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Posted: Thursday August 27, 2009 12:28PM; Updated: Thursday August 27, 2009 3:11PM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >
INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

With one year left, Tebow well positioned to become all-time best

Story Highlights

After only two years as a starter, Tim Tebow already ranks as a top three QB

Rushing TDs may inflate his stats, but his dual-threat abilities make him great

Here, we compare him to all-time great QBs, great rushing QBs and an elite RB

Tim Tebow's proficiency as a passer and rusher have placed him among the all-time greats after only two seasons as a starter.
Tim Tebow's proficiency as a passer and rusher have placed him among the all-time greats after only two seasons as a starter.
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A great debate is currently under way, one that only figures to intensify in the months ahead. Just type the right search words into Google, and you'll find a long string of bloggers and columnists asking some variation of this question: "Is Tim Tebow the greatest college player ever?"

The first time someone posed this query to me earlier this summer, I instinctively rolled my eyes. It's not that I didn't hold the Florida star in the highest possible esteem -- I've cast my Heisman ballot for him each of the past two years -- but even with his two national titles and one Heisman, it seemed far-fetched to suggest Tebow is better than any college player ever to come before him.

Yet all across the Internet, I found people discussing this very possibility with the utmost sincerity. A sampling:

"I was never lucky enough to witness some of the all-time greats like Archie Griffin, Earl Campbell, Jim Brown and Dick Butkus," Robert Gardner writes on the fan site Bleacher Report. "However, I am also lucky enough to have seen Tebow. Tebow has nothing left to prove. He is the greatest college football player of this era, and the greatest that I have ever seen."

"Tim Tebow is already in the conversation for "Greatest Ever," even before this season starts," writes blogger Dan Shanoff, who has started a site devoted solely to Tebow. "... Layer in another national title and another Heisman, and I don't think it's close."

And while Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley gives the nod to ex-Georgia star Herschel Walker, he says: "I would have no trouble putting [Tebow] in the all-time top five among college players, alongside or slightly ahead of Red Grange, O.J. Simpson and Roger Staubach."

Wow.

I began to think I should start taking this conversation more seriously.

Still, I wondered how to possibly compare players from such disparate eras. How, for example, do you compare Tebow to Staubach, who won the 1963 Heisman while passing for a now-pedestrian 1,474 yards? And that's just discussing two quarterbacks. How do you measure a quarterback against a running back, receiver or a linebacker when they all perform such different jobs?

I decided to focus solely on distinguished quarterbacks over a more manageable time period: the past 25 years. And while titles and trophies are certainly important, they don't tell the whole story. I wanted to come up with a quantitative way to measure Tebow's on-field performance against that of other recent greats, and I wanted it to include every significant measuring stick for a quarterback -- including wins and losses.

So here's what I did. I looked up the career statistics of every Heisman-winning quarterback or Heisman finalist who has played for a national championship team since 1984 and applied the most widely used statistical formula out there: fantasy football scoring. Anyone who's ever played in a fantasy league knows there's a standard scoring system used by most leagues:

• One point for every 25 passing yards or 10 rushing yards

• Four points for every passing touchdown; six points for every rushing touchdown

• Minus-two points for every interception thrown

In addition to these five categories, I added completion percentage. Once I obtained the raw score, I multiplied it by the most important category of all, career winning percentage (as starter), to come up with a final "greatness score."

When I first began the research, I suspected Tebow, who's only started two seasons, would still lag considerably behind renowned three- and four-year starters like Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Danny Wuerffel, but would be in position to surpass them with one more big year.

Boy was I wrong.

Tebow's "greatness score" already eclipses those of all but two of the 19 quarterbacks on the following list and, barring injury, should shatter all previous scores by season's end.

All-Time Great QBs From the Recent Era
 
  PASSING RUSHING GREATNESS
Player W-L Pct. Yards TDs INTs Yards TDs Score
Vince Young 30-2 61.8 6,040 44 28 3,127 37 898.2
Matt Leinart 37-2 64.8 10,693 99 23 -70 9 843.9
Tim Tebow 22-5 65.8 6,159 67 11 2,037 43 831.0
Eric Crouch 35-7 51.5 4,484 29 25 3,434 59 828.55
Danny Wuerffel 35-5-1 60.6 10,875 114 42 -375 8 781.58
Ty Detmer 29-9-2 62.6 15,031 121 65 -366 14 772.30
Tommie Frazier 33-3 49.1 4,003 47 18 2,263 36 736.56
Ken Dorsey 38-2 57.9 9,565 86 28 -79 2 695.97
Chris Weinke 31-3 58.4 10,113 79 35 -374 1 617.74
Troy Smith 25-3 62.7 5,720 54 13 1,197 14 611.79
Jason White 28-4 63.3 7,922 81 24 -45 2 580.72
Charlie Ward 23-2 63.1 5,747 49 22 889 10 546.37
Doug Flutie 30-11-1 53.3 10,579 67 54 739 7 537.40
Robbie Bosco 24-3 59.0 8,400 66 36 -101 4 534.13
Gino Torretta 26-2 56.0 7,690 47 19 32 2 485.46
Carson Palmer 27-18 59.1 11,818 72 49 -197 9 453.67
Josh Heupel 20-5 63.2 6,852 50 29 46 12 444.78
Andre Ware 14-6 61.5 8,202 75 28 -144 1 403.92
Vinny Testaverde 21-3 61.3 6,058 48 25 -320 8 403.92
 

Before I continue, let me just say I fully recognize this formula has its flaws. For one thing, fantasy football scoring inherently favors runners over passers (hence why the top running backs always go before the top quarterbacks in most fantasy drafts), and it was designed for the NFL, where the quarterbacks don't generally run much.

Thus, it should come as little surprise running quarterbacks like Tebow and overall leader Vince Young fared particularly well. One could even argue Tebow's score is inflated by the 22 rushing touchdowns he racked up during his 2007 Heisman season (each of which gained more fantasy points than a passing TD) when Florida generally ignored its running backs.

On the other hand, one could also argue this isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, a good dual-threat quarterback plays a bigger factor in a game's outcome than a straight-up passer. Nor should Tebow be penalized for the fact his coaches often employ him as a de facto fullback. That he's so proficient in both areas only contributes to his perceived greatness.
STAPLES: A blueprint for stopping Tebow in 2009

I'm not suggesting we treat the above list as gospel, i.e. that we say Danny Wuerffel was a better quarterback than Ty Detmer because he came in 9.28 points ahead. The main point is simply to illustrate just how high Tebow has climbed before even playing his senior season. Assuming he maintains the same general winning percentage (currently .815, which over a full season would fall around 11-2), and average (by his standards) statistics, he will likely shatter the current high score by 200-300 points.

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