Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
Greatness is an elusive and exclusive quality.
And these days – in particular, the long weeks between college football seasons – greatness doesn't always seem enough.
For example, Florida's Tim Tebow is a great college quarterback. But on sports talk shows, message boards, bar stools and just about everywhere else college football is discussed, the question of whether he's the greatest ever has been raised and hotly debated.
A Heisman Trophy, two national championship rings and 67 touchdown passes compared to 11 interceptions bear out Tebow's greatness. But merely acknowledging him as a great college quarterback is a slap to legions of Gators, who hail Tebow as the greatest college quarterback ever. In fact, some might argue that proclaiming him the greatest quarterback would be a grave injustice because he actually is the greatest college football player ever.
"I take it as a compliment to be mentioned as one of the best ever," Tebow said this week. "It's such an honor. For me growing up and watching guys like [Nebraska's] Tommie Frazier, [Florida's] Danny Wuerffel and [Florida State's] Charlie Ward, that means a lot.
"But where I'm at in my life, I never think about it. I worry about being the best for my team, the best leader and the best quarterback."
Whether he's a better college quarterback than Frazier, Texas' Vince Young, USC's Matt Leinart, Boston College's Doug Flutie or Navy's Roger Staubach or a better player than Georgia's Herschel Walker or Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders can be argued forever. What cannot be argued is that Tebow is fiercely competitive, a genetic trait that was developed by growing up as the youngest of five children in a house full of competitors.
"That [competitiveness] is something I was born with," Tebow said. "It's not just on the football field, but in general with everything from checkers to Marco Polo. My parents are extremely competitive. We can't play games at Christmas without arguing or getting into a fight. We have to have the rules down to a tee because we'll push them.
"It's a very competitive family. It's not like they would let me win when I was young because I was the baby. It wasn't that way."
Because of his competitive spirit, Tebow may feel the need to firmly establish himself as the greatest just as Muhammad Ali did in boxing, Wayne Gretzky did in hockey and Michael Jordan did in basketball.
"Down the road, that may be something to think about," Tebow said. "But I'm focusing on the here and now and training."
Tebow is training for a senior season in which he could win a third national championship and join Ohio State's Archie Griffin as the only two-time Heisman recipients.
That certainly would give weight to the argument that Tebow is the greatest player ever, but it wouldn't necessarily guarantee it.
After all, Griffin won two Heismans, but he isn't hailed as the greatest college running back ever.
And while Tebow would be a part of three national championships, Chris Leak was the starting quarterback on the Gators' 2006 championship team, when Tebow was a role player.
Frazier led Nebraska to back-to-back national championships in 1994 and '95. The Huskers almost won it all in '93, but a potential winning field goal against Florida State sailed wide left.
Frazier wasn't as good a passer as Tebow, but he was a better runner. Besides, the job of a quarterback is to move the ball. Some do it via running, some via passing. Unlike Tebow, Frazier never won the Heisman – and neither did Pittsburgh quarterback Dan Marino, Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson and TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson, so that's obviously not a reliable barometer for greatness.
Young, who played three seasons, also compares favorably to Tebow. Although Tebow is a better passer, Young was a superior runner.
In three seasons Young – who passed up his senior season to enter the NFL draft – accumulated 9,167 yards of total offense (rushing and passing). Tebow has 8,427. Young was 30-2 as a starting quarterback and led the Longhorns to an undefeated season in 2005.
Leinart passed for 10,693 yards and 99 touchdowns, and with Leinart at quarterback, USC won the BCS national championship in 2004 and was voted the AP national champion in '03. He was 37-2 as a starter and led USC to an undefeated season in 2004.
Tebow is 22-5 as a starting quarterback and Florida hasn't managed an unbeaten season, though that could come in 2009.
"Obviously, that's our goal," Tebow said. "Not many people can do it. It's hard to go through a season undefeated. We'll compete and do the best we can. I'm excited about it."
That goal will have to be reached without Percy Harvin, a big-play threat who left early for the NFL and was taken in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings. Harvin's absence could leave a significant void, but Tebow said new wrinkles in the Florida offense will enable tight end Aaron Hernandez and running backs Jeff Demps, Emmanuel Moody and Chris Rainey to replace Harvin's production.
Hernandez had 34 catches for 381 yards last season. Rainey rushed for 652 yards, while Demps rushed for 605 and Moody had 417.
"Aaron Hernandez will have more responsibility," Tebow said. "Jeff Demps is so athletic and one of the most reliable players on the team. Emmanuel Moody and Chris Rainey will have more responsibility. We'll be spreading Percy Harvin into all of those guys."
And an even better quarterback might be getting them the ball. Tebow has spent the offseason honing his footwork to become a better passer.
"I'm not really changing anything as far as the throwing motion goes," he said. "I'm working with my footwork to make easier throws. I'm putting my body in position that I don't have to make the athletic throws. I'm just working on being fundamentally sound."
That could be scary. Tebow already is great. He may become greater.
But is he the greatest?
In Florida, the answer is yes. For fans of Nebraska, Texas or USC, it's probably no.
Each week, we'll match two teams to determine which team has the edge in various categories. Got a matchup you want to see? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll work on it.
1. Head to head
Penn State prevailed 16-9 in the 1974 Orange Bowl in the only game played between the two.
Edge: Penn State
2. National championships
LSU: The Tigers were voted The Associated Press national champions in 1958 and won BCS national championships in 2003 and 2007.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions were named national champions in 1982 and 1986.
Edge: LSU 3-2
3. First-round NFL draft picks
LSU: 32 (Most recently defensive end Tyson Jackson, selected by Kansas City in 2009).
Penn State: 35 (Most recently defensive end Aaron Maybin, selected by Buffalo in 2009).
Edge: Penn State
4. Down in the valley
LSU: Tiger Stadium also is known as "Death Valley."
Penn State: The State College area is nicknamed "Happy Valley."
Edge: LSU. Penn State, which is 236-57 at Happy Valley, has a higher winning percentage at home (.805), but LSU has 130 more home-field wins. The Tigers are 366-142-18 at Death Valley. This decade, LSU is 54-10 at home, and Penn State is 46-15.
5. Heisman Trophy recipients
LSU: Billy Cannon in 1959.
Penn State: John Cappelletti in 1973.
Edge: Penn State. Cappelletti is best remembered for a tear-jerking acceptance speech in which he gave the trophy to his dying brother, Joey. Cannon is best remembered for being incarcerated for counterfeiting – and for a really exciting punt return on Halloween night.
6. Movie directors
LSU: Steven Soderbergh, who won an Academy Award for best director for the movie "Traffic." He also directed "Erin Brockovich," "sex, lies and videotape," "Ocean's Eleven" and "Che."
Penn State: Adam McKay, a former Saturday Night Live head writer, co-wrote and directed "Anchorman: The Legend on Ron Burgundy" and "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby."
Edge: LSU. Reluctantly, I acknowledge that an Academy Award trumps Ricky Bobby.
7. Ties to Bill Clinton
LSU: James Carville, an actor/attorney/commentator and political consultant, was the lead strategist for Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign.
Penn State: Hugh Rodham, Clinton's brother-in-law, lost a 1994 race for a U.S. Senate seat in Florida.
Edge: LSU. Carville also is a big college football fan.
8. Crown princes
LSU: Jarrett Lee, the Prince of Turnovers, threw 16 interceptions last season, eight of which were returned for touchdowns.
Penn State: Prince Kardame, Bulgaria's Prince of Tunovo, earned a master's degree in agricultural economics.
Edge: Penn State.
9. NFL Hall of Famers
LSU: Jim Taylor, Y.A. Tittle, Steve Van Buren
Penn State: Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Mike Michalske, Lenny Moore, Mike Munchak.
Edge: Penn State.
10. Iconic coaches
LSU: Charlie McClendon, who was 137-59-7 from 1962-1979.
Penn State: Joe Paterno, who holds the record for most wins by a major-college coach. He is 383-127-3 as Penn State's coach, a tenure that began in 1966.
Edge: Penn State.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.