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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

They're Heismans apart

Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Florida's Tim Tebow, who'll meet in the BCS title game Thursday, have much different personalities.

January 05, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — One day after this season's Heisman Trophy winner quietly slipped into an interview room, looking like an Oklahoma fan dressed in a Sam Bradford jersey, the previous season's Heisman winner made a star-studded, security-escorted entrance onto a Sunday center stage.

"Get off the podium!" a man with a dark suit, wearing an earpiece, bellowed at reporters who were angling for position to hear Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

What, no bomb-sniffing dogs?

No one said whether this man was from U.N.C.L.E. or the Secret Service or Rent-A-Badge, but he sure looked important as he cleared spa and resort hotel space for one of Florida's most famous.

"It's kind of cool being with a rock star," teammate Louis Murphy jokingly said of Tebow.

What is it about South Florida, Oklahoma quarterbacks, rock stars, the Heisman and the Bowl Championship Series national title game?

The only other time two Heisman winners have faced each other for the national title was four years ago, when quarterback Jason White of Oklahoma and Matt Leinart of USC met under similar BCS circumstances.

Bradford can only hope the score is not 55-19 again.

White, the 2003 Heisman winner, was a soft-spoken kid from a town in "the OK," while limelight Leinart hailed from "the OC."

Here we go again.

Oklahoma and Florida are playing for the BCS national title Thursday night at Dolphin Stadium and all the talk again is about quarterbacks and offense.

If handling the spotlight and the camera flashes and the interviews correlates at all to game performance, Bradford doesn't stand a chance against Tim Terrific.

There's no quibbling with the numbers -- both quarterbacks have led two of the most prolific statistical teams in NCAA history.

Bradford won the Heisman Trophy this season as a sophomore because he deserved it, throwing for 48 touchdowns against only six interceptions in leading Oklahoma to the Big 12 Conference championship. Oklahoma's hurry-up attack set school records with 97 touchdowns and 702 points.

Oklahoma had 18 scoring drives of less than a minute and scored 55 points against Kansas State -- in the first half.

Bradford was the trigger-happy shooter for all of it, dissecting Big 12 defenses with almost ridiculous ease.

In two seasons as Oklahoma's starter, Bradford has thrown for 84 touchdown passes. With time and practice, coaches think he'll one day be able to shake this slump.

Tebow won the Heisman in 2007 as a sophomore because he deserved it, accounting for 55 touchdowns by himself. This season he slipped a bit, if you dare to call it that, throwing for only 28 touchdowns (with only two interceptions) and rushing for 12 touchdowns.

With more talent around him, Tebow didn't need to do as much this season, yet he still did plenty in leading Florida to the Southeastern Conference title.

In 25 career starts, Tebow has 108 touchdowns, 65 passing and 43 rushing.

Bradford and Tebow, though, are from different personality planets.

Bradford still seems stunned and awed by his Heisman victory and not sure yet what it all means.

Maybe he needs time to grow into it.

"There's times you want to go where no one knows your name," he said of his anonymity loss.

After becoming Oklahoma's fifth Heisman winner, Bradford couldn't wait to get back to Norman to become "as normal as possible."

He was relieved when professors did not make too big a deal out of him winning the award.

"They've never really said anything in front of the class," he said.

Bradford, reared in Oklahoma City, said his Heisman was somewhere "at his parents' house."

Bradford may also be sobered by the bad-luck history of Heisman winners in bowl games, most notably Oklahoma's White, who was less than brilliant in a BCS title loss to Louisiana State after his Heisman victory.

White also performed poorly in 2004 in the title game loss to USC.

Tebow, conversely, oozes confidence and pizzazz.

Since becoming the first sophomore to be awarded the Heisman, Tebow has used the afterglow to champion football and other worldly endeavors.

Tebow has put an imprint on everything he touches while maintaining a humility that makes every spoken word sound like a Boy Scout pledge.

A man of faith, Tebow has used fame to promote, but not exploit, his good works, taking off-season time to do missionary work in Croatia, Thailand and the Philippines.

"Pressure is not having to win football games," he said Sunday, "pressure is having to find your next meal."

Unlike Bradford, who wouldn't stir up a can of beans, Tebow has enough confidence to throw his weight and words around.

After Florida's only defeat, against Mississippi on Sept. 27, it was Tebow who vowed afterward that no player in the country would play harder than he would the rest of the season.

Florida has not lost since, becoming the first school to win six consecutive SEC games by an average of more than 28 points.

After Florida fell behind Alabama, 20-17, in the SEC title game, Tebow jumped in his teammates' faces before leading them on two fourth-quarter scoring drives.

Tebow also stirred up Oklahoma last week with an off-the-cuff and mostly harmless remark that he couldn't wait to face a Big 12 defense. Oklahoma's secondary ranks 99th nationally in pass defense.

Sooners defensive back Dominique Franks responded Sunday by suggesting that Tebow would "probably be about the fourth-best quarterback in our conference."

Tebow is smart enough to know when not to further a cause.

"I think both conferences are very good," Tebow said.

Tebow would soon be hustled out by the man with his decoder pen and top-secret location coordinates.

Guarding Florida's (SEC) crowned prince was no easy task, even when it should have been.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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