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The (re)making of a Georgia quarterback

Mike Bobo was in dire need of rejuvenation, so he passed up a family vacation last summer to spend quality time with his VCR and a set of weights.

Twenty-six pounds are gone.

His mechanics are back.

The senior quarterback for resurgent Georgia, Bobo has battled through a litany of setbacks to become the top-rated passer in the Southeastern Conference.

Who would have thought?

"I'm not the tallest. I'm not the fastest. I don't have the strongest arm, but I've always worked hard on my fundamentals," Bobo said.

Bobo's biggest challenge awaits, though, as No. 14 Georgia plays No. 6 Florida on Saturday at Jacksonville, with first place in the SEC East on the line.

This season no fewer than four SEC quarterbacks have had their names linked with the Heisman Trophy _ Tennessee's Peyton Manning, Kentucky's Tim Couch, Auburn's Dameyune Craig and Florida's Doug Johnson.

There's no Bobo on the list.

But pick up this week's copy of the SEC passing statistics and it's right there, the very first name. Bobo's efficiency rating of 159.9 through seven games not only is tops in the league, it is fifth-best in the nation.

Okay, okay. So Bobo's 222.3 passing yards per game is only sixth-best in the SEC, along with his total of 12 touchdowns. And his 1,556 total yards, well, that ranks only seventh.

But only one quarterback _ Couch, in the Wildcats' short-pass attack _ has completed a higher percentage of passes than Bobo's 64.4 percent. And no one has thrown fewer interceptions: two.

What a turnaround.

Bobo settled into the starting role in 1995 after the departure of All-SEC quarterback Eric Zeier but was lost for the year to a fractured knee. When he returned for 1996, it was to a new coach _ Jim Donnan _ and a new offensive system, with an extra 20 pounds.

It made for a heavy burden.

Sluggish in the pocket and unsure in the Dawgs' new scheme, Bobo _ at a husky 6 feet 1, 218 pounds _ threw a league-high 16 interceptions in a 5-6 season. He graded out as the SEC's eighth-rated quarterback.

"Last year Mike probably tried to do too much, and it led to some bad decisions and some crucial mistakes," Donnan said. "His biggest ordeal was sustaining the injury he had, hurting his knee to that capacity. The next year he played with a new staff and not as good a supporting cast as this year.

"But he fought through it. He lost weight, which has helped his agility, worked on his fundamentals and is really having a good year for us."

Bobo started at the beginning.

Over the summer, he watched dozens of game tapes, even back to his high school days, trying to regain his old form. Between summer school classes, he measured each step he took in the pocket. He shed 26 pounds, getting down to 192.

"I feel quicker on my drops, and any time you get back quicker in the pocket, you have more time to see the field, see the receivers," Bobo said. "That can't do anything but help. I think last year, my mechanics weren't where they needed to be, and that caused a lot of bad decisions on my part."

Bobo also requested several study sessions with Donnan so he could be more familiar with the coach's offensive strategy.

"You've got to know your offensive coordinator," said Bobo, who has had three in his four playing seasons. "You've got to know what he's thinking when the play comes out there. We didn't have a lot of that last year. I was confused. Obviously, so were the other players."

Not anymore.

Georgia is among the most balanced offenses in the SEC with the ability to run the ball with tailback Robert Edwards as well as throw. Add versatile playmaker Hines Ward to the mix and it becomes easier to understand how Bobo has become one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country.

Of course, the Gators have heard all this before.

First it was Manning. Then Couch. Then Craig. Three of the league's most impressive passers combined to throw six touchdowns against the Gators, but also six interceptions.

"They're all top quarterbacks until they come play us," linebacker Mike Peterson said. "They can put up Heisman numbers at the beginning of the season, but until they play us, it doesn't mean too much to me."

For Bobo, a win over Florida _ something the Bulldogs haven't had in the past seven years _ would bring him one step closer to making his mark on the Georgia program.

"We want to try to get the program back where it needs to be, where everybody thinks it should be," he said. "The seniors, we haven't been very successful. The only way we can leave a mark is to turn it around this year."