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Heisman, Title Races Start With Familiar Faces

It's as easy as one, two, three.

Florida, Texas and Oklahoma, the top three teams in the preseason USA TODAY Coaches' Poll, are led by three history-making quarterbacks: Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford.

With Bradford claiming the 2008 Heisman Trophy and Tebow winning the 2007 trophy, could 2009 be McCoy's year? Never before in the Heisman's 74-year history have the top three vote-getters returned the following year to New York as finalists.

This fall could be exceptional for several reasons - three, in fact. "It's a wonderful thing for those three to be the face of college football," Texas coach Mack Brown says.

"They're all three high-character guys," Florida coach Urban Meyer says. "College football needs that."

Sam Bradford, Oklahoma

Bio: Junior from Oklahoma City; 2008 Heisman winner; led the nation with 50 TD passes and a 180.84 passer rating.

History maker: Last year the Sooners were the highest-scoring major-college team (716 points) in NCAA history.

One more year: "You only get to go through college one time, and I'm having a blast," says Bradford, projected to be a high NFL draft pick last spring. "I'm living my dream."

Path to the title game: Bradford, with four new starters on the offensive line, faces a season-opening test vs. Brigham Young, No. 24 in the preseason USA TODAY Coaches' Poll, in the Dallas Cowboys new stadium. The Sooners also meet No. 11 Oklahoma State and No. 22 Nebraska. The most significant test comes Oct. 17 vs. Texas in Dallas.

Coach Bob Stoops on Bradford: "How can he do better (than last year)? I don't know that you can."

Bradford on Tim Tebow: "He's just got a tremendous passion for the game. It seems like when they're down, he just wills his team to come back and play hard."

Friends, rivals: At the Heisman ceremony, Bradford and Colt McCoy became friends. They roomed at the Manning Passing Academy. "If you would have told me five years ago I was going to become friends with the quarterback at Texas, I probably would have looked at you a little strange," he says.

Good works: Often accompanies Stoops on unannounced visits to a children's hospital; embraced a role as a hero to Native American fans because of his Cherokee heritage.

Colt McCoy, Texas

Bio: Senior from Tuscola, Texas; 2008 Heisman runner-up; passed for 3,859 yards and led the team in rushing (561 yards); on track to graduate in December.

History maker: Completed an NCAA-record 76.7 percent of his passes last year.

Coach Mack Brown on McCoy: "He thinks he can complete better than 77 percent. He's looking so critically at himself. He's trying to find out, 'What can I do better?' "

One more year: Big 12 coaches were surprised and chagrined that McCoy and Sam Bradford returned. "I was hoping we'd get rid of both of them, to be honest," Missouri's Gary Pinkel says. "They're great, great players."

No Hatfields vs. McCoy: "I think the fans are probably like, 'What in the world?' " McCoy says with mock exasperation about his friendship with Bradford. " 'These guys can't like each other.' We have a lot in common."

The skinny: McCoy wasn't exactly a physical standout when he arrived on campus at 175 pounds. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis said he looked like a "skinned squirrel." Others implored him to keep his shirt on. "The first time I walked in the locker room and saw Vince (Young) - he's 6-5, 225 - I thought to myself, 'What am I doing here?' " Now McCoy is 6-2, 214 pounds.

Path to the title game: Could there be a Big Three round robin of sorts en route to the national title game Jan. 7 in Pasadena, Calif.? Texas and Oklahoma clash Oct. 17. The survivor could meet Florida for the trophy. Texas also plays preseason No. 11 Oklahoma State.

Good works: Spent his spring break in Peru doing missionary work; regularly visits a local children's hospital.

Tim Tebow, Florida

Bio: Senior from Jacksonville; 2008 Heisman finalist; first sophomore to win the Heisman in 2007. Last year passed for 2,746 yards and led the team in rushing with 673 yards. On track to graduate in December.

History maker: Became the first major-college player with 20 TDs rushing and 20 passing in the same season in 2007. Could arguably be considered the greatest in college history with a third national title or second Heisman.

One more year: "I really had a platform. I wanted to take advantage of that for one more year, be a good role model for the kids that look up to me," Tebow says about his decision to return.

Tebow on all three Heisman finalists back: "I think that's cool, great for college football. But there are going to be people who are going to step up and be big-time guys, underdogs. People are going to predict 1-2-3 in whatever order, but preseason it doesn't matter."

Coach Urban Meyer on Tebow: Don't expect Tebow to be under center just to appease NFL scouts, Meyer says. The Gators will run their usual shotgun offense and perhaps go under center based on their tailback play - "if it helps us win," Meyer says. "We are certainly not trying to, because someone said Tim needs to enhance his draft status."

Road to the title game: A trip to face LSU in Baton Rouge on Oct. 10 is the toughest road game. LSU, No. 9 in the preseason USA TODAY Coaches' Poll, is one of three ranked opponents scheduled. The others: Georgia (13) and Florida State (19). Otherwise, by Southeastern Conference standards, the schedule is manageable.

Good works: Went to the Philippines on a missionary trip this spring and visited hospitals and prisons.

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