After last month’s Heisman Trophy ceremony, Tim Tebow smiled when asked about failing to repeat as the award’s winner.
Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford had won the Heisman, but Tebow hardly seemed to care. He was already focused on the Bowl Championship Series title game between his No. 2 Gators and top-ranked Oklahoma.
“We still get to play on Jan. 8 and decide something a little bit bigger,” Tebow said at the time.
And on college football’s grandest stage on Thursday night, Tebow put an exclamation on his original subtle point by outdueling Bradford in the Gators’ 24-14 victory for their second national championship of his three-year career.
After a forgettable first half in which he threw two interceptions — as many as he had thrown the entire season — Tebow wound up with a total of 341 yards (232 passing, 109 rushing).
He fittingly threw a 4-yard jump-pass with 3 minutes 7 seconds left to seal what might have been his last college game.
After the game, Tebow said he was unsure whether he would return to play for Gators next season.
“I’m going to have to sit down and look at it,” he said.
During the game, Tebow carried his team physically and emotionally. After a 12-yard run to near midfield on his team’s opening possession of the second half, he got up and sprinted to the Florida sideline.
He pumped a fist before excitedly raising both hands in an effort to motivate his teammates and Florida fans. It was part of a 75-yard drive that was capped by wide receiver Percy Harvin’s 2-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 lead. Tebow accounted for 71 of those yards.
Bradford matched him, though, with his 50th touchdown pass of the season early in the fourth quarter. But he could not keep up after a 27-yard field goal by Florida kicker Jonathan Phillips.
Florida safety Ahmad Black made an impressive interception of a Bradford pass at the Florida 24, leaving Bradford with his mouth open and his eyes wide.
Leading up to the game, the matchup between Tebow and Bradford was billed as the epitome of star power for college football.
The last time two Heisman Trophy winners had played for the national title came at the end of the 2004 season, when Southern California’s Matt Leinart and Oklahoma’s Jason White met.
Yet neither Tebow nor Bradford was particularly impressive in the first half. On Oklahoma’s opening possession, Bradford endured a rare sack by linebacker Brandon Hicks. It was just the 10th time he had been sacked all season.
Florida’s first possession ended when Tebow was intercepted by the Oklahoma senior strong safety Nic Harris. The interception was just Tebow’s third of the season.
Tebow righted himself on Florida’s second series. He completed back-to-back passes and delivered a blow to the Sooners junior cornerback Brian Jackson during a 10-yard run near the left sideline.
As he got up, he briefly pumped one of his fists. He then accounted for Florida’s next 54 yards, which included his 20-yard touchdown pass to the senior Louis Murphy for a 7-0 lead with 14:02 left in the second quarter.
Bradford’s first TD throw on Oklahoma’s ensuing possession, however, demonstrated his poise.
He held the ball for as long as he could before being hit by defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, but still found Gresham in the back of the end zone on a 6-yard pass.
Both Bradford and Tebow stumbled late in the first half with interceptions. Tebow’s occurred when it appeared he did not see the Oklahoma redshirt sophomore Gerald McCoy and threw the ball directly to him at the Gators’ 38-yard line.