Yes, I'm trying to be thought-provoking here, but I do think there's merit to the argument I'm putting forth, or I wouldn't write it.
This is a thought that's been rolling around in my mind for a couple of weeks now, but it didn't really feel like the best building block for the season review of Florida, so let's throw it out there as the counterintuitive thought of the month.
Tim Tebow should have gone pro in 2008 because it was in Florida's best interest for him to do so.
I'll wait for a moment. Okay, you can stop laughing now. Seriously, now would be a good time.
The reason I say this has less to do with Florida than it has to do with the rest of the SEC East. Consider Florida's fellow division members for a moment.
Georgia. Sure, there are some good players here, and anyone can easily fall into the trap of underestimating Mark Richt's ability to turn what looks like a rebuilding year into a championship run. That said, the Dawgs lost QB Matthew Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno to the NFL Draft, meaning the strong point of the 2008 team (the offense) will likely be dramatically weaker next season. That's not a knock on potential QB replacements Joe Cox or Logan Gray or RBs like Caleb King, but none of them are going to be touted preseason (or, in all likelihood, postseason) as Heism@n contenders. There's little reason to hope for enough improvement on the defensive side of the ball to make up for the offensive shortcomings, meaning Georgia has probably taken a step or two backwards in the SEC East race.
South Carolina. Yes, I would say that South Carolina could be the second most-likely team to challenge Florida. This isn't blatant homerism, as I see the chances for the Gamecocks to travel to Atlanta for anything more than the Peach Bowl to be extremely remote. Instead, it's a testament to how weak I think the rest of the division is that I would put here a team losing its best two receiving options after going 7-6 in 2008 and entering next season with a questionable offensive line and questionable QB situation.
Tennessee. Unless you think Boy Wonder is, well, really Boy Wonder, there's not much reason to put Tennessee too far north of .500 next year. There are some nice players on the Vols, to be sure. But the only thing Lane Kiffin has managed to do so far as a head coach is piss off everyone from Al Davis to Mike Slive. Slive, it should be noted, is very hard to piss off. This is not exactly a surprise if you look at Pete Carroll's, ahem, coaching tree.
Kentucky. This isn't a strict this-team-is-in-this-place ranking, though I'm trying to be close. I think the Wildcats could end up anywhere from third in the division to sixth. Their once-vaunted defense fell apart last year when it faced real competition, and it takes more than a win against East Carolina to get that out of my mind. And their QB situation is unsettled. I don't think they'll be defeating Florida for the SEC East crown.
Vanderbilt. Yeah, I know, 7-6, blah blah blah. But it's Vanderbilt. Quick -- beside QB Mackenzi Adams, name one player that will return to Vanderbilt next year. Actually, you might be surprised to learn that 22 seniors leave this team, including QB Chris Nickson. And that doesn't count the loss of CB D.J. Moore to the NFL Draft. Vanderbilt has already become better than your father's Vanderbilt, and a few teams (Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi) are no longer going to pencil in the Commodores as a win. But, like the teams above them, they can't challenge Florida.
So Florida's division foes don't seem to pose much of a threat right now to the Gators, who have to be given the early edge to repeat in the SEC and maybe for the national title. This isn't all because of Tebow. It's also because of a solid defense and because they lose relatively few high-profile seniors and only one draft-eligible junior. True, the junior is Percy Harvin, a severe but not fatal blow.
Now, throw John Brantley into the mix as Florida's QB instead of Tim Tebow. I'm still not sure any of the other teams in the SEC East have a decent chance at defeating them.
Next year's SEC West opponents are at LSU (a tough game either way, but only if Jordan Jefferson is as good as he looked the last few games of 2008), vs. Arkansas (a likely win either way) and at Mississippi State. You want to say Mississippi State is a likely win either way for Florida, but then you remember that the state of Mississippi has been one long, running nightmare for the Gators for more than a decade now, and you might see why Florida fans wouldn't want to take any unnecessary risk. In any case, if it's a jinx, Tim Skywalker is no more likely to avoid it than one of his replacements.
The other 2009 opponents for the Gators are Charleston Southern (W), Troy (W), Florida International (W) and Florida State (likely win).
Any game in which you're substituting any QB for Tim Tebow is a game you're less likely to win. But are there any of those games where you would choose Florida to lose if they had to replace Tebow with another quarterback? Yes, Georgia becomes a bit more of toss-up. LSU might move from a likely win to a toss-up. Florida State become less likely, but you still have to give the edge to the Gators.
Sure, Florida would still have to win the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, but the SEC West includes the aforementioned LSU, a John Parker Wilson-less Alabama, Mississippi and then the Island of Misfit Teams (Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State).
Here's the key point, though: Even if you downgrade Florida's chances to win three or four games next year, how much worse will it be if the Gators try to break in a new quarterback in 2010? Georgia might have stabilized its quarterback and/or running back positions. Kiffin might have figured out how to coach in the SEC. Spurrier might have decided to put his entire offensive line on a diet of whale blubber. Rich Brooks might finally realize that every day, he's getting a little bit closer to that rapidly-approaching 700th birthday, and he might want to try to win the SEC East quickly. And Bobby Johnson might still have his magic leprechaun tucked away somewhere in what used to be the Vanderbilt athletics department.
No, now would be the ideal time to try to get a new quarterback started. Is keeping Tebow a short-term gain? Almost certainly. Long-term loss? Quite possibly.