Sugar Bowl 2013: Top Florida Gators Performers in Sugar Bowl History
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When Florida takes on Louisville in the Sugar Bowl in about two weeks, it will mark the ninth appearance for the Gators in the annual clash. They sport a record of 3-5 in those previous eight games, the biggest of which was a victory in the 1997 Sugar Bowl that gave them a national championship.
Florida's first Sugar Bowl came in 1966. In that game, the Gators made a furious fourth-quarter comeback but came up just short in a 20-18 loss to Missouri. It was much of the same for Florida in its first five Sugar Bowls, four of which were losses. However, the Gators have turned things around of late. They have won two of their last three matchups, including a 51-24 thumping of Cincinnati in 2010.
Amidst all of these games were a few standout performances by Gator players. They came courtesy of some of the most famous men in program history, including two Heisman Trophy winners. It remains to be seen if we'll see another noteworthy performance against the Cardinals, but one thing is certain: Each player will be looking to put together four quarters on par with those of past Gator greats.
For now, however, here are the top five performances by Florida Gators in Sugar Bowl history.
No. 5: Errict Rhett, 1994
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The Gators blew out West Virginia 41-7 on New Year's Day in 1994. Errict Rhett was a big reason why.
The tailback finished the game with 105 rushing yards and three touchdowns. His performance earned him the Miller-Digby Award as the game's MVP. Just as important for the Gators was Rhett's leadership as a senior captain.
Those were not the only accolades Rhett earned while at Florida. He was named an All-American after the 1993 season. He finished his career as the team's all-time leading rusher with 4,163 yards. He was also inducted into the school's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.
Rhett may have had an illustrious career at Florida, but he is on this list for his Sugar Bowl performance. His first score set the tone early, and the Gators rolled on their way to a first Sugar Bowl victory.
No. 4: Arden Czyzewski, 1992
Included in this highlight reel are Czyzewski's five field goals.
Kickers rarely get the attention they deserve for making field goals under intense pressure. That's exactly what Arden Czyzewski did in 1992.
Czyzewski hit five field goals in a 39-28 loss for the Gators. He was the most consistent weapon the Gators had against the Fighting Irish that night. Quarterback Shane Matthews completed less than half of his passes as the Gators failed to capitalize on four Notre Dame turnovers. Without Czyzewski's leg, the Gators might have been blown out by Lou Holtz's squad.
Even though it was in a losing effort, Czyzewski's kicks in the 1992 Sugar Bowl are still worth mentioning. He may not go down as one of the best kickers in school history, but he put together one of the best special teams performances in school history when it counted most.
No. 3: Ike Hilliard, 1997
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Danny Wuerffel might have been MVP of the 1997 Sugar Bowl, but Ike Hilliard had an outstanding game in his own right. Any time a wide receiver catches three touchdowns, his performance is capable of raising eyebrows. When it happens during a national championship game, it can also cause jaws to drop.
It wasn't so much the fact that Hilliard had three touchdowns, but instead how he got them. One of those scores was an 31-yard scamper, highlighted by an ankle-breaking "stop and pop" move against two Seminole defenders. He was Wuerffel's most consistent target, catching seven passes totaling 150 yards. Essentially, Hilliard was responsible for half of Florida's passing offense in the game. His speed and quick moves gave the Gators a spark that helped them win their first title.
Hilliard's performance is one of the best title game performances by a receiver in college history, let alone team history. That's why he is deserving of a spot on this list.
No. 2: Tim Tebow, 2010
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No other Gator player has ever captured the attention of college football fans like Tim Tebow. After winning two national championships at Florida, Tebow fittingly ended his college career with a stellar performance in the 2010 Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati.
During a game in which the Gators put up a mind-boggling 659 yards of total offense, Tebow completed all but four of his 35 passes. He threw for 482 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 51 rushing yards to boot. It was the best individual offensive performance in the history of the BCS. When all was said and done, the Gators found themselves on the positive end of a 51-24 rout.
His NFL career might be in shambles right now, but Tebow consistently showed how potent he could be during his time at Florida. There was no better proof of this than the 2010 Sugar Bowl, one which Gator fans will always remember.
No. 1: Danny Wuerffel, 1997
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Tim Tebow put up ridiculous numbers in the 2010 Sugar Bowl. However, there is no bigger stage in college football than the national championship game. That's why Danny Wuerffel's performance in 1997 takes the top spot.
After winning the Heisman Trophy a few weeks earlier, Wuerffel led the Gators to a victory over in-state rival Florida State, as the program won its first national championship. He finished the game with 306 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air, all of which went to Ike Hilliard. Wuerffel was named game MVP as Florida rolled over the Seminoles 52-20.
The game turned out to be the last major "hurrah" of Wuerffel's athletic career. He was drafted by the Saints in the 1997 NFL draft. He spent three seasons in New Orleans before bouncing around to Green Bay, Chicago and Washington and then retiring.
Even though his professional career was a bust, Wuerffel will forever be remembered as a Gators' legend. He finished his collegiate career with 114 passing touchdowns, but none were bigger than the three he tossed in the 1997 Sugar Bowl. It was the perfect way to cap off a Heisman season, and one of the best campaigns in program history.