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February 19, 2009

SCS.comLast year’s college baseball season brought about some interesting stories. The first being how would the uniform start date affect teams and their fans. There did not seem to be too much drop off in competition or in the stands. Some may have their issues with the start date but after all fairness is what they NCAA is all about, right? Second, the college baseball season could be summed up in one word…”Bulldog.” After all, the battle between Fresno State and Georgia for the title was a great series with the “underdogs” or as they became to be known, “Wonderdogs”, taking the title back home to Fresno, California. What will this year’s story line be…we will just have to wait and see!!!

Typically going from hunter-to-hunted will take its toll on a team through the season. This might not be the case with the defending champs from Fresno State. They are selected to win the WAC this year; however, they are ranked in the middle of most pre-season polls. They have their four big performers returning in Tommy Mendonca, Danny Muno, Gavin Hedstrom, and Steve Detwiler. If their pitching can hold up, they could put up enough runs to defend their title. Of course, they worked wonders in Omaha with not much left in the tank last June.

The Bulldogs from Athens, Georgia have been selected to win the SEC East, but it is the LSU Tigers that were picked to take the SEC title from them. LSU opens up their new Alex Box this year. If it is anything like the old Alex Box last year, then opponents are in a world of trouble. Returning LSU star, Blake Dean, will continue to be a tough out for opposing pitchers. The Tigers return 14 position players with starting experience along with ten pitchers from their College World Series team. No one could "Bash it like Beckham" at Foley Field but Perno's pups in Athens will have to fill the shoes of #6. They return a solid pitching staff including scheduled starters Trevor Holder and Alex Mcree. Closer Dean Weaver will take over for Joshua Fields, although that is a tough act to follow.

Teams in the SEC will once again be in a battle to punch a ticket to Hoover. Ole Miss, Florida, Alabama, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina have been staples to make the trip and should have no problems making it this year. Those teams could even win their respective divisions. Every year there seems to be a team that comes from nowhere to raise some eyebrows. Which team from the "bottom" might rise to the top this year? The Razorbacks or Volunteers can make a run as they have been silent for a bit, which is unusual for these fan bases.

In Big XII country, Texas A&M's magical run came to a "screeching" halt last year in the Super Regionals to Rice. The Aggies will attempt to build on last year's success as they return almost their entire pitching staff. With the returnees, they were picked to win the Big XII again with Texas being second. Baylor and Oklahoma State should be right their as they were picked to finish tied for third. Ranked #1 in one of the pre-season polls, look for Luke Anders and Kyle Colligan to pace the Aggies offensively while Brooks Raley, Barret Loux, and Clayton Ehlert attempt to keep the opposition at bay.

Speaking of the Rice Owls, things are tightening up for them in Conference USA. Teams are starting to contend with the dominance of the team from Houston. Rice is picked to win the conference; however, do not count out East Carolina or Southern Mississippi. Marshall posted 30 wins last year and has CUSA pre-season player of the year in outfielder Nate Lape. Of course, Tulane and Houston will not go quietly in the race this year; both have been to regionals and Super Regionals in the past. Teams in CUSA return lots of letterwinners from successful teams last year. Rice has 16 returnees, including Diego Seastrunk, 5 other position starters and 8 pitchers. East Carolina has 22 returners, which includes CUSA pre-season pitcher of the year Seth Maness. Southern Miss returns 16, including the infield tandem of Brian Dozier and James Ewing. Look for some exciting series down the road in this conference starting with a big opening conference series with Rice travelling to Southern Miss.

Two-time defending Coach-of-the-Year Pat Murphy will have his Arizona State squad ready for another great season. Other coaches in the Pac-10 are aware of this because they selected Arizona State to win the conference title. It will be hotly contested as UCLA, Stanford, Oregon State, and Arizona all received at least a vote to win the title. Oregon is fielding a team for the first time in 28 years but the excitement is flying high for the Ducks, even though they are to picked to finish last, as they have already sold out their home opener. The Sun Devils return pitcher Mike Leake and outfielder Jason Kipnis, both All-Americans from last season. Losing to the eventual champs on their home field will be motivation for the Sun Devils to take it all the way to Omaha this season.

Some series and a round-robin classic to keep an eye on this weekend: Louisville @ Florida, Vanderbilt @ Stanford, TCU @ Cal-State Fullerton, Oregon State @ Tennessee, and the Coca-Cola Classic in Mobile, AL (South Alabama, Mercer, Ole Miss, and Liberty participating)

This Friday will see uniforms pressed and put on, gloves broken in, spring practice complete, dragging the infields, and lines chalked. Then all of a sudden, "PING", the college baseball season will begin. Once again uniformly, teams and fans will have the excitement of reaching the goals set forth by each. Yes Mr. Groundhog, spring has arrived with the new college baseball season despite you seeing your shadow. Until next time, we'll see you at the park!!!

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