Gator Baseball Opens at No. 2

The Gators knew expectations were going to be high. The first evidence of that came Monday when Collegiate Baseball released their preseason poll. Florida came in as the No. 2 team in the country, one of five SEC teams in the Top 25. The challenge now comes in managing expectations.

The optimism around the 2011 season began to build as soon as the 2010 season came to an end in the College World Series.

TCU was given the No. 1 spot in the rankings, with Florida behind them. UCLA, Clemson and Vanderbilt round out the top five. Other SEC teams in the top 25 include defending national champion South Carolina at 14, LSU at 15 and Auburn at 25. Arkansas came in at 32, while Ole Miss, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi State received votes.

Instate rivals Florida State and Miami were also in the preseason poll, coming in at No. 13 and No. 18 respectively.

The Gators are coming off their first SEC title and College World Series appearance since 2005. The Gators lost only their starting center fielder Matt den Dekker and closer Kevin Chapman from that team.

It was also a young team that had so much success last season, as Florida returns 22 letter winners. The Gators put five players on Baseball America's Freshman All-American Team, including shortstop Nolan Fontana, pitcher Brian Johnson, third baseman/designated hitter Austin Maddox, pitcher Hudson Randall and catcher Mike Zunino. A young team will get another boost from their third-straight top-six recruiting class that will be freshmen this spring.

The No. 2 ranking ties the highest preseason mark for the Gators since before the 2006 season. They're hoping this season turns out better. After playing in the national championship series in 2005 and having such a high ranking before the 2006 season, the Gators missed the NCAA Tournament.

Florida opens its season on February 18 at home against USF.

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