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January 25, 2006

SCS.comAfter the college bowl season is over, southern college sports fans generally fall into one of 3 molds:

1. The fan that tolerates basketball but considers National Signing Day for football to be Christmas two months later.
2. The diehard college basketball fan that attends home games even when Kentucky, Duke, UNC, or Florida are not in town.
3. The fan that believes the next two and a half months is impossible to get through because the start of college baseball season seems like it's two centuries away.

College baseball is now getting the attention that it deserves. The nation is beginning to realize that college baseball is unique and full of the same excitement and commitment as any other collegiate sport. The south is loaded with interest in college baseball, as fans have developed a passion for enjoying baseball without the ego and high ticket prices that accompany baseball at a higher level. Unlike college basketball, teams do not have to worry about their top players leaving for the draft after one year. In most cases, players will have played at least three years of college baseball before they can declare for the draft.

EA Sports caught on this year by releasing the first ever college baseball game (with last year's rosters, sadly). And, ESPN decided to televise a few games last year during the hockey holdout, so all three hockey fans in the south and the rest of us were treated to some of the most intense collegiate rivalries on the diamond. Instead of being hundreds of feet away from the players in a cavernous stadium, college baseball fans can sit behind the visitor dugout and harass that strikeout victim, whose looks rival Napoleon Dynamite's, or the 3rd basemen that thinks a Thickburger is his best friend.

This harassment takes on a new level in some areas of the south during rivalry games. Most of these rivalries are strong on the football field, leading to a buildup of animosity that explodes in the intimate setting of a college baseball game. It's not uncommon to hear a Hurricane fan yell "Wide Left!" at a Florida State pitcher after ball four. A South Carolina fan will definitely tell you that beating Clemson in baseball is more important than basketball (especially this year after the 82-63 thumping the Tigers handed the Gamecocks). A Mississippi State fan will laugh at the Rebel fan that dismisses the Bulldogs' storied tradition in favor of the Rebels' recent success.

With that in mind, here's a look at some of the south's most storied college baseball rivalries:


In 2002, a Green Wave-Tiger matchup was bad news for the Montreal Expos. It was proven that college baseball games could draw more than 10,000 people. In fact, the attendance more than doubled the average crowd at the Maravich Center that year for LSU basketball. A whopping 27,673 fans took in the game at the Superdome, signaling to the world that college baseball in the South is serious. This rivalry was intensified by the 2001 meeting between the two teams in an NCAA Super Regional. Tulane got the better of the Tigers then, denying legendary Tiger skipper Skip Bertman another shot at a College World Series title. LSU lost its chance at revenge last year when the Tigers were upset in their regional by Rice. A victory in that regional would have enabled another Super Regional matchup with the Wave. Watch out when these two teams play on March 7 in Baton Rouge.

South Carolina/Clemson

An intense rivalry became even more hostile in 2002. The Tigers, needing one win to advance to the national championship game in Omaha, lost consecutive games to the hated Gamecocks and denied National Player of the Year Khalil Greene a chance to compete for the National Championship. Since that game, Clemson has won a majority of the meetings between the two schools, but tickets are equally hard to come by in Columbia as they are in Clemson. Tiger fans love to recall Michael Johnson, dubbed "Gamecock Killer" for his many homeruns against the Gamecocks, while Carolina fans consider Trey Dyson a hero after his game-tying bomb in 2000 during USC's 56-10 season. A new 6,000 seat ballpark being built in Columbia for the Gamecocks cannot accommodate all of the fans dying to see this classic.

Mississippi/Mississippi State

More than 12,000 folks were in attendance the last time these two teams battled. Mississippi State, dominated in three previous games during the regular season, exacted revenge and beat the hated Rebels in the SEC Tournament championship game. The Rebels have dominated the series lately, having won seven of the past nine games. The Bulldogs, however, have historically owned UM and lead the all-time sreies by 48 games. Oh, and the attendance for the 2006 Rebel/Bulldog men's basketball game in Oxford? 8,581.

Florida State/Miami

Though this rivalry may not breed the same hatred as the football battle, it's rich in tradition just like its gridiron counterpart. In 1999, Florida State players had the worst feeling known in college baseball: watching your archrival beat you to win the National Championship in Omaha. Seminole fans had to wait only one year, though to see justice revealed. The Seminoles knocked out the ‘Canes a year later in a Super Regional in Tallahassee. Deion Sanders, J.D. Drew, and Mike Piazza are some of the notables from the two schools. The pair has combined for a whopping 39 College World Series appearances, and maybe it was Miami's four national titles that helped convince Yankee All-Star Alex Rodriguez to donate money to upgrade Mark Light Stadium.

Though these are just four of the South's top college baseball rivalries, others are worth mentioning. Georgia Tech/Georgia is rapidly developing into another hot in-state baseball barnburner. Yellow Jacket fans, sick of losing to the Dawgs in football, watched in horror as the Bulldogs swept a two-game Super Regional from GT to advance to Omaha a year ago. And, now that Florida has re-established itself as a baseball power, the annual grudge matches against FSU should be classics.


  • Will the SEC actually allow ESPN to televise some of its college baseball games this year? The rumor in Columbia is that the Gamecocks' battle with Tennessee on May 14 will be televised by the Total (unless it's SEC baseball in 2005) Sports Network.

  • The NCAA approved a uniform start date for college baseball in February. It's still snowing in Ann Arbor in February last time I checked. What will the Yankee excuse for Southern dominance in the CWS be now?

  • The SEC and ACC will continue their dominance of college baseball this year. Sorry Big 12 and PAC 10 fans, but both leagues are loaded with talent.

  • Clemson returns all of its position players this year plus a deep pitching staff. 2006 should be the year the Tigers get back to Omaha.

  • As always, Vanderbilt is floating under the radar. Armed with a recruiting class rated in the top five, the Commodores should be back in business come tournament time.

     > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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