Sunday November 30th, 2008

Florida's equipment staff gave Tim Tebow the option to change out of his pink jersey during Saturday's halftime. The jersey -- turned Sex in the City fabulous by a mélange of torrential rain and Florida State end zone paint -- stayed on Tebow's shoulder pads.

"I was feeling good," Tebow said after the Gators' 45-15 pasting of the Seminoles. "I didn't need to change too much. They made me change my socks, but that was about it."

It takes a secure man to wear a pink jersey. It also takes a secure man to sacrifice a historic Heisman Trophy to chase a championship. Tebow could have demanded more throws and more carries, and he probably would have run away with the Heisman and joined Archie Griffin as the award's only two-time winners. But the Gators would be 9-3 and headed for a second consecutive Capital One Bowl instead of 11-1 and headed for the national semifinal SEC Championship game next week against Alabama.

Check the stats. Barring a performance for the ages next week in Atlanta, Tebow doesn't stand a chance. He's run for 507 yards and 12 touchdowns and thrown for 2,299 yards and 25 touchdowns. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy has rushed for 576 yards and 10 touchdowns while throwing for 3,445 yards and 32 touchdowns. Entering Saturday's Bedlam matchup with Oklahoma State, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford had thrown for 3,710 yards and 42 touchdowns. Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, meanwhile, has thrown for 4,747 yards and 41 touchdowns.

Tebow admitted Saturday he thinks about winning the award. He just doesn't think about it enough to let it affect the Gators' volcanic offense.

"When I came to Florida, it was for championships," said Tebow, who ran for 23 touchdowns and threw for 32 more during his Heisman season. "Winning the Heisman was great. It was a lot of fun. It was a great award. But it's nothing compared to championships."

Besides, if Tebow can't win the Heisman, maybe he can win the Outland. His block of FSU safety Jamie Robinson sprung receiver Percy Harvin for the Gators' first touchdown.

Just forget about the Biletnikoff, though. Tebow tried swapping places with receiver Louis Murphy for one play Saturday, and FSU defenders smothered him downfield. "I tried to catch a pass," Tebow said. "That didn't work very well."

But stats and award short lists don't tell the entire story. Ask Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen if Tebow is a better quarterback than he was when he won the Heisman, and Mullen will chuckle. "Much better," Mullen said Saturday. "He's much better than he was last year."

Tebow has learned to defer to Harvin or backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. He's happy to be the No. 4 runner on a team that leads the SEC in rushing by 427 yards (Alabama's second). At times during Florida's eight-game win streak -- during which the Gators have outscored their opponents 414-97 -- Tebow has barely needed to throw. The somewhat accomplished coach on the opposite sideline Saturday noticed. "They threw," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said, "just to have some fun."

Of course, when Gators coach Urban Meyer poked his head out of the locker room early Saturday afternoon and saw a deluge turning Doak Campbell Stadium into a natatorium, he immediately devised a 2007-quality gameplan. Snap the ball to Tebow or occasionally Harvin and hope they slog their way to enough points to win. Mullen, confident Tebow could handle this flood as coolly as Noah, talked Meyer out of the scheme.

"I panicked before the game," Meyer said. "I was going to say, 'We're single-wing all the way.' [Mullen] said 'We can manage this thing.' And he did. And Tim did."

Tebow kept the Gators humming even after Harvin sprained his right ankle midway through the second quarter. Last year, an injury to Harvin would have made the Gators more one-dimensional than an episode of According to Jim. Saturday, FSU fans' cheering of Harvin's injury just made Tebow mad.

"That kind of irritated me," Tebow said. "I really told Coach to just give me the ball, because I wanted to hit somebody extremely hard." Two plays after Harvin limped away, Tebow carried the entire FSU front seven into the end zone for a 4-yard score.

In spite of that play, it doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to see that Florida's offense strikes more fear into opponents' hearts with Tebow managing more than mangling. Still, it never hurts to get the opinion of one. "We expected [Tebow] to make plays," FSU safety Myron Rolle said. "There was really no way to stop them."

Meyer and his staff stayed tight-lipped Saturday about Harvin's injury. Harvin hobbled from the locker room on crutches. He wore a boot on his right leg. Mullen hinted that Harvin doesn't need to practice to play. Meyer said the staff would know more Sunday.

If Harvin doesn't play against Alabama's stingy defense, the Gators may need a flashback to 2007 from Tebow. He may have to carry them the way he carried all those defenders for that second-quarter touchdown. And who knows, if he does, maybe it will vault him to a second consecutive Heisman.

"I don't have a vote, but I've got my quarterback," Meyer said. "I know that. ... He's my choice."

Said Florida guard Mike Pouncey: "If I could have a vote, I'd vote Tebow for Heisman again. He's just about winning."

Of course, only one person on the field Saturday has his own Heisman vote. Early this season, he planned to cast that vote for McCoy. Now, he's not so sure.

"I don't know," Tebow said, smiling. "We'll see how next week goes."

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