VETTEL: Gators Seek 5-and-0 Start

When the Gators take to the field Saturday afternoon they will be trying for what is a surprisingly rare 5-and-0 start to the 2006 campaign. Florida has only opened eleven previous seasons with five straight wins. That’s a pretty small number considering UF is celebrating the 100th year of Gator football this fall.

A five-and-0 start doesn’t guarantee anything, granted, but it’s still a significant thing to run through the first portion of the schedule unscathed.

As you might have guessed, most of the eleven previous 5-and-0 starts (eight of the eleven) came in the last twenty years. And most of the teams that started well ended up have good-t-great seasons. Let’s take a glance at Florida’s all-too-brief history of perfect starts.

1928, 8-and-0 —– This unit for many years was viewed as the greatest Gator team of them all. Charles Bachman’s team raced through the first eight games with only one team, N.C. State (14-7) coming closer than 20 points to this group of Gators. Florida outscored the first eight opponents 324 to 31 and was ticketed for the Rose Bowl if only they could beat Tennessee in the season finale’. They couldn’t, in part due to the Vols flooding their field and lost 13-12. Imagine how Gator history might have changed if Florida had won that contest.

1966, 7-and-0 —– Steve Spurrier led the Gators to seven straight wins to open his senior season including the legendary field goal kick to beat Auburn. However the next week Georgia’s Bill Stanfill harassed Spurrier all day long and the Bulldogs routed the Gators 27-10. Spurrier is still trying to get even with the ‘Dawgs for that one. The Gators ended up 9-and-2.

1969, 6-and-0 —– Ray Graves’ last season could not have started better, a 59-34 win over # 7 Houston. The Gators kept on winning, and went from unranked to # 7 heading to Auburn. Then came John Reaves’ mind-boggling nine interceptions against the Tigers. Florida tied Georgia the next week before ending the season with three straight wins.

1988, 5-and-0 —– The Gators had gotten past NCAA sanctions and had a pretty solid team with an excellent defense and Emmitt Smith. The Gators were cruising along when Memphis State came to town, but Kyle Morris threw a key interception and injured his thumb and Emmitt suffered a sprained knee and the Gators lost. In the aftermath, the Gator offense almost completely collapsed. The Memphis State setback was the first of four straight losses which turned a promising start into a ho-hum 7-and-5 campaign.

1990, 5-and-0 —– Steve Spurrier’s first season started off well, including a win at Alabama. Week six saw the Gators trail Tennessee 7-3 at the half, but Dale Carter returned the second half kick for a touchdown and the rest of the night was a disaster. The Vols won 45-3. The Gators would later lose to NCAA and not get to compete for the SEC Title and finished up 9-and-2.

1993 – thru – 1997 —– For five consecutive years the Gators would win at least the first five games, and in ’95 (12) and ’96 (10) it was even better. Florida’s fast starts were an important key to the greatest stretch in Florida history. The Gators were an amazing 55-8-1 in those years, winning four SEC titles, three bowl games and a National Championship.

2001, 5-and-0 —– Many believe this team should have won it all and it’s hard to argue the point. Florida likely would have clobbered Tennessee in September, but the terrorist attack on 9/11 postponed that contest. The Gators lost their first game at Auburn (23-20) playing without Ernest Graham. Four wins later they finally played the Vols, but now Tennessee was healthy and the Gators were again without Graham. Travis Stephens ran wild (228 yards) and the Gators lost a 34-32 shootout. They ended the season pulverizing Maryland in the Orange Bowl and shortly thereafter the Spurrier era was over.

Of the eleven previous Gators teams to open 5-and-0 or better, ten of them finished up with at least nine wins. If the Gators make it five-and-0 this weekend, I’d bet they ended up with more than nine victories when all is said and done.