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.