Changing The Way He Played: Tim Tebow has played under one offensive coordinator, but played three different ways. As a freshman, he was the daisy cutter, blowing up opposing defenses but not a part of the regular artillery. In his second season, he did everything because he was the most trusted player on a team in full-blown rebuilding mode. This season, Tebow refined his play. Tebow threw the ball more than 25 times in four games this season (Miami, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma). Last year, it was 10 games. You'd think with so many less attempts, his touchdown numbers would drop too. That's correct, but not by much. On 192-298 passing, Tebow had 30 TDs. Last season, it was 234-350 with 32 touchdowns. That's about a 2% difference. Tebow was much more efficient than last season.
Part of Tebow's efficiency was that he was able to hand the ball off to Percy Harvin, a mature Chris Rainey and the fastest man in College Football, Jeff Demps. By cutting his carries from 210 to 176, Tebow avoided a lot of punishment. He now also knows how to protect himself better, even if his right shoulder suffers. With Rainey, Demps and Emmanuel Moody, more carries will go to the traditional backs, sparing Tebow some punishment. This season was a taste of that, and I expect Tebow to move closer to an NFL-style QB, albeit one who is more than happy to break the pocket and run downfield. By this point, Tebow also understands that when he moves, receivers get open. The defense must respect the QB scramble, leaving Riley Cooper or Aaron Hernandez open across the middle.
Tebow loses Louis Murphy and possibly Percy Harvin next season, meaning another change to the offense in addition to a new coordinator and a new quarterbacks coach. How Tebow adjusts will go a long way to determining if the Gators finish in Pasadena.
Changing The Way He Led: Tebow is an intensely religious man. No matter how you feel about that, it's obvious he is more comfortable with projecting his faith than last season. If he is comfortable enough to do that, he is comfortable enough to get in the faces of his players. That's why Florida won this season; Tebow was finally comfortable as the leader.
Whether it was ending interviews with ‘God Bless' or getting a personal foul penalty, Tebow was not afraid to let people see who he really was; an intense player fueled by his opponents. His religious faith was personal. He believes that God put him on Earth to play football. But sometimes that is not enough. You need to fear and hate your opponent, something a young Florida team could not do in 2007.
Last season, Florida was led by a guy like Tony Joiner, who couldn't stay out of the police blotter. Tebow respected that seniority even if he might have known that Joiner was not setting a good example on the field and off. This year he filled the leadership vacuum with his faith and fury, necessary because not everyone is religious and not everyone has Tebow's fire. Everyone can pick up on one of those, however.
I cannot accurately judge the impact religion has had on Tebow, but he seems to follow the idea that belief in God (or Allah or Flying Spaghetti Monster) does not guarantee success. And that is where Tebow's faith influenced the team. Tebow's faith gave him confidence in himself and it was confidence the team picked up on. That confidence comes with responsibility, which the Gators forgot in the Ole Miss game. Tebow said after that game what a lot of us would have said too. The way he carried himself after the game was what made the difference. As a junior, he had the ability to do that but not as a sophomore.
The leadership model Tebow has to present as a senior must not be one where the Gators are entitled to the championship. We've seen in the NBA this season how a team can get their asses kicked when they start to think they have another title in the bag. Tebow needs to look at the recent models; the late 90's Yankees, the Patriots, Jordan's Bulls. Those teams defended their crown with pride, but never did they believe they were the best team until it was over. If he ignores those three models, the Gators will follow the late 80's Oakland A's and the Leinart/Bush Trojans into the ‘What if...' bin. Tebow cannot allow the Gators to be thought of as a team that missed out on history.
2009 will bring new challenges for Tebow; going for back-to-back titles, new coaches, preparing for the NFL. But his biggest challenge will be motivating the Gators to win another championship. If there was any man who could do that, it would be Tim Tebow.