By Steve Anderson
Throughout the years, the Florida Gators football program has had several rivalries with their SEC foes. While the Gators top two SEC archrivals are traditionally the Tennessee Volunteers and Georgia Bulldogs, there have been other rivalries that are forming. Since the Vols haven’t bested the Gators in eight years, SEC rivalries provide a lesson in fluidity. Let’s take a look and rank the rivalries in the conference, introduce new faces into the SEC arena, and look towards the future as to what rivalries may be important in the future. For it wasn’t so long ago that the Florida football program, while near and dear to alumni and fans, wasn’t a strong program record-wise in the pre-Spurrier eras. As the Gators got stronger and more dominant, matchups with teams like LSU and Alabama became more important.
1. Florida vs. Georgia
The most important rivalry to the Florida fan traditionally is, and will be for the near future, the Georgia Bulldogs. Jacksonville weekend is truly a way of life for fans of these two teams, as “neutral” site turns into a really huge cocktail/tailgate that renders Gainesville a ghost town for the weekend. Even the official win-loss record is disputed with the Georgia leading 48-40-2, give or take a Georgia win. As the state’s direct neighbor to the north, (a mere 100 miles from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium) the Florida-Georgia rivalry is long running and celebrated yearly in Jacksonville, with some exceptions. Although Florida is 18-5 in the series since 1990, the Bulldogs have won the last two—something that hasn’t happen since 1987 and is just plain impermissible. Trust me, the Gator Nation has the 2013 date circled. The Gators will need to fight like heck to keep this cyclical rivalry pendulum from swinging back the other way.
2. Florida vs. Tennessee
All-time record 23-19 in favor of the Gators; the rivalry didn’t really catch on until the SEC realignment in 1991. Due to Peyton Manning (who never beat Florida) and some other pretty good Tennessee teams, there were times during the 1990s and early 2000s that this game, the third game of the season, set the tone for either program. But since you can’t spell shutout without a “U” and a “T”, this rivalry is trending down because shutout is exactly what’s been happening when the boys from Rocky Top try to hang with the Swamp Things. Lately, the Gators just tune up against the Volunteers, who have been mired in mediocrity since really the internal firestorm ultimately resulting in Coach Philip Fulmer leaving the program. That being said, a loss in 2013 to Tennessee would be a major disappointment.
3. Florida vs. Alabama
Flash, speed and passing offense versus ground attack and staunch defense, although these roles flip-flop occasionally; when Florida plays Alabama it’s usually for something huge. The Tide leads the all-time series 22-14 and has won the last three meetings. These teams have met in seven SEC title games and since 1992, Alabama leads the series 7-6. Due to SEC East/West scheduling, the Gators don’t play Alabama every year and this rivalry is not longstanding. But what a difference a few years make. The Tide were down for a generation post-Gene Stallings, but Alabama hired Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide have emerged as the most irresistible force in college football. Right now, seeing them on the schedule conjures up slight trepidation for even the most homer of Gator fans. As far as win value for a Gator, I’d reckon to say beating a Saban-led Alabama team could soften the blow of losing to both Georgia and Tennessee in the same season. Future outlook: The Gators still have some catching up to do before knocking the kings off.
4. Florida vs. LSU
Florida leads the all-time series 31-25-3, including 7-6 vs. Tigers since 2000. As a Gator fan, night games at Death Valley is a formidable task for all involved, even when watching it at a neighborhood sports bar. LSU is tough no doubt, and their seemingly always in a race for the SEC West crown. A lot of talent is on the field when these two link up. The Bayeaux Bengals and the Galloping Gators have played some hard fought battles that recently seem to always have, at the very least, conference implications if not national title ones. Alabama has trumped this rivalry due to beast-moding everyone lately but LSU has been a good team consistently longer. You can argue these teams go harder at each other than ever and are each other’s most hated rivals.
5. Florida vs. Auburn
The Plains have been less than fruitful for the Gators lately, as the Gators have only beaten Auburn once since 2001. Even the 2006 title team didn’t beat Auburn, and the Cam Newton-Auburn Tigers never played the Gators. This rivalry goes back seriously long (1912) and the two teams squared off every other year from 1945 until 2002 when the SEC realigned. Since 1990, Florida has gone 11-6, but a lot of those come from the Spurrier era. Auburn goes through periods of greatness (14-0 and a title in 2010) to mediocrity (since 1999 six seasons with 8 wins or less). Being gosh awful (3-9) in 2012, they are always a thorn in the Gators side and don’t go out without a fight. The Gators look to have an upper hand in the near future in this rivalry as the Tigers figure things out and punish whoever poisoned their beloved Toomer’s Corner Oaks. The Gators record all time vs. Auburn is 38-42-2.
6. Florida vs. South Carolina
Florida leads the series all-time 13-3-3; lots of ties apparently before air conditioning was invented, coincidence? The Spurrier Bowl; feels like we’ve been doing this for years whether Jarvis Moss is blocking kicks to preserve a title march like in 2006 or we are handing Spurrier 50-point losses in his home stadium (2008 game Florida wins 56-6.) The Gamecocks had never won in Gainesville until 2010, so the rivalry has been somewhat one-sided. Since 2000, the Gators are 10-3 against South Carolina. Spurrier and Co. beat Florida in 2010 and 2011 so he has definitely made this a rivalry despite the 41-11 beat down the Gators served the Gamecocks in 2012. They will continue to give Florida everything they’ve got as long as he’s there.