Florida Athletics

Florida was picked No. 1 in Baseball America's preseason Top 25 rankings released on Thursday for the first time in school history. The Gators return five freshman All-Americans and numerous other key players from a team that won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title and reached the College World Series in 2010. Florida's previous high ranking in BA's preseason Top 25 was No. 3, in both 1992 and 2006.

Coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s club returns 22 letterwinners, including eight position starters and 11 pitchers, from a squad that went 47-17 last season and advanced to Omaha, Neb., for the CWS for the sixth time in school history. Eleven newcomers, including nine freshmen, will be donning the Orange and Blue in '11 as the team attempts to defend its SEC regular-season and Eastern Division crowns.

Florida boasts a solid nucleus that includes two-time, first-team All-SEC senior second baseman Josh Adams, 2010 second team All-SEC recipient Preston Tucker and five sophomores who were Freshman All-Americans last season: shortstop Nolan Fontana, left-hander/designated hitter Brian Johnson, infielder Austin Maddox, right-hander Hudson Randall and catcher Mike Zunino. Maddox, junior left-hander Alex Panteliodis and Tucker have been named to preseason All-America teams released by Louisville Slugger and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

The other seven participants of the 2010 College World Series all rank among the top 12 heading into 2011. Defending national champion South Carolina, which must replace its entire weekend rotation, opens the season at No. 7, while runner-up UCLA starts at No. 2.

There are a few fresh names in the preseason rankings. No. 9 Connecticut, No. 14 Oregon and No. 20 College of Charleston earn preseason rankings for the first time in the history of BA's top 25, which dates to 1981. No. 23 St. John's is ranked in the preseason for the first time since the inaugural Baseball America rankings.

The Pacific-10 Conference leads all conferences with six teams in the rankings, and all six appear in the top 20. The SEC places the most teams in the top 10 (three), and lands four teams in the rankings overall, tied with the Atlantic Coast and Big 12 conferences.

The contest with USF in the season opener on Feb. 18 begins the 35-game home schedule at McKethan Stadium, where the Gators were a program-best 33-3 (.917) last year and boast a 90-19 (.826) mark in O’Sullivan’s tenure. Sixteen of UF's 56 games during the regular season will be against squads listed in the Baseball America poll.

2011 BASEBALL AMERICA PRESEASON POLL
Rank School 2010 Record 2010 Ranking
1 Florida 47-17 7
2 UCLA 51-17 2
3 TCU 54-14 3
4 Vanderbilt 46-20 14
5 Oklahoma 50-18 5
6 Texas 50-13 9
7 South Carolina 54-16 1
8 Cal State Fullerton 46-18 11
9 Connecticut 48-16 NR
10 Clemson 45-25 10
11 Arizona State 52-10 4
12 Florida State 48-20 6
13 Stanford 31-25 NR
14 Oregon 40-24 25
15 Virginia 51-14 8
16 Baylor 36-24 NR
17 California 29-25 NR
18 Rice 40-23 21
19 Arizona 34-24 NR
20 College of Charleston 44-19 NR
21 Texas A&M 43-21-1 23
22 LSU 41-22 NR
23 St. John’s 43-20 NR
24 Miami (Fla.) 43-20 15
25 Tulane 32-24 NR