Good-evening fellow Floridians,
Today, Floridian fanatics, student-athletes, and the football programs of the universities across the state find themselves separated by more than just geographical location this football season. The panhandle of the sunshine state has not seen the sun in four weeks thus far, for a dark cloud of desperation has blanketed the Florida State Football Program in a magnitude not seen since 1974. In Miami, the Hurricanes Football team remains even, with a tough road ahead. It remains to be seen how furious a storm the Hurricanes will be able to conjure against their opponents along the Atlantic. Finally, the flagship university Florida Gators Football team, led by Dan Mullen, continue to stalk their prey slowly. The Gators patiently wait for the juggernauts of today's college football landscape to ease their senses, so they can attack.
A decade or two ago, all three programs shared their dominance year in, year-out. In fact, in the 1990s, the big 3 all found themselves atop the college football world. In 1991, the Miami Hurricanes went 12-0, and thus, were recognized as Division I-A Champions. In 1993, Bobby Bowden and the Florida State Seminoles went 12-1 behind a Heisman Trophy winner, Charlie Ward. Just three years later, Steve Spurrier and the Florida Gators won their first championship against the in-state rivals from Tallahassee by a score of 52-20. That season, the Gators' first Heisman Trophy winner, turned head coach, led his team to a 12-1 record while paving the way for Danny Wuerffel to take home a second Heisman Trophy for the Orange and Blue.
An embarrassment of riches and treasures from 1990s and early 2000s can be found on the campuses of these institutions. They continue to serve as true history lessons for any whom find themselves chasing the ghosts of the previous legends and greats. Over the course of the next decade, the college football landscape caught back up to the programs of Florida. And so, Miami played for and won their last National Championship game in 2001. Then, the Florida Gators dominated the middle 2000s, winning 2 titles in 2006 and 2008. Lastly, the Seminoles, led by Jameis Winston, competed for and won their most recent national title in 2013. That game, the final championship game of the BCS Bowl Series, would usher in a new era of college football, one which would leave these storied programs behind.
Fast forward to the present day, and the state of Florida continues to yearn for the days of the past. Since 2016, Miami has boasted just one AP top-15 finish, and they have just one division title since 2004. In that time, the Hurricanes have hired five coaches and fired four of them, and current coach, Manny Diaz, has not amounted to much in his two full seasons.
On the same note, Florida State's last time being ranked at the end of a season came in 2016, Jimbo Fisher's second-to-last year with the program. Fisher would go 7-6 in his final season with the team before his departure. Consequently, the program has not had a winning season since, and are 0-4 to start the 2021 season with a loss to an FCS opponent, Jacksonville State University.
The middle of the state, however, sees themselves with an upward trajectory. Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators have finished three straight seasons in the AP top-15 since Jim McElwain's departure after an abysmal 4-7 season. The Gators won their first division title since 2016 in 2020, and control their own destiny after a 3-1 start this season. In addition, the Gators have competed in three straight New Year's Six bowl games. An offensive guru in Mullen, who saw the program soar to new heights in from 2005-2008, is the right man for the job in Gainesville.
For the fans, players, coaches and all who support the Orange and Blue, the tools are there to take the reins on the state once more. The battle of in-state rivals seems to be one-sided, and Mullen can and should reap the benefits of his unique position. After all, in the down years of Miami and Florida, it was Fisher who took advantage of the opportunity, as mentioned above. Fisher was able to operate a steady, consistent program before peaking in his fourth and fifth years with Florida State. Now, Mullen can replicate that success by remaining at the helm of a winning program with almost all the tools to break through to a higher-level.
Floridians across the state have keened their eyes on Gainesville. We will see if top-recruits in the state will position their gaze to the flagship university as well, and if so, the Gators will leave their fellow rivals behind.
The year of the Gators is here in Florida.