Can Tebow stay healthy?

If Tim Tebow stays healthy, Florida has a shot at duplicating its 13-1 record of 2006. If he doesn't, the Gators may be lucky to duplicate their 9-4 record of 2007.

Tebow's rare combination of running and passing skills makes the reigning Heisman Trophy winner the most dangerous quarterback in all of college football. It also makes him susceptible to bone-jarring hits and nagging injuries. He slumped noticeably in the last half of 2007 after taking dozens of shots in the first half of '07.

Making Tebow's health even more of an issue this fall is the fact the Gators do not have quality depth behind him. Sophomore backup Cameron Newton threw just 10 passes in 2007 and did little to inspire confidence in Florida's recent Orange & Blue Debut Game. He completed just 6 of 18 pass attempts for a mere 53 yards. He was 0 of 7 in the second half, was sacked three times and lost a fumble.

Tebow completed 13 of 21 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns but also tossed two interceptions, one of which was returned 50 yards for a touchdown.

Tebow clearly was Florida's primary running threat in 2007. He had twice as many carries (210 to 104) as No. 1 tailback Kestahn Moore and posted nearly four times as many rushing touchdowns (23 to 6). Tebow also led the Gators with 895 net rushing yards.

Percy Harvin, who split time between tailback and wide receiver last fall, was second in rushing with 764 yards a year ago, averaging an eye-popping 9.2 yards per carry.

Odds are Tebow will do a lot more passing and a lot less running in 2008 than he did in '07. That's because the Gators appear to have more capable running threats than they did a year ago. In addition to Moore and Harvin, Florida has a pair of impressive newcomers in Emmanuel Moody and Chris Rainey.

Moody, a sophomore who sat out the 2007 season after transferring in from Southern Cal, rushed 14 times for 111 yards in the spring game. Rainey, a 177-pound freshman with 4.24 speed, rushed 11 times for 76 yards and turned a short reception into a 65-yard touchdown play.

Harvin and Rainey, two of the fastest and most electrifying players in all of college football, are guaranteed to give opposing defenses matchup nightmares this fall.

Defensively, the Gators are sure to miss rush end Derrick Harvey, who was the eighth player picked in the recent NFL Draft after electing to skip his senior year of collegiate eligibility. Still, they may have a capable successor already on hand. Freshman Carlos Dunlap registered six stops in the Orange & Blue affair, including a spring-game record four sacks.

Still, Florida's 2008 season can be reduced to one question: Can Tim Tebow stay healthy?


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