Know Your Foe: The Florida-Vanderbilt Game

For the past several weeks, we have been covering Florida's rivalries. Previous installments: Georgia, FSU, Tennessee, LSU, Miami, Auburn, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Georgia Tech.

 

Florida has not lost to Vanderbilt since 1988, the Gators' second longest win streak over a conference opponent. It's hard to believe that the Gators didn't beat the Commodores until 1950, and trailed in the series for another dozen years after. Still, it is hard to call it a rivalry, but it is a game that annually appears on the Gators' schedule and could (theoretically) influence the divisional race.

Founded in 1873 as Central University by the Methodist Episcopal Church, Vanderbilt University was named for "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt who donated $1 million to endow the University. Over the first four decades of the University's existence, conflicts began to arise with Methodist Church, particularly regarding the extent that non-Methodists were allowed to teach at the school. By 1910, the Board of trustees refused to seat three Methodist Bishops, prompting legal actions that resulted in the Tennessee Supreme Court ruling the University was founded by Commodore Vanderbilt and not the Methodist Church.

 

Located a mile and a half from downtown Nashville, on 330 acres, Vanderbilt is the top ranked SEC school (17 overall) according to US News and World Report, and the conference's only private member university. Under Chancellor Gordon Gee (currently the president of Ohio State University) Vanderbilt became the first SEC school to abolish its athletic department, but continues to compete in 15 intercollegiate sports. Their nickname, the Commodores, comes from Cornelius Vanderbilt, who received nickname which was common for steamboat entrepreneurs.

 

The Commodores and Gators are both founding members of the SEC, and before that, they were both members of the the Southern Conference and SIAA. All tolled, they competed in the same conference for 33 seasons prior to their first meeting in 1945. The Gators were shut out in the first two meetings against the Commodores, and lost the third. It took an unbeaten decade in the '60s for the Gators to get on the winning side of the matchup. Even during the Gators current 20 game win streak, that included two wins of over 50 points, there have were twice as many games decided by seven points or less including an overtime game in 2005.

 

Last year, Steve Spurrier was asked about the possibility of South Carolina wrapping up the SEC East with a win over Arkansas, to which he responded, "Are you telling me Vanderbilt is gonna beat Florida?" That pretty much sums up the state of this matchup. Florida and Vanderbilt are annual opponents, but on the gridiron it can't be a rivalry until the Commodores' program improves. Under new coach James Franklin their recruiting has picked up. Maybe this will signal a revitalization of their football program, and, in turn, the Florida-Vanderbilt game.

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