Since Florida's first season in 1906, 89 players have received one or more selections as first-team All-Americans. This includes 32 consensus All-Americans, of which six were unanimous. The first Florida first-team All-American was end Dale Van Sickel, a member of the 1928 team. Florida's first consensus All-American was quarterback Steve Spurrier, the winner of the Heisman Trophy for the 1966 Gators.
The University of Florida was established in Gainesville in 1906 and fielded its first official varsity football team that fall. In 112 years of football, Florida has played in over 40 bowl games; won three national championships (1996, 2006 and 2008) and eight Southeastern Conference championships (1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2006 and 2008) and have produced three Heisman Trophy winners, more than 90 first-team All-Americans and 50 National Football League (NFL) first-round draft choices.
The University of Florida's athletic program operated with a limited budget for the first several years after its establishment in 1906. To reduce travel costs, early Florida football teams played limited slates of games, mostly against squads from nearby schools. Local scheduling resulted in the development of gridiron rivalries with several in-state private colleges, most notably Stetson, Florida Southern, and Rollins. Of those early opponents, Florida Southern and Rollins no longer sponsor intercollegiate football programs and, after dropping the sport for half a century, the Stetson Hatters compete in a lower division of college football. Florida also scheduled occasional games against teams organized by local athletic clubs or nearby military bases during the first half of the 20th Century, particularly during the two world wars. However, the Gators have not played a non-collegiate squad since 1945.
Florida's outdoor sports teams initially played most of their homes games at a municipal park near downtown Gainesville. In 1911, the university installed bleachers alongside a grassy area on the north edge of the campus and dubbed it University Athletic Field, which was expanded and renamed Fleming Field in 1915.
Florida Football competed for its first several seasons as an independent before joining the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1912. They moved to the Southern Conference in 1922, then left with a dozen other schools to establish the new Southeastern Conference (SEC) in 1932. Florida is one of fourteen member institutions in the SEC, and the football team has competed in the SEC Eastern Division since the league began divisional play in 1992.
A Florida Football All-Time Team was compiled by the Florida Alumnus, the official publication of the Florida alumni, in 1927.
The football program finally moved into a modern stadium in 1930, when the university built 22,000 seat Florida Field just south of Fleming Field. In 1989, the name was extended to "Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium" to honor alumnus and sports benefactor Ben Hill Griffin. In 2016, former player and coach Steve Spurrier was honored by having his name added to the name of the field; it is now officially known as "Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium". The facility is also commonly known as "The Swamp", a nickname that Spurrier coined in 1992, when he was Florida's head ball coach. Florida Field has been renovated and expanded many times over the decades and has a capacity of almost 90,000.
Florida's football program is a charter member of the Southeastern Conference, which began play in 1933. Before that, the Gators were affiliated with two different conferences after having founded the program without a conference affiliation.
Florida and LSU first met on the football field in 1937, and have been annual opponents since 1971. Since 1992, LSU has been Florida's permanent inter-divisional rival from the SEC Western Division. The winner of the Florida–LSU game went on to win the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) national championship game in the 2006, 2007, 2008,and 2019 seasons. This rivalry has been known recently for close games, with both teams highly ranked. Florida leads the all-time series 33–30–3 through the 2019 season.
In more modern times, Florida began an annual rivalry with the University of Miami Hurricanes in 1938 that continued uninterrupted until 1987. The teams have met on an occasional basis since then and are still considered rivals. Florida State (FSU) established a football program in 1947 and first faced Florida in 1958, beginning a series that was uninterrupted until the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 resulted in both schools playing conference-only schedules. The Gators have also scheduled occasional contests against several Florida schools with newer football programs, usually in Gainesville.
Miami is Florida's only pre-World War II in-state rival that still plays major college football. The schools first met on the gridiron in 1938 and again every season until 1987, when the SEC's expansion of its conference schedule to seven games precluded the annual matchup. A contract to renew the annual rivalry in the 1990s fell through when the SEC expanded its schedule again to eight games, and the Florida and Miami did not play again until the 2001 Sugar Bowl. The home and home series briefly resumed in 2002 and 2003, and they played again in the 2004 Peach Bowl. Since then, the schools have played intermittently during the regular season, with home and home series split across several years.
The Fergie Ferguson Award is given in memory of one of the University of Florida's finest athletes, Forest K. Ferguson. Ferguson was an All-SEC end for Florida in 1941 and state boxing champion in 1942. Subsequently, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, he led an infantry platoon during the D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944. Ferguson helped clear the way for his troops to advance on the Axis position, and was severely wounded leading his men in the assault. A recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, he died from war-related injuries in 1954. The award, a trophy, is given to the senior football player who most displays "leadership, character, and courage."
The University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women became co-educational in 1947. The new Florida State Seminoles football team began playing small colleges, moving up to the major-college ranks in 1955. Almost immediately, Florida State students and supporters called for the teams of Florida's two largest universities to play each other annually.
Contrary to popular belief, Florida's state legislature did not decree that Florida and Florida State should meet on the field; a bill mandating the game was rejected by the Florida Senate. Prodding by Florida governor LeRoy Collins facilitated an agreement between the two universities to begin an annual series in 1958. Due to Florida State's smaller stadium, the first six games were played at Florida Field. The series has alternated between the campuses since 1964, when Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee was expanded. The Florida–Florida State game has had national-championship implications since 1990, and both teams have entered the game with top-10 rankings thirteen times. Among these was the Sugar Bowl rematch at the end of the 1996 season, when Florida avenged its only regular-season loss and won its first national championship 52–20.
Although Florida and Tennessee are charter members of the SEC, irregular conference scheduling resulted in the teams meeting infrequently for many years. Tennessee won the first ten games between 1916 and 1954, when Florida finally defeated the Volunteers. In 1969, Florida hired Tennessee head coach (and former Florida quarterback) Doug Dickey to replace the retiring Ray Graves immediately after their teams met in the Gator Bowl.
Another University of Florida all-time team was chosen by the Miami Herald according to a fan vote in August 1983.
Florida has won a total of eight SEC championships. The Gators won their first championship with a conference record of 5–0–1 in 1984, but the title was vacated several months after the season ended by the SEC university presidents because of NCAA infractions by the Florida coaching staff under Charley Pell. The 1985 and 1990 teams also finished atop the standings with conference records of 5–1 and 6–1, respectively, but Florida was ineligible for the championship due to its NCAA probation for rule violations by previous coaching staffs. The Gators won their first official SEC football championship in 1991.
Even after Florida Field was constructed, Florida occasionally scheduled "home" game in other cities across the state, most often Tampa or Jacksonville. This practice was common in the early years of the program, when the Gators' home field was smaller and traveling to Gainesville was more difficult. The frequency of these rotating home games had decreased from one or two contests per season in the 1930s to one every few seasons by the 1980s. With the exception of the traditional rivalry game against Georgia, the Gators have not scheduled any home games outside of Gainesville since Florida Field expanded to become the largest football stadium in the state in 1990.
Steve Spurrier restored the home blue jerseys when he became the Gators' head ball coach in 1990. From 1990 until 2014, Florida's primary home uniforms were blue jerseys with white pants, with blue pants an option for high-profile games, especially at night. Former coach Jim McElwain usually allowed his senior players to decide which uniform combination the team wore for each game. Since this practice began during the 2015 season, the Gators have worn many different combinations of blue or orange jerseys along with blue, orange, or white pants.
Florida has played each of the other members of the SEC Eastern Division every year since the SEC expanded to an eight-game league schedule in 1992. Florida's annual conference opponents are Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Missouri, and South Carolina, usually scheduled in that order. Most of the Gators' SEC East opponents are played on a home-and-home basis, with Tennessee and Vanderbilt visiting Gainesville in odd numbered years and Kentucky, South Carolina, and Missouri visiting in even numbered years. The Florida/Georgia game is played annually in Jacksonville.
Since becoming annual opponents in 1992, the Gators and Volunteers have combined to represent the Eastern Division in the SEC Championship Game 16 times. Florida had an 11-game winning streak against Tennessee (2005–2015) and leads the series 29–20 through the 2019 meeting.
The rivalry reached a peak during the 1990s. In 1992, the SEC expanded to twelve schools and split into two divisions. Florida and Tennessee (in the Eastern Division) have met every year since, usually in mid-September for both teams' first conference game of the season. Led by coaches Steve Spurrier and Phillip Fulmer and featuring players such as Danny Wuerffel and Peyton Manning, both teams were regularly ranked in the top 10 when they met, giving the rivalry conference and national title implications. Florida and Tennessee combined to win six SEC titles and two national championships during the 1990s.
With the addition of Arkansas and South Carolina to the Southeastern Conference in 1992, the conference split into eastern and western divisions and a game between the division winners determined the SEC champion. Florida has made thirteen appearances in the SEC Championship Game (the most by any SEC school), most recently in 2020. The Gators have won seven of the twelve SEC Championship Games in which they have appeared, pending the outcome of the 2020 contest.
† In 1992, Florida finished the season tied with Georgia for the SEC East; however, Florida had defeated Georgia and won the tie-breaker to represent the division in the 1992 SEC Championship Game. In 2003 Florida ended the regular season in a three-way tie for the SEC East title with Georgia and Tennessee, and in 2012 the Gators were tied with Georgia. According to the SEC's tie-breaking procedure, Georgia was selected to represent the division in the 2003 SEC Championship Game and 2012 SEC Championship Game. In 2020, Georgia played one less game than Florida due to a game cancellation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The special rules enacted by the SEC for this season treated Georgia as if they had the same conference record as Florida. However, Florida had defeated Georgia and won the tie-breaker to represent the division in the 2020 SEC Championship Game.
Auburn and Florida played annually from 1945 to 2002. In the overall series won-lost record, Auburn is Florida's most evenly-matched SEC opponent. Beginning in the 1980s, one team was usually highly ranked coming into the game and it had conference- and national-title implications. The series has had several notable upsets. Auburn defeated previously-unbeaten Florida teams in 1993, 1994, 2001, 2006 and 2007, although the Gators won SEC championships in 1993, 1994 and 2006.
The winners of the east and west divisions meet in the SEC Championship Game, potentially creating a rematch of a regular season contest. Florida has played in 12 SEC Championship Games and have been involved in two rematches - in 1999, when they lost to Alabama in the regular season and lost again in the SEC championship, and in 2000, when they beat Auburn during the regular season and defeated them again to win the conference title.
The annual series ended in 2002, when the SEC adjusted its football schedules so each team played one permanent and two rotating opponents from the opposite SEC division every year (instead of one rotating and two permanent teams). When Texas A&M and Missouri joined the conference in 2012, the schedule was changed again; each team played one permanent and one rotating opponent from the opposite division every year. LSU was designated as Florida's annual SEC Western Division opponent, and Florida and Auburn play two regular-season games every 12 years. Auburn leads the series 43–39–2 through the 2019 season.
From 1979 until 2006, Florida wore orange helmets with a script "Gators" logo in all contests. To commemorate the 100th year of the football program in 2006, the Gators played one game wearing throwback uniforms modeled after their mid-1960s uniforms which included white helmets with a simple "F" logo. In 2009 the Gators participated in Nike's Pro Combat uniform campaign, wearing specially-designed blue uniforms and white helmets with a slant-F logo. These uniforms were worn for the last regular-season game against Florida State, and the white helmets were worn again the following week against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game with white jerseys and pants. Florida introduced a different white alternative helmet in 2015 which featured the script "Gators" logo on one side and the slant-F logo on the other, and in 2018 replaced the slant-F with script "Gators" on both sides. In 2017, the Gators wore "swamp green" helmets for one game. These dark green helmets featured a color-altered Gator head logo on one side and the player's number in orange on the other.
The 100th-Anniversary Florida Team was selected in 2006 to celebrate a century of Florida football. Fans voted by mail and online.
The Florida Football Ring of Honor, the Gator's alternative to retiring a player's number, pays homage to former players and coaches. The University of Florida Athletic Association created the Ring of Honor in 2006 to commemorate 100 years of Florida Football. Jerseys with numbers worn by Wilber Marshall, Emmitt Smith, Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, and Jack Youngblood are displayed on the facade of the north end zone of Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium; their numbers are used by current players. In July 2018, the university announced that Tim Tebow would be inducted into the Ring of Honor during a game on October 6, 2018.
Florida has occasionally worn alternative uniforms, which are usually similar to current or former uniforms and used an orange and blue color scheme. One exception were the "swamp green" uniforms used at a home game against Texas A&M in October 2017. These used a dark green theme for the entire uniform from shoes to helmet that was inspired by the appearance of actual alligators. The uniform marked the 25th anniversary of former coach Steve Spurrier introducing the Swamp nickname for Florida Field.
Since 1906, Florida Football has had 26 head coaches, including three who were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for their coaching success. Its first head coach was Pee Wee Forsythe with Dan Mullen becoming the Gators' most recent head coach in 2018.
Announced opponents and dates are as of April 26, 2020.
Miami leads the series 29–27 through the 2019 season. The next scheduled matchup between the schools will be in Gainesville on August 31, 2024.