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September 22, 2008

Florida home to many successful programs

There are three states that produce the nation's best high school talent: California, Texas and Florida. It shouldn't come as a surprise that college programs in these states have had few problems succeeding on the national stage.

California has Cal State Fullerton and Stanford, Texas has Texas and Rice and Florida has Miami, Florida State and Florida.

While the Hurricanes, Seminoles and Gators highlight the baseball landscape in the Sunshine State, other programs have also recently garnered attention.

No program has done more than Florida Gulf Coast. New to Division I last season, the Eagles dominated the Atlantic Sun and finished the year with an overall record of 38-15.

Stetson, Jacksonville and Florida Atlantic have also recently earned headlines, while coach Mervyl Melendez has done a phenomenal job at Bethune-Cookman.

We take an inside look at the state of Florida's programs.

  • 1. MIAMI
  • After taking a small step back two seasons ago, the Hurricanes reclaimed their spot as the Sunshine State's best program. The 'Canes finished the '08 season with an overall record of 53-11. They have also captured four national titles, including 1982, '85, '99 and '01. Though Miami finished the '08 season in negative fashion, it enters fall workouts with another good pitching staff. The 'Canes will continue to have an elite program.

  • When it comes to consistency, few programs can emulate Florida State. Though the Seminoles haven't had the postseason success of programs such as Miami, Texas and Cal State Fullerton, they've been otherwise exceptional. The Seminoles reached the CWS last season and finished the year with an overall record of 54-14. FSU certainly could do more in the postseason, but coach Mike Martin still has a great resume.

  • 3. FLORIDA
  • Florida has had a respectable program the past few seasons and played Texas for the '05 national title. The Gators, however, weren't pleased with the program's direction after the '07 season and made a coaching change. That has already turned out to be a good decision. In coach Kevin O'Sullivan's first season with the Gators, he guided the team to a good finish in the SEC and an NCAA Regional berth. The stage officially has been set.

  • Florida Gulf Coast has taken a page out of Coastal Carolina's playbook. The Eagles joined Division I last season, but is still playing under what the NCAA calls a probationary period. That means the Eagles can't officially win the Atlantic Sun's automatic postseason bid until 2010. Even with the constraints last season, the Eagles finished first in conference with a 25-8 record. They also have an overall record of 38-15.

  • 5. STETSON
  • As with many programs in the area, Stetson is a smaller school that has had a good baseball program for many years. That likely won't change anytime soon. The Hatters had a less than stellar '08 campaign, but have reached an NCAA Regional two of the last three seasons. Stetson has yet to make a huge splash on the national stage, but it certainly is one of the state's better programs.

  • After many years of service for the Owls, former coach Kevin Cooney decided to retire at the end of the '08 season. Cooney often had good teams at FAU and turns the program over to John McCormack, who spent the last 18 seasons as an assistant for the program. With a strong recruiting base and good baseball history, the Owls should continue to experience success in South Florida.

  • The Dolphins have had a lot in common with Stetson the past few seasons. Though they had a tough '08 campaign that ended with an unimpressive overall record of 27-29, the Dolphins recently have made some waves with NCAA Regional appearances two of the last three seasons. It'll be interesting to see if JU rebounds from its '08 campaign. JU earned the most headlines in '06 when it finished with an overall record of 43-19.

  • It's not often that a team out of the MEAC causes headaches for opposing teams, but Bethune-Cookman certainly is the exception. The Wildcats haven't been able to make a huge splash on the national stage, but have caused some waves inside the state of Florida. Long-time coach Mervyl Melendez has done a tremendous job at BCC, and the Wildcats continued their winning ways last season by going 17-1 in conference, 36-22 overall.

  • 9. UCF
  • UCF has been one of the toughest programs to figure out the past few seasons. The Knights actually have a respectable baseball tradition, but have recently been unable to make noise in Conference USA. The Knights began last season on a high note, but finished their '08 campaign with an overall record of 31-27. With new coach Terry Rooney at the helm, the Knights hope to soon turn the tide.

  • When coach Lelo Prado left Louisville for South Florida, I thought the Bulls instantly would turn into a national contender. Sure, the Bulls didn't have the history of some programs inside the state, but with a great recruiting base and easier competition in the Big East, the stage seemed to bet set for USF, or so we thought. Prado has been unable to turn the Bulls into a consistent winner. Can he finally turn the tide in '09?

  • When the Ospreys left Division II for Division I they knew it wouldn't be easy. Though UNF started its Division I stint on the right foot, it has been unable to make a splash the last two seasons. UNF finished the '07 season with an overall record of 24-32. They ended last season with an overall record of 29-26. While UNF has been unable to turn the corner, coach Dusty Rhodes eventually will guide the program to success.

  • There was a time when Florida International was a postseason contender, but that now seems like a distant memory for the Golden Panthers. Though he guided the Panthers to an overall record of 20-36 in his first season, coach Turtle Thomas hopes to turn the tide sooner rather than later. FIU was once a winner, so it wouldn't come as a huge surprise if it eventually rises to the occasion with Thomas leading the charge.

  • 13. FLORIDA A&M
  • There's no question Florida A&M has the worst program in the state of Florida. The Rattlers consistently finish near the top of the MEAC, but that obviously doesn't mean much considering they've finished the last two seasons with overall records of 20-22 and 16-36. FAMU should look at Bethune-Cookman as a perfect example.

    Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.