Mention the phrase "Big Three" and people might say the time when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh played for the Miami Heat. But in this state, the "Big Three" used to mean football powerhouse teams at Florida, Miami and Florida State.
It's been 30 years since those programs finished in the top 10 in college football and at the time, no state could stack up to what the Canes, Gators and Noles put on the field.
In 1991, the three teams combined to go 33-4. One of the three was ranked number one in the country each week of that season. In fact, only two weeks during the year did all three not sit inside the top 10. The three went 13-4 against ranked teams and all played in a major bowl game.
The 1991 season had the legend Bobby Bowden in Tallahassee, Steve Spurrier in Gainesville and Dennis Erickson in Coral Gables. Before thinking Erickson doesn't belong in the same category with the first two, he would end the 1991 season with his second national title in three years.
Florida teams dominated college football that season. Everyone wanted to watch them play and the rosters were loaded with stars.
Erickson's Hurricanes were coming off a 10-2 campaign in 1990 where they ended the season ranked third. They were 3rd in the pre-season poll and moved up to 2nd after destroying Arkansas on the road. The defense allowed a total of 58 points through their first eight games. That defense included a guy named Dwayne Johnson, a freshman lineman. The offense was led by quarterback Gino Torretta, who had a pair of tackles named Leon Searcy and current Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal. The coaching staff included Ed Orgeron and Tommy Tuberville. By the way, Miami gave up a total of 100 points that season over 12 games.
1991 gave us "Wide Right I". The game was a 1 vs 2 matchup and the Canes won in Tallahassee 17-16 and took over the top spot in the country and then shut out Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to win the AP National Championship. The Coaches Poll went to Washington.
Bowden's 1991 team was a pre-season choice to win the national title. It would be the last season FSU was an independent.
How deep were the Seminoles at quarterback that year? Casey Weldon was the starter and he was backed up by Brad Johnson and a young guy named Charlie Ward. Amp Lee, Edgar Bennett and Sean Jackson carried the ball and FSU had seven different players catch 20 passes or more. The defense had the likes of Derrick Brooks, Marvin Jones and Terrell Buckley.
FSU coasted to a 10-0 start before losing to Miami. They beat three ranked teams, including a win at Ann Arbor against Michigan. After the Miami loss, they lost to the Gators 14-9 before ending the season beating 9th ranked Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl and finished 4th in the polls.
1991 was Steve Spurrier's second season in Gainesville. Free of NCAA penalties, the Gators posted the school's first 10-win season and an outright SEC title, going 7-0 in the conference. Florida beat five ranked teams, including two who were ranked in the top when they played them- Tennessee was 4th and FSU 3rd. Despite losing to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, the Gators were ranked inside the top 10 all but two weeks and at 10-2 finished 7th in the country. Shane Matthews slinged it, Errict Rhett ran it and a bevy of pass catchers executed Spurrier's passing game. Kevin Carter and Brad Culpepper led a defense that held opponents under 18 points eight times during the season.
Three decades later, times have changed in college football and they have changed in the state. In 1991, there were only three programs playing at the D1 level. Today, that number is seven. UCF's run makes many wonder if the original "Big Three" are indeed the best three in the state. The Gators have righted the ship to return to a top-10 program. Miami has a bounce back season under Manny Diaz, but the "U" hasn't been the same in years and Florida State is rebuilding at a level few thought they would fall to.
But Florida remains a hot spot in talent. Schools from all over come to recruit. 1991 was a special year and things may never get back to a level with Miami, FSU and Florida are all inside the top-10 and competing for a national title. But when they all did, no one compared to the original "Big Three".
Final thought: Antarctica is the only continent in the world that does not have spiders.
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