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The Florida Gators' John Brantley can escape Tim Tebow's long shadow, if he wins enough

By now, one suspects, the other guy would have broken his own record for hype.

By now, the other guy would have been asked 4,971 questions, and he would have been on the cover of 7,000 magazines, and he would have been on SportsCenter so often you would think he was Chris Berman's co-pilot.

Who knows? By now, Tim Tebow might have come up with an 11th Commandment.

Big shoes, big shadow. This is what new University of Florida quarterback John Brantley has to deal with. He has to take over for one of the most popular, most accomplished and most iconic quarterbacks in the history of college football.

Just that.

For many, the temptation may be to feel sympathy for Brantley as he enters his first season as a starter. Don't expect too much, you want to say. Don't expect it too quickly. It can be a difficult thing, replacing a legend.

Then again, others have managed.

That's the thing everyone seems to be forgetting when it comes to Brantley. Colleges — especially those top-level programs that seem to have a reset button when it comes to greatness — replace great players all the time. Sometimes, they don't miss a beat.

Remember how good Peyton Manning was at Tennessee? Three times, he was in the top 10 in the Heisman voting. But the year after he left, quarterback Tee Martin took over and helped the Vols to the national championship. Yeah, that's how you replace a legend.

Remember how good Archie Griffin was at Ohio State? He's still the only player to win two Heisman trophies in his career, both on the fourth-rated Buckeyes of 1974 and 1975. His replacement, Jeff Logan, never came close to the Heisman. But the year after Griffin left, he gained 1,248 yards and helped his team win another Big Ten championship. That team finished sixth, only two slots behind Griffin's teams.

Remember Tommie Frazier, the dazzling Nebraska quarterback of the mid '90s? Frazier led his team to back-to-back national titles, and he was MVP of three straight national title games. His replacement, Scott Frost, wasn't quite that good, but he did okay. He was 24-2 over the next two years, including a national title of his own.

It goes on and on. Charles White won the Heisman Trophy for USC. Two years later, his replacement, Marcus Allen, did the same. Same with Carson Palmer, whose Heisman was echoed by Matt Leinart, his replacement.

Of course, there was also the conga line of success at Miami, where quarterback Jim Kelly was succeeded by Bernie Kosar, who won a national title, who was succeed by Vinny Testaverde, who won a Heisman, who was succeeded by Steve Walsh, who won a national title, who was succeeded by Craig Erickson, who won a national title, who was succeeded by Gino Torretta, who won a Heisman and a national title.

Yeah, it can be done.

More than anything else, college football is a game of constant replacement. Players have four years of eligibility, and the best players usually don't stick around that long. A team had better be able to find the next guy.

No, it doesn't always happen. Longtime Florida fans know that as well as anyone. After Steve Spurrier won his Heisman in 1966, the Gators were left in the hands of Jackie Eckdahl. After Eckdahl suffered a broken leg, Florida had to move defensive back Larry Rentz to the position. Neither reminded anyone of Spurrier.

It happens. Notre Dame once tried to replace Joe Montana with Rusty Lisch. (Is it ever a good idea to go with a quarterback named Rusty?) Pitt tried to replace Dan Marino with John Congemi. Syracuse tried to replace Jim Brown with Thomas Stephens. Boston College tried to replace Doug Flutie with Shawn Halloran. FSU tried to replace Chris Weinke with Chris Rix. Mississippi Valley State once had to look to Carl Thomas to be its leading receiver once Jerry Rice left. Stanford followed John Elway with John Paye. Bad ideas all around.

Sometimes, however, it isn't just the position that is hard to fill. It's the lore. It's the legend.

Once, Notre Dame had an All-American named George Gipp. You have probably heard of him. Gipp averaged 699 yards per season in his three years of starting. He was replaced by John Mohardt, his old blocking back, who gained 781 the season after Gipp's last game. No one seems to remember Mohardt, possibly because Knute Rockne never invoked his name in a halftime speech.

Then there were the Four Horsemen who played for the Irish in the '20s. Trivia experts can tell you they were Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley and Elmer Layden, and that none of them weighed over 162 pounds or gained more than 800 yards in a season. But they won.

Their replacements were Red Edwards, Christie Flanagan, Tom Hearden and Rex Enright. And they won, too. After going 7-2-1 in 1925, they finished 9-1 in 1926, and if Rockne hadn't skipped the Carnegie Tech game to go write about Army-Navy — and can you imagine the coach of an unbeaten team doing that these days? — it might have finished unbeaten. As it was, Carnegie won 19-0, and no one compared any of the players to livestock.

Then there were Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, Army's Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. Blanchard won the Heisman in 1945 (although Davis outgained him by more than 200 yards) and Davis won in 1946. They were replaced by Elwyn Rowan and Bob Stuart (Mr. Darkside and Mr. Brightside?), and things weren't quite the same. Two years later, Stuart and another back, Gil Stephenson, combined for 1,726 yards, more than Davis and Blanchard ever totaled. No one put them on Time magazine.

Then there was Red Grange. In 1925, his final season, Illinois was 5-3. The next year, with Forrest Peters taking his place, the team was 6-2. The difference was that Grange's nickname was "The Galloping Ghost." Peters' nickname was "Frosty."

The thing for Brantley to remember is this: This isn't a track relay. He doesn't have to replace Tebow all by himself.

In 2007, Ohio State replaced Heisman winner Troy Smith. Todd Boeckman wasn't nearly as good a player, but once again, the Buckeyes reached the BCS title game and, once again, lost to a team from the SEC. Danny Kanell wasn't the quarterback that Charlie Ward was, but the Seminoles were still a top-five team after Ward left.

In other words, win.

Auburn had a better season with Brent Fullwood in '86 than with Bo Jackson in '85. Georgia didn't have a running back on its '83 roster who resembled the departed Herschel Walker, but the Bulldogs finished fourth in the country for the second straight year. USC lost only once with O.J. Simpson in 1968, but it didn't lose at all the next year with Clarence Davis.

It's the way college football works. Good players leave, and good programs have good players to replace them. And the trophies get shinier all the time.

If he wins enough of them, no one is going to worry about Brantley replacing someone else. Eventually, they're going to worry about someone else who has to replace Brantley.

The Florida Gators' John Brantley can escape Tim Tebow's long shadow, if he wins enough 08/25/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 9:54pm]
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