Great Teams Without a National Title - Part 2

This will turn out to be another outstanding All-Sports year for the Florida Gators even though no Gator team came home with a national title. The Florida Softball team gave it a shot, finishing third in the College World Series, coming closer to winning it all than any other Florida team this school year.

It got me thinking about all the outstanding years the Gators have had without winning it all. Let's face it, NCAA or AIAW titles are incredible things and UF can proudly point to 21 such trophies over the years. But so many teams have posted great years that didn't quite reach that level.

Therefore, for the next three weeks we'll salute some of the best teams in UF history that did not claim the biggest trophy of them all. This week we start off with a six pack of remarkable football seasons. Next week we'll follow that up with six basketball seasons of note, and then six more articles that will salute great seasons from a number of other Gator teams.

Today is part two of the best football seasons that didn't earn national titles.

#6 -- 1966

#5 -- 1984 -----
It may seem odd to choose a season in which Florida went on NCAA probation and went through a coaching change, but this season challenged Gator players, coaches, support staff, faculty, students and alumni in a wide variety of ways. Despite that, the 1984 Gators ended up being one of the greatest teams in UF history. I know, they were named National Champs by the New York Times computer, but frankly, that doesn't count.

The Gators began the year under the cloud of investigation and that cloud looked gloomier after Charley Pell announced he would step down at the end of the season. The clouds were downright frightening after starting quarterback Dale Dorminey was injured in a freak accident at practice and a redshirt freshman walk on was going to start the opener against Miami.

Kerwin Bell played well in that opener, leading the Gators to a go ahead score in the final minute. Miami ended up winning 32-20, but Florida was impressive all things considered. A gut wrenching 21-21 tie with LSU followed, and the Gators would win the rest of their games. After a 63-21 rout of Tulane, school President Marshall Criser dismissed Pell and named first year assistant Galen Hall the interim head man. Playing in a bit of a fog, the Gators beat Mississippi State 27-12 and Syracuse 16-0 before heading to Tennessee. The Gators won a 43-30 shootout in Rocky Top with ace runners Neal Anderson and John L Williams leading the way.

Now the Gators had it going on. Florida blasted Cincinnati and Urban Meyer 48-17 before hosting Auburn. Florida pulled away from the Tigers in the fourth quarter, posting a 24-3 win. Then came a trip to Jacksonville where the Gators had not won in six years. This time the Gators were just too good, dominating most of the game before Georgia threatened to begin a rally, trailing 17-0. A Gator goal line stand in the closing moments of the third quarter ended that threat and three plays later Bell hit Rickey Nattiel streaking down the sideline for a 96-yard touchdown.

The SEC had determined that the Gators could play for the SEC Championship and that's just what they did in Lexington, Kentucky. Florida outplayed the Wildcats all afternoon, but had to settle for six field goals and couldn't put the game away. Adrian White's interception sealed the 25-17 win and Gators took to University Avenue to celebrate.

I was on the plane ride home with the team and it was amazing to see the 20,000 or so waiting for the team at Florida Field as we flew over the stadium.

A week later the SEC reneged on its earlier agreement and, by a 5-4 vote banned the Gators from accepting the Sugar Bowl bid they had already earned. A depressed bunch of Gators stumbled around in the season finale' before putting away FSU 27-17 and finishing one of the most emotional and intense seasons UF has ever seen.

I chose this season as No. 5 on this list because of everything this team had to go through, and because this might well be the best team UF ever fielded. I promise you Steve Spurrier would get very frustrated coaching against this group and its ability to control the ball on the ground. It was a team of character and characters and to go 9-1-1 with all they faced was impressive.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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