A couple of years ago, when then-sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow was piling up statistics Heisman voters couldn't ignore, some critics charged that his gaudy numbers were merely the product of an offensive system.
Everyone knows better now. Tebow isn't the product of a system. He is the system.
Florida's offense might include principles of the veer, single wing and triple-option. But you're missing the point if you're still categorizing it as a "spread offense."
It's the Tebow offense. And that's why he's in the running for a second Heisman Trophy and his team is playing Alabama for another SEC championship Saturday.
Never mind that his numbers don't compare to his sophomore stats of two years ago or to what Houston quarterback Case Keenum is cranking out. How many winning teams have relied so much on the diverse skills of one player?
When Cincinnati lost starting quarterback Tony Pike to injury at mid-season, it replaced him with backup Zach Collaros, and hardly broke stride. Texas Tech will rank among the top-five passing teams in the country no matter whom coach Mike Leach puts at quarterback.
But how will Florida replace Tebow?
We don't know, because he keeps playing no matter what. Shoulder, knee and back injuries have pained him throughout his career, but they never sidelined him. He played when ill against Kentucky, then played the next game after suffering a severe concussion against the Wildcats.
Sans Tebow, the Gators would have to find someone who could pass from the pocket, run the option and butt helmets with 300-pound defensive linemen every time they needed a few precious yards on third or fourth down.
In preseason, Florida coach Urban Meyer hinted that the offense might lean less on Tebow this season. Eyes rolled.
In August, Meyer talked about putting together an offensive package for cornerback Joe Haden, one of the fastest Gators, who also happened to play quarterback in high school. The package has yet to be unwrapped.
Meyer also indicated in preseason that backup quarterback John Brantley would get meaningful snaps when the game was still on the line. Brantley didn't even get a meaningful snap two weeks after Tebow's scary concussion - unless, of course, you count all the practice work he got with the first team in preparation for LSU.
Putting the ball and game in Tebow's hands has become an addiction for the Florida offensive brain trust. It's irresistible.
When the going gets tough, the Gators go to Tebow. You saw that in last year's SEC championship game against Alabama and in the national championship game against Oklahoma.
And you will see it again Saturday night. But this time, Tebow will have to carry an even heavier load.
Despite Florida's heralded recruiting year after year, its wide receiving corps is pedestrian at best. Its offensive tackles aren't any better, which helps explain why only two SEC teams have given up more sacks. Florida gave up 16 sacks all of last season, and 28 so far this season - despite throwing fewer passes than any other team in the conference except Mississippi State.
Not only has Tebow been pressured more, his wide receivers are less likely to get open than last season when he had Louis Murphy and Percy Harvin. No wonder, his stats have declined.
But third downs haven't changed. They're basically all Tebow.
That's the system.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284.