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2008 PRESEASON FAB 40: #11-20
February 14, 2007 With the start of the college baseball season only a week away, many teams see themselves on the cusp of the top 10. The teams that are ranked #11-20 in our preseason poll have a legitimate shot at reaching Omaha if a few of their unproven players step up and help out the more well-known veterans. The keys to these 10 teams’ seasons are staying healthy and playing baseball like they should. These ten teams need to “lay it on the line” every game and don’t need to take midweek games off against lower tier teams. These teams are those that are ranked #11-20 in our preseason poll.

SCS.com11. Clemson

With the loss of a school-record 11 players to the MLB Draft, head coach Jack Leggett will have a tremendous challenge this year. But with a ranking of #11 in our poll, the talent is there for the Tigers to have another successful season. While the likes of Andy D’Allesio and Daniel Moskos are off to professional baseball, several players return who were key contributors on last season’s Super Regional squad. Catcher Doug Hogan (.350, 13 HR, 46 RBI) and pitchers D.J. Mitchell (5-0, 3.27 ERA) and Ryan Hinson (6-2, 2.74 ERA) are proven veterans for the young Clemson team.

As there is every year at Clemson, expectations for this year’s club are pretty steep. Being a team that makes deep runs into the postseason year in and year out, the Tigers know what it takes to play when games mean the most. Clemson should compete with North Carolina, Florida State, and Miami for the ACC title if they can get help from a few transfers and freshman. If the Tigers get contributions from those players, another trip to Omaha could be in store this season.

SCS.com12. Miami (FL)

After uncharacteristically missing out on the Super Regionals last year, the Hurricanes should be a much better squad this year with a shot at winning the national championship. Unlike Clemson, Jim Morris’ club has many key players returning who have the potential to be All Americans. Yonder Alonso (.376, 18 HR, 74 RBI), Jemile Weeks (.298, 5 HR, 27 RBI), Blake Tekotte (.333, 3 HR, 25 RBI), and Dennis Raben (.280, 12 HR, 48 RBI) return to power a Miami offense that will be among the best in the nation. Ace Eric Erickson (10-4, 2.50 ERA) should be one of the better pitchers in the ACC this year.

At the “U”, the baseball squad is expected to be in contention for a trip to the College World Series every season. After finishing 37-24, the Hurricanes should be one of the better teams in the nation and have a very legitimate shot at winning the ACC. With a strong offense, all that Miami needs is more depth in the starting rotation. If they can get solid efforts from their #2 and #3 starters, look for them to be back in Omaha this year.

SCS.com13. Florida State

The Seminoles had one of the better regular seasons in college baseball last year but failed to play up to their ability in the postseason. This year, FSU returns much of their offense but will need to find more strength in the starting rotation after losing their #1 and #2 starters to the MLB draft. Like Miami, the Seminoles will have one of the better offenses in the nation with Buster Posey (.382, 3 HR, 65 RBI), Jack Rye (.372, 10 HR, 61 RBI), Jason Stidham (.366, 6 HR, 48 RBI) and Tennessee transfer Tony Delmonico (.335, 9 HR, 49 RBI) doing damage to opposing pitchers. But with only Ryan Strauss (10-3, 3.40 ERA) returning to the starting rotation, FSU will need to find two guys who can give the team a chance to win every outing.

The Seminoles were ranked in the top 5 for much of the season last year but lost in their home regional to Mississippi State. FSU has not reached the College World Series since 2000, and fans are becoming displeased with that fact. With a very powerful offense returning, the question with this team will be the starting rotation. One thing to take note of though is that Jack Rye is out 4-6 weeks with a fractured right thumb. If the ‘Noles find solid #2 and #3 guys in the starting rotation, the 2008 Seminoles should have a very good shot at returning to Omaha.

SCS.com14. Missouri

After finishing 42-18 last year, expectations for this year’s Tigers’ squad are high for a program that hasn’t made the trip to Omaha in over 40 years. Missouri’s strength this year should be their pitching, with Aaron Crow (9-4, 3.59 ERA) returning, a pitcher that is considered by many among the best in the nation. Other pitchers who should have an impact are Scooter Hicks (4-0, 2.73 ERA), Ian Berger (5-1, 3.96 ERA), and Kyle Gibson (8-3, 4.12 ERA, 7 SV). Offensively, the Tigers will be led by Evan Frey (.348, 4 HR, 35 RBI) and Jacob Priday (.297, 13 HR, 59 RBI).

Tim Jamieson should field a very good team this year that will have a serious shot at winning the Big 12 along the likes of Texas and Texas A&M. With such strong pitching, Missouri will have a chance to win almost every one of their games. If the offense can get better, the Tigers will be a top 10 team with the possibility of making it to Omaha, a place they haven’t been to since 1964.

SCS.com15. Oregon State

What is there to say about a program that has won the last two national championships? This year, Pat Casey’s Beavers will be among the best in the Pac-10 with another shot at returning to Omaha to defend their title. If there is a team that has played better in the NCAA postseason recently (other than Florida basketball), send me an email, because there is not. Like it has been the last two seasons, the strength of this year’s Oregon State squad will be their pitching. There might not be a better 1-2 punch in the nation than Jorge Reyes (7-3, 3.10 ERA) and Mike Stutes (12-4, 4.07 ERA). At the plate, Jordan Lennerton (.313, 10 HR, 51 RBI) is the best.

While the Beavers finished under .500 in conference play last year, they played their best baseball when it mattered most…in Omaha. The two time defending national champions are the team that nobody wants to play in the postseason and this year it will not be any different. The question mark with this Oregon State team will be at the plate, where they lost a few key contributors to the draft last year. The pitching is great, and the Beavers will be strong again this year. Don’t ever count out the Beavers (see who won the past two national championships), even if they finish under .500 in the Pac-10 this year.

SCS.com16. Cal State Fullerton

The Titans will feature a new head coach this year, as former UC Irvine coach Dave Serrano will take over the job that George Horton, who left to take on the newly formed Oregon baseball program, held from 1996-2007. Serrano guided his UC Irvine squad to Omaha last year and is considered one of the better up and coming coaches in the nation. For Fullerton this year, they will have to replace their #1 and #2 starters from last year’s team, a tandem that was the main reason for the club returning to Omaha for the 4th time in the last 6 years. Sean Urena (3-3, 4.50 ERA) will have to take on the Friday night role for the Titans and other than him, no experienced starting pitcher is on this year’s squad. Offensively for Fullerton this year, freshman Christian Colon and Gary Brown will have to carry the load after many of last season’s top offensive producers graduated or went pro.

After the unexpected departure of George Horton, the Titans found a great replacement for him in George Serrano. He brought the UC Irvine program to Omaha, so he knows what it takes to play deep into the postseason, something Cal State Fullerton has become accustomed to. With their #1 and #2 pitchers and key offensive contributors gone from last year’s team, the Titans will need to find players to replace them. This team has the look of a Regional/Super Regional squad will all of the inexperience and youth.

SCS.com17. UCLA

The Bruins fell short of a bid to the College World Series last year with a loss in the Super Regionals to Cal State Fullerton. This season, UCLA is expected to be one of the best teams in the Pac-10 and if they play beyond their ability, they should be among the best in the country. John Savage’s squad should be one of the better clubs defensively, and that is what could take them to the next level, to Omaha. At the dish, Brandon Crawford (.335, 7 HR, 55 RBI), Gabe Cohen (.345, 10 HR, 36 RBI), and Cody Decker (.307, 14 HR, 57 RBI) lead while on the mound, Tyson Brummett (10-6, 4.04 ERA) and Garrett Claypool (3-1, 3.54 ERA) should pitch on Fridays and Saturdays.

With a trip to the Super Regionals last year, the Bruins need to take the next step this season, and that would be to make it Omaha for the College World Series. The Bruins were a young team last year and with a year of experience under their belts, UCLA should have a chance to compete for the Pac-10 title. This UCLA squad should go back to the Super Regionals and possibly make it to Omaha.

SCS.com18. UC Irvine

The Anteaters lost the coach that all of them loved playing for, Dave Serrano, to the Cal State Fullerton job. Mike Gillespie takes over for Serrano after coaching the Single A Staten Island Yankees in 2006 and after having an impressive stint at USC in which his team won the 1998 national title and he was named the national coach of the year. Last year, UC Irvine made it deep into the College World Series, knocking off Texas in the Super Regionals to make it to Omaha. This year, the Anteaters should again be able to hold their own in trying to win the Big West. Offensively, leadoff man Ollie Linton (.342) and Sean Madigan (.333, 1 HR, 26 RBI) return to be the main offensive leaders. On the mound, the Anteaters have one of the better pitchers in the nation in Scott Gorgen (13-3, 2.83 ERA) and also return Eric Pettis (4-0, 4.53 ERA), Cory Hamilton (4-1, 2.25 ERA) and Tom Calahan (2-0, 1.61 ERA).

Gillespie’s squad will have to deal with the loss of many players off of last year’s College World Series team to the MLB draft. But the pitching looks to be strong for the Anteaters, led by one of college baseball’s best in Scott Gorgen. At the plate, UC Irvine will have to be scrappy with a lot of the main power hitters gone from last year’s team. Look for the Anteaters to compete in the top of the Big West and don’t be surprised if you hear their name again come NCAA Tournament time.

SCS.com19. Long Beach State

Picked by the coaches to win the Big West, the Dirtbags will once again be one of the better teams in the country. Mike Weathers returns many players from last year’s Regional team and this season, those players will be even better. At the dish, Danny Espinosa (.319, 7 HR, 38 RBI), Shane Peterson (.327, 4 HR, 40 RBI) and Jason Corder (.280, 7 HR, 28 RBI) will do the damage to opposing ballclubs. On the mound, the Dirtbags will have back of one of better closers in the nation in Bryan Shaw (6-2, 2.39 ERA, 11 SV). The starting rotation will feature ace Andrew Liebel (9-3, 2.84 ERA) and Manny McElroy (5-3, 4.25 ERA) returning.

Like it always seems, the Dirtbags will compete for a Big West title as much of last year’s team returns for head coach Mike Weathers. As usual, Long Beach State will be one of the better clubs defensively in the nation and with a dominant closer at the end of ball games, the Dirtbags have a chance to be a great team. Look for Long Beach State to possibly host a regional and more than likely advance to the Super Regionals.

SCS.com20. Louisville

After making it to their first ever College World Series last year, the Cardinals will once again have the opportunity to have an impressive season under head coach Dan McConnell. With the loss of many of their top offensive players from last year’s team to the draft and graduation, the Cardinals will have to find players to replace their production. Luckily for Louisville, they return one of the best third baseman in the nation in Chris Dominguez (.262, 15 HR, 62 RBI) and also get back 5’3” shortstop Chris Cates (.299, 23 RBI). The strength of the Cards this year will be the pitching staff, where Zack Pitts (10-3, 2.52 ERA) and Justin Marks (9-2, 2.67 ERA) will be one of the more feared 1-2 punches in the nation. Louisville also returns Gavin Logsdon (2-0, 1.92 ERA) and Tyler Mathis (3-0, 3.60 ERA).

If the Cardinals will have a chance to return to Omaha again this season, they will have to find many new players who can replace the power and production from last year’s team. Louisville has one of college baseball’s best starting rotations featuring Zack Pitts and Justin Marks, and because of that, the Cards will be in almost every Friday and Saturday contest. With a strong pitching staff, all Louisville needs is to find new offensive producers so that they can make another deep run into the NCAA postseason.

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