September 21, 2009
Tebow gazing from the proprietor of Tim Teblog.
A couple funny things happened on Saturday, on the way to Tim Tebow's final ascension to college football immortality:
• Tebow's top targets were injured (Deonte Thompson) or ill (Jeff Demps, Aaron Hernandez), and the offense was stifled.
• Monte Kiffin showed up with NFL-quality defensive scheming.
• Lane Kiffin played to lose (by less than 30), not to win (at all) -- ensuring a closer-than-expected game.
• Tebow finished a brilliant, ensure-a-blowout scramble with an uncharacteristically sloppy goal-line fumble.
The upshot was one of the weirdest fallouts of the college football season, a 10-point rivalry win that left Florida fans wanting for the taste of blood they craved and that the losers largely embraced as a kind of victory.
Not unexpectedly, Urban Meyer backed his quarterback: "He played as hard as he's ever played." For the would-be "greatest college football player ever," is "playing hard" enough? As long as Florida keeps winning, it will be.
But for whatever the reason (Monte Kiffin, swine flu, turnovers), Florida did not meet the staggering expectations of a revenge-minded champion returning virtually its entire lineup, particularly on offense. Now we have to adjust to the reality that the expectations were out of whack -- not appropriately adjusted for lack of depth at receiver or for flu outbreaks or NFL geniuses taking a college sabbatical.
Tebow is not going to rack up 400 yards of total offense and five touchdowns every time out. Some games, it will be an efficient 14-for-19 passing (with zero scores) for sub-200 yards and a team-high 24 carries (at a modest 3.2 yards per carry). It may include a turnover or two. If the scoreboard shows a win, as it did Saturday, none of those numbers will matter.
Tebow's game wasn't that far away from the sky-high expectations around Colt McCoy, who also had a modest game this weekend against Texas Tech -- a game he was expected to statistically dominate. Regardless of Tebow and McCoy's individual performances, though, both Florida and Texas won -- the only expectation that counts. (Just ask Pete Carroll.)
Tebow's "all-time" status won't revolve around his 2009 stats -- his 2007 Heisman season established his stat-generating bonafides and his place in the argument of great quarterbacks. Tebow's place in history is tied to final scores, not box scores. He was never going to be judged on margin-of-victory, just wins. If he goes 14-0 -- with a national title, obviously -- his place in history is secure.
Now, actually going 14-0 -- with USC as a cautionary tale, Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp already studying Monte Kiffin's schemes, Alabama looking better than last year and the unpredictability of injuries (and flu-bugs) -- is another question.
If we learned anything from last week, it was that expectations are the X-factor. That's how a 10-point loss turns into some kind of twisted "victory" for the losing team. Or how the presumption of dominance turns into yet another season-killing loss. Or that being the designated BCS-crasher in Week One means ... well, anything in Week Three.
The only expectation -- historical or otherwise -- there should be for Tebow is winning another national championship, by whatever means (and margins) necessary. That feels like enough pressure for anyone.