Oh What a Decade for the Gators --- Part I

While no one ever came up with an acceptable nickname for the period from January 1, 2000 through December 31, 2009 it might make sense to just consider it the decade of the Gators. Florida has a superb 10 years to start the new millennium. (Okay, the millennium really began in 2001 but why quibble?)

This decade saw the Gators win a pair of national titles in football and men's basketball including the unprecedented accomplishments of winning both in the same school year and the same calendar year.

The Gators also had another team win a national title and multiple national runner-up finishes in a variety of sports. So today in the first of five parts we begin looking at the best 15 seasons of the decade. Each day we'll examine three of the very best competitive teams the Gators put out there in the past two years. Even with 15 teams to highlight we had to overlook quite a few squads that finished in the top four nationally and more than a dozen SEC Championship teams.

#15 2009 Men's Outdoor Track and Field ---- Mike Holloway has been doing a tremendous job with both Gator track and field teams, and last year his men came within three points of winning the NCAA Title. Florida had to settle for a three-way tie in second place just behind Texas A&M. The Gators claimed the NCAA Title in the 4 X 100 relay while the 4 X 400 relay team grabbed fourth place. Four Gators earned third place in their respective specialties as well; Kemal Mesic (shot put), Calvin Smith (400), Christian Taylor (triple jump) and William Wynne (110 hurdles). The Gators return 44 of the 46 points they scored at NCAA meet, making the Gators a strong candidate to win it all this spring.

#14 2008 Women's Softball ---- It didn't take long for Tim Walton to make good on his promise to take the Florida program to another level. In just his third season with the Gators Walton led Florida to the SEC Championship and the first trip to the College World Series in school history. Florida set an NCAA record with 70 victories led by Stacey Nelson who won 47 as Florida's number one pitcher. Ali Gardiner (.407) and Kim Waleszonia (.359) were the top hitters while Francesca Enea (17) and Megan Bush (13) provided the power. It was a team with just one senior, right fielder Mary Ratliff (.296, 9, 48) who twice beat Alabama with a late game Grand Slam. It was one of the best Gator teams of the decade, even though it turned out to be just the second best softball team.

#13 2001 Football ---- This team was as dominant as any Florida put on the field during the decade, but two heartbreaking losses kept them from earning a higher spot. The Gators were the defending SEC Champs and opened the season ranked No. 1. Five straight impressive wins began the campaign in style, but Florida was stunned by unranked Auburn 23-20 while playing without injured runner Earnest Graham. Florida got on another run, winning four more including a 37-13 rout of FSU to set up a showdown with Tennessee for the SEC East Title. The game was re-scheduled because of the 9/11 terrorist attack and the Vols used four long runs to outscore the Gators 34-32 in what turned out to be Steve Spurrier's last game coaching the Gators in The Swamp. Florida destroyed No.6 Maryland in the Orange Bowl 56-23 and finished the season ranked third in both polls. Rex Grossman had one of the greatest seasons in school history passing for 3,896 yards and 34 touchdowns yet somehow lost out on the Heisman Trophy to Eric Crouch of Nebraska.

Three down and 12 to go. Let us know what you remember about these Gator teams.

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