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Instant Analysis: SEC Championship Game

Staff Columnist
Posted Dec 6, 2008


Just when it seemed that Tim Tebow couldn’t cast a larger, more impressive shadow over the college football world, the defending Heisman Trophy winner managed to do exactly that. In the best SEC Championship Game ever played, a supreme showcase of outrageous athleticism and tremendous toughness, Tebow rose above the tumult and the shouting in Atlanta to bring his team a coveted conference crown.


Every player spilled the tank in the Georgia Dome on Saturday evening, in pursuit of SEC supremacy and a likely ticket to the BCS Championship Game in Miami. The magnitude of the moment was reflected in the level of play. Thunderous collisions, hellacious hits, and sizzling speed—often displayed by interior linemen and linebackers more than setbacks and skill people—defined this delicious donnybrook that involved two teams worthy of competing for the national title. The essential status of this game, a de facto national semifinal, translated to the on-field action. After three quarters, Alabama and Florida traded body blows, in a fight that—had it been graded on a scorecard—would have had the Tide leading on points. Come the fourth quarter of this titanic tussle, someone had to find an extra gear, and an extra dimension of flinty resolve, in order to reach the mountaintop.

When that fourth quarter eventually ended, no one in America had to guess the identity of the man who, more than anyone else, stamped himself as a champion of the highest order.

It was ironic to note that as Tim Tebow stared down a 20-17 deficit at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Florida superstar had not engineered a fourth-quarter comeback throughout his career. Yes, the Gators have won big in many contests over the past two seasons, but one would have thought that Tebow would have led a comeback in 2007, when the Gators played many close games. Improbably, that was not the case.

Whether he was conscious of this fact or not, Tebow had to engineer some fightback-filled fireworks if Urban Meyer’s outfit was going to give Alabama its only regular-season loss. The fact that Tebow did the deed will truly establish the Gator quarterback as one of college football’s very great players, perhaps the best quarterback in this sport’s 139-year history. Such a bold statement is certainly up for debate, but what is beyond question is that Tebow certainly belongs in the discussion with men like Vince Young, Danny Wuerffel, Tommie Frazier, and Sammy Baugh.

Alabama’s defense—which proved to be solid yet not quite good enough to corral the Gators down the stretch—would probably not be in position to argue with any all-time accolades accorded to Mr. Tebow. Not after what No. 15 did in the final 15 minutes of Saturday’s showdown.

Florida’s offensive front did play extremely well in this game’s latter stages, but the trigger man ultimately has to make the reads and distribute the ball, and Tebow performed those tasks with his peerless poise. It was Tebow who had to sell an option play, only to turn his head and execute a shovel pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez to convert a third-and-5 at the Bama 9, enabling the Gators to score a go-ahead touchdown with just under 10 minutes left in regulation.

And when Florida got the ball back midway through the fourth quarter, it was Tebow who feathered a perfect pass to receiver Louis Murphy down the right sideline. It was Tebow who—for the second time in this contest—converted a ballsy third-and-goal pass for a touchdown, with this latest toss going to receiver Riley Cooper. Instead of merely running down the clock or settling for a field goal, Tebow crushed the Crimson Tide with a final scoreboard statement that delivered the SEC to the Gators for the second time in the past three seasons. Tebow’s gridiron gallantry also enabled Florida to take a 4-2 edge over the Tide in six SEC title tilts.

A lot of people wondered if, in a down year for the SEC, the winner of today’s game would be good enough and deserving enough to play for the national title on January 8. After this awesome display in a punishing 60-minute war, Florida—led by its unstoppable Heisman hero—put those doubts to rest.