It was the best in BCS history, too.
Tebow threw for a career-high 482 yards and three touchdowns, ran for 51 yards and another score, and fifth-ranked Florida overwhelmed No. 4 Cincinnati 51-24 Friday night in the Sugar Bowl.
“Tim Tebow will go down as one of the great players if not the greatest player in college football,” Meyer said.
For Tebow and the Gators (13-1), this certainly was The Big Easy.
Florida’s most anticipated season ever ended in New Orleans instead of Pasadena. It came against Cincinnati (12-1) instead of Texas. It was about redemption instead of perfection.
None of that mattered in the Louisiana Superdome.
Tebow wouldn’t let it.
“This has been the best four years of life,” Tebow said. “We wanted to ended it on a good note.”
He completed his first 12 passes, led the Gators to scores on their first five possessions and finished with 533 yards – more than anyone in Bowl Championship Series history. He passed former Texas star Vince Young‘s record of 467 yards set against Southern California in the 2005 Rose Bowl.
The Bearcats lost their bid for a perfect season and surely will spend the next year listening to questions about whether they belong in the big games against the biggest boys.
Florida, meanwhile, became the first school in the Football Bowl Subdivision to win 13 games in consecutive seasons.
Tebow and his teammates had hoped to repeat as national champions, but a 32-13 loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference title game knocked them out of the title picture. The Gators spent the last four weeks regrouping from the disheartening loss.
Things got worse when Meyer announced his resignation last Saturday, three weeks after being rushed to the hospital because of chest pain. Meyer changed his mind the following day, and instead said he would take an indefinite leave of absence.
No one knows how long he will be away or whether he will return at all.
“I plan on being the coach of the Gators,” Meyer said.
Meyer didn’t look like his fiery self against his alma mater. Then again, Tebow and Co. made this a stress-free game for every Gator.
Cincinnati stacked the line of scrimmage, essentially forcing Tebow to beat them through the air. That worked for the Crimson Tide. It backfired for the Bearcats.
The bulky left-hander had all kinds of time to pass and picked apart Cincinnati’s sketchy defense. He nearly had a career game in the first half alone. He completed 20 of 23 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns, 18 yards shy of his previous career high.
He found Aaron Hernandez for a 7-yard score to cap Florida’s first possession, hooked up with Deonte Thompson on a perfectly thrown ball to the corner of the end zone in the second quarter and then dropped a deep ball into roommate Riley Cooper‘s hands for an 80-yarder. That was longest completion of Tebow’s career.
Tebow completed 31 of 35 passes. Cooper had seven catches for 181 yards. Hernandez added nine receptions for 111 yards.
Florida clearly had something to prove after getting thumped in Atlanta, and Cincinnati was on the receiving end. The Bearcats were playing in their second straight BCS game, but this one was even more lopsided than last year’s 20-7 loss to Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Quarterback Tony Pike got much of the blame for that one after throwing four interceptions.
Former coach Brian Kelly could get charged with this one.
Kelly bailed on the Bearcats in early December, leaving behind a lame-duck staff and plenty of angry players. The players spent a few days spewing over Kelly’s decision, then insisted they understood he made a business decision. The coaches, meanwhile, spent the last three weeks searching for jobs and trying to keep the team focused despite a huge distraction.
Without Kelly, who called plays all season, the offense suffered.
Pike completed 27 of 45 passes for 170 yards and three scores, all in the second half when the ouctome was no longer in doubt.
Florida’s Carlos Dunlap, who returned after a one-game suspension that followed a drunk-driving arrest, had two of the Gators’ three sacks.
Florida, however, scored at will. Emmanuel Moody, Tebow and Chris Rainey ran for touchdowns in the second half to make it a blowout.
Tebow stayed in the game until there was only about 3 minutes remaining. When he finally came off the field for good, he raised his arms into the air, hugged backup quarterback John Brantley and then embraced Meyer near the sideline. The Florida faithful — outnumbered in and around the Superdome — chanted his name.
Florida finished with a Sugar Bowl-record 659 yards and the last celebration for the most successful senior class in school history came on the Sugar Bowl logo.