Underappreciated Football Standouts: Part 5

I was thumbing through last year's Gator football media guide and was looking at the long list of All-SEC performers in Orange and Blue through the years and one thing really stood out to me. I was taken aback by the number of truly outstanding players who never made first team All-SEC.

This is my 30th year covering the Gators and I started going year by year through the seasons and name after name kept coming up of guys who were either second team selections at best or never earned All-Conference recognition. So for the next couple of weeks as we stagger through the uneventful month of July, I'll be remembering some of those guys who are the best of the group of Gators whose honors never lived up to their contributions.

Today we reach the midpoint of my countdown of the ten most under appreciated guys in my years covering the Gators.

#10 ----- Tony Rowell
#9 ----- Chris Leak
#8 ----- Harrison Houston
#7 ----- Ray Criswell

#6 ----- Doug Johnson ----- Has any Gator quarterback ever faced a more daunting challenge than the one that faced Johnson in 1997? The sophomore from Buchholz High School was simply taking over for the closest thing to deity in Gator football history. Danny Wuerffel could do no wrong in breaking every Florida passing record and helping the Gators to four SEC Titles and the National Championship. Oh yeah, he won the Heisman Trophy too.

Johnson struggled opening day against Southern Miss, but that was a terrific defensive football team. He led the Gators to 82 points against Central Michigan, beat Tennessee and then put 50-plus on the board in wins over Kentucky and Arkansas. It all came apart with a poor performance in a loss at LSU and was suspended the next game for breaking curfew the Thursday night before the loss to the Tigers.

Johnson ended the season on a high note with a great performance in the season finale against Florida State, upsetting the top-ranked Seminoles.

For the next two seasons Johnson withstood challenges from Jesse Palmer and continued to post good numbers. He also impressed many by playing in pain (shoulder) most of his senior season. When all was said and done, Johnson passed for 7,114 yards with 62 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. He did not win an SEC Title, but Johnson's Gators were 29-8 in the three years; he was the primary quarterback and they averaged more than twenty points a game in those eight losses. All three years the Gators averaged at least 30 points a game.

Doug Johnson had to cope with the double whammy of replacing Danny Wuerffel and trying to succeed as a local guy. He bore the brunt of the criticism for the "curfew" incident even though he was out with a number of teammates who were not disciplined.

Well, that's five of my top ten. Coming up next we pay tribute to a guy who produced in a big way on both sides of the ball.

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