Florida Gators: Urban Meyer
It could be a long time before we see No. 56.
Barring a meeting in a bowl game or the impending four-team college football playoff, this season’s matchup is the last between the Gators and Hurricanes for the foreseeable future. Officials at both schools have said there have been no talks about resuming the series and it will be several years before the Gators would be able to consider another meeting with the Hurricanes because of the uncertainty surrounding the SEC’s future scheduling.
"There’s nothing in the books for the future," said Chip Howard, UF’s executive associate athletics director for internal affairs. "I won’t say it won’t ever happen. You never know."
This season’s matchup with Miami is the second game of a home-and-home series that began in 2008 in Gainesville. It’s a departure from Florida’s normal scheduling formula, which is devised to ensure that the school plays seven home games annually for financial reasons. UF prefers to play smaller FBS or FCS schools in the early non-conference games and play a Division I-AA school in the week between the final SEC game and the annual Florida State game. It’s done that way to ensure that the Gators will get the revenue from seven home games every year, which roughly comes out to $18-21 million annually ($2.5-$3 million per game).
That formula might need to be adjusted in the future, though, depending on whether the SEC decides to add a ninth conference game. The league is expected to make that decision in time for the 2016 schedule, but Howard said the Gators have already lined up non-conference opponents through that season.
With rival Florida State on the schedule each year, Howard said it would be tough for UF to justify adding Miami on a semi-regular basis. However, he did add that the school understands that fans want to see better games. Plus, there’s television to consider as well, he said.
"Our model may not necessarily work the way it has specifically in the past, although it has worked pretty good for us," Howard said. "Certainly playing in the SEC is a challenge,” Howard said. “Playing FSU every year, that creates even more of a challenge. But moving forward with the new schedule and the expansion of the league, we know that the league and television is going to want to look for matchups from the first week to the last week.
"Also we want to try to get the best matchup we can going forward because our fans are asking for that. It’s a balance. We want to be able to give them what they would like and still maintain a competitive balance."
It’s a shame the series, which Miami leads 28-26, is ending. The schools played every year from 1938-1987 (except for 1943, when UF didn’t field a team) and there have been some memorable moments from those games, including:
• In 1971, Florida’s defensive players dropped on the field to allow Miami to score a touchdown late in the game so Gators quarterback John Reaves could get back on the field and set the NCAA career passing record. That became known as the Florida Flop.
• Florida fans pelted Miami players with oranges late in the Hurricanes’ 31-7 victory in 1980. Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger got so mad he called a timeout to kick a 25-yard field goal on the game’s final play.
• In 2003, former UF quarterback Brock Berlin rallied Miami from a 33-10 deficit to a 38-33 victory by leading the Hurricanes to four touchdowns in a 17-minute span in the third and fourth quarters.
Miami has won seven of the last night meetings, with the only UF victories in that span coming in 1985 and 2008. That last meeting ended with some hard feelings on the part of Miami coach Randy Shannon, who was upset that UF coach Urban Meyer elected to kick a field goal with 25 seconds to play and the Gators leading 23-3.
The Hurricanes got some payback three years later, however. In 2011, the UF student government approved a resolution asking Miami to return the Seminole War Canoe Trophy, which is a canoe carved from a 200-year-old cypress tree and given to the winner of the game between the schools since 1955, since the Gators had won the most recent game. The resolution was sent to the head of Miami’s student body. It was passed along until it reached Brandon Mitchell, then the president of Miami’s Category 5 spirit club, who said the Gators don’t deserve the trophy -- which quit being passed between the schools in the 1970s -- because the schools no longer play annually.
His response, according to the Miami Herald: "The War Canoe was intended for the yearly rivalry and ... Miami won the final game of that yearly rivalry."
Sept. 7 may be the last chance for either school to stake a claim to the trophy.
Not all the time, though. Rivalries are like the tide (not Alabama). They ebb and flow. Sometimes they’re fierce and sometimes they’re just another game. We took that into consideration when ranking the top five rivalries in the SEC. We went with the ones that are the hottest right now.
It’s hard to top a game that has national championship implications every year. Plus two of the best coaches in the country. And loads of NFL talent. The teams have met annually since 1964, but the game became even more important in 1992, when both were slotted into the Western Division. The winner of the regular-season meeting has gone on to win the division title eight times in the last 12 seasons, including four of the last five. LSU has won seven of the last 11 meetings, but Bama won the biggest meeting between the two: the 2012 BCS National Championship Game.
This had become a pretty boring rivalry, with the Gators going 18-3 from 1990 to 2010 in the annual meeting in Jacksonville, Fla. But the Bulldogs have won back-to-back games for the first time since 1987-89 and there have been a series of events that have brought an edge back to the rivalry: the Gator Stomp (2007), Urban Meyer’s timeouts (2008), Brandon Spikes’ eye gouge (2009), and Todd Grantham’s choke sign (2010). Plus, the past two meetings have been pretty entertaining. Aaron Murray threw a pair of fourth-down TD passes to rally the Bulldogs from a 17-3 deficit in 2011 and Georgia forced six turnovers last season.
The Iron Bowl
Even though Alabama has won four of the last five meetings and Auburn has posted one winning conference record in the past five seasons, this game still resonates around the conference because of its tradition. Oh, yeah, there also was that Alabama fan who poisoned the trees at Toomer’s Corner. On the field, the Crimson Tide have won four of the last five. The only Auburn victory in that span came in 2010, and it was one that’s going to sting Bama fans for a long time. Cam Newton rallied the Tigers from a 24-0 deficit and led them to a 27-24 victory in Tuscaloosa. Auburn went on to win the national title.
What rivalry wouldn’t be juiced by the addition of Steve Spurrier? Georgia has dominated the series (46-17-2) and had won five in a row from 2002 to '06, but South Carolina has won four of the last six games -- including two in Athens. Spurrier arrived in Columbia in 2005 and has gone 4-4 against the Bulldogs despite having some inferior teams. Spurrier hated the Bulldogs from his playing days at Florida, and he carried that over into his coaching career with the Gators and now with the Gamecocks. That’s why his career record against Georgia is 15-5.
The Egg Bowl
A national championship berth or a Western Division title isn’t on the line when these teams meet on Thanksgiving weekend (Thanksgiving night this season), but to the people in Mississippi, this game is just as important. And to the coaches trying to woo the talent throughout the state, it’s a must-win. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen injected a bit of life into the rivalry when he was hired in 2009, stealing a bit from former boss Meyer by referring to Ole Miss as “the other school in the state.” Mullen had been undefeated against Ole Miss until the Rebels’ surprising 41-24 rout last season in coach Hugh Freeze’s first year.
A rising rivalry
Even though Alabama and Texas A&M have met only five times, this is a series that could get pretty interesting pretty quickly now that the teams will be meeting every year. Last season’s meeting, the first since 1988, was an instant classic and pretty much won Johnny Manziel the Heisman Trophy. He led the Aggies to a 29-24 victory in Tuscaloosa, the only game the Crimson Tide would lose en route to the national title. Bama fans are eagerly awaiting the rematch in College Station on Sept. 14.
A falling rivalry
Florida-Tennessee used to be one of the biggest matchups of the season in the 1990s, with the winner having a leg up in the Eastern Division race. Now it carries no more cachet than a Vanderbilt-Kentucky matchup. The Gators have won eight in a row and the Vols haven’t been closer than 10 points in the past six meetings.
Urban Meyer won two national championships and fell one game shy of playing for a third, but when Meyer resigned after the 2011 season Foley wanted to make sure his next coach didn’t need a season to figure out what it takes to be successful in the best conference in the country.
That’s why he targeted Will Muschamp. Texas’ defensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting played in the SEC, was an assistant coach for seven years at two league schools, and helped LSU win the 2003 national title as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.
Muschamp is a throwback to old-school SEC football, and not just because he believes in winning with a power running game and stingy defense. His career mimics the same path that most SEC head coaches took 30, 40 and 50 years ago: Play in the SEC, become an assistant coach in the league, and then get hired to lead a program.
Johnny Majors, Bear Bryant, Bobby Dodd, Pat Dye and Vince Dooley did it. More recently, it was Phil Fulmer, Houston Nutt and Steve Spurrier. However, only three of the league’s current 14 coaches have done it: Muschamp, Spurrier and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn.
For Muschamp, the experience as an assistant -- four years at LSU as a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator (2001-04) and two years at Auburn as a defensive coordinator (2006-07) has been more valuable than his four-year career as a defensive back at Georgia from 1991-94.
“I don’t think that playing [in the SEC] has any effect on helping you in your experience as an assistant or head coach,” Muschamp said. “I don’t think that carries over at all. Being an assistant coach and defensive coordinator in this league and understanding the venues you walk into and, more than anything else, understanding how competitive the recruiting cycle is, has helped. You understand how competitive our league is and the Southeast area is [in recruiting].
“There’s no question my time as an assistant in this league has helped me.”
Especially in recruiting. When Muschamp was hired at Florida, the league won its fifth of what are now seven national championships in a row. His three recruiting classes have ranked 12th, fourth and second in ESPN’s class rankings -- which isn’t shocking considering the wealth of talent in the state of Florida and the obvious advantages the university can offer.
But recruiting in the SEC is more difficult than in other leagues. Just ask Big Ten coaches, who were upset at some of the tactics that Meyer used while assembling OSU’s 2012 class -- specifically, recruiting players who were committed to other league schools. What apparently violated an unwritten rule in the Big Ten was standard operating procedure in the SEC.
With so many evenly matched programs, the relationships coaches build with prospects can make all the difference.
“It’s the competition. It’s 365 days, every day, and that’s where recruiting in our world is a little different than other parts of the world,” Muschamp said. “In our league the facilities are very similar. There’s really good coaching staffs across the board. There’s a lot of really good players in our area, but again, the stadiums are very similar, the facilities, the weight rooms, the meeting rooms. ... Other conferences, I don’t know that everyone’s on as equal footing as in our league.”
Muschamp conceded that the one area in which being a former SEC player helped him is dealing with road environments. Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tiger Stadium and Jordan-Hare Stadium can be intimidating places for those unfamiliar with the SEC, but having experienced those places as a player eliminates the “wow” factor.
That was a problem for Meyer during his first season at Florida. The Gators played at Alabama and LSU in 2005, and Meyer admitted to being a bit shell-shocked when he walked out onto the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium, heard the crowd, and saw the giant scoreboard video of Bryant. No place Meyer had been -- not even playing at Michigan, USC or Texas while an assistant at Notre Dame or Ohio State -- prepared him for that.
Muschamp understands that. He coached games at Oklahoma State and Texas A&M and in Dallas for the Red River Rivalry while at Texas, but nothing quite reaches the level of an SEC road game.
“Not that it’s not intense in other places, but it’s just a different feel [in the SEC],” Muschamp said. “The venues you walk into and understanding about crowd noise and things you’re going to deal with: taking a young team on the road, taking a young quarterback on the road. There’s no question our league is totally different as far as that’s concerned.”
Having previous SEC experience before becoming a head coach in the league allowed Muschamp to focus on fixing a program that had gotten lost in Meyer’s final season. That was a tough task, but it was made simpler by the fact that he didn’t have to learn about the league as he went along.
“Having been through this league, you’re going to be about ready for anything,” he said.
No offense, Notre Dame fans, but seeing that high-octane Oregon offense go up against Alabama's defense would have made for much better theater than what we ended up getting in South Florida in January.
We've come up with five such matchups and want you to select which one would be the most attractive by voting in our SportsNation poll.
Alabama versus Oregon is one of the choices. Who knows? Maybe we'll finally get to see the Ducks and Tide square off in the final BCS National Championship before we go to a playoff in 2014.
Think Florida versus Ohio State would stir a few emotions with Urban Meyer taking on his old team? It would be the battle of Meyer's two dream jobs. Come to think of it, is it possible to have two dream jobs? In Meyer's world, you can.
I realize that Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds, in all of his arrogance, said recently that Texas gets to decide when Texas and Texas A&M play again. Ask anybody in that state, and it can't be soon enough. Surely we'll see those two old rivals playing again sooner rather than later.
Here's one for you: South Carolina and Steve Spurrier going up against Lane Kiffin and the West Coast version of USC. Spurrier's not the biggest Kiffin fan. Then again, who in the SEC is? Something says the buildup to that game could be as entertaining as the game itself.
Finally, LSU and Notre Dame played 10 times between 1970 and 2006 and are all knotted up, 5-5. It's time to break the tie. Talk about two of the best fight songs in all of college sports and two programs steeped in tradition.
Well, you have the rundown. Tell us which matchup you'd most like to see, and we'll go over results next week.
Let’s face it. Nobody ever has a bad signing class.
Can you imagine a coach standing up at his post-signing day news conference and proclaiming that that particular class simply didn’t measure up?
However, according to the ESPN Recruiting team, none of the 14 SEC schools finished with lower than a B- this year. Not only that, but seven schools received an A or A-.
So, somebody’s doing something right in this league.
Here’s a look back at a few superlatives from signing day:
Relationships change. Situations change. Feelings get hurt. There can be outside interference, maybe a family member exerting pressure to pick another school.
All those things can lead to a recruit changing his mind and decommitting.
Eight became starters, seven turned into busts and two others are role players -- including one who has driven two separate coaching staffs crazy. Seven of those starters have done so for multiple seasons.
That’s not a bad ratio. Most coaches would be ecstatic if 50 percent of every signing class developed into starters, even if it also meant half weren’t going to make much impact, if any, on the program.
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It’s an amazing time for recruits. They are courted and wooed by some of the nation’s top coaches. Championships and All-American honors are promised. Stardom is just seven months away.
For some of those recruits, however, their athletic careers peak the day they sign. For whatever reason -- off-the-field issues, injuries, lack of drive, attitude problems, lack of talent -- they don’t make it. Sometimes they don’t even make it to the field. They’re labeled as busts.
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But the number of stars isn’t always an accurate predictor of success. Sometimes the highly-rated recruits don’t work out. Sometimes the lower-rated ones do. In fact, sometimes those guys go on to become big-time players. Those are the gems that every coach hopes he finds.
GatorNation went back to 2006, which is when ESPN began tracking signing classes, and found the five biggest sleepers:
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The headliner of Florida’s 2006 signing class was QB Tim Tebow.
He was arguably one of the most hyped recruits in prep football history -- he was the subject of an ESPN documentary entitled “The Chosen One” -- and getting Tebow’s signature on a letter of intent was Urban Meyer’s biggest victory in his 18 first months as UF’s coach.
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People were using MSN Messenger and thought Fred Durst was actually cool. TRL and trucker hats were all the craze.
It was the year 2000 and college football fans were probably carrying around a Ja Rule CD in their cars. (It’s OK. We all have our faults.)
It was also the last time Florida and Florida State met as top-10 BCS opponents.
The rivalry took a bit of a nosedive when Bowden and his Noles teams fell off during the 2000s and Urban Meyer arrived at Florida. Under Meyer, the Gators won five straight, as they stayed nationally relevant, while FSU flirted with mediocrity until Jimbo Fisher took over in 2010.
But this rivalry is back, as No. 4 Florida (10-1, 7-1 SEC) heads to Tallahassee to face No. 10 Florida State (10-1) in a game that has major BCS implications on the line.
If Florida wins, the Gators are likely BCS-bound. With some help from USC, they could back their way into the national championship game. Florida State is very much on the outside when it comes to the BCS title game, but a win and a ton of help could move the Noles closer to Miami.
The magnitude of Saturday's matchup hit the Gators well before they returned to the locker room after beating Jacksonville State.
“As soon as that clock hit zero, you couldn’t help but think about Florida State,” fifth-year senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. "If you’re a Gator, you grow up not liking Florida State. I’m sure it’s the same way with them. That’s just what you’re taught. When you go to Florida State, you’re anti-Gators. That’s just what it is.”
Outside of the BCS implications, major pride is on the line for both teams. There’s real bad blood here. Players on both sides know each other, but they refuse to talk during the regular season and usually hurl barbs at each other when they do speak during the offseason.
The hatred is still there, even if the success isn't.
The Gators are also hurting after back-to-back losses to the Noles. After winning six straight over FSU, Florida dropped the last two, getting outscored 52-14. Florida enters this weekend with an offense going backward, and quarterback Jeff Driskel is hobbled. He sprained his ankle two weeks ago.
That’s not good when you consider how good the Noles have been on defense, even without star defensive end Brandon Jenkins for basically the entire season. FSU ranks first nationally in total defense (236.3 yards per game) and rushing defense (70.6). The Noles are allowing 2.3 yards per rush and 3.7 yards per play.
In the past five games -- two of them against Louisiana-Lafayette and Jacksonville State -- Florida has averaged just 278.4 yards. The Gators are near the bottom of the SEC in total offense (332.9) and are last in passing (143.4).
That doesn’t bode well for Florida, but as coach Will Muschamp continues to point out, it's all about wins, and somehow the Gators have 10 of those.
“Like I said Saturday, understand who you are and where you are, and it may not be where you want to be at times and it's frustrating at times, but at the end of the day, you've got to do what it takes to win football games and that's what we're judged on at the end of that,” Muschamp said.
While the offense has sputtered, the defense has been terrific, ranking near the top with the Noles. It can be irritating to see the offense fail, but Florida’s defenders love putting the game in their hands.
“That’s how you go into every day if you’re a great defense,” Hunter said. “You want to put everything on your shoulders. You don’t want to go into the game relying on the offense to score. You want to score on the defense. That’s what we’re taught here at Florida and that’s what we try to win by -- defense and special teams.”
Offensive issues aside, a lot is riding on Saturday. The BCS might be at the forefront of the conversation, but as far as the Gators are concerned, the only letters they’re focused on are F-S-U.
“It’s Florida-Florida State. It’s more than what’s just going on in the BCS,” Hunter said. “It’s bragging rights for the state of Florida. It’s going to be a very big game and it’s one of my favorite games to play in.”
This begs the question: Is Florida's success in recruiting a product of on-the-field success?
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He was a part of a national championship squad during his freshman season back in 2008. He went to the Sugar Bowl in 2009. And he's a win away from seeing another 10-win season in Gainesville.
But he's also seen dark times, like 2010 and 2011, where the Gators won just 13 games combined and dropped into the category of mediocre. He also saw the coach who recruited him, Urban Meyer, retire, come back and retire again before taking a new job.
He was there for Will Muschamp's hiring and has now had three different defensive coordinators coaching him. He's been a real trooper for the Gators, and with 53 games under his belt, 103 tackles (10 for loss) and a blocked field goal to his name, Hunter and the rest of Florida's seniors will say goodbye to the Swamp Saturday against Jacksonville State.
The old man took some time from bingo to talk to ESPN.com about his career at Florida:
Omar Hunter: Honestly, it hasn't even hit me yet, but it's been a long time coming, man. It's been an honor to play for the Florida Gators and be a part of this program. I've enjoyed every moment of it and I'm looking forward to my senior day.
Now Chris Rainey did a back flip during his senior day moment. Any chance we'll see that out of you?
OH: I honestly don't know what I'm going to do, but I promise you I won't do a back flip. No back flips will be done by me, but I'll probably just run out and take the whole moment in. It's been a great few years that I've been here and I've enjoyed it. When senior day comes I'm sure I'll be very emotional and I'm just looking forward to it.
You've seen the highs and the lows during your time at Florida. What's it been like for you over these four-plus years?
OH: It's been incredible -- to come in and win a national championship my freshman year and then make it to the Sugar Bowl after that. Then, the program kind of fell off for a little bit, but coming back with Coach Muschamp, he's really brought it back from the bottom. I've been happy to be a part of this process and get Florida back on top, back to the BCS level that it should always stay at. It's been an honor to be on this team. Just knowing that I had an affect on some of these guys' careers here at Florida has been an honor. That's just as good as winning a championship, being able to say I affected somebody else's life or helped this person who has done so much more for me.
QB Driskel will make Gator nation proud
12:00 PM ET Florida Tennessee 12:00 PM ET 6 Texas A&M 12 Mississippi State 3:30 PM ET 3 Alabama 11 Ole Miss 4:00 PM ET Vanderbilt 13 Georgia 7:00 PM ET 15 LSU 5 Auburn 7:30 PM ET South Carolina Kentucky