Florida Gators football

The Florida Gators football program represents the University of Florida in American college football. Florida competes in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). They play their home games in Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (nicknamed "The Swamp") on the university's Gainesville campus. The team's head coach is Dan Mullen. The Gators have won three national championships and eight SEC titles in the 112-season history of Florida football.

History

The University of Florida was established in Gainesville in 1906 and fielded its first official varsity football team that fall. In 112 years of football, Florida has played in over 40 bowl games; won three national championships (1996, 2006 and 2008) and eight Southeastern Conference championships (1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2006 and 2008) and have produced three Heisman Trophy winners, more than 90 first-team All-Americans and 50 National Football League (NFL) first-round draft choices.

Since 1906, Florida Football has had 26 head coaches, including three who were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for their coaching success. Its first head coach was Pee Wee Forsythe with Dan Mullen becoming the Gators' most recent head coach in 2018.

Florida Football competed for its first several seasons as an independent before joining the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1912. They moved to the Southern Conference in 1922, then left with a dozen other schools to establish the new Southeastern Conference (SEC) in 1932. Florida is one of fourteen member institutions in the SEC, and the football team has competed in the SEC Eastern Division since the league began divisional play in 1992.

Florida plays an eight-game SEC schedule, with six games against the other Eastern Division teams: Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt. The schedule is filled out with an annual game against Louisiana State and a rotating SEC Western Division team. Until 2003, the Gators also played Auburn every season, but contests in the rivalry are now infrequent events as part of the SEC's rotating opponent system.

Key conference rivalries include the annual Florida–Georgia game in Jacksonville, Florida (usually around Halloween), the Florida–Tennessee rivalry (usually mid-September), and the inter-divisional Florida–LSU rivalry with their permanent SEC Western Division foe (in early to mid-October).

Florida has also played in-state rival Florida State every year since 1958, usually facing off in the last game of the regular season. The two teams' emergence as perennial football powers during the 1980s and 1990s helped build the Florida–Florida State rivalry into a game which often has national-title implications. Before 1988, in-state rival Miami was also an annual opponent; due to expanded conference schedules, the Florida–Miami rivalry has been renewed only three times in the regular season and twice in bowl games since then. The remaining dates on Florida's regular schedule are filled by non-conference opponents which vary from year to year.

Home fields

Florida's outdoor sports teams initially played most of their homes games at a municipal park near downtown Gainesville. In 1911, the university installed bleachers alongside a grassy area on the north edge of the campus and dubbed it University Athletic Field, which was expanded and renamed Fleming Field in 1915.

The football program finally moved into a modern stadium in 1930, when the university built 22,000 seat Florida Field just south of Fleming Field. In 1989, the name was extended to "Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium" to honor alumnus and sports benefactor Ben Hill Griffin. In 2016, former player and coach Steve Spurrier was honored by having his name added to the name of the field; it is now officially known as "Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium". The facility is also commonly known as "The Swamp", a nickname that Spurrier coined in 1992, when he was Florida's head ball coach. Florida Field has been renovated and expanded many times over the decades and has a capacity of almost 90,000.

Even after Florida Field was constructed, Florida occasionally scheduled "home" game in other cities across the state, most often Tampa or Jacksonville. This practice was common in the early years of the program, when the Gators' home field was smaller and traveling to Gainesville was more difficult. The frequency of these rotating home games had decreased from one or two contests per season in the 1930s to one every few seasons by the 1980s. With the exception of the traditional rivalry game against Georgia, the Gators have not scheduled any home games outside of Gainesville since Florida Field expanded to become the largest football stadium in the state in 1990.

Conference affiliations

Florida's football program is a charter member of the Southeastern Conference, which began play in 1933. Before that, the Gators were affiliated with two different conferences after having founded the program without a conference affiliation.

Championships

National championships

The 1996, 2006 and 2008 Gators were ranked No. 1 in the final AP and Coaches Polls and were recognized as consensus national champions after winning postseason national-championship games.

The 1984 Gators were recognized as national champions by The Sporting News, The New York Times and the Billingsley, DeVold, Dunkel, FACT, Matthews, and Jeff Sagarin rankings. However, they finished third in the final AP Poll and seventh in the final UPI Coaches Poll behind the BYU Cougars, who were number one in both major polls and thus considered the national champions in the pre-Bowl Alliance and BCS era. The 1985 Gators finished fifth in the final 1985 AP Poll and were recognized as national champion by one minor selector. Partially because the football program was on NCAA probation in the mid-1980s, the university has never claimed a share of the national championship for either the 1984 or 1985 season.

Conference championships

Florida has won a total of eight SEC championships. The Gators won their first championship with a conference record of 5–0–1 in 1984, but the title was vacated several months after the season ended by the SEC university presidents because of NCAA infractions by the Florida coaching staff under Charley Pell. The 1985 and 1990 teams also finished atop the standings with conference records of 5–1 and 6–1, respectively, but Florida was ineligible for the championship due to its NCAA probation for rule violations by previous coaching staffs. The Gators won their first official SEC football championship in 1991.

Division championships

With the addition of Arkansas and South Carolina to the Southeastern Conference in 1992, the conference split into eastern and western divisions and a game between the division winners determined the SEC champion. Florida has made thirteen appearances in the SEC Championship Game (the most by any SEC school), most recently in 2020. The Gators have won seven of the twelve SEC Championship Games in which they have appeared, pending the outcome of the 2020 contest.

† In 1992, Florida finished the season tied with Georgia for the SEC East; however, Florida had defeated Georgia and won the tie-breaker to represent the division in the 1992 SEC Championship Game. In 2003 Florida ended the regular season in a three-way tie for the SEC East title with Georgia and Tennessee, and in 2012 the Gators were tied with Georgia. According to the SEC's tie-breaking procedure, Georgia was selected to represent the division in the 2003 SEC Championship Game and 2012 SEC Championship Game.

Bowl games

Florida has appeared in 45 NCAA-sanctioned bowl games, garnering a 24–21 record. This includes a streak of 22 consecutive bowl-game appearances from 1991 through 2012, the fifth-longest in college football history. Four of their bowl games were for a National Championship, with two under the Bowl Alliance and two in the Bowl Championship Series. Florida is 3–1 in national championship games.

† The 1912 Bacardi Bowl held in Havana, Cuba was not sanctioned by the NCAA and was intended to be one half of a two-game event which was not completed due to a dispute over the rules of the game. As such, the University of Florida Athletic Association does not include the contest in the Gators' official bowl record.
Coalition, Alliance, BCS or New Year's Six Bowl game.

Records against SEC and in-state opponents

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Florida's season records are from the record books of the university's athletic association. Through the end of the 2019 season, Florida has compiled an overall record of 729 wins, 437 losses, and 37 ties (including post-season bowl games).

All-time record against current SEC teams

Florida plays SEC East opponents Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Missouri, Georgia, and South Carolina along with SEC West foe LSU on an annual basis. The other SEC West teams are played on a six-year rotation, with the added possibility of meeting in the SEC Championship Game.

All-time record against in-state opponents

The University of Florida's athletic program operated with a limited budget for the first several years after its establishment in 1906. To reduce travel costs, early Florida football teams played limited slates of games, mostly against squads from nearby schools. Local scheduling resulted in the development of gridiron rivalries with several in-state private colleges, most notably Stetson, Florida Southern, and Rollins. Of those early opponents, Florida Southern and Rollins no longer sponsor intercollegiate football programs and, after dropping the sport for half a century, the Stetson Hatters compete in a lower division of college football. Florida also scheduled occasional games against teams organized by local athletic clubs or nearby military bases during the first half of the 20th Century, particularly during the two world wars. However, the Gators have not played a non-collegiate squad since 1945.

In more modern times, Florida began an annual rivalry with the University of Miami Hurricanes in 1938 that continued uninterrupted until 1987. The teams have met on an occasional basis since then and are still considered rivals. Florida State (FSU) established a football program in 1947 and first faced Florida in 1958, beginning a series that was uninterrupted until the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 resulted in both schools playing conference-only schedules. The Gators have also scheduled occasional contests against several Florida schools with newer football programs, usually in Gainesville.

All records accurate as of the conclusion of the 2019 season

Rivalries

Georgia

Steve Spurrier under center v. Georgia, 1966

Historically, Georgia has been Florida's most hated and fierce rival. Previously known as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party," and now most commonly called the "Florida–Georgia game" by Gator fans, this rivalry often decides the SEC East and has national implications. The game is held at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida, usually on the last Saturday in October or the first Saturday in November. The designated "home" team alternates, with ticket distribution split evenly between the schools. Since 2009, the Okefenokee Oar has been awarded to the winner of the Florida-Georgia game.

In the rivalry's early years, games rotated among locations in Savannah, Tampa, Jacksonville and, occasionally, Gainesville and Athens. Since 1933 the game has been played in Jacksonville, except for 1994 and 1995 (when the teams played a pair of home-and-home games at their respective stadiums). Georgia had early success in the rivalry, winning the first six games and holding a 21–5–1 series lead before 1950. After the 2018 game Florida has won 21 out of the most-recent 29 games, and holds a 38–30–1 advantage in the series since 1950. Georgia lead the series overall 53–44–2 through the 2020 season.

Tennessee

Tim Tebow in the spread v. Tennessee, 2007

Although Florida and Tennessee are charter members of the SEC, irregular conference scheduling resulted in the teams meeting infrequently for many years. Tennessee won the first ten games between 1916 and 1954, when Florida finally defeated the Volunteers. In 1969, Florida hired Tennessee head coach (and former Florida quarterback) Doug Dickey to replace the retiring Ray Graves immediately after their teams met in the Gator Bowl.

The rivalry reached a peak during the 1990s. In 1992, the SEC expanded to twelve schools and split into two divisions. Florida and Tennessee (in the Eastern Division) have met every year since, usually in mid-September for both teams' first conference game of the season. Led by coaches Steve Spurrier and Phillip Fulmer and featuring players such as Danny Wuerffel and Peyton Manning, both teams were regularly ranked in the top 10 when they met, giving the rivalry conference and national title implications. Florida and Tennessee combined to win six SEC titles and two national championships during the 1990s.

Since becoming annual opponents in 1992, the Gators and Volunteers have combined to represent the Eastern Division in the SEC Championship Game 16 times. Florida had an 11-game winning streak against Tennessee (2005–2015) and leads the series 29–20 through the 2019 meeting.

Florida State

Teams in formation near the end zone
2007 Florida State game

The University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women became co-educational in 1947. The new Florida State Seminoles football team began playing small colleges, moving up to the major-college ranks in 1955. Almost immediately, Florida State students and supporters called for the teams of Florida's two largest universities to play each other annually.

Contrary to popular belief, Florida's state legislature did not decree that Florida and Florida State should meet on the field; a bill mandating the game was rejected by the Florida Senate. Prodding by Florida governor LeRoy Collins facilitated an agreement between the two universities to begin an annual series in 1958. Due to Florida State's smaller stadium, the first six games were played at Florida Field. The series has alternated between the campuses since 1964, when Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee was expanded. The Florida–Florida State game has had national-championship implications since 1990, and both teams have entered the game with top-10 rankings thirteen times. Among these was the Sugar Bowl rematch at the end of the 1996 season, when Florida avenged its only regular-season loss and won its first national championship 52–20.

Florida dominated the early series with a 16–2–1 record through 1976. Both teams have produced significant winning streaks, and the series is nearly tied over the past four decades; Florida State holds a 21–20–1 advantage since 1980. Since 2000, the teams share 10-10 records against one another. Florida leads the all-time series 36–26–2 through the 2019 season.

LSU

Florida and LSU first met on the football field in 1937, and have been annual opponents since 1971. Since 1992, LSU has been Florida's permanent inter-divisional rival from the SEC Western Division. The winner of the Florida–LSU game went on to win the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) national championship game in the 2006, 2007, 2008,and 2019 seasons. This rivalry has been known recently for close games, with both teams highly ranked. Florida leads the all-time series 33–30–3 through the 2019 season.

Auburn

Auburn and Florida played annually from 1945 to 2002. In the overall series won-lost record, Auburn is Florida's most evenly-matched SEC opponent. Beginning in the 1980s, one team was usually highly ranked coming into the game and it had conference- and national-title implications. The series has had several notable upsets. Auburn defeated previously-unbeaten Florida teams in 1993, 1994, 2001, 2006 and 2007, although the Gators won SEC championships in 1993, 1994 and 2006.

The annual series ended in 2002, when the SEC adjusted its football schedules so each team played one permanent and two rotating opponents from the opposite SEC division every year (instead of one rotating and two permanent teams). When Texas A&M and Missouri joined the conference in 2012, the schedule was changed again; each team played one permanent and one rotating opponent from the opposite division every year. LSU was designated as Florida's annual SEC Western Division opponent, and Florida and Auburn play two regular-season games every 12 years. Auburn leads the series 43–39–2 through the 2019 season.

Miami

Miami is Florida's only pre-World War II in-state rival that still plays major college football. The schools first met on the gridiron in 1938 and again every season until 1987, when the SEC's expansion of its conference schedule to seven games precluded the annual matchup. A contract to renew the annual rivalry in the 1990s fell through when the SEC expanded its schedule again to eight games, and the Florida and Miami did not play again until the 2001 Sugar Bowl. The home and home series briefly resumed in 2002 and 2003, and they played again in the 2004 Peach Bowl. Since then, the schools have played intermittently during the regular season, with home and home series split across several years.

Miami leads the series 29–27 through the 2019 season. The next scheduled matchup between the schools will be in Gainesville on August 31, 2024.

Alabama

Although the series started in 1916, many consider the rivalry between Florida and Alabama to have started in 1992, with the advent of the SEC Championship Game. Both teams have each appeared in 13 of the 29 conference championship games, which 10 of those matches being against each other, the most common matchup so far. Alabama currently leads the conference championship match-up 6–4, following the most recent match-up between both programs, the 2020 SEC Championship Game, which saw Alabama beat Florida 52–46.

Alabama has lead the series 26–14 since the end of the 2020 season.

Individual award winners

College Football Hall of Fame members

Thirteen people associated with Florida have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, four as head coaches and ten as players.

All-Americans

Since Florida's first season in 1906, 89 players have received one or more selections as first-team All-Americans. This includes 32 consensus All-Americans, of which six were unanimous. The first Florida first-team All-American was end Dale Van Sickel, a member of the 1928 team. Florida's first consensus All-American was quarterback Steve Spurrier, the winner of the Heisman Trophy for the 1966 Gators.

SEC Legends

Since 1994, the Southeastern Conference has annually designated one former football player from each SEC member school as an "SEC Legend." Through 2017, the following Gators have been named SEC Legends:

Fergie Ferguson Award

The Fergie Ferguson Award is given in memory of one of the University of Florida's finest athletes, Forest K. Ferguson. Ferguson was an All-SEC end for Florida in 1941 and state boxing champion in 1942. Subsequently, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, he led an infantry platoon during the D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944. Ferguson helped clear the way for his troops to advance on the Axis position, and was severely wounded leading his men in the assault. A recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, he died from war-related injuries in 1954. The award, a trophy, is given to the senior football player who most displays "leadership, character, and courage."

Ring of Honor

The Gators do not have any retired jersey numbers. Although Steve Spurrier's (11) and Scot Brantley's (55) numbers were once retired, Spurrier reissued them as head coach.

The Florida Football Ring of Honor, the Gator's alternative to retiring a player's number, pays homage to former players and coaches. The University of Florida Athletic Association created the Ring of Honor in 2006 to commemorate 100 years of Florida Football. Jerseys with numbers worn by Wilber Marshall, Emmitt Smith, Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, and Jack Youngblood are displayed on the facade of the north end zone of Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium; their numbers are used by current players. In July 2018, the university announced that Tim Tebow would be inducted into the Ring of Honor during a game on October 6, 2018.

To be considered for induction into the Ring of Honor, a former player or coach must be absent from the university for five seasons, be in good standing, and meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Heisman Trophy winner (Spurrier, Wuerffel, Tebow)
  • Former All-Americans inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as players (Smith, Youngblood)
  • Former All-Americans who are NFL career category leaders (Smith)
  • College-career category leaders (Tebow)
  • Coaches with one or more national championship (Spurrier)
  • Coaches with three or more SEC championships (Spurrier)
  • Players with two or more consensus All-America honors who were also named national offensive or defensive player of the year (Marshall, Tebow)

All-Time teams

A Florida Football All-Time Team was compiled by the Florida Alumnus, the official publication of the Florida alumni, in 1927.

Another University of Florida all-time team was chosen by the Miami Herald according to a fan vote in August 1983.[not specific enough to verify]

All-Century Team

The Florida Football All-Century Team, chosen by Gator fans, was compiled by The Gainesville Sun in the fall of 1999.

100th-Anniversary Team

The 100th-Anniversary Florida Team was selected in 2006 to celebrate a century of Florida football. Fans voted by mail and online.

Uniforms

Gators (in blue and white) and Florida Atlantic Owls (in white)
Florida's most common home uniform since 1990
Florida's "Swamp green" alternative uniforms, October 2017

The Florida football team has worn a home uniform of blue jerseys (usually a variation of royal blue) with white pants for most of the program's history. The most notable exception was a decade-long period from 1979 until 1989, when at the suggestion of coach Charlie Pell, the Gators switched to orange home jerseys. For road games, Florida wears white jerseys with blue, orange, or white pants, depending on the colors of the opponent or the choice of the players that week.

Steve Spurrier restored the home blue jerseys when he became the Gators' head ball coach in 1990. From 1990 until 2014, Florida's primary home uniforms were blue jerseys with white pants, with blue pants an option for high-profile games, especially at night. Former coach Jim McElwain usually allowed his senior players to decide which uniform combination the team wore for each game. Since this practice began during the 2015 season, the Gators have worn many different combinations of blue or orange jerseys along with blue, orange, or white pants.

Florida has occasionally worn alternative uniforms, which are usually similar to current or former uniforms and used an orange and blue color scheme. One exception were the "swamp green" uniforms used at a home game against Texas A&M in October 2017. These used a dark green theme for the entire uniform from shoes to helmet that was inspired by the appearance of actual alligators. The uniform marked the 25th anniversary of former coach Steve Spurrier introducing the Swamp nickname for Florida Field.

Helmets

Florida has had a number of helmet designs, especially early in the program's history. Since the end of the leather helmet era, base colors have alternated between orange, white, and (occasionally) blue, and logos have included the “Gators” script font, an interlocking "UF", a simple "F", and the player number.

From 1979 until 2006, Florida wore orange helmets with a script "Gators" logo in all contests. To commemorate the 100th year of the football program in 2006, the Gators played one game wearing throwback uniforms modeled after their mid-1960s uniforms which included white helmets with a simple "F" logo. In 2009 the Gators participated in Nike's Pro Combat uniform campaign, wearing specially-designed blue uniforms and white helmets with a slant-F logo. These uniforms were worn for the last regular-season game against Florida State, and the white helmets were worn again the following week against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game with white jerseys and pants. Florida introduced a different white alternative helmet in 2015 which featured the script "Gators" logo on one side and the slant-F logo on the other, and in 2018 replaced the slant-F with script "Gators" on both sides. In 2017, the Gators wore "swamp green" helmets for one game. These dark green helmets featured a color-altered Gator head logo on one side and the player's number in orange on the other.

Team logos

Future opponents

Annual SEC East opponents

Florida has played each of the other members of the SEC Eastern Division every year since the SEC expanded to an eight-game league schedule in 1992. Florida's annual conference opponents are Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Missouri, and South Carolina, usually scheduled in that order. Most of the Gators' SEC East opponents are played on a home-and-home basis, with Tennessee and Vanderbilt visiting Gainesville in odd numbered years and Kentucky, South Carolina, and Missouri visiting in even numbered years. The Florida/Georgia game is played annually in Jacksonville.

SEC West opponents

In addition to six games against eastern division opponents, Florida plays two games against western division opponents. Florida's permanent non-division opponent is Louisiana State (LSU), whom the Gators play annually. The other six SEC Western Division teams rotate on a six-year cycle, with the Florida playing every western division team once every six years (twice every 12 years) with alternating home and away games.

The winners of the east and west divisions meet in the SEC Championship Game, potentially creating a rematch of a regular season contest. Florida has played in 12 SEC Championship Games and have been involved in two rematches - in 1999, when they lost to Alabama in the regular season and lost again in the SEC championship, and in 2000, when they beat Auburn during the regular season and defeated them again to win the conference title.

Non-conference opponents

Florida has played a continuous series against in-state rival Florida State (FSU) since 1958. While the eight game SEC slate plus the annual matchup with FSU are set years in advance, the schedule allows for two or three additional non-conference games against various opponents that are usually played in Gainesville for revenue purposes. In recent years, Florida has been also invited to participate in several season opening non-conference neutral-site games which do not count against the NCAA cap on regular season games.

Announced opponents and dates are as of April 26, 2020.

See also

Further reading

  • 2015 Florida Gators Football Media Guide, University Athletic Association, Gainesville, Florida (2015).
  • Carlson, Norm (2007). University of Florida Football Vault: The History of the Florida Gators. Atlanta, Georgia: Whitman Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-0-7948-2298-9.
  • Golenbock, Peter (2002). Go Gators! An Oral History of Florida's Pursuit of Gridiron Glory. St. Petersburg, Florida: Legends Publishing, LLC. ISBN 0-9650782-1-3.
  • Graham, Klein. History of the University of Florida.
  • Hairston, Jack (2002). Tales from the Gator Swamp: A Collection of the Greatest Gator Stories Ever Told. Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing, LLC. ISBN 1-58261-514-4.
  • Horne, Larry E. (2012). Florida Gators IQ. ISBN 978-1-4499-8947-7.
  • Kabat, Ric A. (July 1991). "Before the Seminoles: Football at Florida State College, 1902–1904". Florida Historical Quarterly. 70 (1): 20–37. JSTOR 30148092.
  • McCarthy, Kevin M (2000). Fightin' Gators: A History of University of Florida Football. Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7385-0559-6.
  • McEwen, Tom (1974). The Gators: A Story of Florida Football. Huntsville, Alabama: The Strode Publishers. ISBN 0-87397-025-X.
  • Nash, Noel, ed., The Gainesville Sun Presents The Greatest Moments in Florida Gators Football, Sports Publishing, Inc., Champaign, Illinois (1998).ISBN 1-57167-196-X.
  • Pleasants, Julian M. (2006). Gator Tales: An Oral History of the University of Florida. Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida.
  • Proctor, Samuel, & Wright Langley, Gator History: A Pictorial History of the University of Florida, South Star Publishing Company, Gainesville, Florida (1986).ISBN 0-938637-00-2.

External links

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