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Monday, August 11, 2008
Tebow focused on improving as a QB, winning SEC title

By Chris Low
ESPN.com

Get Tim Tebow talking for any length of time about the keys to this season, and invariably, Florida's Heisman Trophy quarterback will make some reference to playing from behind.

Tim Tebow
Tim Tebow has a Heisman but hasn't led the Gators to a come-from-behind win.

Even Superman has his weakness, and Tebow -- who takes on challenges the way the Man of Steel does locomotives -- still has a glaring hole in his otherwise-glistening résumé.

As a starting quarterback, he's yet to lead his team to an SEC championship or a comeback win in the fourth quarter.

The reality is that both go hand in hand, especially in this conference, where the difference between going to Atlanta and staying at home is often a third-down conversion or two points in the fourth quarter.

"If I don't win any awards but the SEC championship, that's good enough for me," said Tebow, who has a chance to join Archie Griffin as the only two-time Heisman Trophy winners in college football history.

But for all of Tebow's greatness, he's the first to tell you that he needs to become a more complete quarterback this season.

That starts with becoming a better drop-back passer, growing more patient in the pocket and being a quarterback who can work the middle of the field and do all the things it takes to be proficient in the two-minute offense.

Fair or unfair, the book on Tebow is that he's not nearly as effective if he's in a position in which he has to throw the football.

2008 SEC Preview

The SEC has delivered the last two national champions. The reigning Heisman winner is from SEC country. What will the conference provide in 2008?

Low: Uncertain QB landscape
Low: Tebow still learning
Maisel: UGA's great expectations
Opportunity for South Carolina
Skill threat: UT's Eric Berry
Forde: Five SEC predictions
SportsNation: Vote on SEC

Of course, the book on him coming into last season was that he was a short-yardage specialist who still needed to prove he could be an every-down quarterback.

A Heisman Trophy and 55 total touchdowns later (32 passing and 23 rushing), it's safe to say he's answered that question. On to the next one.

Age and maturity -- across the board offensively -- are the main reasons Tebow thinks the Gators will be better in those late-game situations this season.

"Last year, for the most part, that was everybody's first time being in big situations, being in the close games, being behind," Tebow said. "The maturity and work ethic of being in those games really gave us the know-how to try and figure some of those situations out and to find a way to win some of those games. I think it will be different this year. I think we'll handle those tough situations a lot better."

Perhaps the possession that defined Florida's inability to get it done late last season was the ugly three-and-out against Auburn with the game tied at 17.

The Gators had the ball on their own 42 with 4:49 to play. On first down, they lost 6 yards on a pass play to Percy Harvin and didn't get anything on their next two plays. They wound up having to punt to Auburn, which drove down the field and won the game 20-17 on Wes Byrum's 43-yard field goal as time expired.

The Capital One Bowl loss to Michigan was another situation in which the Gators melted late. Granted, the defense had already given up a whopping 524 yards of total offense, but Florida got the ball back at its own 23 with 2:21 left, needing a touchdown to tie the game.

All Tebow could manage was four straight incompletions.

"All I know is that I wouldn't doubt that guy," senior receiver Louis Murphy said. "We've worked hard at those situations. He's worked hard at them, on the field and in the film room. Our chemistry will be better in those situations this year. It's not all on Tim."

Tim Tebow
This offseason, Tebow worked on passing in the pocket.

Because Tebow is such a fabulous improviser, the fact that he completed 66.9 percent of his passes last season sort of gets lost in all the hubbub about his not being a prototypical pocket passer. Clearly, the guy can throw the ball, and Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen has no doubt that Tebow will grow only more comfortable in the pocket.

After all, it's easy to forget that last season was his first as a full-time starter in the SEC.

"I don't know if he's taken the next step [as a pocket passer]," Mullen said. "In my mind, we still have a ways to go on that. A lot of it is that we let him go and make plays, and that's what he does really well.

"One thing with Tim is that he's always going to work [on throwing from the pocket]. That was one of the big focuses during two-a-days and was in the spring. It's not something that's a two-week deal or a couple of practices or a couple of months. I think that overall development is something he's going to be working on, hopefully for him, for the next 10 to 15 years."

In the meantime, Tebow's football thoughts are consumed by one thing, and it has nothing to do with striking another Heisman Trophy pose or even holding up the crystal football from the BCS national championship trophy.

Tebow wants a championship of his own. He'll always cherish the 2006 season, but that was more Chris Leak's team.

This is Tebow's team, and the only title he's interested in talking about is awarded in Atlanta.

"My goal is to win the SEC championship," Tebow said. "If we do that, winning a national championship will take care of itself. I think the hardest thing to do in college football is to win the SEC championship.

"That's my goal as a quarterback, to lead my team to an SEC title. You might not have great games, but it's more than that. It's finding a way to win games. It's being a great leader and finding a way to get your team to the championship game."

One thing is certain: His teammates are lining up behind him.

"I don't mind riding on that ship," Murphy said.

Chris Low is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to him at espnclow@aol.com.