It says a whole lot about the inept and corrupt bowl system that a Gator team this putrid to watch was still a marquee attraction for a New Year’s Day game. Florida should be in Birmingham or Nashville given the way they played this year. But the folks in Tampa thought picking the Gators for their game would sell more tickets and draw more TV sets so Florida takes its 7-5 mess of a team down I-75 for a matchup with Joe Pa and the Nittany Lions.
We’ll have more on the game in the next few weeks I’m sure. But initial thoughts are this is easily the least excited I’ve been about a bowl game. There have definitely been disappointments in the past. In 2002, the Gators lost the 9/11 rescheduled game against Tennessee and missed out on SEC and BCS title game berths, ending up in the Orange Bowl against Syracuse. Gator Nation was disappointed but that was still a good team and we knew Spurrier and Grossman (suspended for the first quarter of that game) would put on a show. Last year was tough to take of course. But the fact that it was Tim Tebow’s final game in a Gator uniform softened some of the sting. In fact, neither of those games cracks the top 3 for most depressing Florida bowl games in my Gator life (since 1990):
1 – Citrus Bowl 2000 – This game capped a season that was arguably the biggest collapse in Gator history. Florida was 9-1 and ranked third in the country as they welcomed #1 Florida State to the Swamp. The game was tight into the second half as Florida had no trouble moving the ball behind the quarterback rotation of Doug Johnson and Jesse Palmer. But the Noles pulled ahead after a key punt block and never looked back. They of course went on to win the national championship. Florida, meanwhile, was massacred the next week in the SEC championship game by Alabama and then limped into the Citrus Bowl. By that point, Florida fans couldn’t feel pain anymore. It was an epic collapse. On the plus side, I picked up a girl at the airport who I barely knew but who I moved to California with and eventually married. So I guess it balances out.
2 – Outback Bowl 2003 – Ron Zook’s first season culminated with one of his finest moments, an end-around pass by Vernell Brown back to Rex Grossman that failed spectacularly, ending the last minute drive and comeback attempt. It was utter incompetence and in my mind, the epitome of the Ron Zook era. At the time, though, it was hard to believe. Sonny Beam and I watched from the ESPN Zone in Vegas in a hangover stupor and weren’t sure if we were hallucinating.
3 – Outback Bowl 2004 – Ron Zook’s final bowl game since he didn’t survive the 2004 season. Iowa took us behind the woodshed in one of the most forgettable games in Florida history. In fact most Florida fans hadn’t emerged from their rage-filled comas after the Florida State game a month prior. In that one, the refs egregiously butchered a handful of calls all in favor of the Noles. The most embarrassing was when Channing Crowder recovered a fumble by Leon Washington only to have the refs give the Noles possession. The game ended on a pseudo-Hail Mary that Guss Scott inexplicably didn’t locate. With no trip to the SEC championship game either, this loss cast a pall over the entire season and made the bowl game absolutely meaningless.
So let’s see where this year’s game ends up after it’s over. It’ll be hard to crack my top 3 but if the team plays like it did against Florida State and South Carolina, I have no doubts I’ll have to re-rank.
On to our final BM Top 25 of the year:
6. Ohio State
9. Michigan State
10. Boise State
13. Virginia Tech
15. Oklahoma State
18. Texas A&M
19. South Carolina
20. Mississippi State
21. Florida State
23. Central Florida
24. West Virginia