Gators Are Back
For most of the past decade, winning was synonymous with the University of Florida and its football team. “The Swamp” was a place where teams went to lose. Gainesville gained a reputation as one of the best places to watch a college football game.
Following a series of three five-loss seasons from 2002 to 2004, when Ron Zook was the coach for the Gators, Florida exploded onto the scene as a force to be reckoned with when it came to competition for the national championship.
Twice, under former coach Urban Meyer, the Gators reached the pinnacle and brought the crystal-football trophy back to Gainesville. Longtime fans will remember 2006 and 2008 as seasons where a sea of fans clad in blue and orange made Ben Hill Griffin Stadium a rocking place to watch college football.
Then the party stopped. Although Florida reached the Sugar Bowl and won it in 2009, the Gators slid back into the middle of the pack in the two years that followed. Meyer, citing exhaustion, stepped down following the 2010 campaign and turned the reins over to Texas defensive coordinator. The slide continued, from 13-1 in 2009 to 8-5 in 2010 to 7-6 in 2011. The last time Florida lost six games was 1987.
After a season lackluster by Florida fans’ standards, not much more was expected. How quickly things can change. The Gators are back in the national spotlight with an unbeaten record through the first few weeks of October. The team has risen to third place in the Associated Press poll, third in the USA TODAY coaches poll, and second in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
Suddenly, Florida Gators football tickets are hot commodities again. What has changed in the course of one year? It starts with Muschamp, who himself came from a winning Texas program and pledged to instill those same winning values in the Gators. The minute Muschamp set foot on campus in December 2010, he pledged to complete the job Meyer started and lure top recruits to Florida.
Muschamp succeeded. His 2011 recruiting class was so good, Rivals.com called it the third-best recruiting class in the country. On the list were such high-school heavyweights as Jeff Driskel, then considered the No. 1 prep quarterback in the country. Driskel is now the team’s starter as a sophomore with 929 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception through the team’s first seven games.
Muschamp continued to show off his recruiting skills with his class of 2012, which included three five-star prospects from Rivals.com’s list, defensive ends Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard, and offensive lineman D.J. Humphries.
Florida competes in the Southeastern Conference, considered the hotbed of Division I college football, and the Gators see top teams each week like LSU and South Carolina. Those teams were ranked in the top 10 this year, and Tennessee was rated 23rd in the country when the Gators came to Knoxville in September. The Gators beat all three teams.
Leading college football analysts such as Gary Danielson (ESPN) and Matt Hayes (Sporting News) look at Florida, which averages just over 30 points a game, and they tell followers that Florida reminds them of the Gators’ national-championship teams. Those are strong words that lend credence to the theory that Florida may be one of the best teams in the nation.
After a fallow two-season stretch, Florida football is a fun game to watch. Gainesville is a fun place to be. Saturday afternoons feel right again. "The Swamp" is once again a nightmare for opposing teams.
College football is better because of that.