NEW YORK (AP) _ The Heisman Trophy has been handed out every year since 1935 and all the winners have been either juniors or seniors.
Florida sophomore Tim Tebow is poised to break that trend and score one for college football's underclassmen.
The charismatic and multitalented quarterback, who has already had a season like no other in major college football history, is favored to win the Heisman on Saturday night.
Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, last season's Heisman runner-up, is thought to be Tebow's main competition. Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan and Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel are the other finalists.
Conventional wisdom suggests Tebow's class status would leave him at a disadvantage against three upperclassmen, but Heisman voters have warmed up to the idea of voting for underclassmen over the years.
"I'm still a college football player," Tebow said Friday to a gathering of reporters at a hotel in Manhattan. "It doesn't matter what year you are."
For decades, underclassmen were an afterthought at Heisman time.
After SMU sophomore tailback Doak Walker finished third in the Heisman voting in 1947, the next underclassmen to break the top three was Georgia's Herschel Walker, who finished third as a freshman in 1980 and second as a sophomore before winning it as a junior in '82.
During most of those 35 seasons, freshmen were ineligible to play.
"Sophomores in the past, such as a deserving Doak Walker in '47, for example, weren't given proper consideration because freshmen weren't eligible, and there was an obvious prejudice against youth," author and sports writer Dan Jenkins, who is the historian for the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame, wrote in an e-mail to the AP. "Better to vote for somebody who had done more to 'deserve' it rather than a one-season guy."
After Herschel Walker, it was another 10 years before an underclassman made a serious run at the Heisman. In 1992, San Diego State sophomore Marshall Faulk finished second to Miami quarterback Gino Torretta.
Since then, the combination of scholarship limitations in big-time college football and early departures to the NFL have given underclassmen more opportunities to play. As a result, more have become Heisman contenders.
"Sophomores today, having played as freshmen, are what juniors used to be," Jenkins wrote.
Michael Vick was a redshirt freshman for Virginia Tech in 1999, when he finished third. Florida quarterback Rex Grossman was the runner-up to Nebraska's Eric Crouch as a sophomore in 2001. Two years later, Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was a sophomore when he finished second to Oklahoma's Jason White.
Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson became the first freshman to be the Heisman runner-up in 2004 and last year McFadden was a sophomore when he finished second to Ohio State's Troy Smith.
Now here comes Tebow, already a folk hero in Gainesville, Fla., with a chance to become the third Florida Heisman winner, joining Steve Spurrier (1966) and Danny Wuerffel (1996), and do something no college football player has ever done — for the second time this year.
Tebow exceeded the monumental expectations placed on him by adoring Gators fans in his first season as a starter. He became the first player to run for 20 touchdowns and throw 20 touchdown passes in the same season. He accounted for 51 TDs overall, including a Southeastern Conference-record 22 on the ground.
The 235-pound Tebow showed what he could do running the ball last season as a part-time player, complementing senior quarterback Chris Leak and helping Florida win the national title.
This season, in full control of Urban Meyer's spread offense, Tebow has left no doubt he's more than just a bruiser. Tebow is second in the country in passer rating (177.9), with 3,132 yards and 29 touchdown passes.
Tebow is visiting New York for the first time. His parents and four siblings will be joining him, including his sister, Christy Allen, who has been doing missionary work in Bangladesh and only found out Thursday she could make the trip.
"I'm not going to try to worry about (the Heisman) too much and just have fun and enjoy the experience and let that all work out," Tebow said.
While Tebow is a quarterback who runs with a fullback's abandon, McFadden is a tailback with some quarterback skills.
The junior ran for 1,725 yards and often lined up at quarterback in Arkansas' Wild Hog formation. Taking shotgun snaps, McFadden can keep the ball and go, pitch it or hand off to another runner or put it up. He's completed six throws this season, four for touchdowns.
Brennan and Daniel are more conventional quarterbacks, relatively speaking.
Brennan, a senior, threw for 4,174 yards and 38 touchdowns directing unbeaten Hawaii's run-and-shoot offense. Daniel, a junior, passed for 4,170 yards and 33 touchdowns working out of the Tigers' spread formation.
As tough as Tebow is, he played a game in high school on a broken leg, don't be surprised if he sheds a few tears if he wins the Heisman.
"I am soft like that," he said.