat Tebow, who begat championships.

Tebow Milestones: Herschel Watch

As Ben Volin reminds, Tim Tebow is just 2 TDs from breaking Herschel Walker's SEC record for rushing TDs -- an absurd accomplishment on multiple levels:

*Tim Tebow is a quarterback. Dual-threat, but a QB all the same.

*Herschel Walker is... Herschel Freaking Walker. Only the greatest running back in the history of college football.

*Herschel did it in three years, but Tebow only played part-time as a freshman and it's only half-way through his senior year.

I love Volin's observation that there might be a little motivation for Urban Meyer to save the record-breaking TD for the week after this... against Georgia. Stomp on that, Richt.

And, as pointed out earlier this week, it's not like Florida doesn't have at least one other devastating option for running the ball into the end zone.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tim Tebow And The Offensive Imperative

Lots of talk -- tons of talk -- about the situation with Tim Tebow and the Florida offense right now.

He's running too much.
He's taking too many sacks.
Too many turnovers.

Most of these have been debunked: Of his 21 non-sack rushes on Saturday, he still went for nearly 5 yards per carry. Yeah, the pass-protection is problematic, but Florida is still a national leader in passing efficiency. Yeah, WAY too many turnovers. Although, to Tebow's own point, "6-0."

My Yahoo Dr. Saturday column about Tebow
this week attempts to point out that the most important play of the win over Arkansas was not any of Tebow's runs or the career-best TD pass to Thompson or the 3rd-and-10 to Cooper or the turnovers or the game-winning field goal.

It was the run on 1st and goal at the Arkansas 10-yard-line by Jeff Demps -- a scamper around the left side into the end zone, to tie the game at 20 and take away Arkanasas' momentum.

Why was this so revealing? Because I will guarantee you that EVERYONE -- including Arkansas -- figured it was "Tebow Time." Tebow up the gut, however many times it took to punch it in.

That the Gators went to Demps -- a big-play, TD-manufacturing machine -- especially on 1st down showed that they aren't nearly as Tebow-dependent as it looked (or looks) like.

Tebow is the most critical player on the team (even if I'm curious if this team could be good enough to win every game even with John Brantley at QB), but Jeff Demps has proven himself to be worthy of the adjective "Harvinesque."

Florida can't win with Tebow alone, as much as we'd all theoretically like to see it tried. Instead, enjoy the fact that your pulse races just as much when you see Demps get the ball.

Check out the complete column here.

Tim Tebow For Heisman: Want to Vote?

I have long thought that the "fan vote" should count for way more than 1/900th of the Heisman formula (literally), but some vote is better than no vote. If you want to vote for Tim Tebow for the 2009 Heisman -- I can safely presume you're not voting for Colt McCoy -- go here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tim Tebow vs. Dan Mullen

As close as Tim Tebow is to Urban Meyer, he was arguably even closer with Dan Mullen, his former offensive coordinator -- now the head coach at Mississippi State. The Tebow-Mullen relationship is, in fact, the most interesting storyline of the Florida-MSU game this Saturday night.

The Orlando Sentinel's Jeremy Fowler did some terrific reporting on it -- it's a must-read. (My favorite detail: When Tebow heard that Mullen was leaving, his first reaction was that Florida would beat him in the game this Saturday.)

Tebow on Deadspin, 10/20 Edition

Deadspin's Tommy Craggs delivers another edition of Tim Tebow Messiah Watch. (Ironically, it's much less blasphemous than you'd imagine.)

Related: In case you missed it on Friday, check out my essay on why Tebow's religious critics miss the mark.

Tebow Heisman Watch: Bumped to 2nd

HeismanPundit.com's weekly straw poll just came out and -- look at that -- Tim Tebow has been bumped from the top spot (where he has been all season) for Alabama RB Mark Ingram. Still plenty of time for "Heisman Moments" from Tebow -- hopefully, in a head-to-head match-up with Ingram in the SEC title game.

UPDATE: Tebow is also bumped to 2nd behind Ingram on ESPN.com's Heisman straw poll.

Tebow Leads The Thundercats

I love Jo Goodman's description from a few weeks ago of Florida's offense as "Thundercat" (rather than "Wildcat").

And he checks back in on it -- actually, reality-checks back in on it: Things aren't as dire as the naysayers are projecting.

Yes, the red-zone efficiency is not what it was last year. (One of the pillars of Meyer's "Plan to Win.") The turnovers are a problem. (Another pillar.) The sacks allowed are a big issue.

But, otherwise, things are clicking. Tim Tebow was right yesterday: Take away the takeaways and the margin of victory is substantially wider. (The same can be said about the Tennessee game.)

Goodman has a breakdown of all the relevant step-back-from-the-ledge stats, but this paragraph summed it up:

"Must the Gators rely on Tebow to win games? Obviously, yes. Should they? Absolutely. Is he not one of the greatest college football players in the history of the game? OK, so don't complain when the guy goes out and wins games."

Tebow Quote of the Day: The Running Man

"If it means we're going to win, absolutely."

-- Tim Tebow, from his news conference on Monday, on whether Tebow taking 20+ plus rushing attempts per game makes sense.

Meanwhile, Tebow made a lot of sense in redirecting the questions about Florida's offensive efficiency and his run-heavy role to the main point: The team is 6-0. "That's all you can ask for."

Monday, October 19, 2009

More On Tebow-Heavy Tebow Game-Plan

Following up the post below, check out the latest from the PBP's Ben Volin, also going into the use -- or overuse -- of Tebow pulling the ball down and running (or being called to run).

Includes some great stat analysis: Tebow is on pace to set career-high in carries... thanks to Tebow, Florida is No. 1 in the SEC in 3rd-down conversions... His pass-rush ratio is very close to 1:1.

The post synthesizes some things that Urban Meyer said about it -- plus adds some interesting insights from Gary Danielson, who basically says: "Do what you gotta do."

Tebow's Legs, Not His Head, Under Scrutiny

27 rushing attempts: Tim Tebow fans watching the Arkansas game didn't need to hear the final stat to know that Florida relied -- arguably overrelied -- on Tebow's legs against Arkansas.

27 rushes: That's more than the number of passes Tebow threw (26). It's nearly 50 percent more than the rushing attempts of the rest of the backfield, combined.

If someone told you two weeks ago that Tebow would run 27 times against Arkansas, three weeks after his concussion -- or that Florida coaches would let him -- you would be shocked.

But probably not surprised. And neither is Urban Meyer:

"He’ll go 1-2 (seconds) and get going. There are quarterbacks that are maybe 1-2-3-4. Those same quarterbacks aren’t completing a high percentage, aren’t as third-down efficient as Florida. Like all quarterbacks, some are great, some you need work at. His ability to get a first down, three in first half when he put his foot down and went. That’s part that makes him such a great player."

Take 5 minutes and read the best piece of Tebow-related analysis of the weekend, from the Sentinels' Jeremy Fowler. It is refreshingly candid.

The irony of Tebow's 27 rushing attempts was that if you had to pick out the three game-defining plays by the offense, No. 1 would be Tebow's throw to Riley Cooper on 3rd-and-10 on the final drive, to set up the game-winning FG.

No.2 would be Tebow's 77-yard bomb to Deonte Thompson -- the longest TD pass of Tebow's career and the first glimmer of momentum for Florida all game.

And No. 3 would be Jeff Demps' scamper into the end zone on 1st-and-goal, to tie the game 20-20 and put the Gators in a position to make a stop then drive for the win.

No question: A couple of Tebow's rushing attempts were key -- first downs here, turning Nth-and-long into N+1-and-short there. But they were also predictable.

I understand why Meyer would limit the touches for Chris Rainey. But doesn't it feel like Emmanuel Moody has earned more than 3 attempts? (More fumbles for Tebow against Arkansas than Moody.) And it would be great to see Jeff Demps crack 10 rushing attempts, given that every time he touches the ball, he either does something electrifying -- or has the potential to.

Tebow remains the best rushing option, both in short-yardage situations and when plays break down. The ultimate "game manager" wants to keep the ball in his own hands. I don't blame him, but you can still argue about the value of diversifying the workload.

Tebow Heisman Watch: The Drive

The Heisman race is wide open. Thayer Evans of the New York Times mentioned that Saturday's game-winning drive against Arkansas may have been Tebow's Heisman moment.

Snatching victory from season-killing defeat would certainly qualify -- as was that sick 12-yard pass on 3rd-and-10 to Riley Cooper to put the Gators in position to kick game-winning FG. From Tebow:

We believe in ourselves. It was 20-20 and the defense made a stop. We had the momentum. We knew beyond a shadow of a doubt we could keep getting first downs and run down that clock and kick a field goal. We kept believing and fighting....

...The next thing you know, it's third-and-10 and we just had to believe in (Cooper) and that we'd get it done. I just remember throwing it and saying, 'Shoot, that (Arkansas defensive back) looks so close.' I thought it might be a pick six (interception return for a touchdown)....

...The next thing I knew, Coop just dove in front and I saw the sideline cheer. We had the catch. That was a great play by Coop. He had to fight and go get that.

It was a tough throw by Tebow -- far more game-defining than any of his 27 (27!) rushing attempts.

The drive itself featured 14 plays covering 69 yards, chewing up all but the last few seconds of the last 3 minutes of the game. Tebow accounted for 52 of those 69 yards -- 30 passing and 22 rushing.

Colt McCoy had a tough game against Oklahoma. Expect to see a lot of momentum behind Alabama RB Mark Ingram, who chewed up South Carolina in another solid performance.

Tebow Superlatives: Longest TD Pass Ever

Just when you thought that Tim Tebow had done it all, his 77-yard TD pass to Deonte Thompson was the longest of Tebow's career. It also gave Florida its first lead of the game -- and the first semblance of momentum it had experienced in the game, too.

Tebow's analysis: "They actually sort of busted the coverage because the corner tried to cut and he thought I was going to go the corner route to Aaron [Hernandez] like I did three or four times and no one was covering (Thompson). It was funny because I didn't know it was a busted coverage and he didn't know it was a busted coverage."

Tebow Quote of the Day: "Tell Me It's Good"

"I was praying. I kept telling (Brantley), 'Tell me it's good! Tell me it's good!' I heard the fans. He didn't have to tell me."

-- Tim Tebow, on what he was doing when Caleb Sturgis kicked the game-winning field goal.

More: "Yeah, the end was really fun. Huh, you know, once I heard everybody cheering, and I opened my eyes and saw we made the field goal, that was fun. And that last guy that got tackled, that was very fun."

Tebow Promise, 2009 Edition

Tim Tebow delivered another memorable speech, this time against Arkansas.

It obviously wasn't at the level of "The Promise" -- only only wonders what Tebow would have had to say if the Gators had lost to Arkansas. And it wasn't the same as his Oklahoma halftime speech.

But, from all reports, it sounded like it was something new: No fire-and-brimstone, just quiet-spoken confidence that would help his teammates through the 10-3 halftime deficit -- after the worst half of play Florida has had in the Tebow Era.

David Nelson relayed the details (via Volin):
It wasn’t like a fiery speech. His face wasn’t red. He was just like, ‘I promise you, we’re going to do our thing. I trust you, you’re my brothers.’ It was more like he was reiterating his confidence in us. Don’t get too nervous about the situation, don’t start thinking we’re going to lose. Just believe in yourself, believe in each other and we’ll come out victorious.
Tebow himself provided some analysis of the prevailing attitude:

We were just fighting tooth and nail with everything we had to make that last play, make that last stop. At the end of the game, we were doing everything we could to win that game. I honestly think the reason we won was because of heart. We were not going to let each other down. We were not going to be stopped. We were going to get in field-goal range to put Sturgis in a position to make that. That was his attitude on that play. That was our coaches' attitude in believing in us.

For all the talk about Tebow's role on the field in the final drive, once again it is Tebow's off-field leadership -- his attention to the things that influence people -- that ultimately makes the difference.

Tim Tebow: Star of Gator Growl

From Gainesville Sun recap of 2009 Gator Growl:

"The crowd's ovation for [Tim Tebow] was so loud and so long that it left the usually talkative star blushing, looking uncomfortable and practically speechless, although he did finally flash the grin for which he has become famous."

This is why he came back. That, and the dramatic win in the game.

Tebow's Eye-Black: Psalms 23:1

On Saturday, Tim Tebow wore Psalms 23:1 on his eye-black:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

As I was in Las Vegas, I should have recognized "23" as an omen of Florida's point total.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tebow, Florida Escape With Homecoming Win

I'm about to get on a red-eye flight from Las Vegas back to New York, but I'm still filled with adrenaline from Florida's win over Arkansas. Or should that be "near-loss to Arkansas?"

Let's be clear: Championship teams win games -- even ones they aren't supposed to. They find a way to win, where others stumble.

That was Florida today. Frankly, that was Tim Tebow today. The turnovers weren't pretty. The early game plan for him wasn't effective.

But when it mattered, Tebow stepped up: With that huge TD toss to Thompson. With those scrambles. With those key completions on the final drive to set up the game-winning FG.

This team is now the epitome of that "game manager" idea from last week: They do what it takes to win. It's not pretty. But it works.

More later.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tim Tebow's Final Homecoming

"Let's do it again. I'm coming back!"

That was Tim Tebow, declaring his intention to return for his senior season at Florida.

He did it because he liked his platform as college football's most popular player of all time. He did it because he wanted to lead Florida to its first undefeated season ever. He did it because he wanted to work on his game for the NFL.

And he did it because he loves college, loves his life at college and loves the University of Florida.

That makes Tebow's final homecoming game bittersweet. It's not quite the same as his final game at The Swamp -- "homecoming" has always been a little more about the formal pomp.

But it is one more milestone in Tebow's final year at Florida.

As a huge Florida fan himself, Tebow has a natural affection for traditions like homecoming -- I don't think the moment will be lost on him, even if he can't wander among the tailgates like he will in future seasons, as a returning alum.

It's not like Tebow needs a whole lot of extra motivation, but wherever he finds it -- in dispelling the claim that he is now a "game manager" QB (even if Tebow himself supports the theory), in reclaiming his pre-concussion focus -- it will carry the subtext that this is his final homecoming game as a student.

I'm sure the University Alumni Association has its own countdown until Tebow becomes a donation-making graduate.

Arkansas has been a perky team this season -- its offense, led by Ryan Mallett, is very good (although they have never seen a D like this before). But its defense is not very good, and Tebow and Co. should find plenty of opportunities to dazzle the crowd.

Would You Bet On Tim Tebow?

Forgive the sparse posting yesterday. I have been in Las Vegas for a conference -- my first time here, actually.

I just wandered past my hotel's sports book, where Florida is a 25-point favorite over Arkansas, and it begs the question: Would I bet on Tim Tebow?

Not existentially -- but with my cold, hard cash?

The answer was surprisingly easy: No way.

It's actually a no-win proposition: If I bet on Tebow and think the Gators will win by more than 25 points, I may find myself disappointed with a 20-point win. If I bet on Arkansas to lose by less than 25 points, I may find myself disappointed with a 30-point rout.

No judgments, but I can't imagine how anyone bets on their own team, unless they are doing it straight up. (But at a 25-point spread, a straight-up bet would net me pennies for my dollar.)

At least for me, better to leave it be and not mix my fandom with my urge to correctly predict college football games more nationally.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tebow's Religious Critics Miss The Mark

Tim Tebow's public religious expression has hit the radar this week.

USA Today religion columnist Tom Krattenmaker put up a column on Monday questioning the very visible way Tebow expresses his religion. Fort Myers News-Press columnist Sam Cook took that column and ran with it -- fairly far off the deep end.

Let's start with this: Both columnists are entitled to their opinion. And, as someone Jewish and with a predominantly secular view of the world, I think I have an appropriately skeptical filter by which to evaluate Tebow.

And what I would say is this: I have scrutinized and analyzed Tebow's expression of his faith about as intensely as anyone, and both critics are plagued by a shallow understanding of how Tebow expresses his faith -- at least as it happens on the football field.

Maybe this is just great expectations management -- and that would be in line with Tebow's interest in harnessing the power of influence -- but, if anything, Tebow is remarkable for the selectivity he displays in showcasing his values on the field.

Start with this: Faith is core to who Tebow is. Whatever one's core belief system or priority might be, it will be next-to-impossible to remove it entirely from the rest of your life. Let's not make judgments about what that priority might be.

When you watch Tebow play football, you get one expression of that faith: The eye-black. And, frankly, if you were interested in expressing yourself and whatever you did to express yourself instantly became the No. 1 most-searched term on Google, you'd do it, too.

And I do see it as expression: I think that Tebow wears the eye-black as an expression of his faith -- if folks want to see what that expression means, that's their choice. It's not like he's forcing you to go Google "Phil 4:13."

After the eye-black? Well... that's about it.

Want to know what Tim Tebow does first when he throws a touchdown? He jumps into the arms of his linemen. Then he might do the Gator Chomp. What you don't see him doing -- at least regularly -- is the "clasped-hands" thing that Danny Wuerffel used to do.

Have you ever listened to Tim Tebow give a post-game interview on the field? He doesn't start with "First, I'd like to thank my lord and savior, Jesus Christ." Actually, he starts with something far more banal: "That was a great win." And "My teammates played great." And "I feel so good for all of Gator Nation."

Does he end the interview with "God bless?" Yes. I'd hardly call that in-your-face proselytizing.

There is a very important reason -- I'd even go so far as to call it a self-serving reason -- that Tebow, in fact, does NOT put his religion in the face of fans, as his critics have misleadingly characterized:

As a student of influence, Tebow knows that if he was heavy-handed about it, he would be marginalized by the masses, including the mass media. If he was in-your-face about it, his efforts would have the opposite effect -- you'd be turned off to him... and his message.

Compare the way Tim Tebow talks to the media with the way Bob Tebow talks to the media. Bob is much more vocal in his proselytizing -- that may be a reason why you don't see him being interviewed on TV all that often. But Bob isn't a public figure -- he is a very dedicated missionary.

Tim is obviously dedicated, too, but is a public figure. As such, Tim has a much keener and intuitive understanding of influence and message management.

Tebow may have core beliefs about the salvation of the soul, but he often talks of far more earthly goals: Getting people to live in more socially mindful ways -- effectively, it's nothing more dogmatic than the Golden Rule.

Tebow knows that there are plenty of people out there -- the vast majority of people -- who have no interest in being saved. So his goal with them is to simply inspire them to be better people, better contributors to society. That's why he helped raise money for a pediatric unit of Florida's Shands hospital. That's entirely non-secular, and something everyone can rally around.

In that way, Tebow is actually quite the humanist. Is he a secular humanist? No. But there should be room for both kinds, right?

I have no idea how Tim Tebow feels about me and my soul. I can suspect that he thinks that because I don't believe in Jesus Christ, I'm damned. He probably has genuine concern for me about that, even if I myself am not concerned.

But I can also suspect that if he and I sat down to chat, his mission would not be to convert me. He knows that's not what I'm interested in -- and that, if pressed, I would tune him out. Instead, I would imagine he would ask me how I could use my media platform to help raise money for the hospital -- or the charity of my choice, frankly.

In fact, if I ever get the chance to talk with Tebow -- for this blog, or otherwise -- it is precisely this topic of how he thinks about the public consumption of his values that I'd find most fascinating to talk about.

It is really easy -- too easy, actually -- for critics to focus on the very publicized display (even distraction) of the eye-black and leap to the conclusion that Tim Tebow is somehow inflicting his religious values on the rest of us in a way that reinforces that religion has no place in sports.

I think it's more interesting -- and accurate -- to see the bigger picture: What Tebow ISN'T doing, as much as what he is doing.

For more on this, please see my post from August 31st about Tebow's Christianity...and his Humanism.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tim Tebow vs. Ryan Mallett

Who is the 2nd-best QB in the SEC? With Jevan Snead's collapse -- and Arkansas' break-out passing game -- it has to be Razorbacks QB Ryan Mallett.

Let's go one step further: I think that Mallett will be judged the better NFL prospect -- perhaps among the best NFL QB prospects in college football. (Yes, including Sam Bradford.) Mallett is like a taller Matt Stafford with an even better arm.

But Mallett is no Tebow -- don't let it escape you that in the Sporting News' latest NFL Mock Draft, they have Tim Tebow going 9th overall (within TimTeblog.com projections of Tebow going in the Top 10). Good news: 2nd QB taken. Bad news: To the Raiders. Ugh.

Remember when everyone thought Louisville's Brian Brohm was the best NFL prospect in college football -- then he came back to school instead of going into the draft and his stock collapsed.

Mallett -- coached by Brohm's old mentor, Bobby Petrino -- will see that, see what happened to Sam Bradford this season, see how much money Matt Stafford made and skedaddle into the NFL after this season (as a redshirt sophomore, he is eligible).

Anyway, all that adds up to an intriguing match-up between Mallett and Tebow this weekend. Of course, Tebow gets to play against Arkansas' soft defense, and Mallett will be challenged by what could turn out to be the best defense in the history of college football. Good luck with that.

With 48 hours until Florida-Arkansas, check out Jeremy Fowler's insightful tale-of-the-tape between Tebow and Mallett.

I'm in Las Vegas -- for the first time ever, actually -- for a sports-blog conference. Don't think I won't be talking up TimTeblog.com and you terrific readers as the future of sports media.

More a little later.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tim Tebow On Cover Of Sports Illustrated

This week's Sports Illustrated cover was presumably an easy choice: Tim Tebow versus LSU:

Tebow Thought of Day: Game Manager, Cont'd

With all this talk about Tebow-as-"game-managing" QB and the emphasis on Florida's punishing ground game to go with its dominating D, it looks like Tebow will come a lot closer to resembling Nebraska's legendary Tommie Frazier this year than we would have thought in the preseason.

Frazier, too, led a punishing, dominating running game (with, by the way, an effective and underrated passing TD rate: 18 TDs, 6 INTs... to go with his 16 rushing TDs and 7.1 ypc average) combined with the best defense in the country. Sound familiar?

And consider that -- relying on the steamroller run game, a magnificently skilled "game-manager" QB and a dominating D -- those Frazier Nebraska teams of '94 and '95 are considered the greatest of all time. (At least, for now.)

Tebow Recognizes Value of Game Manager

"We just have to manage. A big part of my job is to manage, put the offense in good situations, get first downs and be very conservative with turnovers. We'll be putting our team in a position to win."

-- Tim Tebow, on the conversion of Florida's offense from "good gosh-amighty" to "good enough." This quote speaks to the heart of my analysis from yesterday about Tebow as "game manager."

More from Tebow on this subject -- essentially supporting my thesis that Urban Meyer's "Plan to Win" doesn't necessarily involve huge performances from Tebow:

"This team is a little different than in the past. We know it's OK if we drive the ball down [then punt] and put our defense in good position. Not many teams are going to drive 90 yards against our defense. We want to play great defense, have zero turnovers, score in the red zone and win the kicking game. That's our plan to win. If we do that, we're going to win a lot of games."

Now, let's be clear: That doesn't mean that Tebow can't or won't have a big role -- it just means he will pick his spots: A drive-sustaining first-down plunge here, a timely pitch to Demps for a red-zone TD there... but, more than anything, simply chewing up the clock, grinding down defenses and limiting turnovers.

Heisman Watch: Tebow Still Leads Poll

I can't remember the last time a "game manager" QB won the Heisman -- but Tim Tebow is going to make a run at it. Tebow still leads the HeismanPundit.com straw poll of voters -- obviously, his performance against LSU defied statistics and was more about the kind of mythology that Heisman voters seem to like.

That said: Still feels like Colt McCoy, No. 2 this week with a slim lead over -- sigh -- obligatory Notre Dame QB [Jimmy Clausen], is the guy to beat. McCoy's performance against Oklahoma on Saturday could be make-or-break.

(Of note: Nebraska DT Ndamkong Suh entered the Top 5, with two 1st-place votes. This is no Charles Woodson situation, where a defensive player goes both ways to curry favor with Heisman voters; Suh is simply dominant on the D-line. I could see Tebow -- as a Heisman voter himself -- appreciating the low-hype, high-bulldozing value of Suh as "best player in college football.")

If stats do matter -- and I would argue that Heisman voters would have to nullify big stats as a requirement if they are to keep rationalizing Tebow as the No. 1 contender -- this weekend should help Tebow. Despite his new role as "game manager" QB, Tebow should have a much bigger day offensively against Arkansas' porous defense than he did against LSU.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tim Tebow As The New Trent Dilfer

Let's start with this: I am thrilled to have the Tebow post-concussion stuff behind us. We can finally concentrate on the next opponent, the rest of the season, etc.

What I found most interesting about the game on Saturday night was Tebow's tentativeness -- with good reason, mind you.

But the net result was that he was a different quarterback. Out was "Tebow Smash"; in was Tebow as... game manager?

My Yahoo column today about Tebow
dives right into this modified version of Tebow. They didn't take the wraps off -- they put the wraps on.

And that's not a bad thing -- and I'm not just talking about the attempt to keep him healthy.

"Game manager" QBs get a bad rap, despite the success of archetypes like Trent Dilfer for the Ravens (2000), Craig Krenzel for Ohio State (2002) and even Chris Leak in 2006.

The common thread: They were all championship-winning QBs, although they had to subordinate their individual skills to their team's core strengths.

In Florida's case in 2009, that's the defense. That's the special teams. That's the running backs. That's Aaron Hernandez. Tebow is a strength, too -- just not the exclusive one.

And so we see the Tebow we got in Baton Rouge -- limited, safe passes (for the most part). Limited, safe runs (for the most part). And, ultimately, success.

Tebow was what I had predicted John Brantley would be if he had started: Good enough.

To his credit -- and probably the only way he would have gotten in or stayed in the game -- Tebow modified his game to match the opponent and his teammates' strengths.

If that makes him Trent Dilfer 2.0, so be it. Tebow still has the potential to pop off the 9-yard scramble, the 2-yard surge or the wobbly toss to a streaking WR off a play-action to himself.

I noted this in the column: Tebow in 2006 was a phenom. Tebow in 2007 was an individually brilliant stat-stuffer. Tebow in 2008 was a champion and a Ferrari driver.

The only thing left for Tebow to accomplish in college was to modify himself into the "game manager" who simply wins games. And, in Tebow's case, wins titles.

Will Arkansas' defense allow for "Tebow to be Tebow" in a way that LSU's defense -- and the proximity to the concussion -- didn't? Probably.

But there was nothing on Saturday night to indicate that if Tebow DOES play more within himself -- more "smart" (his words) -- the Gators can't keep rolling along.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tebow Quote of the Day: Steve Young

"He was also encouraging me not to push it and different things that would help, as far as sleeping, just resting your mind, doing things, not pushing it. Something big he said, what I do is you always want to go run a sprint, see how it feels. Well, then you’re taking a little step back. He said, ‘Just take time off, and then when they say do your tests, then you’re OK. Don’t keep testing yourself.’ And that was something, I’m kind of a competitor, so I like to do that. But just let yourself rest and you’ll be back soon enough."

-- Tim Tebow, today discussing the impact of conversations with Steve Young last week. The No. 1 obstacle for Tebow to overcome against LSU was going to be his own default setting to "push it." If he can harness that appropriately, he may not be the same "Tebow Smash!" as before the concussion, but he will probably be a more effective and complete quarterback.

Tebow Quote of the Day: The Plane Ride

"I think God kept me healthy on that flight, because most of the time, I would have gotten sick on that plane ride. I was sitting on the plane, holding on the whole time, trying not to get sick. I was very happy and thankful that I didn't."

-- Tim Tebow, about the Gators' turbulent plane ride to Baton Rouge, which layers in another chapter to Tebow mythology. (Presumably, if he had gotten sick on the plane -- even if it was from the turbulence, not post-concussion symptoms -- the docs probably would have made him sit.)

Tebow vs. LSU Post-Script: Good Enough

I agree with Yahoo's Matt Hinton: It is disingenuous to suggest that Tim Tebow was "superhuman" against LSU -- that it was Tebow's efforts that carried Florida to the win.

Was it impressive (even thrilling) to see Tebow take the field -- at all -- just two weeks after his concussion? Absolutely.

But as long as Florida's defense was shutting down LSU -- limiting them to 3 points and effectively zero offense -- it seems wild-eyed to suggest that, say, John Brantley couldn't have led Florida's offense to the more than 3 points necessary to win the game.

I'm with Urban Meyer: There was a bit of "courageous" in Tebow for playing the entire game -- even after a (justifiably) tentative start, making a few key plays himself in the 2nd half.

But let's not confuse Tebow's performance with WHY Florida win: It was the defense, which is not just the best in the country this season, but sizes up as among the best of all time.

Tim Tebow doesn't have to be Superman -- not with this defense.

At least for now, that's probably for the best.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tebow Is Back: Conservative Approach Wins

In the end, Florida did exactly what I predicted they could and would do:

They beat LSU at LSU without Tim Tebow.

Now, obviously, Tim Tebow played (thrillingly) -- but it's not like he was TIM TEBOW, otherworldly greatest-player-of-all-time QB.

He was Tim Tebow, game-manager. He threw just 16 passes, with just one TD. He had 17 carries and averaged barely more than 2 yards per carry, with most of those 38 yards on a few key carries.

Oh, it was good enough -- more than enough, actually.

Why? For the same reasons I thought Florida would win the game with John Brantley at QB: Defense. Special Teams. Creating LSU turnovers and limiting their own. Red zone efficiency. Urban Meyer's "Plan to Win."

Meyer: "Obviously, Tim came out and played his heart out. Our offensive line did a good job of protecting him for the most part. We were somewhat conservative. So much of that game plan depends on how your defense is playing and special teams. Those two phases were tremendous. This is a great win."

It was a great win -- instantly, one of the Top 5 wins of the Tebow Era. Yes, because of the context of what the win was -- but also because of what the win was NOT. It was not "classic" Tebow, in that he was dominating. It was classic Tebow in that he did whatever was necessary to help Florida win the game -- even subordinating his style to fit the extreme situation.

"I'm not going to go out there and play tentative and scared. That's not me," Tebow said. "I did try to play smart."

The gameplan was so interesting in the first half -- it was a tentative offense, run by a seemingly tentative Tebow. And it worked -- thanks to the running backs. (Has Emmanuel Moody had a better game for Florida?)

In the second half, we saw a glimpse of -- as Meyer put it last week -- "Tim being Tim." Taking the ball himself and plunging up the middle. But this more conservative Tebow was still very effective, in his own non-spectacular way.

Coming into the game, I was EXTREMELY nervous about the prospects of Tebow playing -- I was concerned that he would exacerbate the concussion. And, yes, throughout the game, when they called his number, I cringed.

(Tebow had no such problems: "Actually I liked it. First time I got hit, everything felt good, I was like all right. I'm ready to go.")

And while I thought that Florida could beat LSU without Tebow playing like his 2007 or 2008 versions, I was thrilled to see him in there -- thrilled to see him playing within himself (even a temporarily conservative "himself") and within Florida's protectionist game plan.

And between Tebow, the running backs, Aaron Hernandez, the special teams (besides Sturgis' FG miss) and -- of course, more than anything -- the otherworldly defense, which might not just be the best in the country this season but among the best of all time, Florida is back on track as the team to beat.

Tebow is back. Not necessarily the old Tebow. But how could you not like this new Tebow?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tebow's Eye-Black: Thessalonians 5:18

Tebow is cleared to play, on the field for warmups with the 1st team and sporting the following on his eye-black:

Thessalonians 5:18

"In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God concerning you."

In essence: Give thanks, no matter what your circumstance.

Tebow seems to be indicating that even though this has been arguably the toughest two weeks of football of his life, he is thankful for it -- as well as the chance to be back on the field tonight.

(Watch Google Trends tonight -- I guarantee that Thessalonians 5:18 will be a top search.)

Tebow Gameday at LSU: Who Knows?

This has been the longest two weeks in the history of Florida football fandom. (At least it has been for me -- I'd be curious if anyone DIDN'T agree.)

I'm not even sure that the questions and concerns will be answered at 8 -- or post-game.

Whether the Gators win or lose -- with or without Tebow -- it doesn't solve the essential question: Is Tim Tebow 100 percent healthy?

Will we cringe every time he plunges up the gut -- whether that is tonight or next week or next month? Or, at this point, are his chances of another concussion no greater than anyone who has never had one?

Oh, sure, if Tebow leads the Gators to a win -- that's one scenario. If he plays and they lose, that's another. If Brantley leads the team to a W without Tebow -- that's another. If Brantley-led Florida loses -- that's the last biggest scenario.

Most of the extreme anticipation for tonight is that the outcome -- and how we get there -- is entirely unclear.

Over the past two weeks, I (and we) have dissected this as far as it will go. My feeling is that Florida can win the game without Tebow.

Maybe that is just projection: I am so nervous about Tebow's health that I don't WANT to see him out there tonight -- but I still obviously want a Gators win.

If he plays, I will be holding my breath with the rest of you. But I suspect that if Florida follows Meyer's Plan to Win -- if they rely on their all-world defense, special teams, O-line and short-game skill-position players like Demps and Hernandez -- they can win. They will win.

Even without Tebow.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Latest Report: Tebow "Definitely" Will Play (Updated)

So there's an unconfirmed report that Tebow will "definitely" play tomorrow night. (I'm sorry: The report says he will definitely START. Give me a break.)

I'm skeptical -- what if Florida is winning decisively... what's the point of playing Tebow? (Let alone STARTING him?)

Further, what's the point of announcing with ANY certainty that Tebow will play? Why put pressure on the coaches to follow through, even in the event the context to play isn't right?

This also seems out of character for Meyer's normally tight-lipped coaching staff. I have a hard time believing that they would selectively leak to a local TV reporter.

In the end, something like "he will definitely play" sounds more like someone's idea of wishful thinking than reality.

I'm not saying he WON'T play. I still think that Florida will be executing well enough that Tebow won't NEED to play, that Meyer won't need to risk playing him unnecessarily.

It is possible that necessity will raise itself. But I'm not quite sure I see the logic in playing Tebow just for the sake of giving him a couple of snaps in what should be a game Florida can control.

*****

UPDATE: Saurian Sagacity with a terrific point -- folks were saying "definitely" about Percy Harvin before the SEC Championship Game last year. So it's likely either wishful thinking, bad sourcing or intentional disinformation (um, "gamesmanship.")

Tebow LSU Pick: Won't Play, Gators Win Anyway

Tim Tebow will be on the sidelines, in uniform, for tomorrow night's game at LSU. He will be cleared to play. He will be roaming the sidelines, inspiring his teammates. He will act as an assistant QB coach, talking John Brantley through the game.

And Tebow will not play.

The goal will be to do enough to beat LSU without needing to call on Tebow.

And John Brantley will be good enough -- limited mistakes, thanks to an offensive game plan intentionally designed to keep Brantley from trying to do too much.

Florida's defense will be spectacular -- worthy of its best-in-the-nation designation. Florida's special teams will be key, particularly in winning field-position battles. Florida's RBs will carry the load -- Jeff Demps is a TD machine. Surprise players will take direct snaps.

Tim Tebow is the best player on Florida's team. He is the best player in college football. He may even be the best player in college football history.

And even still, Florida will beat LSU at LSU...without Tebow.

Florida 27, LSU 16

That Florida could beat LSU at LSU without Tebow: What does that say about Tebow? What does that say about this team? Plenty of time to talk about that next week.

Put your own game predictions -- a score, how you think the Tebow scenario will play out -- in the comments.

More posts up until gametime, as developments demand.

Tebow vs. LSU: Will He Play?

Will Tim Tebow play? With a little less than 36 hours until kickoff in Baton Rouge, this has become THE story of the game.

Here's what we know -- or think we know:

*Tebow will be cleared to play.

*Urban Meyer won't decide IF Tebow will play until kickoff -- or, in my opinion, well into the game, when he can see if Tebow absolutely MUST play.

*Florida's complementary parts -- the defense, the special teams, the RBs -- are enough to beat LSU at LSU with John Brantley as QB.

I think that Meyer will NOT play Tebow if he can help it.

*****
Here is a very interesting analysis by the Palm Beach Posts's Ben Volin summarizing the 9 reasons Brantley will play -- and should play -- and why Tebow won't and shouldn't.

And here is my Sporting News column from this morning about why Florida won't need to go to Tebow, which brings up all sorts of interesting postscripts of its own next week.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Media Tebow LSU Picks: A Cop-Out, Then Redemption

I really am a big fan of Robbie Andreu's work as the Gators reporter for the Gainesville Sun. But it is a cop-out for him to lead his LSU prediction post with this:
One thing I’m not going to predict is whether Tim Tebow starts Saturday night. Let’s just say I won’t be shocked if he does, I won’t be shocked if he doesn’t.
Way to take a stand. You know the topic as well as anyone, but won't provide an educated guess? Who cares if you're wrong? Will you lose your job? No. Will Meyer not talk with you? No.

And I'm not even concerned with whether Andreu thinks Tebow will START -- in fact, I don't think anyone thinks that. I want to know if Andreu thinks Tebow will PLAY... at all.

I don't think it's too much to ask the hometown beat reporter to offer up a prediction -- or at least some dogged connect-the-dots reporting of the between-the-lines coachspeak that would give us some insights into which way he thinks the coaches and medical staff are leaning -- on this. If he isn't going to make a prediction, he should at least point readers to the relevant evidence that will help them make their OWN prediction.

Robbie redeems himself with what comes next, which echoes something I've been saying for two weeks:
But I will predict this: the Gators are good enough to win this game without Tebow. They’re better on both lines of scrimmage than LSU, they’re better on defense, they’re better on special teams.
Amen to that. And he seconds my take that Meyer's "Plan to Win" has never been about Tebow exclusively, but areas of the game where the Gators can excel -- with or without Tebow:

Meyer’s plan to win will be in full effect for this one. That means play strong defense, take care of the football, score in the red zone, win special teams and the battle for field position.

Most of all, I love that he agrees with my opinion that the Gators will win the game:
So, here’s the prediction. It won’t be pretty (unless you really love defensive football), but the Gators will have enough to get it done no matter who starts at quarterback: Florida 24, LSU 21.
Read the whole thing -- while the opening frustrated me, Andreu's analysis is nuanced and dead-on. And I'm not just saying that because I've been spouting similar theories all week.

My official game prediction is coming tomorrow. If you've been keeping up here, it won't surprise you.

Tim Tweetbow: Tebow Tweet of the Day

The definitive Tebow-related Tweet of the Day, courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel:
@osgators: Nothing will be official till Saturday, but the buzz is leaning toward #Tebow playing barring no concussion aftereffects.
What are we talking about here? A couple plays? A couple series? Will he be expected to run? Will the game scenario -- close, blowout, Brantley struggling (turnovers or ineffectiveness) -- matter?

UPDATE: More, per Fowler and the Sentinel:

"But the feeling among the team seems to be growing that Tebow will be medically cleared to play. After that, a tough decision must be made."

I'll stick with this: Play him only in the most dire of circumstances of Brantley's failure -- which I don't think will occur, given the way the system will hedge against his problems.

Tebow Must-Read: "Empty Tebow" Xs & Os

Drop what you're doing and read this incredible analysis of Florida's Tebow-less ("Empty Tebow") offense by Smart Football's Chris Brown (published just now on Yahoo's Dr. Saturday). So much good stuff in here, I can't even begin to pull out highlights. Just read it.

*****

OK, I couldn't help myself. This was the rambling fanboyish email I sent to Chris in response to reading his column:
I am so thrilled you broke down Florida's offense under Brantley.

I think he'll start and play the whole game -- mainly because I don't think Florida will lose, and if Florida gets a lead or even keeps it close -- presuming Brantley isn't keeping it close by turning the ball over -- Meyer will leave Tebow on the bench, because, in the end, the risk is so high. Too high.

And, though it might implode the worldview of many Tebow fans, Brantley is good enough -- and this Florida team around him is great enough -- that he can be the QB to win the game at LSU.

Consider that for a sec: A QB making his first start ever at LSU at night against a purportedly Top 5 team will helm the team to a win. That says one thing about LSU, another about Tebow's value (real vs. perceived) and another about how ridiculously good this Florida team is AROUND Tebow.

What keeps getting overlooked: Florida's defense is the best in the country. It might be the best of all time. They should be able to hold LSU to under 20 points -- maybe under 13 or 14. I *presume* that Florida's D will score a TD of its own.

I also presume that Florida's special teams -- again, best in the country -- will score a TD. (Or trigger a game-changing punt-block or limit LSU's return game significantly.)

So the rest of the team is spotting Brantley -- and the defense -- 14 points. Even if Brantley can't get in the end zone, field position battles -- which Meyer excels at -- should put Florida in 2-3 FG opps, minimum. That's 20-21 points, clearing the "20" hurdle the defense will have to hold LSU to.

And that doesn't even count Jeff Demps, who has scored a TD every game this season -- as a runner, he is every bit as explosive as Percy at Harvin's most healthy. He should get his, too. That's 27-28. There's no way that LSU scores 27 on this defense.

UNLESS: Brantley fumbles or throws INTs that create easy points opportunities for LSU.

Which brings me back to my point: Unless Brantley is incompetent -- not just mediocre -- Tebow won't play. If Brantley is atrocious, Urban may play Tebow. But the more likely scenario is that Urban doesn't put Brantley in a position to be atrocious. He will put him in a position to avoid big mistakes, even if that also avoids big plays. He doesn't need them -- at least on offense, from the QB. They can come from Joe Haden on D or Brandon James on PR or Jeff Demps running the ball.

With a team like Florida's around Brantley, Meyer can afford to do that. See the way he handled Chris Leak in '06. Conservative -- and the only stumbling block that year was at Auburn, when Muschamp figured out Meyer's offense and the green Gators' D -- not this group of 2010 and 2011 NFL rookies -- couldn't get a stop. LSU ain't getting Auburn's chance.

OK, I'll end my rant now.
You bet that read like a hopped-up message-board post. (Maybe I'll republish it at GatorSports.com Message Boards or GatorCountry.) That's how excited I am about the game Saturday night. So many unknowns. So many possible scenarios.

And yet I'm so confident -- makes-me-uncomfortable confident -- that the Gators will win, even without Tebow playing.

Tebow vs. LSU: 2006 (The Jump Pass)

The Jump Pass.

That sort of says it all, doesn't it?

For Tim Tebow, the 2006 LSU game was a coming-out party. Prior to that, he had a few moments -- notably the win-influencing (if not precisely game-winning) 4th-down conversion against Tennessee -- but nothing mythological.

Tebow had only 11 plays, but -- oh -- what plays: He was 2/2 passing... with 2 TDs. And he had 9 carries for 35 yards (a respectable 3.9 ypc given that LSU's defense was very good and they knew Tebow would be running) and a rushing TD that tied the score 7-7 at the end of the 1st quarter.

The jump pass came with just seconds to play in the 2nd quarter. The score was still 7-7. Behind Chris Leak, Florida had driven 7 plays, from their own 28 to LSU's 14 (after a UF false-start penalty). Two LSU penalties later, the Gators were on LSU's 4...

Tebow Time.

Tebow plunged through the pile 3 yards, setting up 2nd and goal from LSU's 1, with 28 seconds to play. Then, with the half about to end, Tebow lined up again, with the assumption by everyone -- most of all, by LSU, that Urban would bet on a Tebow plunge.

Instead, Tebow hesitated, faked and went up the air. He double-clutched -- like a basketball shot, I remember Verne Lundquist saying immediately -- and the ball found Tate Casey, who fell backwards like a toddler, gripping the ball like it was the first catch of his life.

The legend of the "Jump Pass" was created. Here's the video (it's blurry, but homemade, which makes it a lot more exciting than the standard TV clip):



The Gators would use the win as a springboard. Despite losing at Auburn one week later -- how deflating! -- Florida would sprint through the SEC title game and into their first national title of the Tebow Era.

Kirk Herbstreit had one of the best Tebow-related quotes ever, which he relayed in the preseason when he was doing his GameDay media tour. He discussed his first trip in person to see Tebow, at The Swamp for the LSU game. And he recounted that Tebow got more crowd support than anyone -- and it was loud:

"I said to (Chris) Fowler it’s like he's Roy Hobbs from the movie 'The Natural.'"

Agreed.

If my infatuation with Tim Tebow didn't come on his very first play as a Gator -- and I would argue its genesis was his first carry in the first game (a TD against Southern Miss in the season-opener) -- the Jump Pass was the moment when I and everyone else were overwhelmed by Tebow Mania. It was his 5th game ever.

To Herbie's point, Malamud's fictional "The Natural" is probably the closest thing to the real-life Tebow myth. (Roy Hobbs and Tim Tebow aren't precise analogies, but they remain appropriate: Both are idealized "naturals" in their given sports.

The only difference: Tebow is real. LSU's senior class -- the ones on the field and the sidelines at The Swamp in 2006 -- would know that better than anyone.