For many, the last eight years in this SEC hotbed, have felt like a road Straight Into Darkness. With a thriving town center and a college football team with renewed optimism, however, the buzz is back and The Waiting is hopefully over. Gainesville, Florida, ranks 24th on our Top 100 College Football Towns of America countdown.
To celebrate 100 days until the start of the college football season, HERO Sports is counting down the Top 100 FBS College Football Towns in America. Each day, through Aug. 24, a new city will be revealed. We will analyze the city, the program, the good and bad of the city as well as the bottom line. If you got a problem, @me on Twitter.
24. Gainesville, Florida – Florida
Dan Mullen will have his hands full in 2018, as he tries to bring stability back to a once-proud program. (Photo: Associated Press)[/credit]
For better or worse, Florida football is divided between Before Steve Spurrier and After Steve Spurrier. Only twice in the former head coach's 12 years in Gainesville, did the Gators finish outside the Top Ten. Only three times in the 75-plus years Before Spurrier did Florida finish in the Top Ten. Just four times since Spurrier left Gainesville, has Florida finished in the Top Ten (note: Urban Meyer won two national championships in 2006 and 2008).
The Florida faithful now turns to Dan Mullen to get them back into the Top Ten. Mullen was part of the most recent glory days in Gainesville. When Meyer was bringing in the best–and sometimes the worst–to Gainesville. Florida fans didn't mind though, Meyer won two national titles in three years and Mullen was the quarterback guru behind the Gator spread. Since Mullen and Tim Tebow left Florida, no Gator quarterback has thrown more than 16 touchdowns.
If Mullen can work his magic at QB, maybe he can find his way to get Florida back into the Top Ten and stop the Gators from Free Fallin'.
Like most college towns, Gainesville has been going through a transformation spanning 20-plus years. What once was an extension of northern Florida backwoods is now a city ripe with large buildings on the rise and national chains popping up like sweat stains at The Swamp. Part of the character that made Gainesville special, however, has started to fade away as the town 70 miles from Jacksonville starts to transform into a commercial and tech hub.
The spirit still remains, however. A place where American Girls, Rebels and Refugees intermingle among 50,000 Florida students. Bars, eateries, coffee shops and retail storefronts still line the streets of Gainesville and entertain a vibrant student body.
The 2008 team was a microcosm of Meyer's tenure in Gainesville. Out of the 121 players listed on the team, 41 have been arrested, either in college or afterward, and sometimes both. Former Gator Aaron Hernandez was convicted of murder in 2015 and acquitted of double homicide in 2017. To a much lesser extent, Riley Cooper was caught on tape saying vile, racist epithets at a Kenny Chesney concert.
As much as Gainesville has changed in the last 20 years, one thing remains constant, the energy and attitude of the town is a direct reflection to the success of the football program. Dan Mullen and company will have to get things in order or the city may have a Breakdown.