FOR FLORIDA FANS, IT'S HARD NOT TO SPECULATE: OF THE TWO NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GATORS TEAMS, WHICH IS better, 1996 or 2006? First, consider the similarities. Both teams were led by poised, record-setting senior quarterbacks. And both needed upsets (by other teams) on the first Saturday in December to stay in contention. In '96 it was the Big 12 title game, when Texas upset defending national champ Nebraska; this year, UCLA stunned No. 2 USC. Now the differences. The '96ers needed Ohio State to win in order to capture a national title; after the Buckeyes defeated No. 2 Arizona State in the Rose Bowl, No. 3 Florida won the championship by pummeling No. 1 Florida State 52?20 in the Sugar Bowl. The two Gators teams also won in different ways. In '96 coach Steve Spurrier used his Fun 'n' Gun offense to intimidate opponents, while the '06 squad relied on stifling defense and clutch special teams play. So who would win a showdown between the Gators of '96 and '06? We broke it down and made our pick. Let the debate begin.
Wuerffel finished his career as a Gator with the finest season in Florida football history: 3,625 yards, 39 touchdowns, the Heisman Trophy, a fourth straight SEC title and the Gators' first national crown in football. Want more credits? In 10 games, the senior quarterback threw at least three touchdown passes, including a six-TD outburst to beat Alabama for the SEC championship. He was the only major college quarterback to post a pass efficiency rating of 170-plus in back-to-back seasons. And his 163.56 career pass efficiency rating is the best in college football history.
CHRIS LEAK, TIM TEBOW
Leak's performance in this year's SEC opener against Tennessee—when he rallied the Gators from a 10-point second-half deficit to topple the Vols 21?20—was a harbinger of big things. The senior engineered late drives to defeat South Carolina and Florida State. And in the SEC title game against Arkansas, his momentum-stealing drive in the fourth quarter sealed the 38?28 victory. Tebow, a running threat, had his best game against LSU—throwing two TD passes, including a highlight-reel one-yard jump pass to Tate Casey.
All credit to Leak and Tebow, but it's hard to top the most productive player in Gators history.
JAMES BATES, JEVON KEARSE, MIKE PETERSON, JOHNNY RUTLEDGE
Playmakers all over the field. Bates, a first-team All-SEC pick, had 10 or more tackles in 10 games, leading the team with 135. Rutledge, meanwhile, was a persistent force in opponents' backfields.(He racked up a team-best 15 tackles for loss.) And who can forget the Freak? Kearse, a redshirt freshman in '96, tallied 8� tackles for loss. He was the starting strongside linebacker in the first seven games before breaking his hand against Auburn. The injury allowed the 6' 1", 210-pound Peterson to swipe the starting spot.
BRIAN CRUM, EARL EVERETT, BRANDON SILER