DURHAM, N.C. — Florida was picked No. 1 in Baseball America’s preseason top 25 rankings for the second year in a row and the second time in school history. Fifth-year head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s team, which finished as the national runner-up a year ago, returns the bulk of its everyday lineup, its entire weekend rotation and a number of key arms in the bullpen. The Gators will certainly be tested, as 28 of their 56 games during the regular season will be against squads listed in the Baseball America poll.
Last season, UF was 53-19, finished second at the NCAA College World Series for the second time and established a school record for victories. Florida made the trip to Omaha in consecutive seasons for the first time and reached the CWS for the seventh time in school history (1988, 1991, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2010, 2011).
|BASEBALL AMERICA POLL|
|Florida opens atop the Baseball America poll for the second consecutive year. Check out the full rankings.|
With a 22-8 performance in the SEC that matched South Carolina and Vanderbilt for the top spot, the Gators blanked the Commodores 5-0 to capture the 2011 SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. It was the first time in 20 years that Florida won the league’s tourney and was its sixth title (1981, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1991, 2011). The triumph also represented the first time since 1988 that the Orange and Blue had won the SEC and SEC Tourney in the same season. O’Sullivan’s club reached the 40-win plateau for the 20th time in school history and the school-record 53 wins marked the third time that the program exceeded 50 wins (also in 1991 and 1996).
The Gators return a solid nucleus that includes 2011 SEC Player of the Year catcher Mike Zunino, 2011 Perfect Game Freshman Pitcher of the Year right-hander Karsten Whitson, as well as All-SEC selections shortstop Nolan Fontana, left-hander/first baseman Brian Johnson, right-hander Hudson Randall and outfielder Preston Tucker.
Stanford is ranked second, while South Carolina begins its quest for a third consecutive national championship with a No. 3 ranking. Fellow 2011 CWS participants Texas A&M (7), North Carolina (9), Vanderbilt (10) and Texas (13) also earned spots in the preseason rankings.
The Southeastern Conference, which produced three of the final four teams standing in Omaha last year and has won the last three national titles, looks strong again heading into 2012. The SEC accounts for three of the top four teams and six of the top 11 in the 2012 preseason rankings. The SEC leads all conferences with seven teams in the top 25, followed by the Atlantic Coast and Pacific-12 conferences with five apiece.