It was supposed to be a launching pad toward a national title run next season. It was supposed to be Tim Tebow's final stamp on a Heisman-winning year. Instead, the Capitol One Bowl on New Year's Day sent Michigan coach Lloyd Carr into retirement with a 41-35 upset victory and sent No. 9 Florida into the offseason desperate for defensive solutions.
Tebow was hardly the problem in a game in which the Gators surrendered 524 yards and allowed the Wolverines to score on seven of their 13 possessions. But the duel-threat quarterback was not his usual dominant self, passing for a season-low 154 yards, running for just 57 on 16 carries, and failing to squeeze out so much as a first down on two late-game possessions that could have changed the outcome.
Now the real test begins. Can Florida's beloved playcaller bounce back and live up to near impossible expectations for the 2008 season? Tebow has never known this kind of pressure: He won a national title last year as a specialty-play freshman darling behind senior quarterback Chris Leak and cruised through his heralded sophomore campaign on a young team few expected to make much noise.
This coming fall, he will take the field as the favorite to capture another Heisman Trophy and as the leader of a team for which another 9-4 season would constitute a colossal failure. Tebow has spent a lifetime preparing for this moment. He developed the needed work ethic growing up on his family's 44-acre farm. He learned the required lessons of character and self-discipline from a father devoted to ministry and biblical living.
Perhaps most important, Tebow has long practiced and proven the virtues of true humility, a posture that breeds calm and confidence in the providence of God. The young star displayed such qualities last month in a gracious Heisman acceptance speech in which he deferred glory and credit to his parents, his teammates, his coaches, and Jesus Christ.
Now on the brink of ascending an even grander stage, Tebow faces expanding opportunities to reflect divine courage, honor, and grit-and winning or losing has nothing to do with it.