For as bad as things went for the Florida Gators at times in 2014 (see the Not Top 14 for 2014), there were more than a fair share of bright spots. From breathtaking moments and game-winning plays to winning championships and setting records, the Gators had plenty to be proud of in 2014. Check out OnlyGators.com‘s Top 14 for 2014.
14 » RARE WOMEN’S BASKETBALL UPSET
Gators women’s basketball has struggled to find relevancy but there was no question Florida had its engines running on Jan. 5 when it pulled off one of the biggest victories in program history, an 83-73 upset win over No. 6 Kentucky. The win broke a six-game losing streak for UF against UK and was head coach Amanda Butler’s first win over a top-10 ranked opponent after going 0-17 previously in such games. Florida had lost 19-straight regular-season games against top 10-ranked opponents, earning its last victory to such a team in Feb. 2006.
13 » TEBOW TIME ALL THE TIME
Former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow had a life-changing 2014 after agreeing to sign a long-term broadcasting deal with ESPN. Tebow was featured on the network’s national title broadcast that season and was later assigned to the SEC Network where he served as one of three analysts for the channel’s Saturday pre-game show, SEC Nation. Tebow has drawn rave reviews throughout 2014 for his passionate opinions and consistent on-air knowledge. He also proved to be unbiased, lambasting the leadership on Florida’s offense when the team struggled during the middle of the season. One Tebow moment – a spot-on impersonation of former Gators head coach Steve Spurrier – was OnlyGators.com’s most-watched Vine with 1.3 million loops as of press time.
Tebow also closed 2014 with a brilliant on-air prediction, which you can check out below.
12 » SUPER MERCY
There is no question that wide receiver Percy Harvin’s had a rough go of it in the NFL as injuries and behavioral issues have found him on the sidelines and with three different franchises already in his career. Despite barely seeing the field in 2013, Harvin was active for the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII and came through for his team, scoring an 87-yard kickoff return touchdown to open the second half and also taking two carries for 45 yards. Harvin’s effort helped lead Seattle to a 43-8 win over Denver as he, former Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and former UF defensive back Marquand Manuel all won rings with the Seahawks.
11 » BIG MONEY, NO WAMMIES
The Gators have sent a number of big-time players to successful professional careers over the last few years, and 2014 was the year that their successes paid off in a major way. Philadelphia Eagles WR Riley Cooper signed a five-year, $25 million deal in February. The Cleveland Browns and cornerback Joe Haden came to terms on a five-year, $68 million extension in May. Both center Maurkice Pouncey (five years, $44 million) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (five years, $30 million) got extended by the Pittsburgh Steelers with Pouncey’s deal making him the highest-paid center in the NFL. On the NBA side of things, the Dallas Mavericks inked restricted free agent forward Chandler Parsons to a three-year, $46 million offer sheet, with his signature on those papers first reported by OnlyGators.com. The Houston Rockets chose not to match the deal, sending Parsons to his preferred destination of Dallas.
There was one other big deal signed in 2014 as Florida head basketball coach Billy Donovan agreed to a three-year contract extension in Feb. that ensures he will remain with the program at least through the conclusion of the 2018-19 season. He will earn $3.7 million per season with plenty of bonuses available.
10 » DRAMATIC WINS
Sports are exciting by nature, but the Gators in 2014 sometimes made them a bit more exciting than they needed to be. Athletic program-wide, Florida was involved in numerous contests that either went down to the wire or moved into overtime. The first truly dramatic game of the year featured the men’s basketball team setting a program record with 18-straight wins; it came against Auburn as the Tigers decided to inexplicably foul the Gators with the game tied at 66 … and then throw the ball away on the ensuing possession.
Two months later, Florida baseball upset South Carolina in dramatic fashion, rallying to tie the game at 3-3 despite being down 3-0 with six outs to go. The Gators eventually won the contest in extra innings due to some fantastic pitching. Florida lacrosse used a second-half comeback to win the ALC Championship, outscoring Northwestern 7-1 over the latter stage of the game and scoring a game-winning goal with 32 seconds left to capture the title. The Gators football team also had a flare for the dramatic this season, needing the first three-overtime game in program history to beat Kentucky with a dominant effort from junior running back Matt Jones leading to the winning score. Less than a month later, Florida barely edged Tennessee 10-9 with the Gators rallying to score 10 unanswered points after freshman quarterback Treon Harris replaced struggling redshirt junior QB Jeff Driskel in the fourth quarter.
There was one more down-to-the-wire finish this year, but we’ll get to that later.
9 » THREES RECORDS
Parsons broke all kinds of records on Jan. 24 when he hit 10 three-pointers and scored a career-high 34 points in a one-point Houston home loss to Memphis. His 10 triples set a Rockets record for most in a single game; seeing as all came in the second half, the 10 threes also set an NBA record for most treys made in one half of a game.
Besting Parsons by one, then-sophomore guard Michael Frazier II drained 11 threes in a single game on March 4 as Florida routed South Carolina 72-46. His 11 triples broke a 17-year school record for most in a single game (Joe Lawrence, nine, 1986), were the third-most made in a single game by an SEC player and the most ever in an SEC League game. Frazier also scored 37 points in the contest, setting a career-high and matching Joakim Noah (March 1, 2006) for most in a single game under Donovan.
8 » PLENTY OF CHAMPIONSHIPS AND AWARDS
Florida men’s swimming, women’s track and field, men’s basketball and volleyball all won SEC titles in 2014 with some of those honors playing a large part in the Gators once again sweeping the SEC All-Sports Awards. UF won the overall, men’s and women’s titles, continuing its reign as the only school to sweep all three awards in a single season. Florida accomplished that feat for the 14th time, seventh in the last eight years and sixth-in-a-row. UF has won 24 overall SEC All-Sports Awards (including eight-straight), 21 women’s titles and 18 men’s titles.
The Gators’ women’s program was especially successful this year, capturing the first Capital One Cup in program history. Florida has now won three total Capital One Cups with the men winning the honor in consecutive years from 2011-12. In the short four-year history of the award, the Gators are the only athletic program to win both the men’s and women’s cups. Florida’s women (152 points) dominated their competition, winning by a 42-point margin over UCLA (110) and finishing 63 points above the next SEC team, Texas A&M (89).
7 » WELCOME, JIM MCELWAIN
Just like 2013, 2014 was a rough year for Gators football fans. And the result of a slightly-above-.500 season was Florida firing Will Muschamp during the campaign and eventually hiring Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain. The process started with athletic director Jeremy Foley outlining his plan for hiring Muschamp’s replacement. But it was not as simple as making a phone call and hiring a coach.
OnlyGators.com uncovered the Gators’ plans to fly to Fort Collins, Colorado, and attempt to sign McElwain, setting off a chain of events that day that included reporters hanging out at the Fort Collins airport and others setting up shop outside McElwain’s private residence. However, a $7.5 million snag – as in McElwain’s absurd buyout – saw Florida leave Colorado without its desired coach. The Gators and Rams eventually ended the posturing and reached a deal on the buyout, allowing McElwain to agree to terms with Florida.
There was plenty to learn about McElwain and more than enough odds and ends of the hiring process to keep Gators fans interested until the school actually announced McElwain as its head coach on Dec. 6. Following McElwain’s hire, Florida brought on defensive coordinator Geoff Collins from Mississippi State and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, formerly of Michigan. The year ended with reports of Randy Shannon joining the Gators as linebackers coach, proving that McElwain is truly prepared to revamp the Florida football program.
6 » ONE OF THE BEST IN THE GAME
Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah had himself a year in 2014. An unlikely candidate for Most Valuable Player who was the heart and soul of the Bulls all season, Noah won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. He became the first former Florida player to capture the honor and second ever to win an NBA year-end award. Noah dominated the vote, finishing with 555 total points (Roy Hibbert was second with 166). Averaging 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals per game, Noah put up crazy numbers that also earned him a spot on the All-NBA First Team. He registered four triple-doubles and 47 double-doubles over 80 regular-season games, becoming the fourth center in NBA history with four triple-doubles consisting of points, rebounds and assists in a single season. The names he shares that distinction with? Just three Hall of Famers in Wilt Chamberlain, David Robinson and Bill Russell. Noah was also the first Chicago players since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen (1992-93) to record four triple-doubles in a single season.
But you cannot have a full year without Noah also being awesome in some way. And in addition to his multitude of charitable efforts and fun quotes given to the media, Noah cursed out multiple referees in a Half Baked-inspired rant that will always be remembered for just how crazy and funny it was to watch.
5 » 11 MILLION AND A BABY
There are certain things in life more important than winning titles and millions of dollars, like having your first child. As it turns out, former Gators golfer Billy Horschel was lucky enough to have that child this year – the same week he won a couple titles and brought home $11.44 million for his newly-expanded family!
Horschel on Sept. 14 won the Tour Championship and FedExCup, raking in $11.44 million while capping off the best three weeks of his young career. He had previously won $2.03 million by finishing first in the BMW Championship and second in the Deutsche Bank Championship in consecutive weeks. Horschel ended the 2014 season with $14.8 million in his pocket and the distinction as one of the best young golfers in the country. He also represented Florida throughout the season, playing with orange-and-blue clubs and even Gator Chomping to celebrate his FedExCup win.
OnlyGators.com sat down for an exclusive interview with Horschel at the conclusion of the season. It is a must-read for any golf fan, Gators fan, or anyone who loves feel-good stories that include babies, money and championships.
4 » BACK-TO-BACK … BUT SHARED
Looking to repeat after winning the program’s first-ever national title in 2013, Florida gymnastics rallied in the NCAA Super Six on April 19 to force a late tie and split the 2014 NCAA Championship with Oklahoma. Trailing for most of the meet, the Gators looked to sophomore Bridgette Caquatto to put an exclamation point on a come-from-behind effort, and she delivered, matching her career-high mark with a 9.95 on the floor to pull Florida into a tie with OU with a 198.175 – the highest score in Super Six history. Below is what it looks like when you think you’ve won only to find out you’ve tied and then learn that you are going to share a title. The Gators return much of their team in 2015 and will be looking for a potential three-peat.
3 » … BUT WHAT A WAY TO GO OUT
After being embarrassed by Missouri at home, it was obvious that Muschamp was on his last legs at Florida. But Foley decided to keep Muschamp in charge and leading the Gators, giving him one last chance to turn the season and around and keep his job. He was ultimately unable to do so, but UF did have one truly bright spot to the 2014 football season with Muschamp ending his winless (0-7) record in the Florida-Georgia game as both a player and coach and the Gators defeating the Bulldogs for the first time since 2010.
Florida fans know how the game went; the Gators were absolutely dominant on the ground with Jones and sophomore RB Kelvin Taylor carrying the rock a total of 50 times for 389 yards with four touchdowns. Rushing records were set and then No. 11-Georgia was not only embarrassed but taken out of the College Football Playoff picture. What will ultimately be remembered from the contest, however, is what redshirt senior WR Mike McNeely did when given the opportunity to make a game-changing play. Trailing early in the contest, the Gators drove the field but stalled due to a miscue and lined up for a 39-yard field goal. Rather than take that kick, Florida ran a fake with McNeely (in as the holder) picking up the snap and scampering into the end zone untouched from 21 yards out. McNeely immediately became a folk hero, which led to one of the most touching moments of the year – redshirt senior center Max Garcia tearing up at a Monday press conference while discussing how much McNeely means to him both as a friend and member of the Florida football program.
2 » FINALLY FOUR
Gators basketball’s senior class will go down in school history as a special group with what they accomplished during the 2013-14 season standing as the best non-championship campaign in program history. Center Patric Young, forwards Casey Prather and Will Yeguete, and point guard Scottie Wilbekin set winning streak records during the season and became the first team in SEC history to finish the regular season a perfect 18-0 in league play, the last victory a 19-point win over rival Kentucky on Senior Day. Donovan and Wilbekin cleaned up as unanimous SEC Coach of the Year and SEC Player of the Year, respectively, with Young winning SEC Defensive Player of the Year (and SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year), and then-redshirt sophomore F Dorian Finney-Smith bringing home SEC Sixth Man of the Year honors. UF won five of the six year-end awards handed out by the league’s coaches.
Florida’s postseason began with the Gators earning a wire-to-wire yet excruciating close 61-60 victory over the Wildcats in the final of the SEC Tournament. UF swept the SEC titles for the first time since 2007, won its fourth tournament crown and swept UK 3-0 in a single season for the first time in school history. The Gators entered the 2014 NCAA Tournament with victories in 31 of their previous 32 games, an accomplishment that earned Florida the No. 1 overall seed in the event. That is when the 2013-14 season became truly special for Florida and these seniors, which overcame faltering in three-straight Elite Eights to beat Dayton 62-52 and advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2007. The celebration began for the Gators (must-read post), but Donovan was cautious that Florida not party too hard because the team still had two more games to play before reaching the pinnacle of the sport.
Most good things eventually have to come to an end and that’s what happened for the Gators when they squared off with the Huskies – one of two teams to beat them all season to that point – in the Final Four. UConn rocked Florida 63-53 – ending UF’s 30-game winning streak, the 10th longest in college basketball history – ensuring the Gators would not win the national title in what was Donovan’s first-ever loss in the semifinal round of the event. It was nevertheless a tremendous season for Florida, which received an outpouring of support from fans and former players despite the tough defeat. OnlyGators.com wrapped up the 2013-14 campaign by noting that this Florida team was tough to beat but ultimately easily defined. The Gators were winners, plain and simple.
1 » HISTORY IS MADE, AGAIN
For the second-straight year, a Florida athletic program broke through a ceiling and won its first-ever national title. In 2013, Gators gymnastics finally broke through. In 2014, it was Florida softball that would not be denied.
The Gators had no plans to mess around after advancing through the regional portions of the 2014 NCAA Tournament and into the Women’s College World Series, opening the event by using a grand slam to run-rule Baylor in its first game (it was the fifth time in seven NCAA Tournament games that UF run-ruled an opponent). Florida then took down No. 1-seed Oregon with a 4-0 shutout as senior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers continued the dominance she showcased so often throughout the regular season and postseason. A second victory over Baylor, this time a more-competitive 6-3 win, sent the Gators into the Women’s College World Series Championship Series for the first time since 2011 as UF outscored its opponents 21-3 during its three-straight WCWS victories. Florida had no plans of letting its dominance slide.
In the opening game of the WCWS Championship Series, Rogers was brilliant, putting together a near-perfect performance to lead the Gators to a 5-0 shutout victory over the No. 2 seed Crimson Tide. Rogers faced the minimum of 18 batters through six innings but ultimately saw 23 (two over the minimum) by the time the night was over. She was perfect through the first four innings and improved to 7-0 in the tournament with three earned runs in the first 42 innings she pitched. The victory was UF’s first ever in the WCWS Championship Series despite the fact that Florida advanced to that portion of the event in both 2009 and 2011. Fans understood that and reacted accordingly.
As excited as fans were after the Gators’ WCWS Championship Series win, they were equally pessimistic when head coach Tim Walton chose not to start his ace in game two. Junior RHP Lauren Haeger got the call for Florida against Alabama and got off to a rough start, giving up an early run as UF trailed for the first time in 31 innings dating back to game two of its Super Regional. The Gators would quickly take the lead and hold it for the duration of the contest with some tremendous defensive plays saving UF on multiple occasions. Rogers stepped into the circle in the top of the sixth and ended up allowing an earned run on two hits but ultimately concluded the contest by forcing a 1-3 ground out, sending Florida to its first national title with a 6-3 victory.
The Gators were dominant in the NCAA Tournament, outscoring their opponents 81-10 with eight shutouts and six run-rule victories. Rogers went 7-0 with a save in eight appearances, giving up just four earned runs in 44 innings pitched while shutting out her adversaries in 42 of those frames. She was named the 2014 WCWS Most Outstanding Player and eventually earned SEC Female Athlete of the Year honors, besting every other woman in every other sport last season. Rogers ended her career as a champion and will go down as one of the best student-athletes not only in program but school history.