It was always going to be a strength. With all eight starting position players returning, many people knew the UCF baseball team's offense was going to be good. But not this good.
Through 25 games this season, the Knights (20-5) rank first in the country in batting average at .333, first in the country in runs with 219, first in the country in home runs with 35 and first in the country in slugging percentage at .538 — more than 40 points higher than any other team.
"Offensively, we've got a great team," said head coach Terry Rooney. "We've got a lot of depth and some guys that can do some different things, I think really every night you've got a chance to see some different guys."
Different guys every night is correct. UCF has 10 players who, in significant playing time so far this season, have a batting average of more than .300. At the end of last season, there were only three players on the team who could make that claim.
The 35 home runs UCF has hit in 25 games this year is also just one fewer than it hit all of last season, in 59 games.
Senior outfielder Erik Barber is a player who has seen a spike in his power. He has six home runs so far this year, which is just as many as he hit last season. He thinks that the reason for the upgrade in production for him, and everyone on the team, is simple: They've worked for it.
"Working hard in the cages, different guys figuring out their swings, and once they figure it out keep grinding and keep working hard at it," Barber said. "That's really what's happening this year and it's paying off for us."
Another factor in UCF's offensive success has likely been that it's not all coming from the eight returning seniors. Two freshmen who are both having great years are Logan Heiser and Kyle Marsh.
Heiser is third on the team in average at .362, and tied for second in home runs with six. Marsh is hitting .341 and is tied for the team lead with eight doubles.
"We try to make them feel comfortable, knowing that they're freshmen being in a college atmosphere," Barber said. "We just want them to feel comfortable and know that they're great players because, if they weren't great players, they wouldn't be here."
UCF isn't the only team in the country that has seen a boost in offense this season. Coming into the year, the NCAA made an effort to increase run scoring in the game by switching to a new baseball that has flatter seems and travels farther off the bat.
In February 2014, there was an average of .33 home runs per game in college baseball. In February 2015 it was .47.
So, offense is up around the country, but someone's offense still has to be the best, and so far you could make a claim that it's UCF. The 8.76 runs per game that the Knights have averaged so far is phenomenal, but is it something that's going to be able to be sustained throughout the course of a long season?
Rooney thinks that it will, but he also realizes that having a lot of runs scored in March wasn't the goal this team set for itself coming into the season.
"I think what's sustainable is that we've got a very good offense," Rooney said. "I think our expectations are that it's going to continue to go. From my end, from a team standpoint, I want these guys to understand where I want them to celebrate their success, and I also want them to understand we haven't done anything yet."
Haven't done anything yet may be a little strong. UCF has beaten good teams including Florida, Ole Miss and other ranked opponents. That said, Rooney's point is well taken.
At-large bids to the NCAA tournament aren't made just by winning a few games early in the season, and they're certainly not made by just having a great offense.
But UCF has won big games early, and it does have a great offense, and that certainly doesn't hurt.
Colin Bell is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at email@example.com.