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Florida Football: How Many National Titles Do the Florida Gators Deserve?

Austyn HumphreyCorrespondent IIIJune 18, 2012

Florida Football: How Many National Titles Do the Florida Gators Deserve?

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    The AP. The UPI. The Bowl Alliance. The BCS.

    What do they all have in common?

    None utilize a playoff. Therefore, since the beginning of polling, many a team has been robbed of the opportunity to fairly win national championships.

    What is a fan to do?

    Well, one might have a little fun and start a project. Using the College Football Data Warehouse and past polling systems (see below for details), I have sifted through the declared end-of-season No. 1 teams and decided which teams I feel have earned the accolade.

    Bo Schembechler of Michigan, among others, believed that a true national champion could never be crowned in football (via the New York Times). In some cases, due to the large avoidance of first- and second-ranked teams meeting in postseason games, I will sometimes crown more than one national champion per season.

    Of course, this article is meant to get your voice heard, so feel free to comment. Since fans deserve to know why their schools have been awarded certain titles, I present my methodology for each team's case.

    This series will encompass eventually all the BCS teams. This summer, in honor of the impending Alabama-Michigan matchup, we will cover only the SEC championships and Michigan.

    Unlike most teams, the Florida Gators only recently came to the national limelight. The program's meteoric rise has been easy to see. UF is the only team in the 1990s and 2000s to post at least 100 victories.

    Where there's smoke, there's fire, so let's see how those wins have led to national titles.

     

    The explicit purpose of this game is to show how the polls and bowls prevent a necessary college football playoff. By examining how confusing it has been to determine a champion, we can observe which way not to choose the best team.

    Polls considered include: Alderson System, Anderson & Hester, AP, Berryman (QRPS), BCS, Billingsley Report, Boand System, Caspar Whitney, Colley Matrix, Congrove Computer Rankings, DeVold System, Dickinson System, Dunkel System, Eck Ratings System, Houlgate System, Litkenhous, Massey College Football Ratings, Matthews Grid Ratings, N.Y. Times, Poling System, Rothman, Sagarin Ratings, Williamson System and Wolfe Systems.

1996 Florida Gators

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    Some Gators may contend that the team deserves the 1984 national championship. Due to their loss to Miami and tie at LSU on their schedule and the lack of a bowl game, the Gators were unable to clinch a title.

    In addition, BYU won the national title by going 13-0. Since many also complain about the Cougars playing in a weak conference for that year, some pollster groups gave Washington the national championship—and they played and beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

    That doesn't mean the Gators aren't a deserving team. Up until Steve Spurrier's arrival, the 1984 football team was the best Florida ever had.

    Thank goodness for the Ol' Ball Coach. Florida's quarterback and 1966 Heisman Trophy winner, Steve Spurrier came back to UF as head coach in December 1989. Within a few years, the Gators had become a threat on the national scene.

     

    1996

    The '96 Gators, as dominant as they were, needed quite a bit of luck to win a national championship. After handling No. 4 Tennessee on the road, the team smashed opponents in SEC play, beating LSU 56-13, Auburn 51-10 and Georgia 47-7. Their final major hurdle would be against the No. 2 Florida State Seminoles in Tallahassee.

    After narrowly losing the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup to the Seminoles, the Gators rebounded to win the 1996 SEC Championship game.

    Senior quarterback Danny Wuerfful became UF's second Heisman Trophy winner that year. But despite all the success, the Gators still had little hope they could become Bowl Alliance champions.

    UF, like the 1942 Georgia football team or 2011 Alabama football team, needed a bit of luck to win it all. First of all, two-time defending national champion Nebraska had to lose the inaugural Big 12 Championship game. That just happened as Texas upset Nebraska, thanks to Texas quarterback James Brown's daring "Roll Left" play.

    This resulted in the Gators rising back to the No. 3 ranking, and they were slated to play No. 1 FSU in the Sugar Bowl. Even if the Gators won, though, it did not assure them a national championship. Arizona State, ranked No. 2, was also undefeated. If they beat Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, the Sun Devils would be national champions.

    Luckily, on New Year's Day, Ohio State beat ASU. The Sugar Bowl, played on January 2nd, would now determine the true national champion. As you know, the Gators pulverized the Seminoles in Round 2 to the tune of 52-20. Florida had won its first national championship.

2006 Florida Gators

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    A decade after reaching the mountain top, the Gators returned.

    The team had reason to be optimistic. Athletic Director Jeremy Foley had the most prized coach in college football, Urban Meyer. Meyer, a master of the spread offense, had coached the Utah Utes to a BCS bowl and coached the No. 1 NFL draft pick Alex Smith.

    Meyer's system was a bit difficult for quarterback Chris Leak; some high school star named Tim Tebow complemented Leak's talents. Nevertheless, Leak did well splitting time with Tim Tebow, showing what a team player Leak was. The Gators started the season hot, but had to rally from a 17-7 deficit at Tennessee.

    The Gators overcame their next challenge, beating LSU at home.

    The hype was huge for Florida playing one-loss Auburn, as each had national title hopes on the line. Tragedy then struck, as Auburn toppled Florida on the Plains.

    The Gators followed up such losses with a close victory over Georgia, an escape on the road versus Vanderbilt, the blocked field goal against South Carolina (in the YouTube video) and a sidestepping of Florida State in Tallahassee. Auburn lost again (to Georgia) and fell out of national title contention. 

    By the end of the regular season, UF was 11-1. 

    But wait! Even with an 11-1 record Urban's crew was not assured a berth in the title game. As winners of the SEC East, they would first have to play Arkansas (with Heisman Trophy contender back Darren McFadden) for the SEC championship crown. But even a victory in Atlanta might have not been enough.

    Starting on Thanksgiving Weekend 2006, the pieces started to fall into place as Ohio State faced Michigan.

    People were calling it the "Game of the Century." It was the first regular-season No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup since the 1996 Gators lost to the No. 2 Seminoles. Even though Jim Tressel's Ohio State team defeated Michigan, the margin of victory was narrow. The sudden death of beloved ex-Michigan coach Bo Schembechler the day before the game impacted the Wolverines' performance.

    That wasn't the only issue. No. 3 USC was expected to become the new No. 2 in the rankings after destroying Notre Dame. ESPN's recap of the game said:

    Should the Trojans (10-1) beat UCLA (6-5) at the Rose Bowl next weekend, they'll probably face top-ranked Ohio State in the BCS title game Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz...The Trojans played in the BCS title game the past two years -- winning one and losing one -- and earned a piece of the national championship three years ago after being bypassed for the title game.

    So basically, the new No. 2 USC Trojans were favored to play for their third national championship in three years and win their third in four years. Their dynasty was nigh unstoppable; even if the Gators won the SEC championship, there was a huge possibility that the team would be given the cold shoulder.

    Unless USC lost to mediocre UCLA. And on the night on the SEC championship, that miracle just happened.

    With USC out of the picture, the Gators knew they could gain a berth against Ohio State if they beat Arkansas. After a back-and-forth duel with the pesky Razorbacks, the Gators again survived. That night on College Football Final, analyst Kirk Herbstreit said that voters who didn't want to see an Ohio State-Michigan rematch shouldn't cast a ballot (LSU fans may start bitterly laughing now).

    But anyways, the case for the Gators in the BCS National Championship Game was a strong one: They'd played one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Having an extra game to play (the SEC championship) didn't hurt either. 

    Nevertheless, it was up to the voters and formulas to decide who would play the Buckeyes in Pasadena.

    Ultimately, the BCS decided against a rematch. The No. 2 Gators would play the undefeated No. 1 Buckeyes for the national championship. Few expected the Gators to win; CBS pointed out that the Gators secondary was a concern. The Buckeyes were favored to win by over a touchdown, and media experts were also on the Buckeyes' side.

    But after the title game, everyone was forced to eat their own words. As ESPN's game recap reported: "Everybody got it wrong except for the Gators." The Gators completely pounded the Buckeyes, especially on defense. Charlie Strong's defense allowed only 82 total yards against an offense led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith.

    Like any gridiron gang, the Gators were a compendium of small pieces. The pieces fit together to complete the puzzle. The '06 title team featured receiver Dallas Baker, fellow receiver Andre Caldwell, kick returner Brandon James, linebacker Brandon Siler, safety Reggie Nelson (whose mother died during the season), defensive end Jarvis Moss (who blocked South Carolina's field goal) and some freshman named Percy Harvin (who would later play a more prominent role).

    Some parting facts: The 13 victories set a school record. Another reason the year was so special was that the Gators celebrated a centennial of football. But perhaps the greatest result of the 2006 football  championship was that UF became the first school to ever win football and men's basketball championships in the same year.

    For those of you who dislike Urban Meyer now, at least take comfort that Ohio State lost both national title games to the Gators.

    But before Urban left, the best was yet to come.

2008 Florida Gators

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    The Year of the Promise.

    Tim Tebow, who had become the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy the previous year, had become the first quarterback to score 20 touchdowns by air and ground. The 2008 preseason goal again became the postseason achievement: a national crown.

    Florida was expected to rebound from their 9-4 season, but most prognosticators had Georgia as both the SEC and national title favorite. The Gators defense was the main question; the team had allowed 331 points, as compared to 2006's 189 points. Simply put, the team had regressed defensively.

    Florida was sluggish in its first three games. Florida overcame a rough Miami squad (whose players wanted to knock Tebow out of the game for money), giving the Gators their first victory over the Hurricanes since 1985. Soon after, Tennessee fell to Urban Meyer for the fourth consecutive time.

    Then Ole Miss, which had gone 3-9 the year before, upset the Gators in the Swamp. Tim Tebow made the Promise, and then the real fun began.

    LSU, the defending national champions, visited the Swamp. While the Gators came out ready to slaughter the competition, nobody expected a 51-21 rout.

    Three weeks later, the Gators took on the Bulldogs in Jacksonville, Fla. While Mark Richt's team had been upset by Nick Saban's Alabama team, the winner of the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party had an outside shot at the national championship. The Gators had lost to the Bulldogs the previous year, and the whole Georgia team had come out on to the field to celebrate their first touchdown of the game.

    Florida decimated the Bulldogs 49-10, setting the second-greatest margin of victory in the rivals' storied history.

    As UF safety Ahmad Black commented, "It's a weight off our shoulders. All we heard about was Georgia, Georgia, Georgia."

    Team morale was also boosted by Coach Meyer. ESPN reported: "Florida coach Urban Meyer even called two timeouts in the final 44 seconds -- surely to prolong Georgia's misery."

    The Gators continued their "Scorch the Earth" policy throughout conference play, shutting up Steve Spurrier and South Carolina, 56-6. In the process, the Gators did not only have their greatest rushing game since 1989; UF became the first SEC team to win six regular-season consecutive in-conference games by at least 28 points.

    With the SEC wrapped up, Florida's remaining regular-season obstacle was the Seminoles. A road trip to Tallahassee did not end the Gators' national title hopes: The team overcame trouble with the foul rain and won the so-called "Soak at Doak."

    Now 11-1, the Gators had ascended in the rankings. If they defeated the SEC West champion, the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, Urban Meyer would have a chance for a second national title in three seasons.

    In a back-and-forth duel, Tim Tebow found his crew down 20-17 in the fourth quarter. The Heisman Trophy winner faced his greatest obstacle yet: rallying his team from a second-half deficit to win a game. Tebow had never achieved such a comeback, and star wide receiver Percy Harvin was injured.

    So what? This SEC championship game belonged to the Gators. Nick Saban and the Tide went home in defeat, and the Gators were invited to play in their second BCS National Championship Game.

    The Gators got to play in Miami Gardens for the national championship against Oklahoma. However, the Sooners came into Miami Gardens having scored at least 60 points for five consecutive games. In addition, OU had scored the most points in college football history. Bob Stoops' team also had a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Sam Bradford.

    The game itself had a twist of irony. Just like Steve Spurrier, Stoops had once been a defensive coordinator at Florida. Now he was facing his former school. It was also ironic that Sam Bradford had won the Heisman Trophy, considering Tim Tebow garnered the most first-place votes.

    Defensive Coordinator Charlie Strong's players celebrated their crowning achievement: The Gators won it all and kept the Sooners unstoppable offense to a mere 14 points.

    All in all, the 2008 Gator team was quite stunning. The Gators defeated Miami, Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and Florida State all in the same season. Perhaps even more exceptional, the Gators beat four national championship coaches from the SEC alone: Phil Fulmer of Tennessee, Les Miles of LSU, Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban (from his time at LSU).

    Also along their championship way was Bobby Bowden from Florida State and Bob Stoops from Oklahoma.

    Tebow and crew did stay for an extra year and ran a 22-game winning streak, and he almost won three titles in four years. All in all, these Gators were a class that made the diehards proud. Many of these players are now in the pros, so their stories aren't over yet. But neither is Florida's. Why?

    Because a promise is eternal.

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