2021 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 1 Florida
Last season: 16-1
Final ranking: No. 1
Coach (record at school): Kevin O’Sullivan (547-256, 13 years).
The good news: The Gators last spring were off to the best start in program history and were playing like the best team in the country when the season halted. That team returns almost completely intact with a top-five recruiting class joining it. Florida was one of the biggest winners in the draft process, as righthanders Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich were unexpectedly not picked in June and instead return to lead the rotation as fourth-year juniors. Along with second-year freshman Hunter Barco, they form a formidable rotation that will be one of the best in the nation. Beyond that trio, the Gators’ depth on the mound is unmatched and their staff is loaded with powerful, versatile pitchers. Offensively, Florida returns third-year sophomore outfielders Jud Fabian—who could be the first college hitter drafted in June—and Jacob Young—who is a career .346 hitter. Shortstop Josh Rivera and second baseman Cory Acton keep the Gators strong up the middle and they’ll have enviable catching depth with true freshman Mac Guscette joining Nathan Hickey and Cal Greenfield. To top it all off, Florida this season moves into the brand new, $65 million Florida Ballpark, which instantly becomes one of the best stadiums in the sport.
The bad news: There isn’t much of it in Gainesville. Outfielder Austin Langworthy is the one starter from the 2020 team who departed, signing as a nondrafted free agent along with catcher/infielder Brady Smith. Florida has options to replace both. Kendrick Calilao could see more time in the outfield, especially with Kris Armstrong breaking out at first base this fall. True freshmen Colby Halter and Sterlin Thompson will get in the mix offensively and have versatility defensively. But the Gators won’t need to lean too heavily on their freshmen, thanks to their overall depth.
Player to know: Josh Rivera, SS.
Rivera was a high-profile recruit for the Gators in their 2019 class and wasted no time taking over at shortstop, starting 16 games at the position. He homered on Opening Day and went on to hit .298/.385/.439. Now, with another year of experience, he’s back to play a key role both in the lineup and in the field. Any step forward from him in his second season would be a nice boost for the Gators.
Path to Omaha: Only Texas has been the No. 1 team in the Preseason Top 25 more times than Florida in the 40-year history of the rankings. This is the fifth time in 11 years the Gators are the top-ranked team entering the year and they made it to Omaha in all four of the previous occurrences. So, it’s a familiar path for O’Sullivan. The Gators have impressive talent and depth around the diamond, but their pitching staff especially is a strength and will make them a difficult matchup for any team.
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|C||Nathan Hickey, R-Fr.||.311||.439||.622||45||4||7|
|1B||Kris Armstrong, R-So.||.250||.368||.438||32||1||6|
|2B||Cory Acton, R-So.||.192||.364||.269||52||1||4|
|3B||Kirby McMullen, R-Sr.||.278||.458||.407||54||1||10|
|SS||Josh Rivera, R-Fr.||.298||.385||.439||57||2||9|
|LF||Jacob Young, R-So.||.450||.514||.517||60||0||9|
|CF||Jud Fabian, R-So.||.294||.407||.603||68||5||13|
|RF||Kendrick Calilao, R-So.||.262||.319||.357||42||1||10|
|DH||Jordan Butler, R-Jr.||.333||.370||.571||42||2||12|
|RHP||Tommy Mace, R-Jr.||3||0||1.67||27||26||0|
|RHP||Jack Leftwich, R-Jr.||2||0||4.15||22||23||0|
|LHP||Hunter Barco, R-Fr.||2||0||1.40||19||26||0|
|RP||Christian Scott, R-So.||2||0||1.20||15||16||0|
|RP||Ben Specht, R-So.||2||0||0.75||12||16||3|