As Southeastern Conference play kicks off this weekend in NCAA baseball, the SEC looks as stacked as ever. No team has five or more losses, and only four have more than three. This begs the question for Florida fans headed into opening weekend: where do the Gators stand?
While UF isn’t atop the SEC standings on paper, the Gators’ performance in the opening stretch of 2023 showed flashes of a team that can hold its own in a powerhouse conference, and earned them a top-five ranking according to D1Baseball.
The Gators have won their last seven games, including a series victory March 5 against Miami. Four of those seven victories came early as UF run-ruled its opponents. Across the entire NCAA, Florida leads in hits, home runs and runs scored.
While Florida’s batting order features some big bats, including veteran standouts Wyatt Langford, Josh Rivera and BT Riopelle, arguably the biggest name on Florida’s roster is sophomore two-way player Jac Caglianone. The Tampa, FL native leads the NCAA in home runs, is seventh in RBIs and sixth in slugging percentage.
In addition to his performance at the plate, Caglianone has shined as the Sunday starter on the mound for the Gators. He has a 4-0 record and a 1.79 ERA and can sling it in the high-90 mph range. He caps off a menacing weekend starting trio alongside Brandon Sproat and Hurston Waldrep, who is tied for third in the NCAA in strikeouts.
While Florida’s batters and weekend starters have rose to the occasion, head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has found it difficult working out midweek starters and middle relief. While Brandon Neely has been solid to close, the Gators need consistent arms to bridge the gap. Freshman Cade Fisher has been solid, but O’Sullivan will need bigger games from experienced names like Ryan Slater, Nick Ficarrotta and others to step up against SEC bats.
Despite Florida’s early resume, they are absent from the top of the national rankings or SEC standings. LSU, Tennessee and Ole Miss all rank ahead in the top 25. The Gators trail South Carolina and Kentucky in the SEC East and would trail LSU, Alabama and Arkansas in the SEC West.
The Gators have a chance to make some noise and move up the ladder in the opening weeks of SEC play. In their first four conference series, Florida plays three ranked opponents, including road series against No. 1 Tennessee and No. 3 Ole Miss.
Florida gets things started with a home series against No. 24 Alabama this weekend. The Tide outrank UF in the SEC Standings by record and are 2-0 on the road. They rank top three in team batting average (just one ahead of Florida) and are in the top 25 of team ERA.
Alabama will serve as both a ramp-up and a major challenge to kick off the brutal SEC slate for the Gators. Time will tell if UF is truly capable of competing in a conference with multiple juggernauts.
The opener of No. 5 Florida’s series against No. 24 Alabama is set for 7 p.m. The game will broadcast on the SEC Network.