GAINESVILLE — Florida QB Tim Tebow won't finish out his college career the way he had envisioned — with an undefeated season and back-to-back national championships.
But Tebow has one last promise to make to Gator fans. Florida's pride and desire to finish strong will ensure the Gators will be ready to play against Cincinnati in the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl.
"You've got to finish strong," Tebow said. "It's the last game I'll play in as a Gator, and obviously I want to win it very badly. And so do the other seniors. We just want to leave the right way."
The Gators' 32-13 loss to Alabama in the SEC title game derailed the undefeated season and the hopes of a national title but not their desire to finish 13-1.
"We've got great chemistry on this team and great leadership, and I know we're going to pull together," junior C Maurkice Pouncey said. "We're already watching film. It's a hard one to shake. Any time you lose a big-time game like that, it's hard to shake. But you've got to move on from the past."
"We're just trying to get it out of our minds right now and just focus on Cincinnati," junior CB Joe Haden said. "It definitely is (easier said than done), but we just know we've got another game and we don't want to have the Alabama game mess us up for this game we've got coming up."
Tebow, who has taken great pride in leading this team, said it's up to him and other team leaders to rally the Gators one last time.
"If you are a leader, you have to lead by example if everyone is going to follow you," he said. "They are going to respond to you and how you react. I think that's the most important thing as a leader."
Lifetime decisions: The Gators lost two coaches last week in defensive coordinator Charlie Strong and wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales, but an exodus of juniors to the NFL is another concern. Coach Urban Meyer has said as many as seven juniors might leave, including Haden, Pouncey and brother OL Mike Pouncey. Haden, projected as a top-15 pick, said he will decide before the Sugar Bowl and make that decision public after the game. He said the opportunity to graduate and to play with his brother Jordan, a safety who will join the Gators in January, are reasons he might return. But his return is unlikely.
As for the Pouncey twins, the decision will be a joint one.
"We talk about it," Maurkice Pouncey said. "It's going to be a big decision in our lives, and we're going to involve the family and the coaching staff and make the right decision. If one of us stays, we're both staying, and if one of us goes, we're both going. It's a hard decision. I'm still getting more information back. My coach said he'll call around and see what the word is. Hopefully we'll get some good stuff back."
Basketball team drops: Florida's 85-73 loss to Syracuse on Thursday dropped the Gators from No. 10 to No. 13 in the Associated Press poll released Monday. Florida (8-1) returns to action against Richmond at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Sunrise.
Good move: Former coach Lou Holtz, now an ESPN studio analyst, says Louisville made a wise decision in hiring Strong as its head coach. Strong coached under Holtz at Notre Dame and at South Carolina. "He's a wonderful young man," Holtz said. "I'm a believer in him, and he'll do a great job. But more importantly, he'll be a great asset to the players. The players don't have any idea how their lives are going to change for the better now."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.