The University of Florida has had a proud of history of football up until these recent years. In the glory years preceding what has been some dark times in Gainesville, the Gators have had some legendary players at the position of quarterback.
In a new Top 5 series that I will be doing all throughout the conclusion of the 2014 Gator football season, I will be ranking my top five best and worst players at each position in Florida football history. Without further adieu, here are my Top 5 quarterbacks in the history of Gator football.
#5 John Reaves (1969-1971)
Kicking off my list is John Reaves, a well known QB to the older fans of the Gator Nation. As the starting quarterback for the Orange and Blue, Reaves posted a career record of 20-13-1 in three seasons. He finished his career with 7,549 passing yards, 54 passing touchdowns, and a 53.5 completion percentage. He won just one award, which was the Sammy Baugh Trophy in 1971.
His most significant bowl victory came in his first season as the starting quarterback in 1969. That year, he led the Gators to a 9-1-1 record and a 14-13 victory over the rival #11 Tennessee Volunteers in the 1969 Gator Bowl. This was Florida's best year with Reaves at quarterback.
A defining moment during the Reaves era came in his last collegiate game against the Miami Hurricanes in 1971. Needing just 14 more yards to break Jim Plunkett's NCAA record for all time passing yards in a career, Reaves threw an interception late in the game with the Gators up 45-8. As Miami attempted to run out the clock, almost everyone on the Gator defense literally fell down and allowed the Hurricanes to score.
With a little time still left in the game, the Gators got the ball back and Reaves completed a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Carlos Alvarez to break Plunkett's record. The Gators' stunt on defense was infamously nicknamed the "Gator Flop" and tensions between the Gators and Hurricanes have been high ever since.
After graduating from UF, Reaves was drafted 14th overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1972 NFL Draft. After bouncing around between a few teams and a short stint in the USFL, Reaves hung up his cleats in 1987.
#4 Chris Leak (2003-2006
Chris Leak ushered in the beginning of the Gator dynasty of the mid-2000's as he led the Gators to a National Championship his senior year. Leak went 25-9 as a starter and finished his career with 11,213 passing yards, 88 passing touchdowns, and a 61.4 completion percentage. He has the highest amount of passing yards on this list. During his senior year, he led the Gators to an SEC title with a 38-28 victory over Arkansas in the SEC Championship.
His most notable bowl victory is clearly the 2007 BCS National Championship as the #2 Gators defeated the #1 Ohio State Buckeyes soundly 41-14 for the school's second ever National Championship. Leak played well in his final collegiate game as he completed 25 of 36 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown.
After going out on top, Leak went undrafted but ended up signing with the Chicago Bears. He was cut at the end of preseason, and pursued some short lived endeavors in All American Football League, the Canadian Football League, and the Arena Football League.
Leak could not stay away from UF forever. In 2013 (soon to be fired) head coach Will Muschamp brought him in to be a graduate assistant. In 2014, he was promoted to wide receivers coach.
#3 Steve Spurrier (1964-1966)
Before he was the "Ol' Ball Coach", Steve Spurrier was a quarterback at UF. He was the first Heisman winner in UF history and totaled 4,848 passing yards, 36 passing touchdowns, and a 56.6 completion percentage in his three year career as a Gator. Spurrier's low numbers have to be excused because we have to remember this was the mid-1960's. Football was played in a completely different manner back then and Spurrier putting up these numbers at the time was huge by his era's standards.
Spurrier went 23-9 as a starter and his most significant bowl victory came in the form of a 27-12 victory over #8 Georgia Tech in the 1967 Orange Bowl. Besides the big achievement of winning the Heisman in 1966, some of Spurrier's other accolades include being named a Consensus All-American, SEC Player of the Year, and also winning the Walter Camp Award in 1966.
Spurrier was inducted into the UF Ring of Honor in 2006. He is just one of five players who hold a spot in this sacred and very exclusive club. It commemorates and retires the numbers of legendary players in the program. He is also in the College Football Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 1986.
Spurrier was selected third overall in the 1967 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers and played nine years there before being traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After 10 years, he called it a career and finished with 6,878 passing yards, 40 passing touchdowns, and 60 interceptions.
In 1990, Spurrier became the head coach of the University of Florida and helped guide the team to six SEC titles and the school's first ever National Championship in 1996. He stayed until 2002, when he decided to take the leap to the NFL by coaching the Washington Redskins.
After going 12-20 in the NFL, Spurrier came back to the college scene and began coaching at the University of South Carolina in 2005. He is still there to this day and has posted an 81-42 record with the Gamecocks.
#2 Danny Wuerffel (1993-1996)
Danny Wuerffel was integral to the success of Steve Spurrier's Florida teams in the early and mid-1990's. As a starter, he went 45-6-1 and won the second Heisman in school history his senior year in 1996. Wuerffel won an SEC title in every season throughout his four year career as a Gator. He finished his collegiate career with 10,875 passing yards, 110 passing touchdowns, and a 60.5 completion percentage.
Wuerffel posted a 2-2 record in bowl games. Both the bowl games he won were the Sugar Bowl and he won them during his freshman and senior years. The first Sugar Bowl victory in 1994 was a rout as the underdog Gators defeated #2 West Virginia 41-7.
The second Sugar Bowl victory in 1997 has to be by far the sweetest as the #3 Gators defeated the #1 ranked Florida State Seminoles 52-20 to claim the university's first ever National Championship. Wuerffel threw for three touchdowns and ran for one touchdown in this game.
I'll also mention that this was the second meeting of the year between these two rivals with the Seminoles having won 24-21 in the regular season finale. At the end of the day, the Gators did indeed get the last laugh.
Besides his Heisman in 1996, some of Wuerffel's other achievement include:
- Two Davey O'Brien Awards in 1995 and 1996
- Sammy Baugh Trophy in 1995
- SEC Player of the Year in 1995
- Consensus All American in 1996
- Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award in 1996
- Quarterback of the Year Award in 1996
- Maxwell Award in 1996
- SEC Player of the Year in 1996
- Walter Camp Player of the Year Award in 1996
- Winning 4 SEC titles, including the first one ever in Gator football history in 1993
- Inducted into the Florida Ring of Honor in 2006 (along with Steve Spurrier)
After Florida, Wuerffel was selected in the fourth round of the 1997 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints. He played there for three years and played for a few other teams before retiring shortly after.
#1 Tim Tebow (2006-2009)
In 2000, he won MVP of the World Bowl while playing overseas for NFL Europa after leading the Rhein Fire to victory over the Scottish Claymores. After that, Wuerffel called it quits for good. In 2013, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Is anyone really surprised? It was a really hard decision between Tebow and Wuerffel at who deserved to be #1, but at the end of the day I had to pick Tim. He was instrumental in the Gators 2006 National Championship run as he played in every game as a true freshman. In the 2007 BCS National Championship, he ran and threw for one touchdown a piece.
Once Chris Leak graduated, it was Tebow's turn to lead the team and he did not disappoint as he posted a career record of 35-6 as the Gator starting QB. He made history his sophomore year as he became the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman! He is the third and final Gator player to ever win the award. He finished his UF career with 9,285 passing yards, 88 passing touchdowns, and a 66.4 completion percentage. That's just one phase of his offensive game, though.
What makes Tebow different from the four QB's I mentioned before him (and ultimately helped me pick him over Wuerffel) was his ability to use his legs. Tim rushed for 2,947 yards and 57 touchdowns!
After helping Chris Leak and the Gators win the 2007 BCS National Championship, it was all on Tebow going into 2009 title game against the #2 Oklahoma Sooners. Tebow completed 18 of 30 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 110 yards. Of course, I can't forget the epic halftime speech
he gave that, no lie, did more than enough to motivate the Gators to bring this championship back to Gainesville.
Tim's signature moment (besides the speech) came in the fourth quarter of this game. On third down and goal with the Gators up three points and a little over three minutes left in the game, Tebow faked a run and then completed a jump pass to wide receiver David Nelson
. This play, which lives on forever in Gator lore, clinched the Gators' second National Championship in three years and third championship overall.
During Tim's senior year, the Gators came within one win of playing for a third National Championship, but fell just short with a 32-13 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2009 SEC Championship. The Gators had to settle with the 2010 Sugar Bowl against #4 Cincinnati and unlike that joke of a 2013 Sugar Bowl, they showed up and smoked Cincy 51-24. This was a very fitting way for Tim to end his collegiate career.
Apart from being the first ever sophomore to win the Heisman like I mentioned earlier and winning two National Championships, Tim Tebow had a highly decorated career during his time at UF. Some of his other accolades include:
- AP Player of the Year Award in 2007
- Consensus All-American in 2007
- Davey O'Brien Award in 2007
- Quarterback of the Year Award in 2007
- Two Maxwell Awards in 2007 and 2008
- Manning Award in 2008
- SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2008 and 2009
- William V. Campbell Trophy in 2009
- 2008 SEC Championship MVP
- Offensive MVP of the 2009 BCS National Championship Game
- MVP of the 2010 Sugar Bowl
- Heisman finalist in 2008 and 2009
- Beat rival Florida State by a composite score of 127-37 as a three year starter
- Beat rival Georgia every year as a member of the team
- Won three SEC titles in his four year career
- SEC Record of 57 career rushing touchdowns
- SEC Record of 23 rushing touchdowns in a single season (tied with Auburn running back Tre Mason)
After graduating in 2009, Tim Tebow went 25th overall in the 2010 NFL Draft to the Denver Broncos. His NFL career was short lived and magnified by ESPN the entire way because of his vocality on his Christian faith. Tebow's defining moment in the NFL came when he connected with Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard touchdown pass
to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card Game in Denver.
Once Tebow was traded to the New York Jets, his career was essentially over as head coach Rex Ryan never used him. He tried one last comeback attempt with the New England Patriots, but they cut him during preseason.
Tim is currently an analyst for the SEC Network and still dreams of playing in the NFL one day. He may not have had the skills to compete in the NFL, but nobody can take away what he achieved at the collegiate level. In my opinion, he is the greatest UF quarterback of all time!
Honorable Mention: Rex Grossman (2000-2002), Kerwin D. Bell (1984-1987), Shane Matthews (1989-1992)
I hope you enjoyed this Top 5 article! My next article will be a tad bit harsher as I rank the five worst quarterbacks to ever play for the Florida Gators. Stay tuned until next week!
*All stats accredited to Gatorzone.com & College Football @ Sports-Reference.com