Guide for the lapsed Florida Baseball fan ahead of the College World Series

A lot has changed, while a lot has stayed the same for the Gators since their last trip to Omaha
Jun 9, 2024; Clemson, SC, USA; The Florida Gators pose for a photo after their win against Clemson in the NCAA baseball Clemson Super Regional at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard - USA TODAY Sports
Jun 9, 2024; Clemson, SC, USA; The Florida Gators pose for a photo after their win against Clemson in the NCAA baseball Clemson Super Regional at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard - USA TODAY Sports / Ken Ruinard - USA TODAY Sports

If you have been watching Florida Baseball all throughout the 2024 season, you know the ups and downs of the season have been to the extreme. Florida came into the season ranked number two in the preseason polls, fell out of the rankings, came within an eyelash of missing the NCAA Tournament, and has since gone on a run to make it back to the College World Series.

But if you haven't been watching the Gators since they were last in Omaha, welcome back. A lot has changed from last year's team while a lot has stayed the same.

Wyatt Langford is still having a great season right?

No, he was drafted by the Texas Rangers last season. He was fast tracked to the majors and made their opening day roster, but he is not with the Gators this season.

Well, Jac Caglianone is still around right?

He is, and is even better this season at the plate. He has a .411 batting average and 33 home runs on the season all while being given the Barry Bonds treatment (AKA being walked any chance the opposition has). In truth, Caglianone should have been a finalist for the Golden Spike Award, given to the best player in college baseball, but was left off the finalist list in favor of three players who didn't make it to Omaha.

What is this noise about Florida almost didn't make the tournament?

Florida finished the regular season 28-27. NCAA rules state that for a team to even be eligible for an at large bid that they have to have a winning record, so Florida was one loss away from not even being eligible.

Then there was the debate of whether the Gators should have been selected even though they were eligible. Plenty of people around the country felt teams like College of Charleston should have made it in over the Gators, ignoring the fact that Florida had played the single hardest schedule in the country.

Why did the Gators struggle so much in the regular season?

The most simplistic answer is pitching depth really hurt the Gators this season. Florida was far from a juggernaut on offense this season, trying too hard for home runs at times as opposed to just hitting a single, but pitching was a liability far too many times in 2024.

The Gators are 158th in team ERA in 2024.

This became most prevalent during their midweek games as Kevin O'Sullivan struggled to find anyone who could keep runs off the board.

So what went different for Florida during the postseason?

Well, the most simplistic answer is Florida found two or three key arms out of the bullpen. Fisher Jameson has been steady all season and was able to eat up some key innings against Oklahoma State and Clemson. Brandon Neely had been struggling all season and heading into the regular season finale had an ERA near 7. He too ate up some massive innings, including back-to-back four inning outings against Clemson. Freshman Luke McNeillie has also transformed into a competent bullpen arm for the Gators.

In the main lineup, Ashton Wilson has emerged as a key bat and has been tasked as Caglianone's protection.

Who the hell is Ashton Wilson?

Well, just say his name and he appears. In seriousness, Wilson was called into action the final series of the season after injuries devastated Florida's outfield. The transfer from Charleston Southern was the Stillwater Regional MVP after going 9 for 21 (.429) with six RBIs during the Regional round.

He followed that up with three hits, including a home run, and two walks in the two games against Clemson during the Super Regional Round.

What are Florida's actual chances to win it all in Omaha?

This feels like as wide open of a field as the College World Series has had in a long time, with narratives for all eight teams to justify why they could win it.

Florida's side of the bracket will have Texas A&M, Kentucky, and NC State. So while the Gators have the worst betting odds of anyone in the field, they did take two-out-of-three games from Texas A&M earlier in the season.

Florida dropped two-out-of-three to Kentucky this year, though both losses were in extra innings.

Beyond whether or not Florida's pitching can hold up, the biggest weapon for the Gators is one that is the most neutralized in Omaha. Charles Schwab Field Omaha is large ballpark, with center field stretching to 408 feet.

So while Florida has the 5th most home runs in the country, Omaha has a way of turning home runs into fly ball outs.

Remind me of the format again.

The College World Series is broken into two stages. The first stage is double elimination, contained within your side of the bracket. As mentioned above, Florida is paired with Texas A&M, Kentucky, and NC State for this phase.

Tennessee, FSU, UNC, and Virginia are also at the College World Series, but they are on the other side of the bracket. The only way Florida would play any of those teams if they made the championship series, which is a best two-out-of-three.

Anything else I need to know?

College baseball is booming and now is as great of a time as any to hop on board the bandwagon. Florida's first game will be Saturday against Texas A&M at 7 PM.