CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Players
Who were the top 20 players since CFN started in 1998? No. 1 Tim Tebow, QB Florida
CFN Era Top 20 Players: No. 1 Tim Tebow, QB Florida
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, so we’re looking back on the greatest players, games, coaches and more since we first kicked things off back in 1998.
For the Top 20 Players since CFN started, the rules are simple. Who made the biggest impact, who were the most important, and who were ones who generated the most buzz – for good and bad?
This isn’t necessarily a list of the most talented players – that’s what the NFL Draft is for. Who were the defining players of the last 20 years?
Also, nothing before 1998 counts.
Tim Tebow, QB Florida (2006-2009)
Tim Tebow was the right quarterback at the right school with the right coach in the right system at the right time.
The rise of Tebow’s superstardom as the college football version of Paul Bunyan happened to coincide with the rise of social media, the blowup of the message board world, and the spread offense at the height of its power.
So when this kid from Jacksonville who was home schooled, over-the-top religious, great-looking, outspoken, and tough as nails on the field got his career going, he was a dream come true for the college football media.
There was a story about how doctors thought he should’ve been aborted after what appeared to be a miscarriage – but he survived.
There was a story about how he helped perform circumcisions on Filipino children.
There was a story about how he vowed to remain celibate, even after becoming one of the biggest stars in sports and despite attending the University of Florida.
And with all of that, and before he blew up on a national stage, he was considered among the greatest high school quarterbacks in Florida history, and even his recruiting process became the stuff of legend.
The Beginning of the Era of Tim
There was really only one school for Tebow to go to.
Georgia made a huge push, as did just about everyone else of note, but Urban Meyer had become the star spread offense coach, turning Alex Smith into a No. 1 NFL draft pick out of Utah and doing statistical wonders with Josh Harris at Bowling Green.
Tebow was the prototype spread quarterback for the era, with his fullback running style and good-enough passing skills. With some of his biggest high school games featured on ESPN and NBC, the hype was growing before he ever hit college.
Meyer was relentless – and for good reason. This was the perfect marriage of quarterback, coach and system, but Florida already had a fantastic quarterback in Chris Leak.
Meyer found packages for Tebow as a freshman, giving him the ball in pounding situations – he averaged five yards per pop with 469 yards on the season with eight scores – and he even got to throw a little bit.
It was against LSU that helped launch the legend, completing both of his passes for touchdowns, including a double-clutch jump-pass that still gets referenced every time any quarterback tries to throw one.
Florida would go on to win the national title, and while Leak might have been the starting quarterback, Tebow played his part.
And then, as a sophomore, he had the job all to himself.
It’s become a good stat for multi-talented quarterbacks to get, but before 2007, no one had ever run for 20 touchdowns and thrown for 20 in the same season.
And no sophomore had ever won the Heisman.
The 2007 Florida team was good, but it lose heartbreakers to good Auburn and LSU teams, couldn’t get by a fantastic Georgia squad, and ended up losing to an inspired Michigan team in Lloyd Carr’s last game – the 2008 Capital One Bowl.
Even so, Tebow had the greatest individual statistical season by any quarterback in college football history – at least at the time.
Tebow did it all, completing 67% of his passes for 3,286 yards and 32 touchdowns with a mere six interceptions, and ran for 895 yards and 23 scores to become the first player to break the 20-20 barrier.
Even so, mainly because he was a sophomore – among the dumbest college football arguments ever made by dumb people who write and talk dumb college football things – Tebow didn’t win the Heisman going away, beating Arkansas RB Darren McFadden 1,957 votes to 1,703. But he won it, setting the tone for a fantastic final two seasons.
Tebow’s Promise, and His National Title
Even after a rough 2007 season, Florida began the 2008 season ranked fifth, getting six first place votes in the initial AP poll, and five by the Coaches. It was a team loaded with talent and the reigning Heisman winner, but after demolishing Tennessee and Miami on the way to a 3-0 start, things didn’t click at home against Ole Miss.
Tebow was fine. He ended up throwing for 319 yards and a score, and while he was held in check on the ground, he still ran for two touchdowns. But Ole Miss kept coming and wouldn’t go away, and Tebow couldn’t seem to put the game out of reach, or come back when needed.
There were chances, but he barely missed a few open targets for touchdowns, the Rebels blocked an extra point that would’ve tied the game, and the Gators lost 31-30.
But it turned out to be the catalyst for the rest of the season.
Whether or not it really and truly did provide the spark that would inspire the team to a national championship has always been debatable – the 2008 Florida Gators were really, really good – but Tebow’s post-game “Promise” speech became the stuff of legend.
If nothing else, it was the type of leadership moment that fans and coaches eat up with a spoon.
Florida bounced back to beat Arkansas 38-7, and ripped through the rest of its regular season schedule with blowout win after blowout win. A 42-14 win over Vanderbilt was the closest anyone would come to beating the Gators.
But Alabama was 12-0 and ranked No. 1 going into the SEC Championship. Down going into the fourth quarter, Tebow took over, throwing dart after dart, finishing with 216 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, and running for 57 yards for the win, the SEC title, and the shot at a second national title in three years.
On the season, Tebow had thrown just two interceptions. He threw two more in the BCS Championship against Oklahoma, but those didn’t matter. The Gator defense clamped down on Heisman-winner Sam Bradford, Tebow ran for 109 yards, and Florida won 24-14.
The Senior Year
Tebow set the expectations for the 2009 Gators through the roof by announcing he’d return for his senior season.
Florida was everyone’s No. 1 team to kick things off, with most of the key parts back from the defending national champion, a coach who had two national titles under his belt, and an already legendary quarterback ready to lead the way for one more great run.
But instead of being a coronation of sorts, it was a grind.
There weren’t too many problems on the way to a 3-0 start, but in a 41-7 win over Kentucky, Tebow got absolutely rocked.
He probably shouldn’t have been in the game – with the team up 31-7 late in the third – and then this happened …
Carted off the field and taken to the hospital, Tebow was knocked out cold. But Tebow being Tebow, he didn’t miss any time, coming back – after plenty of controversy about whether to not he should return so soon after a major head injury – to play in a joyless 13-3 win over LSU.
The ultra-talented Gator team kept on winning, but again, it was a struggle to get to 12-0. Tebow was Tebow statistically, but he wasn’t quite the same runner despite finishing with 14 scores and 910 yards on the season.
Alabama was the fresher, more fired up team, rolling by a gassed Gator squad 32-13 in the SEC title game. Tebow ran for 63 yards, but was held without a touchdown run for the first time in seven games, and his 247 passing yards and score weren’t enough.
Florida went on to destroy Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl, with Tebow closing out his career with one of his finest performances.
Call it a last hurrah, call it a team with no pressure on its shoulders anymore, call it the end of an era – with Tebow and Meyer, at least at the time, done – call it a game against an overmatched Cincinnati, or call it a fresh performance by a team that just needed some time off.
Florida won 51-24, with Tebow completing 31-of-35 passes for 482 yards and three touchdowns, and running for 51 yards and a score.
National Championships: 2006, 2008
Career Statistics: 67% passing for 9.286 yards, 88 touchdowns, 16 interceptions. 2,947 rushing yards, 57 touchdowns
First to get 20-20 rushing-passing touchdowns in a season, first true sophomore to win the Heisman
2007 Heisman Trophy Winner
2008 Heisman Trophy finalist (3rd), 2009 Heisman finalist (5th)
Maxwell Award: 2007, 2008
Davey O’Brien Award: 2007
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo Credit: Florida Athletic Department