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Burden on Tebow's shoulders heavier than ever

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Raise your hand in Gator Country if you’ve seen this before.

Watching Florida’s offense in last Saturday’s 23-13 harder-than-expected victory over Tennessee was eerily reminiscent of the 2007 season when just about everything fell on Tim Tebow’s shoulders.

Tebow, or Superman as Lane Kiffin calls him, has wide shoulders. He’s proven time and time again that he can shoulder just about anything you want to give him.

But that’s not the point.

The point is: Can the Gators win another BCS national championship being so Tebow-centered and not getting more from their skill plays, especially their receivers?

Better yet, can they even win an SEC championship that way?

I’m not one of those who’s ready to write the Gators off as just another team simply because of one so-so performance. Remember the restlessness last season in Gainesville when they scored "only" 26 points against Miami and then “only” 30 points against Tennessee?

They followed that up by losing at home to Ole Miss a week later ... and have won 13 consecutive games since.

But that team a year ago had Percy Harvin, and that team had Louis Murphy. This team is still trying to find somebody (anybody) who can be a consistent go-to threat in the passing game.

The most disconcerting thing for the Gators is that Tebow is having to take on so much himself. That’s a good thing in that there’s never been a better college quarterback on third-and-short than Tebow. He is beyond amazing.

It’s a bad thing, though, in that he’s starting to take some big-time hits. He has 37 rushing attempts in his last two games. That’s more than any running back in the league with the exception of Tennessee’s Montario Hardesty (46), Mississippi State’s Anthony Dixon (41) and Auburn’s Ben Tate (39).

Hey, it’s a fair question: Can Tebow last getting hit that much? And if he does last, how beaten down will he be at the end of the season when the money games roll around?

Judging by some of his comments coming out of the Tennessee game, it’s safe to say that he’s had similar thoughts.

“The No. 1 goal is to win the game,” Tebow said. “You want to be smart. I won’t play as physical every game as I did against Tennessee, but it was a game where you needed to ride me a little more. It was working. We knew we would win if we kept it up and didn’t force things.”

Unless things change dramatically, it looks like the Gators might have to ride him all season long.

The lack of an every-down running back is also an issue for Florida. It’s not as much of an issue when you have Harvin, a guy you can hand it to five to seven times a game and know you’re going to get two or three big plays.

Harvin masked a lot of problems on offense, something Florida coach Urban Meyer was already well aware of and something Monte Kiffin and the Tennessee defense exposed last Saturday.

In 2007, Tebow carried the ball 210 times. He played that season against Georgia with a bum shoulder that was nowhere near 100 percent. He was a glimmer of himself in that game, and the Bulldogs won 42-30.

And while it's a fact that Tebow won the Heisman Trophy that season, it’s also a fact that the Gators lost four football games.

They’re not going down that road again this season, and nobody’s predicting as much. They’re too talented on both sides of the ball. They have too much leadership, and Meyer’s been around the block a few times.

But it is a road that looks far more challenging than anybody would have guessed in the preseason unless other guys step up on offense and take some of the burden off Tebow’s hulking, yet mortal, shoulders.