2008 Gator football team: Best ever?

I know the entire Gator Nation is getting tired of hearing about Urban Meyer. The battle between those who love him, those who hate him and those who just think he did what we paid him to do and moved on rages seemingly nonstop. This piece is NOT meant to reopen that argument and, if I might be so bold as to request it, I hope the discussion doesn’t degenerate down to that.

Urban has stated again that his 2008 Gator team was the best college football team ever. I thought it would be interesting to discuss that claim. As with discussion about “the best” of anything, guitar players, restaurants, Bond girls…it is completely subjective and there probably isn’t a “right” answer. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. That said, not being one to ever shy away from giving my mostly useless and often berated opinion, I am going to try to solve the riddle.

Let us begin by first deciding if the 2008 Gators were indeed even the best Gator team. I think we can all agree that we need only compare the three national championship teams although the 1995 team might actually deserve consideration despite the mauling by Nebraska in the National Championship game. I think far too many college football fans fail to grasp how much transpires with a team during a month long wait to play a bowl game. I have long stated that bowl games should be considered entertainment only and that it is futile to judge a team based on what they do after such a long layoff. However, you have to consider those games because our champion is decided in one every year.

With all due respect to Chris Leak and the formidable defense of 2006 I cannot see any scenario where that team is the best Gator team of all time which leaves us with 1996 vs 2008. Offensively it means Spurrier’s Fun & Gun vs Meyer’s spread option. Both offenses require a quarterback that fits perfectly in that system. Others can do quite well in each offense but it takes a perfect match for them to really roll. And both of those offenses were quite prolific.

On each of these two teams the quarterback was EXACTLY what was needed to run the respective offense. However, I don’t think you will ever find a better match than Danny Wuerffel to Spurrier’s offense. Danny seemed to always know exactly who would be open in that passing game and when to change the play at the line of scrimmage. Tim Tebow had exactly the physical attributes to excel in Urban’s system and watching him run over defenses was amazing but I was always a little concerned about Tim’s ability to read a defense in the middle of a play. Both of them join Steve Spurrier as the greatest quarterbacks in Gator history.

The 2008 team had Percy Harvin who, when healthy, may be the most talented Gator football player ever but the list of Riley Cooper, Louis Murphy and David Nelson in no way match up to Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard, Jacquez Green and Travis McGriff. However, there was no tight end on the 1996 team to compare in any way to Aaron Hernandez. That isn’t all bad. The two offensive lines were probably pretty much comparable. Even with Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey I think the 2008 running backs fall short of the 1996 group that included Fred Taylor, Terry Jackson, Elijah Williams and Eugene McCaslin.

The 1996 team scored an amazing 47 points a game against some great defenses including two games against an FSU defense that was loaded with future NFL stars. The Gators were the top scoring team in the country that season. Meanwhile, the 2008 team scored a still incredible 43.6 points per game for fourth best in the country. I would give the offensive edge to the 1996 Gators but the difference was not big by any means. I will say that the Fun & Gun was more enjoyable to watch.

Defensively, the 2008 Gators held opponents to an incredible 13 points per game. That was good enough for fourth best in the country. That defense boasted the likes of Brandon Spikes, Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins, Major Wright, Ahmad Black and Carlos Dunlap. The 1996 Gators gave up 17 points a game which was fourteenth best in the country that season. It included Reggie McGrew, Ed Chester, Keith Council, Willie Cohens, Jevon Kearse, Mike Peterson, Fred Weary, Anthone Lott, Lawrence Wright and Tony George. Both defenses were dominant against great opposition, but I would have to give the nod to the 2008 squad.

So, at face value, it is a pretty close call between these two teams as the greatest Gator teams ever. If you weren’t there to see them both you won’t quite grasp the criteria I am going to use as the deciding factor. Spurrier’s team was just more fun to watch. Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer are two of the best college coaches in the history of the game but there is something to be said about the Ole Ball Coach’s approach to the game and the media.

I believe the 1996 team was the best Gator team of all time but where do they match up with other great teams of college football like the 1995 Cornhuskers or the Hurricanes in their hayday? In all honesty, that question requires too much evaluation and pontification to address this late in this piece. One would have to look at several of the Alabama teams over the years as well. Perhaps I will process that for next week. Besides, if they weren’t the Gators, does it really matter?

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Mark Miller
Mark Miller's bravery knows no limits. He's a Gator living deep in the heart of Georgia. Mark's weekly columns appear in the Coosa Valley News in Rome, Georgia, where Gators are few and Bulldogs are many. His updates about football and life among the heathens will appear in Gator Country on a weekly basis.