The Florida Gators are considered by most to be one of the top college football teams in the land, which makes sense given the program’s success over the years. But it actually took quite a while for the Gators to be seen as a national powerhouse. The program was founded in 1906 and was one of the original members of the SEC, which formed in 1932. However, the Gators didn’t produce a Heisman Trophy winner until 1966 and didn’t win their first official conference title until 1991.
The team thought it had won their first SEC title in 1984 but that title was vacated due to NCAA violations committed by the coaching staff under head coach Charley Pell. The Gators also sat atop the standings in 1985 and 1990 but were ineligible for the conference title due to probation stemming from those infractions.
But once that probation period ended following the 1990 season, Florida became a force to be reckoned with and has been one of the most successful college football programs over the last three decades. The Gators have won three national championships and have had two additional Heisman Trophy winners, both of whom were members of those national title squads, one of which was coached by the program’s first Heisman winner.
Steve Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy in 1966 and later coached the Florida Gators to a national championship
A three-sport star at Science Hill High School in Johnson City, Tennessee, Steve Spurrier was an All-American quarterback as a senior and chose to pursue football over basketball and baseball as it pertained to his college career. Many schools wanted him for the other two sports but Spurrier was determined to give it a go with football and accepted a scholarship from the University of Florida.
Spurrier joined the Gators in 1963 but since freshman couldn’t participate in varsity sports at that time, he played his first year in Gainesville on the freshman team. He joined the varsity squad as a sophomore but a knee injury kept him from gaining the starting job. But he did see more and more playing time as his health improved throughout the season.
Spurrier was named the starter as a junior in 1965 and was named an All-American after throwing for 1,893 yards and 14 touchdowns. He led the Gators to their highest-ever ranking in the polls at the time (No. 12) and an appearance in the Sugar Bowl. Florida lost a heartbreaker to Missouri, 20-18, but Steve Spurrier was still named MVP after throwing for 352 yards.
Spurrier was even better as a senior as he led the Florida Gators to a 9-2 overall record, including a 5-1 SEC record, and a win in the Orange Bowl. He threw for 2,012 yards and 16 touchdowns and was named an All-American for the second consecutive season. He also became Florida’s first Heisman Trophy winner, beating out the likes of Purdue’s Bob Griese and Notre Dame’s Nick Eddy.
Steve Spurrier returned to the University of Florida for one season in 1978 as the quarterbacks/wide receivers coach and again in 1990 as the head coach, leading the Gators to their first conference title in 1991 and the program’s first national championship in 1996. His quarterback that title-winning season just happened to become the university’s second Heisman Trophy winner.
Danny Wuerffel was the award-winning QB of Steve Spurrier’s national championship team
Florida native Danny Wuerffel joined the Florida Gators football program in 1993 and became one of the team’s most successful quarterbacks of all time under the tutelage of Steve Spurrier.
As a freshman, a season in which the Gators were ranked in the top 10 every week of the season for the first time in history, he split time with Terry Dean and threw for 2,230 yards and 22 touchdowns. In 1994, still splitting time with Dean, he threw for 1,754 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Wuerffel became the full-time starter in 1995 and led the Gators to an undefeated regular season, setting numerous SEC passing records and earning All-American honors in the process, completing 64.6% of his passes for 3,266 yards and 35 touchdowns. Florida got blown out in the national title game by Heisman Trophy runner-up Tommie Frazier’s Nebraska Cornhuskers, 62-24, but would finally get over the title hump the following year.
As a senior in 1996, Danny Wuerffel had another phenomenal season, throwing for 3,625 yards and 39 touchdowns. He led the Gators to an undefeated 8-0 record in the SEC and an 11-1 overall record, which earned Florida a spot in the national title game against the rival Florida State Seminoles, which Florida won in a walk, 52-20.
The Heisman Trophy vote wasn’t as much of a blowout but Wuerffel did emerge victorious by beating out Iowa State running back Troy Davis and Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer.
Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy and two national championships with the Florida Gators
Tim Tebow, whose parents actually met at the University of Florida, joined the Gators in 2006, which was Urban Meyer’s second season as the program’s head coach. Tebow spent his freshman season backing up senior Chris Leak, who broke Danny Wuerffel’s school record in passing yards that season in leading Florida to a 13-1 record and the program’s second national championship.
With Leak gone, Tebow became the starting quarterback in 2007 and certainly made the most of the opportunity. He completed 66.9% of his passes for 3,286 yards with 32 touchdowns against just six interceptions and added 895 yards and 23 scores on the ground. Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, beating out Arkansas junior running back Darren McFadden. The Gators, however, finished just 9-4 on the season but would come back strong the following year.
Many believed that Tim Tebow would join Archie Griffin as a two-time Heisman Trophy winner in 2008 and he certainly gave it a shot, throwing for 2,746 yards and 30 touchdowns while rushing for 673 yards and an additional 12 TDs. But it wasn’t enough as Tebow finished third in the Heisman vote behind Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy.
But it’s not as if Tebow was disappointed for very long as the Florida Gators won their second national championship in three years that season, defeating Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game. Tim Tebow finished fifth in the Heisman Vote as a senior in 2009.
Stats and scores courtesy of Sports Reference