Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tebow Flashback, Florida Forward

It feels entirely appropriate that I want to talk about Florida's post-Tebow era ("P.T.E.?") on the 5th anniversary of his very first game as a Gator -- September 2, 2006.

Ironically, Tebow barely played -- yet offered marvelous foreshadowing of his future: 1 play, 1 carry, 1 yard, 1 TD... en route to a 34-7 pasting of Southern Miss.

I was at that game and vividly remember the crowd's reaction when Tebow entered the game -- there was a buzz. The touchdown brought a cheer louder than anything else that day. (Check out a homemade clip of the TD here.)

There are plenty of "Tebow's legend at Florida started HERE" stories, but that single play five years ago today is as good of a starting point as any.

*****

And so we come to the first game -- the first season -- of the post-Tebow Era, this Saturday at the Swamp against Miami (Ohio).

Tebow has loomed so large over the program over the past four seasons -- even as a freshman (arguably the Offensive MVP of a national champion) -- that this feels... yes, odd.

That is not to say the team will suffer much without him. Even with losing Tebow -- and at least a half-dozen other NFL-quality players -- the Gators are still consensus Top 5.

John Brantley is good -- really good. Good enough to be a 1st-round NFL draft pick... in 2011. (Think Mark Sanchez after his only year as a starter at USC.)

And Brantley is good enough to lead Florida's offense to a lot of points. I'll call it right now: Brantley will be so successful that people will wonder, in hushed awkward tones, if he is just as good -- if different -- of a fit in the Florida offense than... no, really? Really?

Now, beautifully thrown balls and TDs by the bunch are great, but Brantley will ultimately be judged by winning -- and winning championships. Needless to say, if he can lead Florida to an SEC title this year, past Alabama, he will earn his place, and then some.

I'm not sure Florida will win on October 2 at Alabama -- but I will give them a puncher's chance. Even if they lose there, I do think that Florida will not lose again: That includes winning the SEC East, then beating Alabama in an epic rematch in the SEC Championship Game.

(That may or may not be enough to make the national title game. In theory, a one-loss SEC champ that beat the No. 1 team in the country -- and whose only loss is on the road to the No. 1 team in the country -- has a pretty good resume. But the BCS formula will favor lesser teams with unblemished records, whether they are from the Big 12 or Big 10... or Idaho.)

But I think that Florida's offense is in good hands with Tebow's heir to Urban Meyer's spread offense. Tebow will be missed, in a lot of ways, but the offense will be less reliant on the QB keeper on 1st-and-10 or 3rd-and-short -- that diversification will make the offense more dangerous: As dominant as Tebow was in 2007 or 2008, remember what a factor Percy Harvin and the other wide receivers presented for defenses.

The best analysis is to recognize that John Brantley isn't Tim Tebow -- not in skill-set or style or celebrity. Urban Meyer is ready to move on; the team is ready to move on; Brantley is ready to take over.

Florida fans may or may not be ready to move on, actually. The legacy of the greatest college football player of all time doesn't dissipate when he leaves campus, or the following season... maybe not for a while. But they will certainly be cheering just as loudly for the 2010 team. Even with expectations like I outlined above, they don't compare to last year's near-suffocating expectations from Day 1 of "championship or bust." The breathing room will feel refreshing.

*****

I will be at Florida's season opener on Saturday at the Swamp, just like I was 5 years ago. I will be wearing my blue Tim Tebow jersey, like I have worn for every game since the jerseys came out in advance of the 2007 season.

And I can't lie: It will feel strange to sit in the Swamp wearing it, without him on the field.

How do you feel about it? Put your observations in the comments.

-- Dan

8 comments:

  1. I've only been following Tim's career for the past year. Yet, whenever I see those college football montage music videos on ESPN, it still feels so odd to not see Tebow in them anymore. His absence in college football must really feel weird for those who have been fans of his longer than I have.

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  2. I totally agree with Brooke's comments. My husband and I are SC Gamecock fans and Tim Tebow fans and we got the chance to go to SC and see that game last year and even though Florida beat us, I was excited that I got to see "him" play. College football will be different this year.

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  3. I've been a Gator for a long time -- graduated from UF in 1977, and I love my team. Always have, even when we lost more than we won, even with lousy coaches and lousy years. I'm looking forward to rooting for my team, and seeing Brantley (yep, I remember his dad playing) excel. I do have to say, though, that these years with Tebow had a magic to them, and that magic aura is gone. It's just quite as electric, or quite the same -- it couldn't be.

    I'm still chomping and saying Go Gators! I had stopped watching NFL football long ago -- now I'm back, cheering for the Broncos and TT. He makes the whole team better, and I love being able to watch him still.

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  4. I agree, it will be strange to not see him on the field. I will be heading to the UF/USF game and then driving to Jax that day for the Jags/Broncos game the next day. Going to be a heck of a weekend!

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  5. Wasn't 2006 four years ago, not 5? Or did Tebow reshape time as well?

    Looking forward to Brantley unleashed though, whatever the year.

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  6. Tebow had a big following from his hometown in Jax... Brantley has a big following from Ocala... Their parents were gators... I think Brantley's got the ability to do a GREAT job for the Gators, and to lead them to championships. It probably wasn't easy for him to stand in Tebow's shadow for the past 3 years and wait his turn, but he seems to think that it will be "worth it" to have done so.

    Sure, there are not a large # of Gator QBs in the NFL, but there has certainly been a lot of success from year to year. It's hard to think of a Gator quarterback that "failed" in the position in the past 20 years or so.

    I had the pleasure of seeing Tebow's last game in the Swamp this past Nov. I'm looking forward to an exciting Gator season, though it will be strange to not have #15 out on the field. The next gator who wears THAT number will certainly be facing astronomical expectations.

    Once things get rolling, there be plenty of hype & excitement for the gators.

    --Amanda, UF class of '98

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  7. I'm excited to get back to the Swamp tomorrow and kick off another season. However, I see that ticket sales are down. Single-game tix are still available for every home game except USF. Tennessee away tix are available. (Two years ago my Tennessee ticket order went unfilled because I didn't have enough Booster points.) I imagine it's mostly the economy, but I'm sure the departure of Tebow also has something to do with it.

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  8. Amanda... do you really think anyone at UF will ever wear 15 again? I think it goes without saying his number will be retired. As for watching the Gators this weekend, I have to say I wasn't impressed. I thought Brantley would be great, but 14 yards in the first half? They turned it around but I miss routing for Tebow, the same way I did when Harvin left last year. I am a BRONCOS fan now, Jerry Jones lost this family when he spoke badly about Tebow. GO GATORS!!!

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