UCF baseball is movin' on up.
The Knights, who are 7-0 as of Tuesday, are ranked in the top 25 in four national polls. Last week they were ranked No. 22 by Baseball America, and No. 26 by The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. This week, they have moved up to No. 15 and No. 21 in those polls, respectively, as well as receiving a ranking of No. 17 by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and No. 21 by D1Baseball.com.
"I say this not to be arrogant, I think we're one of the best teams in the country, I really believe that," said UCF head coach Terry Rooney. "We talk about quality of competition. I think the competition among our team and the quality of players we have, I feel like we have one of the best teams in the country."
Moving up in these polls proves that it's not just Rooney and people within the program who believe UCF could make some noise this college baseball season.
"I think it's a great accomplishment. The biggest thing is for the kids, they deserve it," Rooney said of the rankings.
As of Tuesday, the Knights are also one of only 11 teams in the country that is undefeated and have played at least six games. Impressively, four of UCF's first five opponents made the NCAA Tournament last season, showing that UCF isn't the beneficiary to an easy early-season schedule.
Last season, after starting out 6-2, UCF lost its next seven games. Avoiding a slide like this is paramount if UCF wants to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament this season, an accomplishment that they narrowly missed out on last year.
"Minus the wins and losses, obviously we're undefeated right now, but I feel like the kids understand more what it takes," Rooney said. "That's what we've talked about, experience is one thing … Just because we have an experienced team doesn't ensure victory; I've used that line with our team the whole year."
UCF has a very tough schedule coming up as well, so there will be plenty of opportunities for it to prove that it's worth the acclaim that it has received. After hosting Ole Miss this weekend, UCF will play a home-and-home series Monday and Tuesday against No. 3 Florida, and then two games at No. 22 FSU March 10 and March 11.
These two midweek series against opponents with established programs might prove to be a good measurement of just where the Knights stand. UCF senior outfielder Erik Barber, one of only a handful of players on the UCF team who has been to an NCAA regional, thinks some of the bigger programs in college baseball need to stop taking the Knights for granted after their hot start.
"I posted on Instagram, 'Don't sleep on us,' like, don't take us for granted. We're a good team. We're showing that," Barber said following UCF's sweep of the South Alabama Tournament in Mobile, where they defeated two ranked opponents in Arkansas and Maryland.
But he's excited for an even bigger challenge as the schedule progresses.
"Playing great teams always is going to bring the best out of you," said Barber, who hit two home runs while in Mobile. "It helps us get better."
It's still early in the season, however, so UCF has done exactly what it needs to do so far to prove its worth. Now, if it can continue playing well through February and into March, then it'll be setting itself up well heading into conference play.
Whatever happens, a team that last year had 24 incoming players, and this season returns all eight starters, is leaning on not only their experience, but their talent to carry it where it fell short of a year ago.
"I don't know how many more games we're gonna win," Rooney said. "But I do feel good that they understand what it takes every day."
Colin Bell is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.