Tebow a man in demand

By JOHN ROMANO, Times Columnist
Published November 25, 2007

GAINESVILLE - In the end, there was even an FSU student spray painted as a Heisman Trophy.

There was a Florida coed with a sign asking Tim Tebow if she could be his date in New York. And there were tens of thousands calling the quarterback's name, and suggesting the Heisman was his and his alone.

In the end, there was Geno Hayes playing the role of history's footnote.

If you are inclined to wrap up a game, a season or the current state of a rivalry in a single snapshot, this would be as good as any. Tebow doing a victory lap around Florida Field, and Hayes looking for the nearest exit back to anonymity.

For the gap in these programs is as wide as it has been in decades, and the difference is the pedigree of the players involved. Florida has Tebow and Percy Harvin. Florida State has, well, some other guys.

"It's not the style of offense. It's all personnel," Florida coach Urban Meyer said after a 45-12 victory. "And we've got pretty good personnel."

A rivalry as significant as any in the nation in the 1990s has fallen on hard times. Were it not for Tebow's Heisman chances and Hayes' suggestion that FSU's defense would be the quarterback's undoing, Saturday's game would have hardly registered a blip beyond the state's borders.

The Seminoles have lost four in a row to Florida for the first time since dropping six in a row in the 1980s, and this skid is probably worse. For, in the '80s, Florida State was still a program on the rise. Try making that case today.

You might even argue this game marks the low point for Bobby Bowden in his personal rivalry with the Gators. It is his most lopsided loss to UF since 1983, and it's the first time in a long while that he has sent some seniors home without a victory against the Gators. For all he has accomplished, for all the ground he has gained in raising FSU's stature in relation to Florida, he is taking giant steps backward.

Bowden had a winning record against Doug Dickey. He was competitive with Charley Pell and Galen Hall. He had as good a record against Steve Spurrier 8-5-1 as anyone, and he had the upper hand on Ron Zook.

But this game marks his third consecutive defeat against Meyer, and it's hard to see the trend reversing anytime in the near future. Particularly with Tebow and Harvin coming back for at least one more season.

If Tebow does not win the Heisman Trophy in two weeks, it is only because voters were reluctant to hand the award to a sophomore for the first time. For there is no arguing he has been the most dominant player in college football in 2007.

Just consider the back story. A few days earlier, Hayes said the plan was to shatter Tebow's Heisman dreams. And, on Friday afternoon, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden re-energized his own Heisman candidacy with a brilliant game in an upset of No. 1 LSU.

So how would Tebow respond?

With five more touchdowns.

He served notice quickly, on his fifth play from scrimmage, by scrambling for 16 yards on a third-and-15. Two plays after that, he ducked an FSU defensive lineman and split four defenders near the end zone on a 23-yard touchdown run.

"He looked like a missile going through there," Meyer said. "He's just a great football player."

For the record, Tebow finished with three touchdown passes and two scoring runs. He has now accounted for 51 touchdowns, while ranking No. 2 in the nation in pass efficiency and No. 6 in total offense.

"If I had a Heisman vote, I'd give it to him," said UF receiver Andre Caldwell. "I told him to do the Heisman pose, but he wouldn't do it."

By game's end, Tebow's Heisman chances were all anyone could talk about. Even the FSU senior who used four cans of spray paint to turn himself into a bronze Heisman replica wearing Tebow's No. 15 jersey.

Even Bowden suggested Tebow has multiple Heisman trophies in his future, an admission that must pain him considering Tebow's awards resume will probably include a couple more FSU games.

This time, FSU's best shot came at midweek. Hayes got closer to Tebow in conversation than he ever did on the field. The junior linebacker finished with one tackle, and that was on a UF receiver.

Understand, there's nothing wrong with a player speaking his mind.

It would just help if FSU had someone who could also make a statement on the field.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.