The question almost seemed to take Auburn coach Clint Myers by surprise earlier this week.
How good are the Gators?
"They're real good," Myers said almost incredulously. "Aren't they ranked No. 1 in the country?"
Indeed they are — at least by ESPN.com's standards. The Gators, whose record is 26-1, are first among all Division I teams in earned run average and team fielding. Their offense isn't quite as good, ranking just eighth out of 300 teams in terms of runs per game.
Jay G. Tate/AuburnSports.com
Portraying Auburn's upcoming series at Florida as difficult may be an understatement. The Gators are 59-6 at home during the past three seasons and feature two starting pitchers who have combined to surrender a total of 48 hits in 130 innings this season.
Opponents have scored more than two runs in four games this season.
The other 23 games? Consider yourself fortunate to score once.
Yet No. 6 Auburn, which is 27-3 this season, won't dig into the batter's box this weekend with a lack of confidence. Starting pitchers Kaylee Carlson and Makayla Martin have teamed for a combined ERA of 1.23 and the Tigers also are among the top 25 in both fielding percentage and scoring.
Myers isn't scared.
"Everybody says they’ve got the best pitching staff in the country. I’m not sure about that, but, hey, that’s why we play the games," he said. "We’ve played them tough in the past. Of all the teams … in the SEC, when we get together, there’s always exciting things happening."
Florida took two of three at Jane B. Moore field last spring, but Auburn's 1-0 win in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament gave the Tigers the last laugh. Florida subsequently was swept out of its own super regional (by Georgia) and didn't advance to the College World Series.
If there's a point of emphasis for Auburn this time around, it's surely its penchant for leaving runners on base. The Tigers struggled a bit during their first two games of the USF Tournament last weekend by virtue of leaving 26 baserunners stranded.
Things improved during the final three games — Auburn stranded 16 in that stretch — and Kasey Cooper broke out of a modest slump with four RBIs and three extra-base hits.
If the Tigers are to win this weekend, Cooper and catcher Carlee Wallace and shortstop Haley Fagan must provide consistent punch atop the order.
"This past weekend, I started feeling comfortable. Even though the numbers weren’t in my favor, my contacts were hard-hit contacts. I had quality at-bats."
AUBURN at FLORIDA
When: Three-game series begins Saturday
Where: Gainesville, Fla.
On the tube: ESPN2 (Saturday @ 5 p.m. CDT, Sunday @ 6 p.m.); SEC Network (Monday @ 6 p.m.)