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Florida Gators' Tim Tebow: Flawed and fab, depending on your point of view

. 2,515 passing yds . 564 rushing yds

Tim Tebow

MIAMI

He is not the best quarterback in college football. He is not even the best quarterback in this game. The statistics will tell you that. So will Heisman voters and NFL scouts. A certain cornerback at Oklahoma would probably be willing to come to your house to explain it to you in detail. On the other hand, he may be the most famous college football player in a generation. A one-of-a-kind sensation, singlehandedly keeping Gainesville safe from linebackers, Phil Fulmer and bad manners. His supporters say he is worthy of someday standing beside history's greatest. So which is the truth about Tim Tebow? All of it. He is every bit as good as his fans insist, and perhaps as flawed as his critics suggest. Tebow is a phenomenon disguised as a quarterback. The world is filled with passers who have better form, better arms and greater accuracy, but there may not be another quarterback in college football who brings quite as much to the huddle. Which is why Tebow is such a wild card. It's why this showdown with Oklahoma quarterback

and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford is so intriguing. And why the outcome of tonight's game is such a mystery.

Certainly, there will be other factors to consider in this BCS title game. For instance, how much pressure the Gators pass rush can put on Bradford. And if Florida's running game can draw some of the attention away from Tebow.

But, at its core, this game is about two phenomenal, and very different, quarterbacks.

Bradford is the pure quarterback. The pocket passer who reads defenses, throws quickly and accurately, and is destined to be a top 10 pick in the draft.

Tebow is the hybrid quarterback. A locomotive who pounds defenses, throws less often, and may be as attractive to the NFL as a tight end as he is a quarterback.

So how is it Tebow can be third in the nation in pass efficiency (Bradford is first), and still be a question mark as a quarterback? It has to do with Florida's spread offense, which is unlike anything used in the NFL.

You see, a large part of Tebow's game is running, which is not a quarterback's job in the NFL. And a minuscule part of his game is taking the snap from under center, which is a major part of the job description in the NFL.

Tebow has had some remarkable performances, but they are difficult for scouts to extrapolate. And it certainly doesn't help his case that Alex Smith, who ran the spread offense for Urban Meyer at Utah, has turned out to be such a dud in the NFL.

"He might not be the best quarterback. He might not be the best this, or the best that," UF offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said. "But the best (college) football player ever? He might be.

"I've never been in that league, so I don't know what NFL teams are looking for. I know he has the skills to win. So I guess a team that wants to win would want him to be their quarterback, I know that much. He finds ways to win. He finds ways to raise the level of everyone around him."

The irony is that people are pointing out Tebow's faults more than ever, and yet he is playing the game so much better than he did in 2007 when he won the Heisman Trophy.

Go back to the SEC Championship Game against Alabama last month. On two of Tebow's three touchdown passes, he threw to receivers who were the third option on the plays.

"A year ago, that wouldn't have happened," Mullen said. "He would have looked at one receiver, then saw the blitz and decided to take off running around. That's where you see his growth as a leader. It used to be, if things weren't going well, he would say, 'That's okay, just give me the ball and I'll make every play myself.'

"The Tim Tebow of this year has far, far surpassed the Tim Tebow of last year."

And, in the process, he has cost himself some of his prestige. Tebow's numbers fell dramatically from 2007 to '08, not because he didn't perform as well but because his teammates did more.

In eight SEC regular-season games, Tebow averaged six fewer passes and six fewer runs than he did a year ago. His attempts also tumbled in nonconference games.

Yet, Florida went from a 9-4 team that bombed in a mid-level bowl game to a 12-1 team playing for the national championship.

"I'll hear something about Tim's throwing motion, or what the NFL is looking for — sometimes I get confused," Meyer said. "Do they want a guy who is going to lead a team to win games? I don't know if there's any better than Tim.

"I think he's one of the greatest players ever to play the game, not just at quarterback."

So as an NFL general manager, would you be better off with Bradford instead of Tebow?

Almost certainly.

But as a college football fan, would you rather have Bradford or Tebow tonight?

We're about to find out.

Florida Gators' Tim Tebow: Flawed and fab, depending on your point of view 01/07/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 8, 2009 10:55pm]
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