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PREMIUM FEATURE: South Carolina's rising weekend rotation
No rivalry in college baseball can best the Palmetto State showdown between Clemson and South Carolina.
The long-time rivals highlight another exciting weekend of action. The series includes one home game for each team, and a single neutral site contest with the two fan bases split down the middle.
Though the two programs have a great deal of respect for each other, not much love will be lost in the stands when the two meet this weekend.
The matchup between the Tigers and Gamecocks headlines the weekend, but there are plenty of other teams and storylines to watch over the next few days.
LSU: Pitching was expected to be a big crutch for the Tigers this season, but it has been so far so good with several young power arms leading the way. The Tigers are 9-0 entering a home series against Princeton this weekend.
UC Irvine: There’s no question the Anteaters still have some difficult tests ahead, but they’ve been a pleasant surprise so far with a strong offense leading the way. The offensive prowess has taken pressure off a starting rotation in rebuilding mode. Irvine is 7-0 entering it series at St. Mary’s this weekend.
Southeastern Louisiana: The Lions were tripped up by LSU in midweek action, but still are off to a fantastic 6-2 start with solid wins over Florida International, Tulane, Alabama and Central Florida. The Lions are at home this weekend for a series against Sacred Heart.
South Carolina: Starting pitching has risen to the occasion the first few weeks of the season as the Gamecocks are a perfect 7-0 entering this weekend’s series against rival Clemson. The Gamecocks have gotten solid starts from Michael Roth, Tyler Webb and Adam Westmoreland.
San Jose State: There might not be a team riding higher than the Spartans. SJSU shocked the nation last weekend by earning a road series win over UCLA, including a pair of wins over Bruins starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer. Now, at 7-1, the Spartans hope to continue their winning ways against Santa Clara this weekend.
Georgia: The Bulldogs were shutout by Furman in midweek action and are 2-6 entering a weekend series against red-hot Florida State. The Bulldogs are at home against the Seminoles this weekend and must find a way to turn the tide. It has been a very disappointing start for a team perceived to have extra motivation.
Liberty: Perceived to be one of the better mid-majors this season, the Flames aren’t exactly living up to their expectations so far this spring. The Flames dropped a series to Mercer to start the season before splitting a four-game set with North Florida. The Flames are 3-6 as they play host to Binghamton this weekend.
Michigan: The Wolverines wish there was a rewind button on the season. They’re off to a dismal 0-7 start and hope to turn the tide this weekend with games against Massachusetts and Sam Houston State. Interestingly, the Wolverines don’t play their first home game until March 25. They need to become road warriors.
Cal Poly: The Mustangs showed signs of waking up with an impressive midweek win over Fresno State, but still aren’t out of the woods yet. The Mustangs are 1-6 and play host to Valparaiso in a very winnable series this weekend. It’s imperative the Mustangs get a run before conference play begins in a few weeks.
New Mexico: Last season coach Ray Birmingham and the Lobos were one of the nation’s best stories. Now they’re hoping to finish the season with a respectable record. The Lobos are off to a dismal 0-8 start with a home series against Texas-San Antonio coming up this weekend. The Lobos need to figure things out before a lengthy road trip.
STORYLINES TO WATCH
Clemson vs. South Carolina: The last time these two bitter rivals met was in the College World Series last season. The Gamecocks defeated the Tigers twice to advance to the national title series, where they defeated UCLA to win the program’s first national title. Both teams are off to fantastic starts this season, but it’s Clemson that enters the series aiming for sweet revenge.
Miami heads to Florida: Speaking of revenge series, the last time the Hurricanes and Gators locked was in the Gainesville Super Regional last season. The Gators won the series to advance to Omaha and the ‘Canes helped that happen with some atrocious defense throughout the series. The Hurricanes would love nothing more than to make that series a distant memory. But their pitching staff must rise to the occasion to accomplish that goal this weekend.
Traditional matchup in Texas: Stanford’s treacherous non-conference road continues this weekend in Austin, Texas, where it hopes to knock off the Texas Longhorns. The Cardinal won their opening series of the year against Rice before dropping two of three last weekend to Vanderbilt. The pitching matchup between Stanford’s Mark Appel and Texas’ Taylor Jungmann highlights what should be a fantastic series.
Another good Houston College Classic: In what has become one of the better non-conference tournaments in college baseball, the Houston College Classic once again is expected to be solid, albeit for different reasons than the teams involved. Though Texas A&M, Rice and Baylor lead the way in terms of teams, the tourney is more known this year for the prospects that’ll be on display. Rice obviously has third baseman Anthony Rendon and some talented arms, Texas A&M has the heralded duo pitchers of John Stilson and Michael Wacha, Baylor has right-handed pitcher Logan Verrett and Kentucky has an outstanding prospect in Alex Meyer. There will be some solid talent on display in Houston this weekend.
UCLA hits the road to face Nebraska: The Bruins and everyone else around the country were shocked last weekend when San Jose State beat Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole on the way to a series victory. Now the Bruins hope to avoid falling in an early hole when they hit the road to face a Nebraska program in need of a major confidence booster. The Huskers are 6-3 entering the series, but haven’t exactly recorded impressive wins. Cold temperatures are expected in Lincoln, Neb., and could affect the series. UCLA, though, still must find a way to rebound this weekend.
SERIES TO WATCH
No. 18 Miami at No. 1 Florida: The last time these two met the Gators beat the Hurricanes in a series and advanced to the College World Series. Now the Hurricanes aim to settle a score, but must get better pitching across the board to earn a series win. UF, meanwhile, hopes to rebound from a tough midweek loss to rival Florida State. The Gators definitely have the upper hand in this series with a fantastic pitching staff leading the charge.
No. 12 Clemson vs. No. 8 South Carolina: College baseball’s best rivalry continues this weekend as the Tigers and Gamecocks do battle. The Gamecocks beat the Tigers twice in Omaha last season to advance to the national title series, and Clemson would love nothing more than to take the series this weekend. The Tigers and Gamecocks both bring something to the table offensively, but it’s the Gamecocks that have been most impressive on the mound. Still, this is a series that always can go either way. We don’t expect that to change this weekend.
No. 3 TCU at Texas Tech: The Horned Frogs have scuffled at the plate the past week, and hope to return to normal this weekend when they head to West Texas to play Texas Tech. While the Frogs are confident with left-handed pitcher Matt Purke returning to the weekend rotation, the Red Raiders are viewing this series as a potential statement maker. Dan Spencer’s club is 8-2 and playing a solid brand of baseball. It’s a big weekend for the Red Raiders.
No. 11 Stanford at No. 5 Texas: We’re still not sure what the Cardinal was thinking when putting together their non-conference schedule. After splitting series at Rice and Vanderbilt the first two weekends, the Cardinal are back on the road this weekend to face a Texas club loaded with talented arms. The Longhorns certainly have the edge on the mound, while the Cardinal has the edge at the plate. Still, this is a series between two elite teams playing in Texas. That scenario favors the Longhorns.
Kent State at Louisville: This series got more interesting after last weekend when the Cardinals dropped a home series to Toledo. Now, the Flashes are sure they can take a weekend series from the Cards. Kent has won five-straight games since dropping the first two games of its series against Georgia Tech, and has a solid crop of pitchers, including talented left-hander Andrew Chafin. The upset alert is alive and well with the Flashes and Cardinals going at it this weekend.
No. 7 Florida State at Georgia: This is a big series for both teams for vastly different reasons. The Seminoles earned a solid midweek win over rival Florida earlier this week, while Georgia scuffled in a loss to Furman. FSU hopes to improve on its perfect record while the Bulldogs are searching for positives after starting the season 2-6. Georgia desperately needs a series win over the Seminoles this weekend to get momentum in its direction.
No. 4 UCLA at Nebraska: We’ll find out all we need to know about UCLA’s 2011 team this weekend when it hits the road to face Nebraska. Though the Huskers are just an OK team so far this season, the Bruins suddenly have something to prove after losing two of three at home to San Jose State last weekend with stud starting pitchers Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole on the mound. The Huskers will be amped up and hoping to make a statement, but UCLA likely has too much pitching.
USC at No. 9 Cal State Fullerton: The Titans are glad to be back home this weekend after hitting the road last weekend and taking two of three from TCU. The Titans definitely have the pitching advantage in this series, though the Trojans can beat you if Austin Wood and Andrew Triggs are clicking on all cylinders. This is a big series for the Trojans, as they’re losers of four-straight games, most recently a midweek setback to Long Beach State.
No. 14 Oregon at Long Beach State: If you’re looking for a lot of runs, you might as well attend another series. It’s safe to say neither of these teams is expected to light up the scoreboard this weekend. The Ducks have a solid crop of arms with Tyler Anderson leading the way, while the Dirtbags have an excellent ace in Drew Gagnon. Both teams need to take care of business this weekend with the Ducks sitting at 4-4 and the Dirtbags possessing a 3-5 record.
St. John’s at Georgia Southern: This series could have huge implications when the NCAA Selection Committee is thumbing through bubble teams in a few months. The Johnnies and Eagles are solid clubs, though St. John’s needs to rebound as losers of three of their last four games. GSU, meanwhile, is coming off a tough midweek loss to North Florida. Though both teams have done some nice things on the mound this season, look for this series to be more offensive than expected.
Pepperdine at East Carolina: The Pirates hit the road last season to face the Waves and dropped two of three to Steve Rodriguez’s club. Now ECU hopes to return the favor this weekend as the Waves head to Greenville, N.C. ECU dropped a tough series to Virginia last weekend, but earned rave reviews from those in attendance. Pepperdine, meanwhile, needs a big weekend after getting swept by Fresno State last weekend and losing four of its last five games.
Tulane at Mississippi: It’s a huge weekend for the Green Wave. Tulane has won five-straight games, which includes wins over George Washington and Northwestern State, and could use a marquee road series win to pin to its resume moving forward. Ole Miss, meanwhile, took care of business at Houston last weekend and looks to have another solid weekend on the mound.
Louisiana-Lafayette at Southern Mississippi: The Ragin’ Cajuns entered the season with high hopes, but have yet to impress at the plate. That must change this weekend as they hit the road to face the Golden Eagles, who are coming off a solid midweek win over Alabama. USM dropped a series to Troy last weekend and would love to knock off a Sun Belt opponent this weekend. USM has the advantage with the better offense so far this season.
Hawaii at Loyola Marymount: In a series that began Thursday night, the Lions are off to a great start after earning a 7-5 victory. Hawaii has played a brutally tough schedule and could use a few wins in this four-game set. LMU, meanwhile, continues to be one of the best stories so far this season with an 8-2 record. Keep an eye on Hawaii’s defense as the weekend progresses, as it has been rough the past two weekends.
Rutgers at No. 22 Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have an opportunity to take care of another Big East team this weekend. The Jackets earned a series win over St. John’s last weekend and now have two solid series wins, one over the Johnnies and the other over Kent State. Rutgers, meanwhile, had a hard-fought series loss to Miami and swept Michigan down in Florida. The Scarlet Knights need a big weekend at the plate from shortstop Steve Nyisztor to earn a surprising series win.
Southeastern Louisiana: It’s important for mid-majors to earn solid wins early in the season, and that’s exactly what the Lions did the first two weeks of the season. They earned wins over teams from power conferences and finish up non-conference with a series they should sweep against Sacred Heart before beginning Southland play. Assuming the Lions take care of business in conference, there’s no reason why this team shouldn’t be in an NCAA Regional at the end of the season. They’re certainly worthy with a solid conference standing.
Watch the WAC: It could be an interesting postseason race in the WAC this season. Though Hawaii is off to a slow start, primarily because of the competition it has played, the Rainbows are expected to factor into the equation at the end of the season. Fresno State is the league favorite and certainly in the mix, while San Jose State is the intriguing team to watch. The Spartans will get a boost the entire season from its series win over UCLA, but must establish consistency. Either way, the WAC should have three legitimate postseason contenders in May. That’s a step forward.
Big East not so hot: As the season progresses, the Big East will continue to be a league we extensively analyze. The conference is expected to take a huge step forward this season, but so far the league has left something to be desired. Connecticut is barely ranked and off to an incredibly slow start at the plate, South Florida is 2-5 and even Louisville has a bad home series loss to Toledo. There’s still plenty of time for the Big East to make a move, but it’s worth noting how slow some teams have started.
SEC and national seeds: It’s kind of a strange year in the SEC so far this season. The bottom of the league hasn’t exactly impressed so far this spring, but the top of the league looks strong with teams like LSU and Arkansas surprising after a couple of weeks. But as the season progresses, current trends would indicate the league will end the year with three national seeds – Florida, Vanderbilt and South Carolina. All three teams are off to fantastic starts, and all three are expected to compile solid conference records.
Keep an eye on Tulane: The Green Wave has plenty of talent to win a lot of games in Conference USA, but needs to earn an impressive non-conference series to bolster its resume out of conference. The Green Wave could get that series win this weekend as they hit the road to face Mississippi. Tulane also has a series against Wichita State coming up next weekend. It’ll be interesting to see if the Green Wave can return to the postseason.
Kendall Rogers is the managing editor of college baseball for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at email@example.com