Tebow no surprise as top offensive player
Posted: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 5:52 pm
By: By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — Tim Tebow guided his team to the national championship game and put himself in contention for another Heisman Trophy. So it was no surprise when the Florida quarterback claimed his second straight Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year award.
Tebow was honored Monday by The Associated Press with the release of its All-SEC team, which also tabbed Tennessee safety Eric Berry as defensive player of the year, Alabama’s Nick Saban as the top coach and Crimson Tide receiver Julio Jones as the best freshman.
Alabama, which went 12-0 during the regular season but lost to the Gators in last Saturday’s SEC championship game, placed a high of six players on the AP’s first team, including unanimous choices Andre Smith and Rashad Johnson. Florida was next with four first-teamers, including Tebow and Brandon Spikes on every ballot.
Tebow was honored after another brilliant season in which he completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,515 yards, with 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He’s the SEC’s runaway leader in passing efficiency.
Of course, Tebow also is a major threat to run out of Florida’s high-powered spread offense. Though not asked to carry as much of the load as he did while becoming the first sophomore to win the Heisman, Tebow does rank third on the team with 564 yards and leads with 12 rushing TDs.
Coach Urban Meyer looks beyond the statistics when gauging the junior’s value to the top-ranked Gators (12-1). After their only loss of the season, a 31-30 upset by Mississippi in late September, Tebow took the blame himself and vowed that no one would play harder the rest of the way.
“I’ve had some great players,” said Meyer, whose team will face No. 2 Oklahoma in the ECS championship game on Jan. 8. “I’ve never had one like this, and I’ve been around this game a long time. There’s something special inside of him. I’m not talking about throwing. I’m not talking about running. I’m talking about the ability to make the level of play of everyone else around him better.”
In the victory over Alabama, Tebow rallied his team from a 20-17 deficit entering the fourth quarter and clinched the victory with the last of his three pinpoint passes for touchdowns.
“Every time they needed to make a play, Tim Tebow made plays,” Saban said. “They scored two touchdowns where, man, we had them covered about as well as you can cover.”
Tebow’s impassioned apology after the Ole Miss loss seemed to turn around the Florida’s season. They didn’t have another close game until they faced Alabama.
“After that game I kind of sat at my locker for a while to think about what I wanted to say,” he recalled. “I wasn’t saying we were going to win every game or we were going to be awesome or anything like that. It was: We’re going to play every game as hard as we can, and we’re going to be the hardest-working team possible. That’s something we can control. And I think we’ve shown that.”
Saban was recognized for restoring Alabama to national prominence in just his second season, justifying the school’s decision to lure him away from the NFL with college football’s richest contract. Taking over a program that had been through four coaches, four losing seasons and stiff NCAA sanctions over the previous decade, he went 7-6 in a debut year that was marred by a four-game losing streak and a sixth straight loss to rival Auburn.
But the Tide turned in 2008. Alabama opened with an impressive victory over Clemson, then ranked in the top 10, and stood out even more in a rout at Georgia, building a 31-0 halftime lead on a team that was No. 1 at the start of the season. There also was an overtime victory over LSU, Saban’s former school, and drought-breaking, 36-0 rout of Auburn that led coach Tommy Tuberville to resign.
The only thing Alabama didn’t do was make it to the national championship game. The loss to Florida sent the Tide (12-1) to the Sugar Bowl.
Saban credited the seniors and said “they were the team that brought a lot of pride back to the University of Alabama, to the football program and to the people of the state of Alabama that support it.”
“I just wish,” he added, “there was more that I could have done to help them win the championship.”
In a disappointing season for Tennessee, Berry stood out. The sophomore safety led the SEC with seven interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns. He also ranked third on the team with 72 tackles, including three sacks and 8.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
“I am extremely proud for Eric and this honor is well deserved,” said former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, who was forced out after going 5-7 and replaced by Lane Kiffin. “Eric is a great football player and outstanding student, but his greatest attribute is he is a great person and leader. He is an example for our university and for what is good about college football.”
Having already drawn comparisons to Terrell Owens, Jones edged out another receiver, Georgia’s A.J. Green, for the freshman of the year award, though Green bested the Alabama receiver for a spot on the first team.
Jones had 51 catches for 847 yards and four touchdowns in his college debut, compared with Green’s 55 catches, 951 yards and eight TDs.
Every team except Mississippi State was represented on the first team.
Tebow was joined on the offensive side by two Florida teammates: lineman Phil Trautwein and all-purpose player Percy Harvin. Green was among three Georgia players on offense, a group that included unanimous choice Knowshon Moreno, the SEC’s leading rusher with 1,338 yards, and lineman Clint Boling. Smith, an anchor on the Alabama line, was chosen by every voter and the Tide also was represented by center Antoine Caldwell and running back Glen Coffee.
Ole Miss lineman Michael Oher was another unanimous pick to the first team, which also included teammate Joshua Shene, the Rebels’ kicker. Two LSU players, receiver Brandon LaFell and lineman Herman Johnson, and Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams rounded out the offense.
On defense, LSU’s Rahim Alem and Auburn’s Antonio Coleman were named the top ends, while Alabama’s Terrence Cody and Ole Miss’ Peria Jerry claimed the tackle spots. Florida’s Spikes was a unanimous pick at linebacker, with Alabama’s Rolando Rolando McClain and South Carolina’s Eric Norwood taking the other two spots.
The cornerbacks were Trevard Lindley of Kentucky and D.J. Moore of Vanderbilt, while Berry was joined at safety by the other unanimous choice, Alabama’s Johnson. Tim Masthay of Kentucky was named the punter.
Tebow, Harvin, Moreno, Smith, Oher, Spikes, Moore and Johnson repeated as first-teamers on the 76th annual AP team, which was selected by a regional media panel.
Associated Press Writer Beth Rucker in Knoxville contributed to this report.