Monday, July 21, 2008

Florida: If we would have only...

2001 vs. Tennessee

If you've never spent part of your life in Gainesville, I don't know how you could ever feel sorry for the Gators or their fans. Period. They've been consistent winners and have done so with an offense that was fun to watch, unless it was during the Zook years or you were playing against them. Still, the closest I've come to feeling sympathy for Florida fans was right after the 2001 Tennessee game when they blew their shot at the BCS Championship game.

The Gators shot at the national championship fell right into their lap in November 2001. After starting the year as the odds-on favorite to win it, the Gators were stunned by Auburn in late October, when a last second field goal started way right and duck-hooked right through the uprights. They appeared to be out of the national title chase afterward, as Nebraska and Oklahoma were (way overrated and ) ranked ahead of them for the BCS #2. Miami had the #1 slot sealed up. Then, when Nebraska was destroyed by Colorado and Oklahoma was beaten by 3-7 Oklahoma State, Florida controlled its own destiny to get to Pasadena for the BCS Championship game. Their only games left were against Tennessee at the Swamp in a 9/11 makeup game and then in Atlanta against LSU. Spurrier owned Tennessee, and LSU hadn't made any noise in the SEC in quite some time. The Tigers were 1-7 in SEC only two years earlier.

The most disappointing thing about the game itself for Gator fans was that the Fulmer dictated the game play. Florida only had 36 rushing yards to the Vols' 242. Florida got plenty of passing yards, but they came in spurts. Spurrier's offense was scoreless in the first quarter and only got three points in the third.

Gator fans were just flat-out used to winning, especially in Gainesville. Tennessee hadn't won there in 30 years; more importantly, Fulmer's only win against Spurrier was in 1998 when Florida missed a chippie FG in OT. When they started the game down 14-0, Gator fans expected to come back. They did, and took a 20-14 halftime lead. When Tennessee went ahead 27-23, the Vols botched the 2-point attempt. And when the Vols went ahead by 8 in the 4th, Gator fans were still confident they would score win it in OT. Everything went as planned, until Florida had its pass for the game-tying 2-point pass batted down with 1:10 left. The 2-point play appeared to be the same play as the 2-yard pass the Gators just scored on. What? Spurrier thought he was smarter than the guy on the other side? Tennessee held on 34-32, and Gator fans were as shocked as I am every time I open my wife's credit card bill.

Tennessee went on to blow their chance at the BCS title game the next week, losing to LSU and their second-year coach. (Who was this Saban guy anyway?) That must have been pretty tough to watch for the Gator faithful, who saw their team beat LSU 44-15 a few weeks earlier.

I'll have to side with the Gator fans asking “What if...” on whether or not they could have given Miami all they wanted in the BCS title game. I don't think its right to take one glance at the 37-14 whipping Miami eventually gave Nebraska in the title game and just assume the Canes would have easily taken care of the Gators. I also realize a lot of the same Miami players pounded a lot of the same Florida players a year earlier in the Sugar Bowl.

Instead, I think the only question we need to answer to decide if the Gators would've had a fighting chance against the Canes in Pasadena that year is, “Who would you rather have prepare your team for a month: Steve Spurrier or Larry Coker?”