Okay, guys and dolls. For a large part of our sport’s landscape, it’s apparent that we’ve reverted to college football. That is to say that this early part of the season has become a bunch of pile of crap matchups that don’t hold our interest very much. What is this… the stitched-ball version of the BCS? Gah!
But thankfully, we’ve got conference play kicking in for big-brother conferences like the SEC, the Pac 12 and the Big 12 among others. Should be an interesting weekend where some teams are finally – FINALLY – gonna get off their arse and play somebody good.
Here’s how we’ll get this thing started.
10 PLACES TO BE THIS WEEKEND
You know the rules here, fire up the Lear Jet and get moving to these locales this weekend.
10- No. 9 KENTUCKY (14-2) at FLORIDA (8-10)
Felt a little weird putting this in the top 10, considering the losing record the Gators are sporting right now, but they are right there RPI-wise with the Wildcats. Gators are ranked No. 65 and Kentucky is No. 67. The UofFers are hitting .264, 12th in the conference, and are 13th in the SEC in pitching with a team ERA of 4.50. But a raised eye-brow to the Cats and getting their offense stymied a bit in the nip-and-tuck series escape vs. Michigan State, where they scored just six runs in 25 innings. Something tells me this is a must-win series for the Gators, and they’ll respond just in time.
9- SOUTH ALABAMA (15-3) at TROY (11-4)
Give it up for the Sun Belt, people. The SBCers are currently 4th in Boyd Nation’s conference ISR rankings, compiling a 104-62 won-loss record. Now, take one of the top K teams in the nation (USA’s 178Ks) and match them up with the top hitting team in the Sun Belt (Troy, .314) and let ‘er rip. Because of that odd Sun Belt scheduling rotation, this will be the first three of six matchups between these two in the regular season. The rematch will come in Mobile on the final weekend of the regular season.
8- NEW MEXICO (6-9) at No. 28 UNLV (14-3)
The Lobos come in wounded, on many fronts. First, they are off to a much-worse start than a lot of us thought they would. Secondly, they came THISCLOSE to pulling the upset at Arizona State on Wednesday night, losing 4-3 in 11 innings. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Rebels have beaming-wide smiles, coming off that notoriously-impressive three-game sweep at Stanford. But are their heads going to be in the clouds still? And have the Lobos just been waiting for conference play to kick in to stop hitting the snooze bar and actually smashing the alarm clock for good? My baldest bud Mike Rooney picked UNM in an upset. He may be right.
7- WASHINGTON STATE (9-6) at No. 19 ARIZONA STATE (11-2-1)
Two teams in two directions. Wazzu would love to put their recent four-of-five skid in the loss column to rest (that included losing three of four at UT-San Antonio last weekend). And ASU is still giving the Devil his due, going 8-0-1 since the middle game at Tennessee, including that 4-3 extra inning escape on Wednesday we just mentioned in the above paragraph. Wazzu comes in with the best-hitting team in the Pac 12 at .323. But you know how much emphasis is put on pitching out West. Edge to ASU. But that Joe Pistorese (1-1, 1.44) vs. Trevor Williams (3-0, 0.90) matchup on Friday should be a beat.
6- No. 17 VIRGINIA (15-1, 2-1) at CLEMSON (10-5, 2-1)
Okay, NOW we’ll see what the Cavs are made of. They’re 223rd ranked strength of schedule will finally get a strong jolt here. But as I’ve pointed out before when defending the Wahoos in my rankings, at least they’ve dominated their competition. So give them some props here. Plus, their pitching is clamping down at a 1.88 ERA pace so far and has thrown an ACC-lowest 36 base on balls. When you consider that the Tigers also hit at a horrible .248 pace, I’ll stick with the Cavaliers to finally prove a point here.
5- No. 29 MIAMI (14-5, 1-2) at No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (16-0, 3-0)
For the second weekend in a row the ACC schedule is surprisingly weak. Just kinda happened that way, even with all the ranked teams this league has, this is the only one with two of them ranked. And of course, I still think is spurious to think the Hurricanes deserve it‚Ä¶ right now. The Canes have gone 4-5 in their last nine, including a series loss at home vs. Duke last week and Tuesday’s nasty 17-6 loss to Illinois State. Yack! With the talent level they’ll be facing in Chapel Hill this weekend, I don’t guess I need to write much more here. UNC in three straight. But as my high school football coach used to say during our drills in practice, “Surprise me, Miami!”
4- No. 23 NOTRE DAME (10-4) at No. 22 CAL POLY (14-2)
Okay, raise your hand if you knew this would be a big series with national ramifications before the season began. Whoever has their hands up right now are stoned liars. When I saw the Irish play on Tuesday at UC Santa Barbara, they looked a tad on the tired side. Considering they’ve traveled to Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and now California since the beginning of the season, you can understand why. Cal Poly is one of the best kept secrets in college baseball. The amazing part is they have issued just 44 walks in 143 innings so far. The bottom of the Irish batting order needs to carry their weight here as they have dragged down the team average to .277. Won’t be easy in San Luis Obispo. Gimme the Mustangs in two of three here.
3- No. 8 OLE MISS (18-1) at No. 11 ARKANSAS (13-5)
Okay, HERE’s where the rubber finally hits the road. Ole Miss, the fatted calf which has gorged on the 164th toughest schedule in the country, will get a dose of reality with the visit to the Hog den here this weekend. Of course, we’re also talking about an Arkansas team who has an RPI of No. 145‚Ä¶ which is 25 slots below 1-13 Akron right now. (Don’t worry, it won’t stay there people). The Razorbacks have the SEC’s best pitching staff so far, throwing at a 1.60ERA, while Ole Miss is 3rd in the conference with a .310 offense. Too bad we won’t see a Ryne Stanek vs. Bobby Wahl showdown on Friday. Looks like Stanek will get the Sunday start. Frosh Trey Killian (2-1, 0.86) will match up with Wahl instead. But I like the depth of the Hogs staff and the home field advantage. They’ll right the ship from that disaster in the desert here.
2- No. 4 OREGON STATE (16-1) at No. 21 ARIZONA (15-5)
Ah, the ultimate showdown between great pitching (OSU’s 1.43 team ERA) and unstoppable offense (UofA’s .318 team average with 46SBs). The super-spacious confines of Hi Corbett Field – 360 foot foul lines – should give Arizona the edge. But as I said on the Baldcast last night, I keep looking at Arizona’s losses to team’s like Columbia, San Francisco and Utah Valley and have to think their ranking may be too high. I’m going with that uber-deep Beaver pitching staff and I think the bats of Dylan Davis and Michael Conforto will be enough.
1- No. 3 LSU (16-1) at No. 10 MISSISSIPPI STATE (18-2)
So as you know, I always get the red-ass at these two programs and their habit of not playing very good non-conference games before SEC play kicks in. Though I’ll give the Tigers some credit for taking on Maryland and Washington, both potentially good teams. In fact, LSU’s strength of schedule is ranked No. 50 on Warren Nolan’s RPI index (though it’s No. 86 in Boyd Nation’s ISR). MSU is No. 133 and has gone 3-2 against the only winning teams on its slate so far. These two teams have the best offenses in the SEC, hitting .321 and .324 respectively. But the Dogs are without Mt. Massive known as Wes Rea and also Jacob Lindgren. The Tigers are the most discerning team in the SEC, striking out just 71 times so far and walking 85 times. If Aaron Nola and Cody Glenn don’t freak out having to pitch in a totally new environment – and a hostile one at that – look for the Tigers to win out here.
THAT NUTTY RPI
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know‚Ä¶ it’s early. And the RPI always looks like a circus freak show at this point in the season. But since we’re headed toward our fifth weekend of play, let’s look who are some of the odd-balls that are in the Top 25 of Boyd Nation’s RPI simulator:
- No. 6 Michigan State
Best Win: 6-1 at Kentucky
Worst Loss: 8-6 vs. Miami (Ohio)
Reason to Watch: David Garner held UK to four hits and one walk in 8.1 innings in the 6-1 win.
- No. 7 Austin Peay:
Best Win: 7-2 and 10-7 vs. Michigan State
Worst Loss: 13-1 vs. Iowa
Reason to Watch: Reliever Tyler Rogers is 4-0 and already has seven saves, having pitched 14.2 innings and not yet giving up an earned run.
- No. 12 Furman:¬†
Record: 13-2, 4-2 in SoCon
Best Win: 4-1 and 11-6 at Coastal Carolina
Worst Loss: 6-1 vs. Gardner-Webb
Reason to Watch: Not to pile on Michigan State here, but the Paladins also took a pair from the Spartans, 4-3 and 8-5
- No. 13 Creighton:
Best Win: Swept three at Dallas Baptist
Worst Loss: Blowout losses 9-0 and 14-5 at BYU
Reason to Watch: ‘Coz it’s Creighton. C’mon. This program is filled with heroes.
- No. 14 Central Arkansas:
Best Win: 7-5 and 6-3 at Mississippi State
Worst Loss: None – the two losses were at Vanderbilt and at MSU.
Reason to Watch: The Railsplitters will head back to the Magnolia state to play three at Southern Miss this weekend. Win there, and it’s officially ON!
- No. 15 South Alabama:
Best Win: 6-5 at Southern Mississippi
Worst Loss: 15-2 vs. North Florida
Reason to Watch: The showdown with neighboring Troy will be as big as it gets in Sun Belt play. Read about it above.
- No. 16 Dartmouth:
Best Win: 10-3 at Minnesota
Worst Loss: None
Reason to Watch: Just three games into their season, the Big Green will head to Winter Haven, Florida for the next 10 games, then comes Ivy League play.
- No. 21 Mercer:
Best Win: 5-4 vs. Notre Dame
Worst Loss: 4-0 at Alabama State
Reason to Watch: Derrick Workman has done some bitchin’ work, man. He’s hitting .439 with four home runs and 24RBI. Workman’s slugging percentage is at an astronomical .860 right now.
- No. 22 Indiana
Best Win: 2-0 vs. Louisville
Worst Loss: 12-7 at Georgia Southern
Reason to Watch: The “best win” may have been vs. the Cardinals, but they made even bigger headlines by taking the series at Florida last weekend.
- No. 24 BYU
Best Win: 9-4 at LSU
Worst Loss: 6-4 vs. Northern Colorado
Reason to Watch: New head coach Mike Littlewood has installed a new toughness to this Cougar squad.
- No. 25 North Florida¬†
Best Win: 7-6 at Florida
Worst Loss: 4-1 at Savannah State
Reason to Watch: Six regulars and two pinch-hitters are clipping along at .300-plus this year for the Ospreys.
- No. 28 College of Charleston (10-6)
- No. 29 Virginia Commonwealth (10-3)
- No 30 Louisiana (13-3)
- No. 32 Iowa (7-6)
- No. 33 Illinois State (6-8)
- No. 35 Liberty (11-6)
- No. 36 UNC-Wilmington (11-6)
- No. 37 Southeastern Louisiana (11-6)
- No. 38 Appalachian State (9-5)
- No. 40 Rider (6-4)
And the best one of all,
- No. 41 Rhode Island (3-11)
Yes, URI is in at-large range in the RPI with a 3-11 record. Oh how I wish it were late May right now.
THE TOP 20 AND THEIR STRENGTHS OF SCHEDULE.
This is always one of my favorite things to do each year. Here are the NBWCA’s Top 20 teams and how tough their schedules have been so far (according to Boyd Nation’s ISR rankings) as we head into conference play for many leagues.
1- North Carolina: #155
2- Vanderbilt: #114
3- LSU: #86
4- Oregon State: #97
5- Florida State: #251
6- South Carolina: #115
7- UCLA: #141
8- Ole Miss: #164
9- Kentucky: #168
10- Mississippi State: #189
11- Arkansas: #222
12- Oregon: #70
13- Cal State Fullerton: #52
14- Georgia Tech: #81
15- Louisville: #177
16- Stanford: #64
17- Virginia: #233
18- N.C. State: #211
19- Arizona State: #96
20- Oklahoma: #174
Now you see why Cal State Fullerton is annually our heroes in college baseball for the months of February and March.
There are only three teams remaining in D1 baseball who are still unbeaten. So here’s who is putting their necks on the line this weekend.
- North Carolina, 16-0, No. 3 RPI
This weekend: vs. Miami
- Florida State, 16-0, No. 27 RPI
This weekend: at Maryland
- Dartmouth, 3-0, No. 15 RPI
This weekend: vs. Army, UAB, LIU-Brooklyn.
There are only three teams remaining in D1 baseball who are still winless. So here’s who to pull for this weekend:
- New York Tech, 0-8, No. 298 RPI
This weekend: three games at Fairleigh-Dickinson
- LIU-Brooklyn, 0-10, No. 293 RPI
This weekend: one game vs. Dartmouth
- Hartford, 0-12, No. 251 RPI
This weekend: vs. Albany
- Youngstown State at Illinois-Chicago.
The city of Big Shoulders is not expected to reach the 40s temperature-wise this weekend. Saturday’s forecast calls for a high of 33 with occasional flurries. I keep getting images of Dick Butkus sitting on the sidelines with busted knuckles at Soldier Field.