Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition

Arrival of Texas, Oklahoma challenge to UF

- By Edgar Thompson Orlando Sentinel

GAINESVILL­E — Texas and Oklahoma’s SEC entry a year early in 2024 poses a challenge Florida on multiple fronts.

The move was made with football in mind. But the Longhorns and Sooners, like the Gators, boast tradition and athletic excellence across the board.

In fact, each has a lot of ground make up on the gridiron with coaches early in their tenures — Florida’s Billy Napier and Oklahoma’s Brent Venables coming off their first seasons and Steve Sarkisian his second at Texas.

Even if things don’t turn around dramatical­ly in 2023 for any of the three college football blue bloods, the schools are sure to cross paths during plenty of high-stakes matchups in other sports.

Oklahoma is now the standbeare­r in two sports the Gators used to own and in which they still excel.

Since Florida captured three straight national gymnastics championsh­ips 2013-15, Oklahoma has won four times, including the 2022 title by .125 points over Florida. The Sooners also took home four softball titles after the Gators’ back-to-back titles in 2014-15. Oklahoma beat Florida during the 2017 final.

Baseball should be another battlegrou­nd.

Gators softball coach Tim Walton was the winning pitcher for Oklahoma during 1994 College World Series, the Sooners’ last baseball title. The last of six titles for the Longhorns was 2005. Florida won the CWS in 2017, a year after the Longhorns pursued Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan.

Texas won the latest national title in men’s golf, along with the 2012 title, and Oklahoma won in 2017. Florida’s last title was in 2001, but the Gators have one of their best teams in years and a bright future.

The Longhorns have won 14 national titles in men’s swimming since the Gators won backto-back titles in 1983-84. Florida won the 2010 women’s title along with the first in 1982. Texas won seven of eight from 1984-91 but nothing since yet remains a top program.

Texas is a powerhouse in women’s volleyball, having won the 2022 national championsh­ip to go with titles in 2012 and 1988. The Longhorns also were runner-up three of the previous seven years.

Meanwhile, Florida’s legendary coach Mary Wise continues to push for her first national title. Florida finished runner-up in 2017.

In the end, though, the move will be judged by the success and impact of Texas and Oklahoma in football.

The SEC begins a 10-year, $3-billion TV deal with ESPN in 2024, but the addition of the Longhorns and Sooners could present a bargaining opportunit­y to sweeten the deal.

When the intentions of the Sooners and Longhorns leaked out during July 2021, backlash ensued questionin­g whether two schools from the offensivel­y driven Big-12 could handle the SEC’s speed and physicalit­y.

“I can understand Texas jumping over,” Gators legend Steve Spurrier quipped at the time. “They get to play Texas A&M again. … They can’t win the Big 12 anyway.

“I think they’ve only won two in the last 30 years or so. What is it?”

Spurrier’s historical accuracy was a bit off — the Longhorns have won three conference titles since 1996 but none since 2009. He still raised a valid point whether Texas can compete with the SEC heavyweigh­ts, a question hanging over the Gators, too.

 ?? MCCULLOUGH/AP GARY ?? Florida’s Trinity Thomas competes on the uneven bars during a gymnastics meet against Georgia on Jan. 27.
MCCULLOUGH/AP GARY Florida’s Trinity Thomas competes on the uneven bars during a gymnastics meet against Georgia on Jan. 27.

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