Talent shouldn't require an ID.
When the Heisman Trophy winner is announced Saturday night, let's hope he really is the best player in college football this year and not just a guy who had the right birthdate. You can make several arguments for why Tim Tebow shouldn't win - Darren McFadden, Chase Daniel and Colt Brennan, to name three - but the fact Florida's quarterback is only a sophomore shouldn't be one of them.
The Heisman Trophy was created to recognize ``the most outstanding college football player.'' Voters' ballots state candidates must be students at an accredited college or university, and that they must meet the NCAA's definition of a student-athlete.
Notice there's not a word in there about being an upperclassman or an offensive player. Yet in 72 years, the Heisman has never gone to a freshman or a sophomore. Only 16 juniors have won. Just once has a primarily defensive player taken it home.
The most talented player in the country is the most talented player in the country, regardless of how old he is or where he lines up on the field. And it's about time - past time, really - that Heisman voters acknowledge that.
``He has done things that no one else in college football has been able to do,'' Florida coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday night, after Tebow was named one of the four finalists.
``And I hope people realize the magnitude of his accomplishments.''
Accomplishments. Not age or anything else.
This whole idea of the Heisman belonging to upperclassmen and offensive players is as antiquated as the winged-T and leather helmets. Considering freshmen were largely ineligible until 1972, of course upperclassmen were going to stand out in the early years of the Heisman.
It takes a very special talent to make a major impact his first year, particularly in football. The game is so physically demanding, and there's so much to learn and absorb. It used to be that players only watched and practiced their first couple of years, getting a chance to shine when those ahead of them moved on.
But times change, and the game evolves. Not only do freshmen play these days, they start. A sophomore can make just as big an impact as a fifth-year senior.
No way Arkansas makes it to last year's Southeastern Conference championship game or puts together its finest season in years if not for McFadden. A tailback who moonlighted as a receiver, kick returner and even a quarterback, he piled up 2,058 all-purpose yards. And yet he finished a whopping 1,662 votes behind Heisman winner Troy Smith, the second-widest margin in history.
Sure, Smith played on an Ohio State team that ran the table during the regular season. But he was also a senior, while McFadden was only a sophomore. Let the kid wait, the thinking seems to go, he'll have another chance. After another spectacular season, McFadden's back at Saturday's presentation.
But there are no sure things in football. There are injuries. There are bad seasons. And, unlike years ago, there's early entry into the NFL. You give me a Reggie Bush, who ``waited his turn'' and won it as a junior after being a finalist as a sophomore, and I'll give you a Marshall Faulk or an Adrian Peterson.
Faulk was the Heisman runner-up as a junior, then bypassed his senior year at San Diego State for the NFL. After finishing second to Matt Leinart as a sophomore, Peterson got hurt his junior year and left Oklahoma early.
The reality is the game is faster now than it used to be - on and off the field. If freshman and sophomore phenoms are going to be measured against their older teammates during the season, those same standards should apply for the spoils that come afterward.
College basketball gets that. The player of the year last season? A freshman, Kevin Durant.
The bias against defensive players is outdated, too. The defense is no longer a bunch of big guys who do little more than block the offensive line. A quick and agile end, a speedy cornerback, a ferocious linebacker - they can be just as exciting and have as big an impact on a game as a quarterback or a running back.
Yet LSU's Glenn Dorsey won't be making a trip to New York this weekend. He never even had to check into flights. Why? For the same reason LaVar Arrington and Julius Peppers were never serious threats for the trophy.
The Heisman is supposed to be for overall excellence, the player who is the best college football has to offer. Is Tim Tebow that player? Maybe, maybe not. But he - and every other underclassman who comes after him - should be judged by what he does on the field, not when he was born.
Because age really is only a number. And in football, there are others that matter much more.
Nancy Armour is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to her at narmourap.org

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