A Tebow-sized hole

Three years after Tim Tebow left, UF still searches for anyone to fill the void

Updated: August 15, 2012, 4:11 PM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- From 2006-09 there was no bigger brand in college football than Tim Tebow.

The former Florida quarterback was the first to win the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore, helped lead the Gators to a pair of national titles, and won the country's heart with the conviction of his faith and his dedication to community service and children.

But he also left a huge void in Gainesville when he graduated, and it's one the Gators are still struggling to fill.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/UF News Bureau/Laurie Hice MichaelsonFlorida was busy building a statue of Tim Tebow while he was still enrolled as a student.
It's more than just what Tebow was able to do on the field. It would be unfair to expect anyone to match that kind of production. It's his presence, an aura of invincibility, his unfailing leadership that is missing from the program. Players have tried, but none have come close.

"I would say there was the same thing with Colt McCoy at Texas when I was there," UF head coach Will Muschamp said. "I don't think there's any question. The most important thing is not comparing yourself to them (icons of a program), because there is only one Tim Tebow. Be adequate at the position you're in at the present time and what your offense or your defense or your special teams are asking you to do.

"There's no question, depending on the individual, how much pressure they put on themselves."

How big was the void Tebow left?

His Q score -- which is a measure of familiarity and positive appeal of a brand, celebrity, athlete, company or television show and compiled by the Long Island, N.Y.-based Marketing Evaluations, Inc. -- during his final year at Florida was at a level rarely achieved by an athlete that young. His score was a 49, which means 49 percent of sports fans 12-64 years old knew who he was, and that score ranked him 12th among all football players -- NFL included -- in terms of popularity.

That's a heckuva void to fill. No one could possibly completely fill it -- and it would be unfair to ask -- but the Gators haven't had anyone even come close to the edge.

John Brantley tried, but it was an almost impossible task. Be the first quarterback that followed Tebow, one of the greatest players in NCAA history, and guide the Gators to another national title? It was a situation destined to fail, and it did.

Brantley took over as UF's starter in 2010 but the Gators' offense struggled and he eventually found himself in a three-quarterback rotation. Injuries marred his 2011 season. And while his teammates respected him and called him a leader, Brantley was not charismatic and didn't fill a room with his presence the way Tebow did.

Safety Ahmad Black fared better. He had personality and charm and on-field success, but a safety can't impact the game the way a quarterback does. He was one of the best players in school history, but he could never be the face of the program.

Then-coach Urban Meyer certainly had the credentials and visibility to fill Tebow's void, but his health issues forced him into near-reclusion during the offseason and he lost the edge that made him one of college football's greatest coaches. Plus, UF's on-field product quickly deteriorated and that meant the national media exposure dwindled. It's hard to be an icon when your program is hovering near .500 and nobody outside of your own fanbase cares -- other than to delight in the struggles, of course.

So maybe nobody will be able to step into the void Tebow left. Maybe it's something that will eventually fill on its own as the years pass and everyone realizes he was a once-in-a-generation player along the lines of Herschel Walker, Doug Flutie and Reggie Bush.

Maybe one day there will be another Florida player who captures the nation's attention and adoration, a player who will leave a considerable void to fill when he's done playing, too.

Then again, maybe not.

"There's only one (Tebow)," Muschamp said.

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter