- The University of Florida, the defending national champion and
one of the nation's most dominant programs during the decade of the 1990's,
will try to further stamp itself as one of the great programs in SEC history
in 1997 as it seeks to match the achievement of the legendary Alabama teams
of the 1970's, which won five consecutive SEC titles (1971-75) under Paul
Steve Spurrier's Gators, who have now won five SEC titles in the past six years, including each of the past four seasons, will seek that record-tying fifth straight conference crown with one of his youngest squads that does not boast a lot of projected senior starters on offense or defense. The '97 Gators must replace several players who played key roles the past two to three years and ranked among the finest players at their positions in UF history.
Spurrier, who joined the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant as the only coach in SEC history to win four straight outright titles, has led the Gators to elite status in college football since taking over the UF reins in 1990. Florida is one of only two schools in the nation to finish each of the past six seasons ranked in the top 10 in the final AP Poll and it is one of only three teams in the nation to win at least nine games each season of the decade of the 1990's.
Spurrier, who has led the Gators to 24 wins over the last two seasons (best in the nation) welcomes a team that has 12 starters back (four on offense, seven on defense and one specialist). On offense Spurrier must rebuild the high-powered passing attack that not only loses Heisman Trophy quarterback Danny Wuerffel, but two first-team All-America wide receivers in Reidel Anthony and Ike Hilliard. Only four starters return to the high-powered offensive unit, including most of the 1996 tailback unit. On defense, seven starters return to what should be a solid unit. The secondary must be rebuilt as three starters have departed, but six of the front seven return.
Florida's national championship run in 1996 came against a schedule that ranked among the most demanding in the nation. The Gators played three games against teams ranked in the top two in the nation at gametime (Tennessee and Florida State twice) and they were the only team in the final AP Poll last season to play six games against teams that were ranked in the final AP Poll. In 1997, Florida gets Tennessee and Florida State at "The Swamp", where it has compiled a 41-2 record since 1990. Tennessee and Florida State combined for a 21-3 record in 1996, with two of those three setbacks coming to the Gators. The road schedule is highlighted by back-to-back games in October versus LSU and Auburn teams which are expected to be highly ranked entering the 1997 season.
- The Gators claimed the 1996 National Championship, the first in school history.
- The Gators are just one of two teams in the nation to finish each of the last six seasons ranked in the Top 10 in the final AP Poll.
- UF's 24 wins over the last two seasons is the best in the nation.
- Florida's 73 wins since 1990 rank as the third-best win total in the nation this decade.
- UF claimed its fourth consecutive outright Southeastern Conference title in 1996, joining Alabama as the only schools in league history to achieve that distinction. (Alabama won five straight from 1971-75).
- Florida is one of just three schools in the country to win nine or more games every season since 1990.
- Steve Spurrier has posted a 53-6 (.898) record against SEC foes since his arrival in 1990, by far the best conference winning percentage in league history.
- Spurrier is the only coach in conference history to win six or more league games in a season for seven straight years (1990-96), as well as the only coach in SEC history to win eight or more conference games for four consecutive seasons (1993-96).