Heading into USF baseball’s 2017 season, it was difficult to judge just how good the Bulls would be.
Coach Mark Kingston’s first full recruiting class struggled in 2016, as he fielded nearly an entire team of freshmen at times.
USF finished tied with UCF for last in the AAC in 2016, and were ranked as the conference’s sixth best team in a coaches’ preseason poll.
Kingston said his staff wasn’t paying attention to projections of his team in the offseason because those people didn’t know how much the freshmen had improved or how much help the incoming class of recruits would provide.
It didn’t take long for the Bulls to show they were vastly improved, jumping out to the hottest start in program history. They won 19 of their first 20 games, including a road upset against No. 5 Florida State.
Though the Bulls’ streak was impressive, only six of those 20 games came against teams that currently have a winning record. It made sense to hold off on USF joining the national rankings until it faced stiffer competition.
In the past few weeks, the Bulls’ schedule has gotten tougher as they enter AAC play. Despite losing at No. 15 FGCU to end the streak, that 2-1 loss coupled with the early season upset of FSU confirmed that the Bulls can play with the best in the country.
And even though USF dropped two of three to Tulane to open conference play, the Bulls’ sweep of UCF this weekend should have been enough to push them into the national discussion.
The Knights entered this weekend’s series against USF 24-7 on the season, with a marquee 11-2 win against No. 12 Florida. They are far from a pushover.
No. 23 Houston (23-8, 4-2) is the only team in the American that is nationally ranked, though that should change soon.
With a 27-5 record, USF not only has a better record than the Cougars, but also a better record than 22 of the top 25 teams. Granted, USF has faced inferior competition along the way than most, if not all, of these teams.
But even despite the talent gap in USF’s schedule and those above them, the Bulls have played mistake-free baseball virtually all season. The Bulls have yet to lose by more than two runs through 32 games, and that has only occurred twice.
It’s understandable as to why pollers may have been skeptical about the Bulls to begin 2017, but after the hottest start in program history and close games against top competition, USF baseball has proved it belongs among the nation’s best.