Whatever doubt there might have been that the Gators were worthy of a national seed (guarantees home field through NCAA Regional and Super Regional play) was erased in Hoover where UF came through the loser’s bracket to knock off Vanderbilt, 7-3, for the SEC Baseball Tournament Championship Sunday night. After blowing a three-run lead in the ninth inning of their first game against Arkansas, the Gators came back to win four in a row in impressive style to take the tournament. The Gators knocked off LSU, which will almost certainly be the #1 national seed in the semifinals, 2-1, and then rode the momentum of a leadoff home from Harrison Bader to take out a Vandy team that had the ESPN/SEC Network announcers practically drooling.
NCAA regional sites and pairings will be announced today with the Gators expected to be the #5 or #6 overall national seed. It’s doubtful that ACC champion Florida State will be one of the top eight national seeds so there is a possibility that if both the Gators and Seminoles win their regionals, they’ll be matched up together in round two.
Winning the SEC Tournament is quite an accomplishment for Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and his freshman/sophomore dominated lineup. There are only two seniors (Josh Tobias and Bobby Poyner) on the Florida roster and six of the every day players are either freshmen or sophomores.
This is a team that is really just starting to figure things out. They’ve been the nation’s best fielding team all season and O’Sullivan has a stable of live arms that throw anywhere from the low 90s to the 98 mph that A.J. Puk was clocked throwing against Arkansas Friday night. Now that the bats have started coming around in a big way (14 hits against Vandy, back to back games with at least 10 runs against Auburn and Arkansas), this is a Florida team with some serious momentum and the capability to go a long way in the NCAA.
The Gators have advanced to the Women’s College World Series for the third consecutive year after shutting down Kentucky twice over the weekend in the Gainesville NCAA Super Regional. Florida took out the Wildcats, 7-0, on Saturday and then came back Sunday with a 1-0 squeaker to punch the ticket to Oklahoma City where the Gators (55-6) are the #1 overall seed nationally.
Pre-Tim Walton, just getting to an NCAA Regional was considered an accomplishment for the Florida softball program. In Walton’s 10 years, the Gators have made it to the Women’s College World Series seven times and they’ve made it to the championship round three times, coming home with the NCAA title last year. The Gators are 547-120 since Walton took over. Pre-Walton, the Gators were 361-249 and had never advanced beyond an NCAA Regional.Florida pitchers carry a string of 37 consecutive scoreless innings into the WCWS. In NCAA Regional and Super Regional Play, the Gators have pitched five consecutive shutouts with Lauren Haeger good for four and 29 consecutive scoreless innings. In the two wins over Kentucky that got the Gators to the WCWS, Haeger gave up five hits, walked only one and struck out 11 while raising her record to 28-1 for the season and lowering her ERA to 1.24. She had a home run against Kentucky Saturday so she has 68 homers and 68 wins in her collegiate career. She’s already the only player in NCAA history with 60 or more wins and 60 or more homers. A couple of wins and a couple of homers in Oklahoma City and she’ll be the only player with a 70/70.
With Florida and LSU winning their Super Regionals on Sunday, the SEC has five of the eight teams in the Women’s College World Series and is guaranteed to have at least one team playing for the national championship. In Oklahoma City, the Gators will face #8 seed Tennessee Thursday (12 noon) while #4 seed Auburn and #5 LSU will square off at 2:30. Later in the day, #6 Alabama will face #3 Michigan (6 p.m.) in the opposite bracket.
It’s Memorial Day Weekend, which means two things. The SEC Spring Meetings will take place this week in Destin and the preseason football magazines have hit the stands. Here is a look at what Sporting News, Athlon and Lindy’s have to say about the Florida Gators and the SEC.
Sporting News says: “Optimism will run high in Gainesville because of McElwain’s arrival, but just about any change would pay offensive dividends and excite the faithful. Unfortunately there are too many issues at O-line, running back and linebacker to allow Florida to challenge for the division title. A bowl, any bowl, is a worthy goal.”
5. South Carolina
Preseason MVP: Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
Gators on preseason SEC: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB (1st team)Bold SEC Prediction: “The SEC’s reign as college football’s supreme power clearly appears to have eroded. The conference will have to fight to make a CFP semifinal this season.”
Other SEC schools in the top 25: (14) LSU; (15) Arkansas; (16) Ole Miss; (18) Georgia; (22) Tennessee; (23) Missouri; (25) Mississippi State
Preseason Heisman top 10: (1) Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU; (2) Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State; (3) J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State; (4) Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia; (5) Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State; (6) Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson; (7) Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State; (8) Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma; (9) Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon; (1) Cody Kessler, QB, USC
Athlon predicts the Gators will finish third in the SEC East, trailing Georgia and Tennessee and ahead of Missouri and South Carolina with Alabama and Auburn finishing 1-2 in the SEC West.
Athlon says: “The Gators underachieved with a 7-9 mark in SEC play over the last two seasons, an dnew coach Jim McElwain was hired to fix an offense that struggled mightily under Will Muschamp. Uncertainty remains at QB, but McElwain’s top concern is an offensive line that is think on proven talent and depth. Florida’s defense led the SEC by holding opponents to 4.6 yards per play in 2014, and seven starters return, including All-America cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. End Dante Fowler is the defense’s biggest loss. There is plenty of talent at Florida, but it is a poorly constructed roster that has too many holes for McElwain to have this team in the hunt for an SEC East title in his first season. Postseason: Belk Bowl vs. NC State”
5. South Carolina
3. Ole Miss
6. Texas A&M
7. Mississippi State
Gators on preseason All-SEC: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB (1st team); Demarcus Robinson, WR (3rd team); Antonio Morrison, LB (3rd team)
Florida unit rankings in SEC: QB 10; RB 9; WR/TE 9; OL 14; D: 3; LB 10; DB 2
Florida unit rankings nationally: DL 6; DB: 2
Athlon national top 10: (1) Ohio State; (2) Alabama; (3) Baylor; (4) Auburn; (5) TCU; (6) USC; (7) Michigan State; (8) Oregon; (9) Florida State; (10) Georgia
Other SEC schools in the top 25: (11) Ole Miss; (15) LSU; (16) Arkansas; (20) Texas A&M; (21) Mississippi State; (22) Tennessee.
Lindy’s predicts the Gators to finish fourth in the SEC East behind Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri. Lindy’s picks Georgia in the East, Alabama in the West with Alabama winning the SEC.
Lindy’s says: “Once again Florida is expected to field an excellent defense, led by one of the top defensive back units in the country. The Gators are still looking for an offensive turnaround, though, and it may be tough to come by operating behind a very weak and inexperienced offensive line. Will Grier enters the fall leading for the quarterback job, but Florida still needs to find more playmakers for him to get the ball to.”
5. South Carolina
4. Texas A&M
6. Ole Miss
7. Mississippi State
Preseason superlatives: Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (MVP); Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia (Offensive Player of the Year); Vernon Hargreaves III (Defensive Player of the Year); Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee (Newcomer of the Year)
Gators on preseason All-SEC
First Team: Antonio Morrison, LB; Vernon Hargreaves III, CB; Third Team: Demarcus Robinson, WR
Florida in SEC unit rankings: QB (11); RB (9); WR/TE (8); OL (13); DL (4); LB (6); DB (1); ST (14)
Florida in national unit rankings: DB (1)
Florida players in national rankings: (25) Kelvin Taylor, RB; (5) Antonio Morrison, ILB; (1) Vernon Hargreaves III, CB
Lindy’s national top 10: (1) Ohio State; (2) TCU; (3) Alabama; (4) Oregon; (5) Baylor; (6) Michigan State; (7) Notre Dame; (8) Auburn; (9) Clemson; (10) Georgia.
Other SEC teams in the top 25: (13) LSU; (17) Tennessee; (23) Texas A&M; (25) Missouri.
Where do you think the Florida football team will finish in the Eastern Division of the SEC in 2015?
Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire teamed up for a concert tour in 2004 that was so successful that they have elected to do it once again. If the show is nearly as good as the one they put on in 2004, then it is well worth the price of admission. They will be playing Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood (Atlanta burbs) on August 4. Today’s music is their performance at the Greek Theater in 2004.Earth, Wind and Fire"