Since 1990, the University of Florida has won more college football games than any school in the country (217-41-1 record) and is tied with Alabama and Nebraska for most national championships during that period (3). Prior to 1991, however, the Gators had never won even an SEC championship but there were some very significant games. Here is a look at the 16 most significant games in UF history dating back to 1928 when Bob Neyland and Tennessee spoiled an unbeaten season that could have altered the direction of the Florida program.
Steve Spurrier has had a hand in a signifcant number of the most important games in Florida football history.
1. TENNESSEE 13, FLORIDA 12 (December 8, 1928): The Gators were uneaten and the nation’s highest scoring team (324 points coming into the game), going against one-tied Tennessee, which had only given up 39 points combined in the nine previous games. Legend has it that there was a drought in eastern Tennessee but when the Gators arrived at the stadium, there had been a miraculous flooding rain the night before that turned the field into a quagmire. Tennessee just happened to have mud cleats, but alas, Coach Robert Neyland didn’t have enough to share and all the sporting goods stores in Knoxville were closed. The Gators slipped and slid all day in the mud while the surer-footed Vols eked out a one-point win. Had the Gators won, they would have tied Georgia Tech for the Southern Conference championship. It would be 63 years before UF won a championship.
2. FLORIDA 17, PENN STATE 7 (December 30, 1962): Penn State won the Lambert Trophy as the best team in the East (9-1 record coming into the game) while the Gators were 6-4. The media billed this as “Civil War II” and the Gators were Confederate flags on their helmets. Florida’s defense overwhelmed the Nittany Lions, whose head coach was Rip Engle and assistant head coach was Joe Paterno. Ranked #9 nationally, Penn State was the highest ranked team a Florida team had ever beaten.
3. FLORIDA 10, ALABAMA 6 (October 12, 1963): Only a one-point loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta the year before had kept Alabama from winning back-to-back national championships. The Crimson Tide was unbeaten and ranked #3 nationally when the Gators came to Tuscaloosa three touchdown underdogs. The tone of the game was set on the opening kickoff when Hagood Clarke became a human missile and nearly decapitated Alabama All-American Benny Nelson at the 5-yard line. Dick Kirk scored the game-winning touchdown on a long run by Dick Kirk and Gene Ellenson’s defense bottled up Joe Namath. Some say this is the day the Florida sleeping giant awakened.
4. FLORIDA 30, AUBURN 27 (October 29, 1966): With time running out and the game tied at 27-27, Florida found itself needing a 40-yard field goal to win and without a field goal kicker capable of booting one that far. So, Steve Spurrier told Coach Ray Graves don't worry, he'd win it. Spurrier drilled it straight between the uprights to give Florida the win, but more importantly, the Heisman Trophy for Spurrier.
5. FLORIDA 59, HOUSTON 35 (September 20, 1969): Some preseason magazines had Houston predicted to win the national championship. This was the debut of the Super Sophs. On the third play of the game, John Reaves threw a 72-yard touchdown pass to “The Cuban Comet,” Carlos Alvarez, the first of five Reaves touchdown passes that day. The Gators would go on to finish the season 9-1-1, the greatest season in UF history until 1992.
6. GEORGIA 41, FLORIDA 27 (November 6, 1976): Older Gators remember this one for “Fourth and Dumb.” Florida held a 27-14 lead at the half but Georgia had momentum. When the Gators couldn’t move the ball after taking the kickoff to start the second half, Doug Dickey elected to go for it on fourth and two inside the UF 30. Georgia stuffed the play and scored 27 unanswered second half points. That was the beginning of the end of the Doug Dickey era.
7. FLORIDA 17, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA 9 (September 11, 1982): This was Wilber Marshall’s coming out party and the game that told the world that Charley Pell had the Gators on the verge of becoming a true national power. By the time he got through with USC, he had almost singlehandedly taken them out of their offense, running down tailbacks from behind on the student body sweep and making life miserable by sacking the quarterback five times. Sean Salisbury still hears the footsteps.
8. FLORIDA 50, OKLAHOMA STATE 7 (September 8, 1990): This was the first day of the Steve Spurrier era at Florida. Spurrier started Shane Matthews, the previous year’s sixth stringer, at quarterback. Going no huddle on the opening drive, the ball never touched the ground as Matthews ripped and shredded the Cowboys’ defense. Spurrier would go on and win another 121 games, six SEC titles and a national title over a 12-year span.
9. FLORIDA 52, FLORIDA STATE 20 (December 2, 1997): The Seminoles had beaten the Gators 24-21 in Tallahassee back in November when the Gators had only one healthy first string lineman. With healthy linemen to protect Danny Wuerffel, who was running the Gators out of the shotgun, Florida destroyed the unbeaten and #1 ranked Seminoles for the first national title in school history.
10. TENNESSEE 34, FLORIDA 32 (December 1, 2011): Had this game been played in September when it was originally scheduled, Florida probably would have blown out the Vols and would have been playing for the national title but the events of 9/11 postponed it until Saturday night in December. Travis Stephens ran the Gators silly and cost the Gators a chance to play Miami in the Rose Bowl for the national championship.
11. MISSISSIPPI STATE 38, FLORIDA 31 (October 23, 2004): The Gators couldn’t stop Mississippi State and Jerious Norwood, who scored on a 37-yard touchdown run with 32 seconds left in the game. On Monday, Florida fired head coach Ron Zook and a month later hired Urban Meyer.
12. FLORIDA 17, SOUTH CAROLINA 16 (November 11, 2006): There is no national championship game without this unlikely win. In the third quarter, Ray McDonald blocked a Ryan Succop field goal and in the fourth quarter Jarvis Moss blocked an extra point then blocked a 48-yard field goal attempt by Succop on the last play of the game. The game winning touchdown – a 12-yard Tim Tebow run – was set up by an 8-yard quarterback draw by Chris Leak.
13. FLORIDA 41, OHIO STATE 14 (January 8, 2007): There was a month-long national debate about whether or not the Gators even belonged in this game. UF was considered an unworthy opponent for the mighty Buckeyes, who were huge favorites to wipe the stadium floor with the Gators. It wasn’t even close. The only reason the Buckeyes came within 27 points is because Meyer put the ball in the deep freeze in the second half when the Gators could have scored at will. This was the final game of Chris Leak’s career and allowed him to leave with the national championship he promised when he was recruited.
14. OLE MISS 31, FLORIDA 30 (September 27, 2007): This was “The Promise” game. After Ole Miss stunned the Gators, Tim Tebow delivered his now famous promise speech in which he vowed that nobody would outwork the Gators the rest of the season. Nobody did.
15. FLORIDA 24, OKLAHOMA 14 (January 8, 2009): Oklahoma had scored 702 points in the previous 13 games and hadn’t been held under 35 all year. The Florida defense did its job while Tebow dominated the fourth quarter when the Gators scored the last 10 points of the game to capture their third national championship and second in three years. The winning touchdown came on a Tebow jump pass to David Nelson with 3:07 left in the game.
16. ALABAMA 32, FLORIDA 13 (December 5, 2009): Florida came in the game unbeaten and ranked #1, while Alabama was unbeaten and ranked #2. Earlier in the week Carlos Dunlap was arrested, a distraction that seemed to carry over into the SEC championship game where Florida never seemed fully focused and was dominated by the Crimson Tide, which ended the Gators’ chances of a back-to-back national championship.
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