Tim Tebow Coming Back ... What It Means
Florida QB Tim Tebow
Florida QB Tim Tebow
Posted Jan 11, 2009

Tebow is returning for his senior season at Florida. What does this mean to the college football world and for the history of the sport? Florida will be the preseason No. 1 team, and, writes Pete Fiutak, the spotlight will be on a player and a team like never before.

Tim Tebow Returning For His Senior Year

The Gators will be the unquestioned preseason No. 1

By Pete Fiutak

“Let’s do it again. I’m coming back.”

Give the man this; he has a sense of his own importance to the college football world and the Florida Gators.

Tim Tebow announced he’s coming back for his senior season, despite thoughts that he was looking to leave early for the NFL after pulling off the national championship win over Oklahoma last Thursday night. While he and his family have made it well known that the NFL is a main goal, and that he was interested in taking off for the pro level early if he was considered a first round prospect, now he has a chance to go down as the greatest college football player of the modern era (roughly starting at 1970, since that’s when the sport finally became almost fully integrated and the national title was awarded after the bowl games).

Considering college football used to rival baseball as America’s biggest sport, players like Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, George Gipp, Nile Kinnick and Sammy Baugh were more than just players; they rivaled the Babe Ruths and Jack Dempseys of the world in popularity and importance to the culture of American sports. It was a different time, when a singular figure like Grange could put over 100,000 people in Soldier Field by himself, so keeping that in mind when comparing apples to oranges, eras to eras, it’s a simplistic overstatement to immediately assume that Tebow has the potential to finish his career as the greatest college football player of all-time, but …

Tim Tebow has the potential to finish his career as the greatest college football player of all-time.

Forget about pro prospects, potential, and NFL talent for a moment. When discussing the best ever, it’s all about the college careers the players had. Would anyone start an NFL team with Danny Wuerffel over Peyton Manning? Of course not, but Wuerffel has to be considered the better college player based on career achievements, both individual and with the Florida Gators. Stanford’s John Elway is widely considered to be the greatest NFL quarterback prospect of all-time, but he never took his team to a bowl game. Meanwhile, Nebraska’s Tommie Frazier won two national titles, came within a missed field goal of a third, and had the better career.

The history of college football is about the running backs. From Herschel Walker to Doak Walker, Ron Dayne to O.J. Simpson, Barry Sanders to Jim Brown, and on and on and on, the runners have been the stars of the sport until relatively recently. That’s why players like Matt Leinart, Vince Young, and Frazier, lead a list of the greatest quarterbacks ever, while the late 1800s to around the mid-1980s was woefully short of standout signal callers. So when a player like Tebow comes in and becomes a cult hero as a freshman, a Heisman winner as a sophomore, and the unquestioned leader of a national champion as a junior, the potential is there for him to be among the most decorated stars of all-time.

If the Heisman voting was done the day after the last bowl game (like it should be), who wins this year? Not Sam Bradford. Colt McCoy of Texas might have pulled it off, but Tebow likely would’ve been handed his second straight honor, and if he takes Florida to the 2010 BCS Championship Game in Pasadena, he’ll almost certainly do it as the second two-time winner, joining Ohio State’s Archie Griffin.

If he and Florida win their second straight title, and third in four years, Tebow will have finished his career with three national titles and, possibly, two Heismans. No college quarterback will have come remotely close to accomplishing more. But there will be others.

With the popularity of the spread offense, and the sophistication of the sport from the coaching to the film work to the specialization, more and more high schools are running the spread. Somewhere out there is another player with far more talent than Tebow who’ll take the college football world by storm soon enough. But will he have Tebow’s attitude and drive? Will he have the type of personality to make otherwise reasonable grown men melt like a schoolgirl looking at a Zac Efron poster? And will he be able to win like Tebow?

For now, the test will be to see if Tebow can actually pull it off, unlike Leinart, when he was in a similar situation in 2006 when he chose to come back to lead his juggernaut of a USC team that came up short against Vince Young and Texas. The pressure will be unfair and unrelenting. Now, anything less than another national title will be a failure of a 2009 season. Anything less than a Heisman-worthy performance will be a major disappointment.

Keep in mind, Florida’s only unbeaten season was 1911, and major help was needed for the program to backdoor its way into national titles in 1996 and 2006. But the 2009 Gators will be expected to go unbeaten. Anything less won’t be acceptable considering the team that’s returning.

An early look at next year’s schedule has only two realistic concerns: at LSU and the showdown against Georgia. However, the Bulldogs will be without QB Matthew Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno, who are each leaving early, and LSU isn’t going to be the 2007 version. The other road trips are at Kentucky, Mississippi State and South Carolina, and the toughest home games will be against Tennessee and Florida State.

And then there’s the team. Assume WR Percy Harvin and LB Brandon Spikes, likely top 20 draft picks, will likely be leaving early. Even so, outside of a slight concern on the offensive line, especially at tackle, and a need to find a go-to receiver with Louis Murphy and Harvin both gone, this will be the preseason No. 1 team by a landslide.

If you were sick of Tebow before, bunker down, because the next eight months will be Tebow mania. Will he be able to overcome the hype to pull it off, or will he end up like Leinart?

The bull’s-eye is on Tebow’s back … just where he wants it.

Welcome to the start of the 2009 season.