FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. - Tim Tebow deserves the Heisman Trophy, and the endorsement comes with no allegiance to the University of Florida or the Southeastern Conference.

In reality, the performance of the league and, to a lesser extent, the Gators are the pinholes in Tebow's resume. But even those factors work in Tebow's favor when placed in their proper context.

Without Tebow, the Gators are closer to a .500 team than the one that chased an East Division title. And without Florida following its national title with a 9-3 mark, the SEC is even more underwhelming and overrated than it is now.

So, in effect, Tebow helped save the Gators' season and the SEC's pride. How's that for Heisman credentials?

Look, it's possible to acknowledge the SEC's slippage while still touting Tebow for the Heisman. The league's hiccup should have been clear even before Louisiana-Monroe beat Alabama and LSU ran out of luck against Arkansas, but if it wasn't, there you go.

The SEC looked the same on the surface, with teams beating up on each other, and it still gets the usual lazy "common knowledge" votes in the poll. But tally up suspect nonconference showings, add on the best teams in the SEC losing to their certifiably weak brethren, and the SEC isn't so exceptional this season.

That doesn't make it the Mid-American Conference. A subpar season in the SEC still makes for a pretty good league. Can't doubt Tebow did his thing against good competition.

The SEC's shakiness is one reason to say Florida could have done more. The Gators have more raw talent than anyone in the league and this was the year for such a team, however flawed, to go to Atlanta (and, in fact, two such teams are playing in the SEC title game on Saturday).

But you can't say Florida should have done more, and that's an important distinction. No way the defense wouldn't regress. Much of the talent on offense is green. The Gators didn't catch the kind of breaks all champions need, including the 2006 Gators.

In other words, Florida did about what could be expected. More relevant concerning Tebow and the Heisman is, without him, the Gators wouldn't have come close to doing that.

It's not about the numbers with Tebow, though he's certainly got those if that's your thing. He's second in the nation in passing efficiency, with 3,132 yards, 68.5 percent accuracy, and 29 touchdown passes to just six interceptions.

Tebow also scored 20 rushing touchdowns this season. That's more than Heisman winners Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson ever had, for crying out loud, and four more than Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, who might be stealing some late thunder from Tebow.

Tebow is the first player to throw and run for 20 or more touchdowns, a remarkable achievement, but you've got to get past the quantitative with him. The production is impressive, but when you consider Tebow's circumstances, it's extraordinary.

First of all, Tebow is a sophomore. Some are trying to use that against him since no sophomore has won the award (um, so?), but Tebow's relative youth makes his season that much more outstanding.

For all the hype about his talent, Tebow was a first-time starting quarterback in the SEC. He should have been expected to fall on his face frequently, but instead his poise stood out the most all season.

Sure, Tebow made mistakes in big spots, like those second-half interceptions in losses to Auburn and LSU, but can't recall him ever looking rattled. After a day of tangling with Tebow, several opposing defenders marveled at the same.

Remember, Tebow had a record-breaking season without a reliable (never mind feared) running back. Defenders knew Tebow was going to run it, knew how he was going to do it, yet he still plowed through them with stunning effectiveness.

It can be numbing because Tebow makes it look so easy, but think about the seeming absurdity of it: When the Gators absolutely needed tough yards, they went to their quarterback, and he delivered with record-setting success, often carving out yards where none seemed to be there.

In other words, Tebow made plays like the most outstanding player in college football. That's the criteria for the Heisman, and, regardless of the state of the SEC and the Gators, no one fits it better than Tebow.