Thanks to a lot of reasons—big time recruiters inhabiting the coaching ranks, the general population shift southward, a disproportionately large number of storied programs, etc.—the SEC has seen a lot of fantastic players at every position over the last decade. One stands out from all the rest though: Tim Tebow.
It's difficult to say whether then-UF co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was correct in saying during the recruiting process that Florida's program would be set back 10 years if it didn't sign Tebow. It certainly would have made things a lot different had he chosen to go to his runner up school, Alabama. Mike Shula might still be in Tuscaloosa, Nick Saban would be at some other place, and Florida would have gone into 2006 spring practice with Chris Leak as the only scholarship quarterback. It's one of the conference's greatest what ifs.
However, he did end up in Gainesville and things would not be the same. Florida definitely does not win the 2006 national championship without him as DeShawn Wynn and Kestahn Moore were not picking up all those crucial third downs that season. He became the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman Trophy in his 2007 campaign, paving the way for Sam Bradford and Mark Ingram to win it the following two years. He led the 2008 Florida squad to one of the best seasons ever in the SEC, as no team has won as many in-conference games by 28+ points (seven) or by 30+ points (six) as that one did. In 2009, it didn't end the way it was expected but he still helped get Florida to its second ever 12-0 start and pushed the school's record winning streak to 22 in a row.
That 2007 Heisman winning season was easily his best individually. He passed for 3,286 yards at a 66.9% completion rate, both career highs. He accounted for three or more touchdowns in 12 of the team's 13 games, including a ridiculous seven against South Carolina. He about single-handedly won that year's Ole Miss and Kentucky games. He became the first player ever to score 20 passing and 20 rushing touchdowns in a season. He had 51 touchdowns by the time Heisman ballots were in...
...and he tacked on four more in the Capital One Bowl to push his season total to 55. If Florida had a reasonable semblance of a defense, the Gators would have been in the thick of the national title race.
|TUESDAY: What a Decade It's Been; Mike Price's Trip to Pensacola|
|WEDNESDAY: The Zook Experiment; Georgia Hires Mark Richt|
|THURSDAY: The Best Game; Auburn's Rise and Fall; Rivalry of the Decade|
|FRIDAY: The Worst Game; The Rise of the Nicktator; The Promise|
|TODAY: Exit Phil Fulmer|
In 2008 his yardage and scoring totals came down a bit, but the team success was up. It took a couple of games to get going, but once all the pieces were in place around Tebow (and after a loss and The Promise refocused things), the scoring began to increase at a frightening pace. The regular season was capped off by Tebow's signature game, the SEC Championship Game against Alabama. He three three touchdown passes, all on third down and two of which were in the fourth quarter. It was a tour de force and the sort of game where you could tell that he would not let his team lose.
Tebow returned in 2009 to win another championship, but ghastly levels of attrition at wide receiver, a new offensive coordinator, problems with blitz protection, and an inexplicable defensive collapse at the worst possible time kept it from being the season to remember that everyone figured it would be. Urban Meyer put nearly all the load on him in the SEC title game rematch with Alabama, as 45 of the Gators' 49 plays were either passes or Tebow rushes. He came through to the tune of nearly seven yards per play on Bama's great defense and five trips inside the Tide 30 on nine possessions. Without any defensive support whatsoever, it was like 2007 all over again. There's only so much one man, even Tim Tebow, can do by himself.
Even so, he's the only quarterback to play in three SEC Championship Games and two national title games this decade. He brought back the jump pass, invented the one-man play action, and added "Tebow smash" to our lexicon.
He was 11-1 as a starter against Florida's big three rivals and 15-1 overall against them (not to mention 3-1 against LSU). He delivered Mark Richt and Steve Spurrier their worst losses as head coaches, Rich Brooks' second worst loss as a head coach, Les Miles' worst loss at LSU, and Bobby Bowden's worst loss to Florida since 1983. He's been the face of college football for two seasons. And as much as Tebow fatigue wore on people around the conference and nation, he still received the highest of compliments from about all rival fans: they have warned for almost two years now that they'd get Florida just as soon as Tebow leaves. Once he's gone, they say, watch out.
That is why Tim Tebow is the SEC player of the decade.