This year has the makings of something special for the Florida baseball team.
But, it also has the makings of being one of the most disappointing seasons in program history.
After reaching the College World Series last year, Florida returns a ton of talent and some newcomers who can make an impact right away when the season starts on Feb. 19.
Anything short of an Omaha appearance would be a massive disappointment for the Gators, but it’s not far-fetched to say the 2016 season is championship or bust.
The feeling around the program is that expectations are high, and they should be.
And everyone on the team knows it.
As much as Florida chooses to ignore the situation, it has to be creeping in the back of its mind, and with that comes pressure. Coach Kevin O’Sullivan can try his hardest to make sure his players don’t pay attention to the preseason hype, but let’s be real. The conversation is happening internally within the team as spring practice gets underway.
"We already know about it, but we’re not really thinking much about it honestly," sophomore catcher Mike Rivera said. "We’re just gonna come out here every single day and just do our thing and not worry about what everybody else says, so we’re gonna do it day by day"
This team is facing the pressure of performing at a high level in every game and every series. With potential first-round picks in A.J. Puk, Logan Shore and Buddy Reed, along with Collegiate Baseball’s 2015 Co-Freshman of the Year JJ Schwarz, UF is going to get every team’s best shot.
The ability to play day-in and day-out with a target the size of TD Ameritrade Park on their back won’t be easy.
"Every team we play, they’re going to give us their best," junior right-handed pitcher Shaun Anderson said. "Everyone wants to beat Florida, and I think it gives us more motivation to go into the season and be the best we can be."
O’Sullivan has never shied away from mentioning Omaha, and he’s never shied away from expectations. He expects his teams to compete for Southeastern Conference titles and to make deep runs in the postseason.
And he’s aware that it won’t be an easy road.
"There’s a lot of things that go into it. We’ve got to stay healthy. We’ve got to play right at the right time," O’Sullivan said. "So it’s a little early to predict what kind of team this is.
"I think on paper it’s a very talented team. But obviously it takes a lot more than talent to win in this league."
O’Sullivan also said there are "Omaha teams" and "Omaha programs," and the Gators are striving to become the latter.
For Florida, that goal must start this year, and anything short of winning it all will be a massive disappointment.
Luis Torres is the online sports editor. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @LFTorresIII.