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.