0

Sophomore sensation
Tebow on verge of making Heisman history

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The night before a game typically goes like this for Tim Tebow: He attends a team dinner and walkthrough, retreats to his hotel room to finish up schoolwork, watches football, makes a smoothie, then gets about 10 hours of sleep.

Yes, even Florida's superhero needs rest.

It prepares him for a much-simpler routine: creating touchdowns, which he has done better than just about everyone else in the country this season.

Florida's too-good-to-be-true quarterback, the guy who couldn't possibly live up to all the hype, has exceeded expectations in his first year as a starter.

Tebow became the first player in NCAA history to run for at least 20 touchdowns and pass for at least 20 touchdowns in the same season. He eclipsed the school's single-season record for total offense with 3,970 yards, and he broke the Southeastern Conference's single-season record for rushing touchdowns.

Now, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Tebow is going for another first: he could become the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy.

'It's unbelievable, and it's an honor just to be mentioned for it,' Tebow said. 'It's a huge award. It's something I've watched my whole life. It has been a crazy season, so who knows what can happen?'

If Tebow does win college football's most coveted award, it wouldn't be an upset. In fact, Tebow is considered a front-runner along with Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden.

Tebow ran for 469 yards and eight touchdowns in a backup role last season, playing mostly in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Could he throw? That was the big question surrounding Tebow this year, and he answered it emphatically.

Tebow ranks second in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing efficiency (177.9). The left-hander has completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,132 yards, with 29 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

'I think everybody is surprised how well he threw the ball this year,' Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said. 'You knew he could throw; he's got a very strong arm. But his accuracy? To complete over 65 percent of his passes and be second in the nation in passing efficiency, that takes some skill throwing the football. And I think that's where he really surprised everybody this year.'

Tebow still did plenty of running, too.

He even ran with a sore shoulder - he took painkilling shots before the last five games - and played most of the second half against Florida State with a broken right (non-throwing) hand.

Tebow has 838 yards rushing and 22 scores. Only UCF's Kevin Smith (30) and Tulane's Matt Forte (23) have more rushing touchdowns this season. Tebow can add to his numbers when the ninth-ranked Gators (9-3) play Michigan in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day.

For the last few weeks, coach Urban Meyer said he needed more information about the other candidates before he would say whether Tebow deserved the Heisman.

Meyer got his answer last weekend.

'I think Tim should win it,' the Florida coach said. 'I don't like to speak unless I have an opportunity to evaluate everything. I got to see guys play. And I never really looked at our statistics, but the money statistics are unbelievable this year. ... And then the numbers, just the touchdowns. I have to believe he deserves to win that Heisman.'

Meyer is hardly alone.

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said the only reason Tebow might not win the Heisman would be because he's a sophomore. Bowden also said Tebow could win it multiple times.

Georgia coach Mark Richt and Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer agreed that Tebow's rare combination of size and athleticism sets him apart from everyone else.

'When you're unique, you get people interested in watching you because you're different,' Richt said. 'That's definitely a plus in a Heisman race.'

Added Fulmer: 'There aren't very many of those guys around that are that big and strong and fast and can throw like that.'

Not everyone is sold on Tebow's accomplishments, though.

Hawaii coach June Jones called Tebow a 'system quarterback.'

'Tim Tebow's system is a college system,' Jones said. 'He is a great quarterback who'll probably win a national championship. He's competitive; he's all those things. But a lot of his stuff comes off little dives, fades, things he is not going to do in the National Football League. That's my point.'

Tebow brushed aside the comments Monday, saying he ran an offense similar to Hawaii's run-and-shoot in high school and 'the numbers weren't too bad there.'

Tebow threw for nearly 10,000 yards and 95 touchdowns at Nease High near Jacksonville and ran for more than 3,000 yards and 63 scores.