The numbers do not argue his case. At least, not very loudly. Most days, they just sort of whisper from a distance. The surveys do not offer much hope. After all those days of being a front-runner, he has become an afterthought. The analysts seem to have forgotten his name, and the highlights don't seem to make as many jaws drop as they used to, and the papers are filled with NFL scouts talking about the things he cannot do. Even history suggests the trophy will wind up somewhere else. And yet, amazingly, Tim Tebow can still win the Heisman Trophy.
And however is this possible? Even for Tebow?
For Tebow, the University of Florida quarterback and legend-in-progress, it has been an upstream kind of season. His best receivers left him, he has been hurt, and his numbers pale in comparison to his previous two seasons. As overhyped an award as the Heisman is, it still looks bigger than the season Tebow has had.
And yet, incredibly, Tebow has a chance.
Talk about great timing. Tebow's senior season, it seems, has coincided with the worst Heisman Trophy race in a quarter-century.
Look around. There are no slam dunks and no loud arguments. Some nice little seasons are going on, but nothing sensational. Yes, Alabama running back Mark Ingram, the current front-runner in most debates, is a fine back, but have you heard anyone suggest he's the next Barry Sanders? Me neither.
Colt McCoy, the Texas quarterback, has had the same sort of statistical falloff as Tebow. Stanford running back Toby Gerhart was been dazzling lately, but he may have arrived too late to the debate.
Here's the thing. Historically, a quarterback has to throw for at least 30 touchdowns (Oklahoma's Sam Bradford threw for 50 last season). If you're a running back, you have to run for roughly 2,000 yards (Sanders once ran for 2,628). And if you play defense, you pretty much need to end world hunger.
Also, you have to play for a team contending for the national title.
Of the past 10 Heisman winners, nine played for teams that were in national championship contention at the time of the vote. The exception? Tebow in 2007; his team finished ranked 13th with a 9-4 record. That would seem to eliminate Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Clemson's C.J. Spiller, two athletes who would be much better if their programs were in the hunt.
All this works in Tebow's favor. The more names in the primaries, the murkier the water becomes, and the better it is to be the essential player on the essential team.
From here, Tebow needs a strong finish. He needs some numbers against Florida International on Saturday. He needs to look good in the rivalry game against FSU. And in the SEC title game against Alabama, he needs to be clearly better than Ingram.
In other words, he needs to be good enough to make people forget about the numbers.
Granted, it is easy to wonder: In which other season would this year's performance have won a Heisman for Tebow? Not last year, because Tebow's numbers were better than Bradford's, and he didn't win it. Not in '06, either. Tebow is a much better player than Troy Smith, but Smith had 30 touchdown passes for Ohio State, and his team was undefeated at the time of the voting.
How about 2001, when Nebraska's Eric Crouch won? Maybe, but Crouch had 1,572 yards passing and 1,229 yards rushing. That's a pretty impressive combination.
How about 1997, when Michigan's Charles Woodson won? Maybe, because Woodson was a defensive back, and in hindsight, eight interceptions wasn't a grand total. Ah, but Woodson beat out Peyton Manning, and Manning threw for 33 touchdowns. If Manning couldn't get past Woodson, would Tebow have?
How about 1992, when Miami's Gino Torretta won the award? If you remember, Torretta was about the 14th most talented Miami player that year. Yeah, Tebow would get my vote over Torretta. But Marshall Faulk, who finished second, should have beaten both of them.
As far as this year, Tebow has fallen to fifth in the Heisman Pundit poll. He's slipped to second (after being first two weeks ago) in the Scripps Howard poll. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit doesn't have Tebow in his top three. Tebow fell behind Ingram in this week's USA Today poll.
And yet, he has a chance, because Florida is still No. 1, and because statistics don't mean everything, and because no one else has closed out the debate.
Also, because Tebow is Tebow.