At 21, Gators quarterback Tim Tebow has been a part of two national championship teams, has made history as the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy and has a list of accolades that fills three full pages in Florida's 2009 media guide. As he prepares for his senior season and the daunting task of leading Florida under the weight of heavy expectations, Tebow is also preparing to finalize a career that has been unprecedented in many respects, and to put the finishing touches on his legacy. One question looms larger than any other: Is Tebow poised to become the greatest college football player ever? Some longtime observers and coaches believe the answer is yes. "He is arguably a person who is on his way to becoming the most dynamic player to ever play college football," said Gary Danielson, former college and NFL quarterback and longtime lead college football analyst for CBS.
"If Florida wins another national championship and Tim makes his third straight trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation, you have to start talking about him as one of the greatest players of all time," said Tony Barnhart, host of the Tony Barnhart Show on CBS College Sports Network and who has covered college football for 33 years. "If Florida wins another national championship and Tim wins a second Heisman Trophy, the argument will be very strong to call him the greatest player of all time."
To put the discussion in some context, there are many things to consider. Tebow is about to become only the third player to enter his senior season having been a part of two national championship teams and won a Heisman, joining Army's Doc Blanchard in 1946 and Southern California's Matt Leinart in 2005.
In 2007, the year he won the Heisman, Tebow became the first in college football history to pass for at least 20 touchdowns and to run for at least 20 in a season (32 passing, 23 rushing).
"Tim Tebow is not only the best quarterback in (the SEC), I think he's the best in the country," South Carolina and former Florida coach Steve Spurrier said. "What he's done there, I believe he and (former UF quarterback) Danny Wuerffel will go down in history as the two best quarterbacks, maybe the two best to ever play college football. That's how good he is."
Tebow is the only sophomore to have won not only the Heisman, but the Sullivan Award, given to nation's top amateur athlete, and the Davey O'Brien and Maxwell awards, for the nation's outstanding quarterback and all-around player, respectively. He is only the second player to repeat as the Maxwell winner. He was the first sophomore in UF history to be named an All-American. All of which has earned the respect of coaches around the SEC.
"You know, I know there's some people that they pick holes in everybody, but this guy is maybe one of the best or the best college football player that's ever played the game," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said.
If the Gators win a second straight BCS title this season, Tebow will surpass any quarterback in the modern era by having played in three championship games (two as a starter). Another Heisman would make him only the second player to win twice (Ohio State's Archie Griffin won in 1974-75).
Many believe winning a second straight BCS title or another Heisman is a requirement for Tebow to make the case for best ever.
"To be put on that level of, for lack of a better word, greatness, he has to lead his team to another national championship," said Matt Hayes, national college writer for the Sporting News. "Saying someone is 'great' or the 'greatest' has become so cliched, it doesn't have the impact it should. If he leads Florida to two national titles as a starter and another as a critical backup — they don't win the 2006 title without him — I don't think there's any doubt that he becomes the greatest to play the game. And if he wins another Heisman Trophy in the process, it only strengthens the argument."
For Tebow, the only concern is trying to lead his team back to the SEC title game. And he hopes a BCS title appearance would follow. It's not as if he hasn't heard the "best ever" talk. He's just not interested in joining the discussion. At least not now.
"I take it as a compliment and then try not to think about it too much," he said. "It's very humbling when you hear other coaches or people say it, and it's very flattering. But at the same time, I kind of don't want to hear it right now. I kind of just want to go to my apartment, go to practice, work out, and I just want to play football and not think about all that stuff. That's kind of my approach and attitude toward it. I really would rather not hear about it or read about it too much.
"I think later on down the road is when I'll appreciate it more, people giving me those very nice compliments. Maybe when I'm older and I'm a dad, people giving me those compliments, that would be pretty cool. But right now, I don't want to take my eyes off the path and the goal ahead of us. I don't want anything to come between that."
So what if the Gators don't win another title? And if the second Heisman never comes, then what?
"Regardless of what happens this season, he must be considered one of the game's greatest players," Barnhart said. "Very few players have won two national championships and a Heisman Trophy. And very few players have lifted their team and willed them to a national championship like he did last season."
"(Tebow) will be one of those guys where you can't talk about the sport credibly without including him in your first grouping of players," he said. "I don't care what your group is. If you group three, group five or group 10, he'll have to be in that group. He kind of reminds me of the (Babe) Ruths, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams. However you expand the list, you can't have the list and not put him on it for college football."