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A Season In Championship Mode: Week One vs. Southwestern Louisiana

This is our first entry in our look back at the 1996 National Champion Florida Gators. Using archives from The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and other sources, we'll look at each game.

After getting trashed in the Fiesta Bowl, the Gators begin the 1996 season as a top-5 team along with two-time defending champions Nebraska, Florida State, Colorado, and a rising Tennessee led by quarterback Peyton Manning. Sports Illustrated has the Gators third, thanks to the addition of defensive coordinator Bob Stoops from Kansas State.

Safety Lawrence Wright is one player who is using the end of UF's last season as motivation for this run.

"I think I learned a lot from that game," Wright says of Florida's 62-24 loss to Nebraska. "I've never been a part of a game like that, where we played so poorly as a whole team...I think about it often, what we could have done better, differently in that game," says Wright. "It makes me hungry and keeps the team focused on the task at hand."


The Gators have opened their 1996 campaign with defense stealing the show. Propelled by four defensive touchdowns, the No. 4 Gators defeated Southwestern Louisiana 55-21. Florida cornerback Fred Weary had two touchdown returns; a 64 yard fumble return and a 65 yard interception return.

It was not all good news for the Gators as Heisman candidate Danny Wuerffel struggled and was even benched for a series.

"If we don't get all those defensive scores, shoot, we could have lost," Florida coach Steve Spurrier said.

The Gators face Georgia Southern next week with their SEC opener coming two weeks later at Tennessee.