- The Washington Times - Friday, October 9, 2009

Tebow or not Tebow: That is the question.

Top-ranked Florida heads to Baton Rouge for Saturday night’s showdown with No. 4 LSU still uncertain about the status of quarterback Tim Tebow.

“We’re game-planning as if there’s a chance Tim could play,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday. “There’s a chance he won’t play. That’s going to be pretty much the response until the foot hits the ball down there.”

One of the most decorated players in college football history, Tebow suffered a concussion Sept. 26 when he was leveled by Kentucky defensive end Taylor Wyndham in the third quarter of the Gators’ 41-7 victory. The senior standout was kept overnight at UK Medical Center for observation, battled headaches all of last week and was cleared to begin practicing again Tuesday.

Meyer was encouraged by Tebow’s improved practice Wednesday but has stated repeatedly he intends to err on the side of caution.

“I was told, ‘When you’re healed, you’re healed, whether it’s next week or the week after,’ ” Meyer said. ” ‘If you’re not healed, you’re not healed. It takes time.’

“I’ve never seen the attention to detail [we’ve gone through with this injury]. This is not one, two, three people; it’s many, many people involved in the evaluation phase of Tim. There were 12 people in the meeting that we had for them to clear him to practice [Tuesday]. That will be an ongoing communication and evaluation up until game time.”

Even if the 2007 Heisman winner is cleared to play against LSU (5-0), it’s doubtful Meyer would use him as the centerpiece of his spread attack. Although Tebow has passed for 7,033 yards and 73 touchdowns in his career, the bullish running style of the 6-foot-3, 245-pound quarterback makes Florida’s offense so difficult to defend. Tebow is a third-and-short nightmare, rushing 530 times in his career for 2,308 yards and 48 touchdowns to rank just one behind Georgia great Herschel Walker in career SEC rushing scores.

Given Tebow’s all-or-nothing style, it’s questionable whether the Gators (4-0) would expose him to contact in what is traditionally one of the SEC’s most hostile environments. Instead, it seems increasingly more likely Florida will go with redshirt sophomore John Brantley, giving the backup quarterback his first career start at Death Valley.

While quicker, Brantley (6-3, 217 pounds) lacks Tebow’s size and is more of a pass-first player. In 12 appearances, all in mop-up duty this season and last, Brantley has completed 40 of 58 passes for 467 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. Though the Florida coaching staff is excited about the future of the fourth-rated quarterback in the 2006 prep class, replacing Tebow in his first start against an LSU defense that snuffed Georgia in Athens last week would be a monumental task.

“The last game we played against Georgia, I felt like our defense played as strong a half of defensive football as I’ve been around,” LSU coach Les Miles said after the Tigers held the Bulldogs to one first down and 45 yards of total offense in the first half of a 20-13 victory. “We’re preparing for the Florida offense. There’s a personality there. We recognize the quarterback can be a different guy, but he’ll probably be asked to do very similar things.”

Florida leads the nation in total defense (212.8 yards), and the Gators will lean heavily on coach Charlie Strong’s unit regardless of which quarterback is asked to lead the offense.

Said Meyer: “Am I confident? I like my team. I love my team.”

Even if the Gators lose to LSU, they won’t be eliminated from the BCS title chase. Thanks to the strength of the SEC, which boasts three of the nation’s top four teams, it’s almost a given the winner of the SEC championship game Dec. 5 will earn a slot in the BCS title game Jan. 7.

That gives Florida incentive to rest Tebow, hoping he’ll be back for pivotal SEC East games against Georgia (Oct. 31) and South Carolina (Nov. 14), and to take a look at the future by baptizing Brantley in Baton Rouge.

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