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December 7, 2007LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. ? Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is trying his best to avoid getting nervous as the hours count down until Saturday night's Heisman Trophy announcement. Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden already knows that's an exercise in futility.
The attitudes of the top two Heisman Trophy candidates illustrate the difference between the Southeastern Conference standouts.
Tebow isn't downplaying the importance of the award. He appreciates the honor of being a finalist for college football's most prestigious prize, but he also doesn't want to get too wound up over something he can't control.
"You can't do anything about it," he said, "so there's no need to waste your energy worrying about it."
Then again, Tebow hasn't experienced anything quite like this. McFadden has. McFadden, the 2006 Heisman runner-up, still remembers the knot he felt in his stomach last year just before Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith was announced as the winner.
"Right before they called the name, it seemed like my heart wanted to jump out of my chest," McFadden said.
And that came during a year when Smith won in a landslide. McFadden can only imagine the anxiety he will experience Saturday, now that he feels he has a much better chance of hearing his name called. The other finalists for the award are Tebow, Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan and Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel.
McFadden has joined 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker of Georgia as the only SEC players to rush for 1,000 yards in their freshman, sophomore and junior seasons. He ran for more yards this season than last year. He played his best when it mattered most.
So why shouldn't he feel confident?
"I feel like (my chances) are a whole lot better this year than they were last year," McFadden said. "Last year I didn't feel like I came on until the last few games of the season. I've been around all year this time, just trying to keep my name in the Heisman race."
McFadden is trying to avoid joining Army's Glenn Davis and North Carolina's Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice as the only two-time runners-up in Heisman history. Davis went on to win the 1946 Heisman Trophy after finishing second in the '44 and '45 balloting, but McFadden probably won't get that chance since it's widely assumed he will turn pro after his junior season.
Though McFadden has a better shot of winning the Heisman this season, he doesn't head to New York as the favorite. That distinction belongs to Tebow.
Tebow threw 29 touchdown passes and set an SEC record with 22 touchdown runs this year, making him the first player in Division I-A history to have at least 20 rushing touchdowns and 20 passing touchdowns in the same season. He ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency, and his 51 total touchdowns were more than 87 Division I-A teams.
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"I could care less if I have a long touchdown run or 1 yard," Tebow said. "It doesn't matter to me. It's still six points."
McFadden has rushed for 1,725 yards this season and matched an SEC record with his 321-yard performance in a 48-36 victory over South Carolina. He has rushed for 15 touchdowns and also has thrown four touchdown passes (in 11 attempts).
The only thing tougher than stopping Tebow or McFadden is trying to choose between them. Even a look at how they fared against common opponents really doesn't settle the issue.
McFadden rushed for 206 yards to lead Arkansas to a road upset of LSU, while Tebow completed less than half his passes in a loss to the Tigers in Baton Rouge.
On the other hand, Tebow threw two touchdown passes and ran for a pair of scores in a 59-20 blowout of Tennessee. McFadden rushed for 117 yards in a 34-13 loss to Tennessee and did much of his damage after the game was out of reach.
SEC coaches chose McFadden as the league's offensive player of the year. Tebow was named the conference's top offensive player on The Associated Press' All-SEC team, which was selected by a panel of regional media.
Tebow won the Maxwell Award that goes out annually to the nation's best all-around player, while McFadden was selected as the Walter Camp national player of the year.
Even the players who have faced both can't decide which candidate is better. If they do have a preference, they're keeping it secret.
"They're both tremendous players," LSU strong safety Craig Steltz said Wednesday each time he was asked for his opinion on the debate. "I'd love to have both of them on my team."
At least a couple of players at Walt Disney World this week for the College Football Awards Show were willing to take a side on the issue.
Even though he remains a finalist for the award himself, Daniel said he'd cast his vote for Tebow "without a doubt."
"When you're the first 20-20 guy in college football history, you're (a) 50-touchdown guy ? if those numbers don't win it, I don't know what does," said Daniel, whose team faces McFadden's Arkansas squad in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day.
Michigan tailback Mike Hart also sided with Tebow and said the Florida quarterback shouldn't be punished just because no sophomore has won the award before. "That's the only thing that's against him, but you can't hold him back (just) because he's a sophomore," said Hart, whose Wolverines battle Florida in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day.
Will the Heisman voters feel the same way? Tebow won't know for sure until Saturday night.
Until then, he's trying not to dwell on what may happen. Tebow simply is looking forward to visiting New York for the first time in his life.
"I've never seen any of it, so I'm looking forward to seeing all of it," Tebow said. "Central Park. The Christmas tree. Ellis Island. The Statue of Liberty. Everything. I'm just looking forward to it. Just walking the blocks. I've never been to a city like that."
McFadden also is trying to enjoy the moment and not think about what's at stake, though his Heisman experience last year has taught him that task is much easier said than done. He already has put together the type of season he considers worthy of the award. He can only hope enough voters agree with him.
"I had a great season," McFadden said. "I put in a lot of hard work this year in the SEC. After the LSU game, I think I left everything out on the field. I did my part and did what I could do. Now I have to let everything else just fall into place."
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.