- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Leading college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit recalls the first time he saw Florida’s Tim Tebow.

ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew was in Gainesville for a 2006 SEC showdown between No. 5 Florida and ninth-ranked Louisiana State. With the Gators trailing 7-0 late in the first quarter and facing fourth-and-goal from just inside the LSU 2-yard line, the ballyhooed true freshman trotted into the game to replace All-SEC quarterback Chris Leak.

“We had heard a lot about Tim Tebow, but you hear about a lot of guys,” Herbstreit said. “He pushed that LSU defensive line and really that entire defense back 5 yards. I’d never seen a stadium react to a player like that. I said to [Chris Fowler], ‘It’s like he’s Roy Hobbs or something.’ It’s just been a love affair from that point on. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like in his last go-around.”

Three remarkable seasons later, Tebow is standing on the threshold of history. If the bullish quarterback from Jacksonville concludes his senior season by collecting a second Heisman Trophy while leading preseason No. 1 Florida to the national championship, he will become the most decorated player in the history of college football. Only one player has won multiple Heismans (Ohio State’s Archie Griffin, 1974-75). And Griffin’s teams didn’t win a single national title, much less the three that Tebow’s would boast should he pull off the college game’s ultimate dynamic double.

Would such an accomplishment qualify Tebow as the greatest player in college history?

“Look, I think Tim Tebow is fabulous, but it seems like just yesterday we were having exactly the same discussion about Matt Leinart and along comes Texas and Vince Young,” Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll said. “It can all change in the blink of an eye, so I think we have to let it all play out before we evaluate careers.”

Texas senior Colt McCoy has been a trendy pick to clip Tebow in the Heisman race for two reasons: McCoy has not been honored with the award before (as Tebow was in 2007), and the slinger from Texas put up bigger numbers than Tebow last season for an offense that returns virtually intact.

While the Gators return 18 starters from the squad that finished 13-1 last season, Tebow’s top two targets from 2008 (Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy) were among the departures. Throw in the fact Tebow is making the transition to new offensive coordinator Steve Addazio after Dan Mullen’s exit to become top man at Mississippi State, and a slight dip in Tebow’s stats wouldn’t be a surprise.

In fact, Tebow would seem to have no chance of winning a “greatest ever” argument based on pure statistical evidence. He has no chance of catching the SEC career passing milestones held by Georgia’s David Greene (11,528 yards) and former Gators star Danny Wuerffel (114 touchdown passes). With only a fair run-pass season by his standards (2,844 yards), Tebow will pass Greene as the conference king in total offense, but he won’t come close to matching Hawaii’s Football Bowl Subdivision record-holder Timmy Chang (16,910 yards) in the category.

Tebow’s 22-5 record is remarkable but not Tommy McDonald outrageous - the Oklahoma halfback’s teams were 30-0 from 1954 to 1956.

And while there may be no other player any college coach would rather have behind center on fourth-and-2, Tebow doesn’t accumulate many style points. Efficient? Sure. Flashy? He’s no Herschel Walker.

Said Dan Jenkins, sportswriting legend and official historian of the National Football Foundation: “I guess Tebow would be in the conversation, but he doesn’t play defense. I think you’ve got to play both ways to be at the top of that list.”

It’s certainly not difficult to imagine Tebow lining up at middle linebacker, given his 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame and zeal for contact.

In some ways, docking him for not playing defense is like questioning his NFL stock because he runs the spread. Though he spends the majority of his time probing the edges, feeding quick hits to Florida’s speedy playmakers and mixing in the odd zone option, is there a single downfield throw he can’t make?

“There’s a lot made of that; the concern is not from the professional coaches that I have a lot of conversation with. That never comes up,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said of the perception of Tebow as a product of the system. “If you want Tim Tebow under center, teach him to get under center. He’ll probably do it better than anybody else.”

Tebow’s unparalleled traits are his work ethic, competitive clutch and leadership. From his impassioned speech after Florida’s upset loss to Mississippi last season to his perfect fourth quarter (5-for-5 passing, 72 yards and a touchdown) in Florida’s SEC championship comeback against Alabama to his offseason commitment to excellence, Tebow might rate a perfect score if intangibles were measurable.

That’s why Florida is such a heavy favorite to repeat despite the failures of similarly loaded teams like Miami and Southern Cal earlier this decade.

“We talk about it all the time,” Tebow said. “Complacency, leadership, not resting on your laurels, not worry about what we did yesterday but worry about how we can get better today.”

That attitude is why even Tebow’s most heated rivals respect him immensely. And that respect could turn to absolute reverence from the entire college football world if the Florida senior can find four more months of magic.

“In my lifetime - and not to make this an over-dramatic comment - but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a guy have as big an impact on a powerhouse program as I’ve seen from Tim Tebow from Day One,” Herbstreit said. “If he ends up achieving his goals, he potentially could be a part of three national championships, three SEC championships and maybe two Heisman Trophies.

“I know we’ve had a lot of great players in the last 100 years of college football, but I don’t know if there’s anybody who has come close to accomplishing that on the field. Then you throw in all the things he represents and stands for, and I think the bar is being set, in my mind anyway, right before our eyes.”

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