Florida has reached the College World Series six times and has yet to win a national title, but coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s plan finally could include a title this season as his Gators enter the season atop the Perfect Game Top 25.
The Gators surprised some last season with a trip to Omaha, and stumbled once reaching the grand event. This season, though, the Gators are more experienced and added even more talent, including pitcher Karsten Whitson, who turned down significant money as a first-rounder last summer to attend college.
Though Florida is the team to beat entering the spring, UCLA and TCU are hot on its heels.
UCLA made a significant statement last season with a trip to the national title series against South Carolina, but fell short of a title. Nothing has changed expectation-wise for the Bruins as they welcome back the nation’s best one-two punch on the weekend with sure first-rounders Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer. They also welcome back an offense that is expected to improve again with Tyler Rahmatulla and Beau Amaral leading the way.
TCU welcomes back weekend starters Matt Purke, Kyle Winkler and Steven Maxwell, and also welcomes back a solid offensive lineup that is led by Jason Coats, Taylor Featherston and Brance Rivera. Purke is considered the nation’s best pitcher outside of UCLA’s Cole.
The Pac-10 is expected to have a banner year and has six teams in the first PG Top 25 for 2011. The ACC also has six representatives, while the SEC has five, Big 12 has three and Big West, Big East, Big South, Mountain West and Conference USA each have one.
Stay tuned every Monday during the season as we unveil the weekly PG Top 25. The rankings release will be followed by a live chat each Monday beginning February 21.
1. FLORIDA – All that needs to be known about the Gators is that pitcher and first-rounder Karsten Whitson might not even be in the weekend rotation. They’re that loaded.
2. UCLA – The Bruins offense is expected to take a step forward. And oh yeah, they also have a pair of pretty solid weekend starters in slam-dunk first-rounders Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer.
3. TCU – Returning the bulk of their offense is a huge plus, but the fact the Horned Frogs welcome back all three weekend starters is what makes this team a sure national title contender.
4. VANDERBILT – The ghosts of 2007 may still reside in Nashville, Tenn., but the Commodores are ready to make that year a distant memory. They have the arms and offense to make program history.
5. TEXAS – The Longhorns have the nation’s No. 2 weekend rotation duo in right-handed pitchers Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green. Now the offense must follow suit with a productive campaign.
6. OKLAHOMA – The Sooners will have the best offense in the Big 12, and one of the nation’s best lineups. But will the pitching staff be national-title caliber?
7. FLORIDA STATE – The Seminoles will have another solid offense, but what could set this team apart from past squads is the potential for a very solid pitching staff.
8. CAL STATE FULLERTON – Talented right-hander Noe Ramirez leads a fantastic pitching staff, while Nick Ramirez and Carlos Lopez hope to propel the offense.
9. SOUTH CAROLINA – Jackie Bradley Jr. and Christian Walker spearhead another solid offense, and Matt Price is one of the nation’s top closers. Will the weekend rotation rise to the occasion?
10. CLEMSON – The Tigers are extra motived this season and have a scary offense with Brad Miller, John Hinson and Jeff Schaus leading the way. The weekend rotation is the only question mark.
11. ARIZONA STATE – The Sun Devils may not be able to play in the NCAA postseason, but they’ll have another great team with a steady offense and a pitching staff that will be much better than some think.
12. OREGON – Losing offensive cog KC Serna to suspension certainly hurts, but Tyler Anderson spearheads a pitching staff that will be one of the nation’s best.
13. STANFORD – The Cardinal is absolutely loaded with talent at the plate and on the mound. We feel good about the offense, but the pitching staff still has something to prove.
14. RICE – The Owls have the nation’s best player in Anthony Rendon and will be better than some think at the plate. The pitching staff finally has a pair of premier arms in freshmen Austin Kubitza and John Simms. They must make immediate impacts.
15. VIRGINIA – Sure, the Cavaliers lost some key offensive keys. But they also welcome back several talented hitters. They also have a solid pitching staff with starters Danny Hultzen and Tyler Wilson leading the way.
16. CONNECTICUT – The Huskies are loaded and the best team to come out of the Northeast in years. With a solid offense and pitching staff in tow, can the Huskies find their way to the CWS?
17. MIAMI (FLA.) – The Hurricanes have some question marks on the mound, but their offense is in good shape with the return of Nathan Melendres, Harold Martinez and others.
18. ARIZONA – The Wildcats have much potential with the return of every important position player and almost every pitcher, including solid weekend starters Kurt Heyer and Kyle Simon.
19. COASTAL CAROLINA – Tommy La Stella spearheads what will be another solid offense while Anthony Meo hopes to help a weekend rotation with question marks shine. It will be much the same for the Chanticleers.
20. TEXAS A&M – The Aggies are expected to make strides offensively, while John Stilson’s move to the weekend rotation headlines a talented pitching staff.
21. CALIFORNIA – In what could be the program’s final season, the Golden Bears welcome back an experienced offensive lineup and a pitching staff that includes three solid weekend starters, including top prospect Dixon Anderson.
22. NORTH CAROLINA – Patrick Johnson is the next stud ace pitcher for the Tar Heels, while the offense, particularly in the power department, is the biggest question mark.
23. AUBURN – The Tigers will have another solid offensive lineup with Kevin Patterson, Creede Simpson and others back, but the pitching staff must hold up its end of the bargain for this team to take a step forward.
24. GEORGIA TECH – The Jackets are loaded with talented pitchers such as Kevin Jacob and Jed Bradley, but the offense must rise to the occasion
25. LSU – The Tigers return a solid nucleus of hitters in Mikie Mahtook, Tyler Hanover and others, but the pitching staff has major work to do for this team to compete for a trip to Omaha.
Kendall Rogers is the managing editor of college baseball for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org