Success Precedes Anticipated Season

Florida begins the first step toward one of the most anticipated seasons of baseball in Gainesville when practice starts on Friday at McKethan Stadium. With every preseason poll that comes out, Florida has added multiple No. 1 rankings before a ball has been thrown in an official practice. The expectations are through the roof, but don't let them keep you from ignoring what has already happened.

Florida is coming off the most successful three-year period in the program's history.

Before Kevin O'Sullivan took over the program and immediately turned it into a national power, the 1996-98 period was the best on paper. Andy Lopez, currently the head coach at Arizona, was at the helm as the Gators went 136-60 (.694) over that span. Lopez's Gators won the SEC title and appeared in the College World Series in 1996 and 1998, while winning the SEC East all three years.

Under O'Sullivan, the past three years of Florida baseball have been better. The Gators went 142-58 (.710) while securing back-to-back College World Series appearances, back-to-back SEC Championships and three straight SEC East titles.

The Gators have also won three straight NCAA Regionals to appear in three straight Super Regionals. However, the current format with Regionals and Super Regionals wasn't in place from 1996-98, as it first came up in 1999.

As the Gators step out of the dugouts and start to stretch together at McKethan Stadium Friday afternoon for the first time since the fall, they'll be preparing to chase the elusive aspect missing from Florida baseball—a national championship.

On paper, the hype has reached unthinkable levels with still three weeks until the season starts. Baseball America released their preseason poll on Tuesday, adding yet another No. 1 for Florida. However, it's what the publication wrote that should help put in perspective what the Gators have this season.

Baseball America compared this year's Florida team to previous national championship teams like LSU in 1996 and Arizona State in 1981, widely considered as two of the best college baseball teams of all time.

The burden of expectations can take a toll on any team, but the Florida coaching staff is doing its best to minimize them.

"We aren't focused on it," O'Sullivan said. "It's about just trying to get your team together and right fundamentally to prepare for the season. We're worried about the small picture rather than the big picture.

"If we're fortunate enough to get to the end of the year like we did last year then I think the experience helps us. The experience last year in Omaha isn't going to do anything to help us win the SEC East."

The expectations for the 2012 season are set, but don't forget what has already been accomplished in recent seasons in Gainesville.


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