Gators Experienced With Expectations

The Gators knew the expectations were coming. From the minute the College World Series came to an end last season and eyes started to turn towards the 2012 season, Florida was the team most assumed would be the top team in the country. With five preseason polls out and more to come, the Gators have been No. 1 in all of them. It isn't unfamiliar territory for Florida.

It actually happened last season. Before the 2011 season got started, there was more of a debate. Some polls put TCU as the top team in the country while others put South Carolina or Florida. There wasn't a national consensus on who the top team in the country was.

This year, there isn't much of a doubt among the national media.

The Gators are at the top of every poll that has come out so far and have put as many as seven All-Americans on the lists that have been put out.

But they don't care.

"We can't control what other people write and think about us," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "We're more concerned with the polls at the end of the year. There are a lot of good teams out there. Our players are mature enough to handle these kinds of expectations."

There's a built-in advantage towards what Florida will deal with this season. Despite the national expectations, including some publications comparing Florida to some of the best college baseball teams of all time, the Gators are confident their mindset won't change.

Part of that is because they've been through it before. Since Florida started last season as the No. 1 team in the country, they had that target on their back to start last year, and it didn't go away much throughout the season as the Gators stayed near the top of polls.

"I don't think there's any substitute for experience—not just players, but coaches as well," O'Sullivan said. "Every year you go through this profession you learn something. I pulled a lot of things out from last year as we went along with the expectations. We're all hopefully better prepared than we were a year ago."

The All-American honors work the same way. Right-hander Hudson Randall, who was named an All-American by Perfect Game on Friday morning, said the general consensus with the players earning honors is mostly the same.

"It's flattering," Randall said. "It's nice that a lot of guys are thinking about our team, but it puts a bull's-eye on us. Everybody wants to beat us. That brings out the best in everybody. It's a good game every time we're playing."

This season could also mean more for the junior class. It could mean a last chance at winning a national championship. The team is full of juniors that are draft eligible this season, and with the likelihood of them being gone, this season could serve as their final chance to win it all in Omaha, Neb.

"Possibly, yeah," Randall said. "We're going into every day giving it 100%, realizing it could be our last year. We can't think like that. We've got to take it one game at a time."

It's hard to imagine, but the Gators actually have potential to be better than last season. They lost second baseman Josh Adams and center fielder Bryson Smith, plus multiple bullpen arms.

There are players that could slide into those positions and replace them, and while they might not make up for their lost statistics, they could bring different skillsets. The Gators will add speed to their lineup this year, something they lacked throughout the 2012 season.

"As hard as it is to believe, I think we do have a better team than last year," right fielder Preston Tucker said. "We have depth and more talent in the infield and outfield."

Going through the high expectations last season helped the Gators go into this year with a better understanding of what to expect. In every season, regardless of how good the team is, there is always a slump. Florida went through it last season before turning things around down the stretch and playing for a national championship.

"It's difficult to regroup sometimes," catcher Mike Zunino said. "We went through a rough period last season, but we got over it and started to play our best baseball. We're going to go through that stretch. It's a long season and it's unfortunately going to happen. We just learned to stay tight knit as a team and pull through it."


The position battles this spring are fairly limited. Second base and third base are pretty much the only starting positions up for grabs. Florida lost Josh Adams at second base, and O'Sullivan said the player that starts there will have "some shoes to fill." Tyler Thompson will slide over to play center field, but the third base position is open.

Cody Dent played third base down the stretch last season, but the Gators could elect to go a different route that gets more offense in the lineup. Dent is also in the running for the second base job.

Freshmen Casey Turgeon and Josh Tobias will also factor into the decision. Turgeon missed the fall after suffering a head injury in a scooter accident.

"He's a gamer—simple as that," O'Sullivan said. "He's not the biggest of stature, but he doesn't get cheated and squares the ball up consistently. He's got an internal clock when he plays defense. He's got some bounce. He's going to be a really good player. I don't want to put too much on his plate, but I'm just a big Casey Turgeon fan. He's going to make an impact from day one."

Zack Powers and Tobias will fight for the third base job. Powers is healthy after struggling with a knee injury in the second half of the season. Tobias, whose parents both graduated from Florida, brings speed to the team.

"He's got plus speed and has power," O'Sullivan said. "He's very sure defensively. He's another one that's going to be a heck of a power for us."

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