- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2009

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. | There’s a reason top-ranked Florida (12-1) is the favorite in Thursday night’s BCS title game against No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1). Actually, there are a handful of reasons.

From the fact that Dolphin Stadium is likely to resemble the Swamp South to Florida’s favorable matchup in the secondary to an Oklahoma roster depleted by the loss of three key starters (linebacker Ryan Reynolds, running back DeMarco Murray and defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger), the Gators appear to trump the Sooners in nearly every category.

But nowhere is that edge likely to be more obvious than under center, where the Gators feature one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football history in junior Tim Tebow.

“If I have a vote, which I don’t, I think he’s one of the greatest players ever to play the game,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said of his 6-foot-3, 240-pound weapon at quarterback.

While there’s no question Meyer is biased, he also might be right. In two seasons as Florida’s starter, Tebow’s numbers in Meyer’s spread offense speak for themselves: 5,801 yards passing, 1,459 yards rushing and 95 total touchdowns.

The game has been billed as a matchup between the last two Heisman winners - Tebow and Oklahoma redshirt sophomore Sam Bradford. But while Bradford is a superb passer, he has shown a tendency to be one-dimensional. As any defensive coordinator will say, it’s always possible to scheme a pocket statue with a heavy pass rush and a lockdown secondary. Florida has both.

Meanwhile, opposing teams have spent the last two seasons being tormented by Tebow’s dual-threat abilities.

“You’ve got to cut the head off the snake,” Oklahoma senior safety Nic Harris said of defending Tebow. “You’ve got to make him one-dimensional. You can’t allow him to get comfortable. … Ultimately, we have not seen a quarterback who can hurt you with running as much as he can.”

Tebow isn’t an electric runner like former option standout Tommie Frazier or a scrambling terror like Vince Young or Michael Vick. He’s a methodical, grinding force almost guaranteed to pick up yards every time he runs.

“He’s the ultimate scheme-killer,” one SEC defensive coordinator said on the condition of anonymity earlier this season. “He’s as big as most linebackers in this league and totally fearless. He’ll run around your defensive linemen, bull through your linebackers or steamroll your safeties. It’s almost not fair.”

In fact, Tebow outweighs two of Oklahoma’s three starting linebackers - Keenan Clayton (220 pounds) and Travis Lewis (232).

And what makes him doubly devastating is that the Gators’ stable of speedy running backs and receivers forces teams to spread out to defend the edge. That routinely leaves Tebow matched up one-on-one with a player either too slow or too small.

“What happens when an unmovable force meets an unstoppable object?” likely Tebow spy Lewis said. “I guarantee you I’m going to bring that hammer.”

But so does Tebow, time and time again. His well-timed 6- and 7-yard runs can be physically and emotionally demoralizing to a defense - and equally inspiring to his teammates.

Perhaps the quintessential image of Tebow came a month ago in Atlanta, when he ran joyously off the field at the Georgia Dome, blood on his jersey, after leading two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to rally the Gators to a 31-20 victory over then No. 1 Alabama in the SEC title game.

“It’s an honor just to be on the same team with a guy like that,” All-American Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes said. “Just watching him grind is really good for younger guys and guys like myself. … He’s a winner.”

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