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The Florida Gators football team represents the University of Florida in the sport of American football. The Florida Gators compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) and the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). They play their home games in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (popularly known as "The Swamp") on the university's Gainesville, Florida campus, and are currently led by head coach Will Muschamp. The Gators have won three national championships and eight SEC titles in the 106-season history of their varsity football program.
The University of Florida (then known as the "University of the State of Florida") first fielded an official varsity football team in the fall of 1906, when the newly consolidated university moved to its new campus in Gainesville. Since then, the Gators football program has evolved from its very humble origins, and has achieved notable successes. The Gators have played in forty bowl games; won three national championships (1996, 2006, and 2008); and eight Southeastern Conference championships (1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2006, 2008); and produced eighty-two first-team All-Americans, forty-two National Football League (NFL) first-round draft choices, and three Heisman Trophy winners.
Since 1990, the Gators have not only won more games (228) than any other college football team in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as "Division I-A"), but also have the highest winning percentage (77.99%) of any college football team in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The Gators have played their home games in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field located on the university's campus since 1930. The stadium was first known as Florida Field, but the name was changed in 1989 to honor Ben Hill Griffin, an alumnus of the university and a major benefactor of its Florida Gators sports programs. Since the 1990s, the stadium has also been widely known by its nickname: "the Swamp."
Since 1906, twenty-three different men have served as the head coach of the Florida Gators, including three who were later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for their coaching success. The 2011 season was the Gators' first under current head coach Will Muschamp.
The University of Florida was one of the founding members of the Southeastern Conference in December 1932, and it is one of the fourteen current members of the SEC. Since the SEC expanded from ten to twelve universities in 1992, and instituted divisional play in football, the Florida Gators football team has competed in the SEC Eastern Division.
Florida plays an eight-game SEC football schedule. Six of these contests pit the Gators against the other members of the SEC Eastern Division: Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt. The conference schedule is filled out with an annual game against Louisiana State and one additional foe from the SEC Western Division on a rotating basis. (Until 2003, the Gators also played Auburn every season.)
Key conference rivalries include the Florida–Georgia game which is played annually in Jacksonville, Florida (usually around Halloween), the Florida–Tennessee rivalry (usually in mid-September), and the inter-divisional Florida–LSU rivalry with their permanent SEC Western Division foe, LSU (in early to mid-October).
In addition to the conference foes, the Gators face in-state rival Florida State at the end of the regular season. The two teams' emergence as perennial football powers in the 1980s and 1990s helped build the Florida–Florida State rivalry into a game that has often held national title implications. Before 1988, in-state rival Miami was also an annual opponent, but due to expanded conference schedules, the Florida–Miami rivalry has been renewed only three times in the regular season and twice in bowl games since 1988. The remaining dates on Florida's regular season schedule are filled with various non-conference opponents that vary from year to year.
The modern University of Florida was created in 1905 when the Florida Legislature enacted the Buckman Act, which abolished all of the State of Florida's existing publicly supported institutions of higher learning and consolidated the academic programs of four of them in the new "University of the State of Florida", a land-grant university for white men.
The 1910s saw the team face many of their current rivals and regular opponents for the first time. The newly named Gators met the South Carolina Gamecocks for the first time and played the Gamecocks to a 6–6 tie in 1911. The 1911 Gators went on to defeat The Citadel, Clemson and the College of Charleston, declared themselves to be the "champions of South Carolina," and finished their season 5–0–1—the only undefeated football season in the Gators' history. When the 1912 Gators joined the now-defunct Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) in time for the 1912 season, they faced the Auburn Tigers in the teams' first contest; the 1915 Gators played the Georgia Bulldogs for the first time; and the 1916 Gators met the Alabama Crimson Tide in their first game.
On December 11, 2010, Florida named Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp as Meyer's replacement. Muschamp had previously served as the defensive coordinator at LSU and Auburn and had been designated as the Longhorns' "head coach-in-waiting" behind Mack Brown. Partly due to Muschamp's lack of previous head coaching experience, Charlie Weis, a four-time Super Bowl champion offensive coordinator and a former head coach at Notre Dame, was brought in as offensive coordinator. However, Weis's offense struggled throughout the season. Combined with an inexperienced defense, the Gators finished with a disappointing 7-6 record, only avoiding the program's first losing season since 1979 with a Gator Bowl victory over Ohio State. Weis left to become the head coach at Kansas in December 2011.