When Steve Spurrier is winning football games as a head coach in the state of Florida, Tiger Woods is winning major championships, LeBron James is missing the playoffs and the Florida Gators baseball team is not nationally ranked, I have to ask: Just what year is it?
Year in and year out, Kevin O’Sullivan’s squad had become accustomed to beginning and ending the season as a top-10 team. Four straight College World Series appearances from 2015-18, including winning the whole thing in 2017, almost always ensured UF would find itself looking down at everyone else with each weekly ranking.
Now that the Gators, mighty as they have been over the last four or so years, have dropped completely out of the top-25 for the first time since 2014, fans have a reason to be legitimately concerned. Florida (24-14 overall, 6-9 in the SEC) is on pace for its worst season since 2013 when the Gators finished 29-30 and went 14-16 in SEC play.
Don’t panic, Gator fans. There’s reason for optimism.
For starters, Florida can hit. The Gators rank among the top-5 SEC teams in every major offensive category. Sophomore Brady McConnell, who’s hitting .355 with five home runs in conference play, leads the way.
He’s one of nine Gators with multiple home runs on the season, showing that Florida isn’t power-starved or reliant on one or two guys to drive in runs like they have in the past (looking at you, Jonathan India, JJ Schwarz or Pete Alonso).
And even when UF’s lineup does struggle, we have to remember how young its hitters are. Take Saturday’s 6-4 win over South Carolina. Sophomore Jordan Butler hit the clutch, walk-off home run. Seven out of the nine starting hitters were either freshmen or sophomores.
That’s a common theme up and down Florida’s roster.
UF’s Friday and Saturday starting pitchers — Tommy Mace and Christian Scott — are both underclassmen. Eleven of UF’s 12 pitchers with the most innings this season are also freshmen or sophomores.
While Florida has been known for pitching and defense in past years, that just hasn’t been the case in 2019.
The Gators own a 6.72 ERA in SEC play, which is by far the worst in the conference. Junior Tyler Dyson, who entered the season as UF’s closest thing to an ace, simply can’t pitch as bad as his 5.13 ERA suggests. The same goes for Scott and his 6.11 ERA against SEC opponents.
To be fair, Florida has played some tough opponents. Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss are all ranked. Upcoming series against LSU and Georgia don’t make UF’s schedule any easier, either.
But be patient, because Florida will be fine. There’s still plenty of time this season. And if UF’s season doesn’t end in Omaha? Well, trust that O’Sullivan won’t sleep until he’s back there.