80GA-UF1980 vs Florida: "Run, Lindsay!"
The sophomore quarterback was honored Wednesday by The Associated Press, which released its All-Southeastern Conference team and recognized the league’s top individual performers.
LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey was named defensive player of the year, Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom picked up the coach of the year award, and Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno was selected as freshman of the year.
Tebow and Dorsey were among four unanimous picks to the All-SEC team, joined by Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and Kentucky tight end Jacob Tamme.
No. 2 LSU, which won the conference championship and will meet top-ranked Ohio State in the BCS title game at New Orleans, led the way with six players on the first team. But, in a season ruled by parity, all 12 schools were represented on the first team.
Even though McFadden had another huge year for the Razorbacks, rushing for 1,725 yards after being runner-up in the Heisman Trophy a year ago, he was routed by Tebow in voting for the SEC’s top offensive player. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound quarterback was named on nine of 11 ballots cast by a regional media panel.
Then again, no one’s ever had a year quite like Tebow’s.
He became the first player in NCAA history to rush for 20 touchdowns and pass for 20 in the same season. He passed for 3,132 yards, with 29 TDs and only six interceptions. He led the Gators with 838 yards rushing and broke the SEC’s season record by running for 22 TDs.
"It’s been a great season," said Florida’s offensive coordinator, Dan Mullen. "We put an awful lot on him. He’s done an awful lot of great things, finding ways to make plays. When you get a guy like that, especially when you get down in the red zone, he’s a guy who’s real hungry and he fights for those extra yards and that goal line."
In his first year as a starter, Tebow set a Florida record with 3,970 total yards, quite an accomplishment at a school known for its high-scoring offenses during the Steve Spurrier era. He had a hand — or legs — in nearly 73 percent of the Gators’ 70 touchdowns. He contributed to just under 72 percent of their 5,544 yards.
"He’s just so much more confident now," receiver Andre Caldwell said. "You can see it on his face. Whenever a play needs to be made, you can put the ball in his hands and he’s going to make the play for us. His confidence and his swagger are so much different now from when he first arrived."
Considering his landmark season, it’s no surprise that Tebow is a serious contender to become the first sophomore to win the Heisman, though he figures to get some stiff competition from McFadden, who lost out to Troy Smith in 2006.
McFadden also is known for his versatility, occasionally lining up at quarterback. He completed six passes this season, four of them for touchdowns.
But no one got to the end zone more than Tebow, who backed up Chris Leak as a freshman on Florida’s national championship team.
"We did have some good numbers," Tebow said. "It was a good team effort and a good offensive show for a lot of games this year and we’re happy with it. We know we can get better, though. I don’t think this offense has reached its peak."
Dorsey likely would have been a first-round pick if he had decided to enter the NFL draft after his junior season. Instead, he returned to the Tigers, helping them win the SEC title and earn a shot at their second national championship in five years.
Despite being doubled-teamed on most plays, the 303-pound Dorsey still managed to make 64 tackles, including six sacks and 11.5 for losses. He also improved his stock heading into next year’s draft.
"I just know if they double-team me, then someone else can make the play," Dorsey said. "If it takes me being double-teamed all game to the win the game, that’s just the way it is."
Croom broke new ground the day he was hired by Mississippi State, becoming the first black head football coach in SEC history. After winning only nine games his first three years with the Bulldogs, he broke through this season with a 7-5 record and an invitation to the Liberty Bowl.
"It’s an affirmation first of all of the commitment to diversity that our university has, a commitment to building a program the right way," Croom said. "This has not been an overnight kind of deal. It’s been a gradual building process. The changes in the program at first were not seen on the outside, but we could always see them on the inside."
Moreno wasn’t seen at all last season, sitting out a redshirt year, and it wasn’t known if he’d get much playing time this year on a Georgia team that already had senior running backs Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin.
But Brown and Lumpkin were both hampered by injuries, giving Moreno a chance to shine. The New Jersey native had five straight 100-yard games after taking over the starting job and became only the second freshman in Georgia history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, following Herschel Walker.
"I was just trying to help my team in any way possible," said Moreno, who ranked second in the SEC with 1,273 yards rushing. "All the credit goes to the offensive line. They did a great job."
Moreno joined Tebow, McFadden and Tamme on a first-team offense that also included receivers Kenny McKinley of South Carolina and Earl Bennett of Vanderbilt, linemen Michael Oher of Mississippi, Chris Williams of Vanderbilt, Andre Smith of Alabama, Anthony Parker of Tennessee and Robert Felton of Arkansas, center Jonathan Luigs of Arkansas, all-purpose threat Percy Harvin of Florida, and kicker Colt David of LSU.
Dorsey was joined on the first-team defense by four teammates: linebacker Ali Highsmith, cornerback Chevis Jackson, safety Craig Steltz and punter Patrick Fisher. The remaining picks were ends Greg Hardy of Ole Miss and Wallace Gilberry of Alabama, tackles Geno Atkins of Georgia and Pat Sims of Auburn, linebackers Wesley Woodyard of Kentucky, Jerod Mayo of Tennessee and Brandon Spikes of Florida, cornerback D.J. Moore of Vanderbilt, and safeties Derek Pegues of Mississippi State and Rashad Johnson of Alabama.
Bennett, Luigs, Tamme, McFadden and Dorsey were the only first-team holdovers from last year on the 75th annual team.