Best Gators Teams of the Decade --- Part V

Today we wrap up our five part series looking at the best Gator teams in all sports during the remarkable decade of 2000-09. It was a decade that saw the Gators dominate the SEC All-Sports competition and continue its run of top 10 National All-Sports finishes.

Before we salute the three greatest Gator teams not only of the decade but arguably in the history of Gator sports; let's review the other teams that made our countdown.

#15 2009 Men's Outdoor Track and Field
#14 2008 Softball
#13 2001 Football
#12 2001 Soccer
#11 2005 Baseball
#10 2002 Volleyball
#9 2000 Men's Basketball
#8 2003 Volleyball
#7 2009 Football
#6 2009 Softball
#5 2003 Women's Tennis
#4 2006 Football

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#3 2006 Men's Basketball ---- While I don't consider this team to be the best in school history, I do consider this season to be the greatest accomplishment any Florida squad ever had. The 2005-06 Gators were unranked when the season began and virtually no one was expecting big things and with good reason. The Gators had lost David Lee, Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson from the previous season and with that trio went almost 46 points a game. Florida did return Al Horford and Corey Brewer who were impressive in their freshman seasons, but after that there were a lot of unknowns. Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey thrived with additional playing time and gave the Gators an excellent back court. Meanwhile Joakim Noah recovered from an illness plagued first season to become the team's leading scorer (14.2) and second leading rebounder (7.1). The new look Gators served notice early by winning the pre-season NIT, beating Syracuse in the final. They went on to win 17 straight games before suffering their first loss at Tennessee. The Gators were 22-3 before a three game slump cost them the SEC Title. Florida bounced back quickly, winning the SEC Tournament for the second straight year and advancing to the NCAA Regional in Jacksonville. Wins over South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee put the Gators in the Sweet 16. In Minneapolis Corey Brewer made an acrobatic basket to pull out a win over Georgetown before the Gators topped Villanova for a spot in the Final Four. The Gators easily beat an overmatched George Mason team before shocking favored UCLA 73-57 for the first NCAA Title in school history. All five starters averaged in double figures as Florida did something few thought was possible, win the NCAA Tournament.

#2 2008 Football ---- Florida's third national championship team entered the season hungry after a 9-4 campaign in 2007. The defense had grown up after playing a slew of young players the year before while the offense added freshmen runners Jeffrey Demps and Chris Rainey and incorporated Aaron Hernandez more into the passing game. The Gators opened up with wins over Hawaii and Miami before a dominating 30-6 win at Tennessee. The following game gave the Gators their lone setback, 31-30 to Ole Miss and led to "The Promise"

I just want to say one thing.

To the fans and everybody in Gator Nation, I'm sorry, extremely sorry.

I promise you one thing. A lot of good will come out of this.

You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season, and you will never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season, and you will never see a team play harder that we will the rest of the season.

God bless.

Florida then beat the stuffing out of every one in sight. It started with Arkansas (38-7) the next week followed by LSU (51-21), Kentucky (63-5), Georgia (49-10) were similarly destroyed. The beat downs continued with Vandy (42-14), South Carolina (56-6), The Citadel (70-19) and FSU (45-15) sending the Gators to the SEC Championship Game against Alabama. Florida won a tremendous battle with The Crimson Tide and went on to win the BCS Championship Game over Oklahoma 24-14.

The 2008 Gators ended up playing 11 bowl teams and held 10 of them to 21 points or less. They dispatched of most opponents quickly, posting an average score of 23-4 at halftime. The Gators ran for 231 yards a game and passed for another 214 for one of the most balanced offenses in school history. Four Gator runners gained between 600 and 700 yards and six receivers caught at least three TD passes. It was a truly great football team.

# 1 2007 Men's Basketball ---- The moment the "oh-fours" announced they were returning for their junior year the Gators were the consensus team to beat the 2007 NCAA Title. Florida returned all five starters and key reserves Chris Richard and Walter Hodge to take a shot at being the first team in 15 years to successfully defend the crown. An early season loss to Kansas and surprising setback at Florida State left the team 7-2 after nine games. The team regrouped quickly and went on their second 17-game winning streak in as many years to get back on top with a 24-2 record. Just like 2006, the Gators then had a little slump, dropping three of four. And just like 2006, they wouldn't lose again. Four straight victories ended the regular season before the Gators swept through the SEC Tournament. The Gators headed to New Orleans where they routed Jackson State and won a physical battle with Purdue. Next was St. Louis and wins over Butler (65-57) and Oregon (85-77) to earn a trip to Atlanta. There was some concern that the Gators weren't playing their best in the three previous games, but those fears were allayed with a 76-66 win over UCLA in a rematch of the '06 final. Florida then used its superior front court depth to defeat Ohio State and Greg Oden to win a second straight NCAA Title.

It's tough to wear a bulls-eye all season long and be the last team standing when all is said and done. Ask the '09 football team if you're not clear on that point. What the Gator Basketball team did in 2007 warrants recognition as the team of the decade in a decade of great Gator teams.


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