Tim Tebow talks Florida-Tennessee, Billy Napier and what Gators can learn from Florida State

Tim Tebow knows what a victory against No. 11 Tennessee would mean for Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday. 

Tebow never lost to the Vols as a player from 2007-10 – which was part of the Gators’ 11-game win streak in the series. He remembers the expectations under Urban Meyer – which were detailed in “Swamp Kings” – and the standard set by Steve Spurrier in the 1990s. 

“The pressure was magnified a lot before that,” Tebow told Sporting News as part of an interview for the AFCA Allstate Good Works Team. “That was with Spurrier winning all those SEC championships. You look at the run they made, ’92-3-4-5-6 and when they finally didn’t win a SEC championship, Florida fans like me were like, ‘What? What happened?’” 

So Tebow knows how Gators fans will feel if they lose to the Vols. Florida has not lost to Tennessee at The Swamp since 2003 – a streak that second-year coach Billy Napier is tasked with upholding. Is a victory necessary to keep Napier off a seat that is warming up sooner than expected? 

“I think that would be something that would be nice for Coach Napier and for the fan base as well,”  Tebow said. “Florida is not as far off as a lot of people saw in Week 1.” 

Florida lost 24-11 to No. 12 Utah in the season opener on Aug. 31 – an ugly performance that was put through the social media wringer. The Gators beat McNeese 49-7 in Week 2, which sets up another national-spotlight moment against the Vols. Tennessee broke a five-game losing streak against Florida with a 38-33 victory in 2022. The Vols have not won back-to-back games in the rivalry since 2003-04. 

Tebow watched the sloppy opener against Utah, but he also saw improvement from Wisconsin transfer quarterback Graham Mertz, leading receiver Ricky Pearsall and a young group of playmakers. 

“There were some areas in execution and areas in communication that needed improvement,” Tebow said. “Obviously people talk about the two No. 3’s on there on fourth down, but then it’s also the little things. Those were issues, but so many of those are coachable. That’s nice when things are coachable, and I do think they will continue to improve.” 

In the short term, Tebow believes Florida – a seven-point underdog – can compete with Tennessee if they apply some principles Austin Peay used last week. The Vols beat the Governors 30-13, but it was 13-6 at halftime. 

“What will be interesting for Florida is the style that takes place,” Tebow said. “Florida wants to have ground and pound. They want to control the football, control the time of possession, keep the defense fresh. Tennessee wants the exact opposite style of play. They want to get as many plays as possible. They want to get Joe Milton going. It will be interesting to see if Florida learns anything from the way Austin Peay was able to play Tennessee last week.” 

Napier stands at 7-8 after 15 games, two games worse than each of the previous six Florida coaches.

Coach Record
Steve Spurrier 12-3
Ron Zook 9-6
Urban Meyer 12-3
Will Muschamp 9-6
Jim McElwain 11-4
Dan Mullen 12-3
Billy Napier 7-8

Tebow, however, pointed to a similar situation at rival Florida State. Mike Norvell was 8-13 after his first two seasons, but the Seminoles were 10-3 in 2022. Now, Florida State is ranked No. 3 in the FBS with Heisman Trophy contender Jordan Travis. The mix of solid recruiting and working the transfer portal has paid off. 

“Momentum is important in this game of college football. Getting buy-in and belief, momentum in recruiting and being able to develop,” he said. “That was something Florida State was able to get in just a few sparks from Jordan Travis and a few other players. Then you get all these transfers in and do a good job recruiting, and now they are one of the best teams in the country.”

Napier can make that happen at Florida, but the time-table gets shorter with each loss. 

“I think Florida is doing a good job in recruiting, and they have to continue to step up in the execution,” Tebow said. “I think there is patience required in where they’re at. Everybody’s always going to compare you to Alabama, LSU, Georgia and another rival in FSU. I think there is a little bit of patience required.” 

Tebow was a member of the 2009 AFCA Allstate Good Works Team and remains an ambassador in 2023. The team, which was released Tuesday, honors 22 student-athletes and one coach – Maryland’s Mike Locksley is this year’s choice – for their community service and impact off the field. 

“I think it’s the way they’ve adapted to use NIL,” Tebow said. “I think it’s the way that they’ve continued to find ways coming out of COVID to bring people together. The whole goal of the AFCA Allstate Good Works Team is about impact. It’s about making a difference in people’s lives. Their doing it in different ways with the same goal.”

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.