Wednesday morning, the online bookmaker Bovada listed Florida as a 5-2 favorite to win the 2015 College World Series. Which: Hey, that's cool.
But it's not just online that Florida's the favorite: That should be true on the field, too. Here are the four best reasons why — and why the best arguments against the Gators as favorites fall flat.
Florida is white-hot
Just four of the teams in the CWS field have perfect 5-0 records in the NCAA Tournament: No. 2 national seed LSU, No. 4 national seed Florida, and 2014 championship series participants Vanderbilt and Virginia. LSU's NCAA Tournament run has included four wins by three or fewer runs. Vanderbilt and Virginia have had two such close wins each.
And the Gators have scored 55 runs over their five NCAA Tournament wins, while allowing just 11. The only team that comes close to that rate of offensive output is Vanderbilt, which has scored 53 runs (and allowed just seven) in its five NCAA Tournament outings. Vanderbilt is arguably just as hot as Florida, to be clear, but Vandy has also had one more "close" call in the event — and if we go back beyond the NCAA Tournament, the first game we find for both teams is Florida's victory over Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament final.
Vandy's also the only unbeaten with a case to match Florida if NCAA Tournament performance is a primary criterion. LSU's scored less than half that total, putting up just 24 runs in NCAA play, and Virginia's at just 33.
TCU's the only CWS team with more runs to its name in this NCAA Tournament than Florida, but the Horned Frogs had seven games (and eight extra innings beyond those seven games) to tally their 58. Miami's scored 48 runs over its six NCAA games, and Arkansas has scored 41 runs over its six games; both of those teams had at least one game of 18 or more runs, like Florida's 19-0 demolition of Florida A&M. And one reason Cal State Fullerton joins Virginia at last in Bovada's CWS odds is the Titans' offensive output: They have scored more than three runs just twice in their six NCAA Tournament games.
Not only has Florida seen all three of the other SEC teams that made it to Omaha, the Gators defeated all three of those teams — and did so in May, at a neutral site, in the SEC Tournament. LSU and Vanderbilt's most recent losses this year came to Florida, and the Commodores also lost a series at home against the Gators in May despite beginning it with a brilliant shutout performance from Carson Fulmer.
Arkansas is the only team of the three that can claim an even record with Florida this year, but it's very hard to say the Razorbacks were really as good a team over two meetings. The Hogs' win was a 7-6 triumph that started shortly before midnight and lasted well past it, in which Florida blew a three-run lead and coughed up a two-run lead in the top of the ninth as Bobby Poyner attempted to finish out a two-inning save, and Florida's victory was a 10-0 whomping in seven innings, in which A.J. Puk allowed just three hits and struck out 11.
And Florida's first Omaha opponent, Miami? The Gators took two of three from the Hurricanes in February, despite having to scramble in the first game after Logan Shore left without recording an out due to injury. Miami did outscore Florida over the three games by a slim 11-8 margin, and the Hurricanes were also missing their ace, Andrew Suarez, who did not pitch that weekend. But Florida's precocious offense (at least three freshmen started each game of that series for the Gators) was even younger then, while the only freshman Miami started in the field that weekend, Carl Chester, did not record an at-bat in the Super Regional.
Plus, Florida has dominated Miami in recent years. Since 2010, Florida is 17-5 against the Hurricanes, losing just one series in Coral Gables in 2014, and since 2009, the Gators are a perfect 6-0 against the 'Canes in NCAA Tournament play. Under Kevin O'Sullivan, whose tenure dates to 2008, Florida is 20-10 against Miami — and that includes a Miami sweep in Gainesville in 2009.
Florida also just beat Florida State, which took series from Miami and Virginia on the road in 2015, and defeated USF — which handed Cal State Fullerton a loss in its season opener — in the Gainesville Regional. FSU also went 3-1 against N.C. State, which gave TCU fits in the Fort Worth Regional before taking an 8-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth and blowing it in one of the all-time collapses in college baseball history.
Florida's played half of the CWS field, and has a 7-3 record in those games, plus it's beaten teams this postseason that have beaten the other three teams in the Omaha field. There's rigor on the Gators' résumé, for sure.
Florida's draw is favorable
Unlike in the Women's College World Series, there's no switching of the brackets at the College World Series: Each side of the bracket starts with four teams, and they play until three of them are eliminated.
Florida's side of the bracket features Virginia and Arkansas, two teams that did not even host regional play, and Miami, which had to go to a decisive Monday game to hold off Columbia in its Regional. Virginia got here by winning a regional that the No. 1 seed in the regional did not actually play at home (and, in fairness, doing good work to topple a Maryland team that shocked the world by beating No. 1 national seed UCLA in College Park), while Arkansas got here by winning a Super Regional that it got to host because national seed Missouri State couldn't.
The other side of the bracket has SEC beasts LSU and Vanderbilt, who combined to produce three of the top eight picks in the 2015 MLB Draft; TCU, which was in Omaha in 2014, and seems to have compromising photographs of Destiny and the will to use them; and Fullerton, which is seeking to join USC and Texas as the third program nationally to win national championships in five separate decades.
Just one team's coming out of each of those brackets. And every team on the other side would swap places with Florida in a heartbeat.
No one else has JJ Schwarz
This one's self-explanatory. Schwarz is hitting .600 in the NCAA Tournament, with four homers and 11 RBI, and he's slugging an unfathomable 1.300. Somehow, he's not the only Gator hitting .600 in the NCAA Tournament, as freshman Jeremy Vasquez has his own .600 clip to tout, but Schwarz is essentially as hot as a baseball player can be.
Every other team in Omaha has to figure out how to get him out. Florida just gets to hope that they won't.
As for the other two teams that could stake a claim to being favorites, well...
LSU hasn't been dominant of late
LSU is the highest national seed remaining, and the only one higher than Florida. It got that honor honestly, by dropping just one series all year (...to Kentucky, at home?), winning the SEC's regular season championship, and leading the nation in wins.
LSU also lost to Florida in the SEC Tournament despite starting freshman phenom Alex Lange, who leads the Tigers in ERA, against Alex Faedo, who was not a full-time starter for Florida until April. It wasn't Lange's fault at all — he went seven scoreless innings for the Tigers — but Florida managed to get two runs off an LSU bullpen that gets cited as the Tigers' weakness, and won a 2-1 thriller.
Florida's bullpen, meanwhile, allowed three hits in 6.1 innings of work.
That game also started a somewhat worrisome downward trend for LSU's offense. Prior to it, the Tigers had scored at least seven runs in their previous six games, and at least five runs in their last 13 contests; since then, LSU's topped four runs just twice, and won two regional games by 2-0 tallies.
The sky isn't falling in Baton Rouge. Even with the NCAA Tournament factored in, LSU still leads the SEC in batting average, runs, and ERA in 2015; this wasn't a one-dimensional team until just recently. But that sort of outage makes even a great team like this LSU outfit vulnerable.
Vanderbilt just can't seem to beat Florida
Speaking of great teams: Vanderbilt's the defending national champion, and still bursting with much of the talent that took the Commodores to their first title as a program in a sport other than bowling last year.
But with the notable exceptions of the 2012 SEC Tournament, in which the 'Dores went 2-0 against Florida, and handed the Gators a truly dumbfounding defeat, and a 2014 series in Gainesville dominated by the Black and Gold aces, Vandy has been unable to solve Florida in recent years. The Gators are 13-6 against the Commodores since 2010, and 2-0 against them in the College World Series by virtue of back-to-back wins that helped get Florida to the CWS championship series in 2011.
And while Florida could cruise through its half of the bracket to a potential championship series with the Commodores, Vandy is facing a much more difficult bracket, and could have to beat LSU twice to advance. (We can flip that, as well: LSU may have to beat Vandy twice.) The 'Dores have experience with that, having gone to a 10th inning of an elimination game to defeat Texas in 2014, but needing to make an extra effort — say, throwing Fulmer in an emergency start — on the way to the championship series could impact the ultimate outcome.
Does this all mean that Florida is guaranteed to win the College World Series? Of course not. It just means that, on paper, this looks like a title that Florida could very well take.
Florida's lost as the presumptive favorite before, too, getting chased from Omaha by South Carolina and Kent State as the No. 1 national seed in 2012.
But this team is not that team, and this season doesn't feel like that one.