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GAINESVILLE -- Two of the nation's best college quarterbacks will meet Saturday in Lexington, Ky. Both are Heisman Trophy candidates, and both need wins to remain in the hunt for a conference championship.
Little else, however, is similar between Kentucky's Andre' Woodson and Florida's Tim Tebow.
The backgrounds: Woodson is an Army brat, and Tim Tebow was home-schooled.
The progression: Tim Tebow is a sophomore starter. Woodson, a fifth-year senior, didn't play until his third year in college.
The styles: Woodson is a traditional pocket passer. Tim Tebow is a dual-threat quarterback.
The buildup: Both quarterbacks enter Saturday's game having last played against LSU. Woodson led a second-half comeback against the Tigers and defeated the nation's then-No. 1 team in triple overtime. Tim Tebow, after building a lead against LSU, couldn't finish the job in the game's final minute.
The intriguing matchup of Woodson and Tim Tebow is a major reason No. 14 Florida (4-2, 2-2 in SEC) vs. No. 8 Kentucky (6-1, 2-1) has captured the nation's attention. ESPN will broadcast College GameDay from Lexington, Ky., for the first time this Saturday, and CBS chose Florida vs. Kentucky for its 3:30 p.m. national broadcast on a day that features traditional SEC rivalries Alabama vs. Tennessee and Auburn vs. LSU.
''If we want to be a factor in the SEC East, we have to win out probably; and if Florida wants to get back in it, they have to probably win out, so this is a huge game,'' Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said.
HARD TIME, EASY TIME
How Florida and Kentucky's programs, coaches and even starting quarterbacks have reached this important juncture in the 2007 season couldn't be more different.
Kentucky is traditionally an underdog in nearly every conference game it plays. Anything less than a top 10 ranking for the Gators is considered a failure.
Brooks took over a struggling program and has been fighting to keep his job ever since. Florida coach Urban Meyer won a national championship in his second season.
And though Tim Tebow seemingly has grown up in the national spotlight and was on the Heisman Trophy watch list even before his first start, Woodson has taken a much different path in becoming the SEC's leading passer.
In a year when the SEC is on pace to set a new standard for offensive production, Woodson leads the conference in passing yards (1,786), completions (156) and touchdowns (21).
But it wasn't always that way.
Two springs ago, Woodson was in jeopardy of losing his job after a dreadful sophomore season (11 starts, six touchdowns) that shattered his confidence, tested the mettle of Kentucky's athletic director and once again cemented Kentucky as the SEC East's worst football team. But Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart stuck with Kentucky's coach and Kentucky's coach stuck with Woodson, and now Kentucky is sticking it to the SEC.
''When I lost my job, Coach pulled me in his office and told me what it was going to take to win back my job,'' Woodson said. ``That opened up my eyes, and from that point forward I took everything very seriously.''
Woodson spent extra hours in the weight room, stayed after practice to work with new quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders and dedicated himself to breaking down film of his opponents.
Woodson credits Sanders, who coached Tee Martin and Peyton Manning at Tennessee, for shaping him into a quarterback many expect to be a first-round NFL Draft pick.
''Me and [Sanders] really didn't see eye-to-eye at first,'' Woodson said.
``But you have to pay attention to a coach like that. I knew if I had any chance to be a great quarterback, I had to listen to him and learn.''
THE TURNING POINT
Teammates point to last season's 49-0 loss to LSU as the turning point for both Kentucky football and its quarterback. Woodson stepped out of character, according to senior linebacker Wesley Woodyard, and addressed the team with a passionate post-game speech.
Kentucky is 12-2 since that day, with a win against Clemson in the 2006 Music City Bowl and three come-from-behind victories in the last five weeks.
Woodson finished his junior season as the SEC's top passer in yards per game (270.4), total offense (259.8) and touchdown passes (31).
''He became a stronger leader after LSU last year,'' said Woodyard, an All-SEC linebacker and four-year starter.
'The next week in practice, he was doing everything that Andre' Woodson wasn't doing the week before.''
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