GAINESVILLE — A few weeks ago, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was fairly certain that if he had to cast his Heisman Trophy vote then, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was his leading contender.
He's not so sure anymore.
After a slow start to the season, at least by Tebow's previous standards, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has come on strong the past few weeks. Over the past three games, Tebow has rushed for at least two touchdowns, and his seven rushing touchdowns during that span lead all quarterbacks in the nation. During the Gators' five-game winning streak, he has accounted for 19 touchdowns — he was responsible for eight in the first four games.
Is there a chance Tebow, the only sophomore to win the award, might cast a vote for himself?
"I don't know, there's a chance," he said. "There's a chance. The last few weeks have been good. … I feel I'm getting more in the mix of it now. Just being honest, I've had a few good weeks in a row, so I'm just going to keep trying to put a few more together."
While the general consensus is that McCoy, the junior from Texas, and fellow quarterbacks Graham Harrell, a Texas Tech senior, and Sam Bradford, an Oklahoma sophomore, are the leading candidates, several Heisman voters agreed this week that Tebow is back in contention.
"There's no question he is," said Matt Hayes, Sporting News national college football writer. "He has three games on national television still to play, and what could be the biggest game of the season — BCS No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the SEC Championship Game — as the last show voters see. … Two weeks ago, Colt McCoy was a lock. Now it's the winning quarterback in the Oklahoma-Texas Tech game. A majority of the votes will be cast on the last weekend, so Tebow certainly is still in it."
Not long ago, the question was: What's wrong with Tebow? Three games into this season, he was 38-of-64 for 489 passing yards and five touchdowns, with 118 yards rushing on 34 carries and no touchdowns. Through the same period in 2007, he had 835 passing yards, eight TDs, and 193 yards and five rushing TDs. At the time, Tebow and his coaches dismissed the comparisons, but he said this week that it's possible the pressure took a toll.
"I feel like the beginning of the year we might have been pressing a little bit," said Tebow, who insists the self-imposed pressure was to win a championship, not another Heisman that would make him only the second player to win the award twice (Archie Griffin, 1974-75). "We wanted to be too perfect an offense. I wanted to try to make every play and try to do everything 100 percent right instead of just letting plays come to me and going out there, having fun, making plays and … being a great decision-maker."
In other words, he was living in a pressure cooker.
"A guy like Tim lives that pressure," offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said. "And then the expectations that he put on himself, I think some of that early on, it can get to you. Early in the season he had a lot of pressure on him, but it took a lot of that pressure off once he realized he was still just playing football. I think he's really grown and gotten more comfortable with his role. … I think as it went on and we kind of got into the flow of the season, it really came naturally again. He was able to get back to being relaxed and normal.''
Over the past three games, he has accounted for 14 touchdowns (seven rushing, seven passing). He leads the SEC in passing efficiency (214.5) and points responsible for. His childlike excitement on the field is back. So, too, is that familiar bulldozer running style.
"He looked like a very aggressive runner (vs. Vanderbilt),'' coach Urban Meyer said. "The designed runs and the option plays, I thought he ran like he did as a freshman. He looked good."
"Tebow is playing like the Heisman Tebow right now," offensive guard Mike Pouncey said. "He's running hard. He's got back his groove. It's going to be hard to take him out of that."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]