Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Where's The Hardware? '97 Florida Gators

Disclaimer: This list and subsequent blog posts were formed to create conversation between SEC fans about teams that were very close to having championship seasons. Looking at the teams listed and thinking about the teams that were left off further proves the depth of the SEC and the focus needed to win week in and week out. Teams were chosen and ranked based on significant wins/losses, star power and old school opinion (because we're opinionated SEC fans).

BNE Top 10 List so far...
#10 - 2001 Florida Gators

BNE's best teams to not win the SEC (post-1992): #9
1997 Florida Gators

AP Preseason #2

Record: 10-2 (6-2)
Final AP Ranking: #4
Final Coaches Ranking: #6

@ #14 LSU 28-21 (UF ranked #1)
#14 Georgia 37-17 (UF ranked #6)
(had some trouble against 14th ranked teams, huh)

Wins vs. Ranked Opponents:
#4 Tennessee 33-20 (eventual SEC Champion)
@#6 Auburn 24-10
#2 Florida State 32-29 (ACC Champion)
Citrus Bowl: #11 Penn State 21-6 (AP Preseason #1)

Star Power: RB Fred Taylor, WR Jacquez Green, OT Mo Collins, OT Zach Piller, DT Reggie McGrew, LB Jevon Kearse, LB Mike Peterson, LB Johnny Rutledge, CB Fred Weary, S Tony George

Why Ahead of '01 Florida?
More meaningful wins. Defeated both teams that participated in the SEC Championship Game, Tennessee and Auburn, while both were ranked in the top 6. But, most importantly, ruined Florida State's undefeated season and #2 ranking in what many Florida fans consider the best game they've experienced in the Swamp...EVER (when your history begins in 1990, EVER isn't a long time though).

Bubba says: 1997 was probably the most entertaining year in terms of quality teams and competition that the SEC saw in the 1990s. As much as it pains me to say it, the Florida team was probably the strongest team in the confrence that season with dominant wins over both the West and East champions. Yes, UGA beat this team by 20, but how did the Dawgs handle Tennessee and Auburn?

This was the first Florida team that really saw the results of the Ole' Ball Coach bringing Bob Stoops to his staff. The defense was outstanding and would only get better with the young stars listed above. The biggest knock on this team was the simple lack of good quarterback play and inconsistencies at that position would haunt the Gators for the rest of the decade. The offense was loaded with little Quizzy and Fred Taylor, but Doug Johnson was a head case and Noah Brindise was not a scolarship player for a reason. If this team has Rex Grossman, Shane Matthews, or even an upperclassmen Jessie Palmer on the roster, the Gators most likely would have been SEC Champions. In my mind this team won in spite of Doug Johnson and as much as it kills me, deserves to be here over 1997 UGA due to their quality wins.

Eighty yards in three plays to beat FSU. Sean McDonough and Terry Donahue on the call for CBS. Best part of the video? Sebastian Janikowski mocking the chomp at the beginning...

Earl says: The 1997 SEC season was incredibly competitive. Five teams finished with two conference losses or less: Tennessee (SEC Champion), Florida, Georgia, Auburn and LSU. Because of that, I had some difficulty with this selection of 1997 Florida in the top 10, especially with the 20-point loss to Georgia. A loss in which the Gators were a 20-point favorite (of course, Florida was always about a 17- to 20-point favorite against every other good SEC team in the '90s). Ultimately though, the Gators defeated four teams in the top 11, including handing their first losses of the season to Tennessee, Auburn and Florida State.

When Florida won on the Plains in mid October, Tennessee people thought the SEC East was done. The Gators had locked it up again. Peyton Manning wouldn't get his SEC championship. But along came the Dawgs on the St. John's River for the first time since 1989. How good was Georgia? How good was Florida? How good was Auburn? How good was LSU? For that matter, how good was the eventual SEC Champion Tennessee? I think the answer to those questions is the same. They all deserved their top 10 rankings in 1997 at some point during the season. They were all good. But it can be argued that Florida had more meaningful wins than any of those other four SEC teams in 1997. And for the first time under Spurrier, the Gators relied on a stud senior RB in Fred Taylor and a stingy defense under the direction of Bob Stoops.

Next installment: #8 - 2006 LSU Tigers


BulldawgJosh said...

I completely forgot about Mike Peterson being a part of this era at Florida.

Earl said...

Florida was going for 5 consecutive SEC championships in '97. The last time that was accomplished was Alabama's streak from 1971-1975.

The Dawgs denied 'em.