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SEC Baseball 2011 Preview: Florida Gators


Florida edged South Carolina for the SEC regular-season championship on the last weekend of the season, then went 2-2 at the SEC tournament before going on a tear to start the NCAA tournament. The Gators -- the only national seed from the SEC -- swept through the Gainesville Regional and Super-Regional before being swept out of the College World Series in two games.
KEY LOSS: Matt den Dekker
For a team that sees almost all of its major pieces return, its biggest loss is easily the one player who started more than 30 games in 2010 and won't be back this year. It also doesn't hurt that den Dekker hit .352/.435/.563, mashed 13 home runs and stole 23 bases on 30 attempts.
KEY RETURN: Alex Panteliodis
Panteliodis was the top innings-eater for Florida, throwing 100 frames and putting up a 3.51 ERA while doing it -- which is pretty good even when you're not dealing with metal bats. He was 11-3 and struck out 82 while issuing just 23 walks.
With rivalries with Florida State and Miami, Florida has one of the more difficult non-conference slates in the league. But they face the Seminoles four times during the season, and FSU is probably better than Miami, so that's probably the series that most worries the Gainesville faithful.
Florida misses Auburn and faces South Carolina at home this year. That makes their most difficult showdown the trip to Baton Rouge in the first league series of the year, which is a pretty good way to kick off the season in 2011.
GOING TO HOOVER? Almost certainly
Barring disaster, this team should be good enough to take one of the top three seeds in the SEC tournament. Even with some sort of disaster, it's hard to see Florida not at least making it to Hoover. They're that good.
NCAAs? Highly likely
Again, unless something unforeseen happens, the question for Florida is less one of whether they'll make the tournament and more one of how far they get once they arrive in Omaha for the College World Series.