This is the second of a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
Of course, the teams form the heart of any sport, particularly in college football. Players only remain for four years or so and move on; but the team is always there. And there are always those years when a few of the truly great players -- or the right combination of good players -- create a special season.
Year2: Being a Florida fan born in 1985, I have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to picking a favorite team. The 1996 team will always have special standing with me, being the first national championship squad. I also have great affection for the 2001 outfit that finally brought Florida back up to its Wuerffel-era effectiveness. The way the 2006 squad kept battling and winning in improbable ways before unloading on Ohio State is unforgettable.
Ultimately, I have to go with a recent one. So far, the 2008 Gator football team is my favorite.
It had just about anything you could have asked for in a team. The defense was unbelievably stout given where it was the previous year, and it always was able to come up with a big play or turnover when the team needed it. The offense was varied and lethal, breaking off big runs and pass plays throughout each game. Even the special teams were outstanding between Brandon James' returns, several blocked punts, Chas Henry's booming punts, and Jonathan Phillips' steady accuracy at kicker.
The players of course are what make any team great. Percy Harvin was at the top of his game, breaking off long runs and bailing out the team time after time against Alabama. Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey broke out against Arkansas and ran right past nearly everyone else. Brandon Spikes set the tone for the defense and drilled Knowshon Moreno to deliver a statement to Georgia. Ahmad Black came up with so many timely interceptions. And of course, Tim Tebow was the engine that really drove the team emotionally.
It's also worth noting that any great team really sticks it to its enemies. Let's see how this one did:
- Finished off a lackluster but safe win over Miami by giving Phillips his first field goal attempt of the year so that he wouldn't be kicking his first on the road. Miami partisans predictably fail to see that fact and become enraged. Check.
- Put the game so far away by the third quarter that it looks like there's an evacuation drill going on at Neyland Stadium. Check.
- Gave Les Miles his worst loss as a head coach. Check.
- Gave Mark Richt his worst loss as a head coach. Check.
- Gave Steve Spurrier his worst loss as a head coach. Check.
- Beat FSU in Tallahassee, scored the most points of any UF team there, and left Bobby Bowden sputtering after the game about having received "a good tail-whipping" and how he thought he couldn't lose that badly at home. Check.
- Completed Tebow's first second-half comeback and dominated the fourth quarter against Alabama. Check.
It is because of all of this that the loss to Ole Miss that year feels even worst than it normally would. Yet given how tight and conservative the team played prior to and in that game, and the fact that it did the same in all of 2009 before the Sugar Bowl, it might have been impossible. The team seemed to need the loss to loosen up and let it rip. Besides, the look on Sam Bradford's face after Black picked him off makes up for any worries about the loss.
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cocknfire: As far as South Carolina goes -- can I select a college baseball team? Oh, this is a football game, so we have to choose a football team. I see.
Well, in that case I have a more difficult choice. The notable ones in my lifetime as a Gamecock fan (since I didn't even know South Carolina had a football team when I was four years old, the 10-2 team is out) are 2000 (Holtz's second season, 8-4, finished season ranked No. 19); 2001 (Holtz's third season, 9-3, finished season ranked No. 13) and 2005 (Spurrier's first season, 7-5).
The last one probably looks a bit out of place, but to explain: The 2005 team was the first to defeat Florida since the second Franklin Roosevelt Administration (1939) and the first to defeat Tennessee in Knoxville -- ever. It also saw South Carolina come thisclose to defeating Georgia after months of Dawg fans woofing about the blowout that would be their long-awaited revenge on Spurrier in Athens. (Yeah, call it a moral victory, whatever.) So while some losses in the West and to Clemson and Missouri kept the record from being a breakthrough, there were a lot of things that made that season memorable.
But the 2001 team was something special. It was the first South Carolina team to be ranked from the beginning of the season to the end. Narrow losses at Arkansas and at Tennessee were all that kept the team from going 11-1. (Florida was ... well, that was something else. Lou Holtz entered the press room looking like he'd just watched a semi run over his dog and began with words to the effect of: "That was just an awesome football performance by Florida," about the only clear thought it looked like he could communicate at the moment.) The 2001 team was also the second to win five games in the SEC since South Carolina joined in 1992 -- the first being the 2000 edition. A last-minute victory against Alabama marked the first time South Carolina had defeated them on the field. There was the regular-season-ending win in dramatic fashion against Clemson and the heart-stopping win against Ohio State in Outback Bowl, which I witnessed in person.
Favorite SEC team? I vaguely remember the 1992 Alabama team that went undefeated, so I thought about selecting them, except that my memories of that team aren't very sharp, so it's hard to choose them. In that case, I'll go with 2006 Florida -- a sometimes death-defying team that also made me 1-for-1 as a young blogger in choosing half of the BCS title game duo. (Let's not talk about the other selection, mkay?) And I'll never forget the looks on the faces of the national commentariat as they attempted to figure out what went wrong with their bold predictions that Florida had no chance against the Powerful Buckeyes.
There does seem to be a theme here. Of course, there are so many SEC teams that have defeated Ohio State over the years ...