College Baseball 2011: High Expectations for Florida Gators
Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan readily admits his team has the pieces to compete for a national championship. Yet, he also quickly stresses the Gators must play well, work hard and remain grounded.
"We recognize the expectations this year will be a little different than last year," said O'Sullivan, who returns five freshman All-Americans from a team that won the SEC regular-season title.
UF is ranked No. 1 in Baseball America's preseason Top 25 for the first time ever as programs across the country open spring practice Friday. Defending national champion South Carolina, which must replace its weaker rotation, opens the season at No. 7, while runner-up UCLA starts at No. 2.
The top 5 also includes No. 3 Texas Christian and No. 4 Vanderbilt.
The Pac-10 Conference leads all conferences with six teams in the rankings, and all six appear in the top 20. The SEC places the most teams in the top 10 (three), and lands four teams in the rankings, tied with the ACC and the Big 12.
There's also developing news off the field as well.
When Florida International University formally opens its Sun Belt baseball title defense Friday with the start of spring practice, Garrett Wittels will be apart of it.
But for how long?
FIU has not yet made a decision on whether Wittels will play when the 2011 season opens next month. Wittels and a group of friends were arrested in the Bahamas in December and charged with raping two 17-year-old girls.
Wittels' father, prominent Miami orthopedic surgeon Michael Wittels, has said his son is innocent of the charges and will be vindicated.
FIU coach Turtle Thomas, speaking publicly for the first time since Wittels' Dec. 20 arrest, told the Miami Herald that the school had not made a decision concerning Wittels' future with the team.
"We've got to see; we're still looking at things," Thomas said. "Nothing has been determined at this point and time. Always remember something: In this country, you're innocent until proven guilty."
Wittels, 20, whose 56-game hitting streak is two short of the NCAA Division I record, was expected to make a run at breaking the record this season. ESPN's family of networks plans to broadcast every pitch of the Golden Panthers' season-opening series against Southeastern Louisiana from Feb. 18-20.
Wittels is chasing Robin Ventura's NCAA Division I record 58-game hitting streak. Division III outfielder Damian Costantino of Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., hit in 60 consecutive games from 2001-03.
Thomas said earlier this week he intends to play Wittels at shortstop this year after switching between short and second base in 2010.
Longest Hitting Streaks in NCAA History
Robin Ventura, Oklahoma St. -- 58 (1987)
Garrett Wittels, FIU -- 56 (Present)
Phil Stephenson, Wichita St. -- 47 (1981)
Roger Schmuck, Arizona St. -- 45 (1971)
Chuck Abbott, Austin Peay -- 42 (1996)
Michael Campo, Penn St. -- 41 (2000)
Todd Nace, Southern Miss. -- 41 (1989-90)
Rusty Adkins, Clemson -- 41 (1965-66)
Shane Robinson, Florida St. -- 40 (2004-05)
Brandon Caraway, Houston -- 40 (1998-99)