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College  | Story  | 3/22/2018

Weekend Preview: Week 6

Patrick Ebert     
Photo: Tim Casey

College Top 25 | Player/Pitcher of the Week | College Player Database

After last week saw quite a bit of change at the top of the rankings, as all but three teams of those ranked in the 1-15 range changed positions, this week could see the same at the bottom of the rankings as each of the teams ranked 16-25 have a significant weekend series ahead of them and we're unlikely to see no teams fall out or enter the Top 25 for a second straight week. Below we have identified a few key series to watch which are expected to affect how the rankings look come Monday.

And that doesn't mean there aren't any big series at the top of the rankings, as the SEC in particular offers a heavy slate of impact matchups, something we can all expect to continue between now and the end of the regular season. The biggest of those matchups will occur in Gainesville, Fla., as No. 1 Florida hosts No. 3 Arkansas. Two more series that include highly-ranked opponents will occur in both College Station (No. 5 Ole Miss at No. 13 Texas A&M) and Lexington (No. 9 Auburn at No. 7 Kentucky). In additon, No. 16 LSU travels to Nashville to face No. 11 Vanderbilt in a fourth SEC matchup between ranked teams.

In the ACC No. 12 Louisville hosts No. 14 Clemson as both teams will look to re-establish themselves after losing their series last weekend.

Read more about the Florida/Arkansas series just below, and stay tuned to Perfect Game over the weekend as Vinnie Cervino continues his tour watching the best talent the Southeast has to offer as he will be on to watch talented draft prospect Travis Swaggerty and South Alabama at Georgia State.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 Florida home vs. No. 3 Arkansas Gainesville, FL
2 Oregon State home vs. Washington Corvallis, OR
3 Arkansas at No. 1 Florida Gainesville, FL
4 Stanford home vs. Southern California Stanford, CA
5 Ole Miss at No. 13 Texas A&M College Station, TX
6 NC State home vs. Georgia Tech Raleigh, NC
7 Kentucky home vs. No. 9 Auburn Lexington, KY
8 Texas Tech home vs. Northeastern Lubbock, TX
9 Auburn at No. 7 Kentucky Lexington, KY
10 Florida State at North Carolina Chapel Hill, NC
11 Vanderbilt home vs. No. 16 LSU Nashville, TN
12 Louisville home vs. No. 14 Clemson Louisville, KY
13 Texas A&M home vs. No. 5 Ole Miss College Station, TX
14 Clemson at No. 12 Louisville Louisville, KY
15 Texas Christian home vs. Kansas State Fort Worth, TX
16 Louisiana State at No. 11 Vanderbilt Nashville, TN
17 Southern Miss at Florida Atlantic Boca Raton, FL
18 Indiana at Iowa Iowa City, IA
19 UCLA home vs. Arizona State Los Angeles, CA
20 Duke at Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA
21 Sam Houston State home vs. Dallas Baptist Huntsville, TX
22 UCF home vs. No. 25 East Carolina Orlando, FL
23 UNLV home vs. San Diego State Las Vegas, NV
24 Oklahoma home vs. West Virginia Norman, OK
25 East Carolina at No. 22 UCF Orlando, FL

SEC powers ready to clash

It’s not wise to draw the ire of Oregon State fans, and while that was not our intent that is exactly what occurred when we decided to leave Florida as the PG/Rawlings No. 1 team in the nation two weeks ago and the Beavers at No. 2.

Our logic was pretty simple, Florida still won their weekend series, albeit against Rhode Island, as weekend series carry a lot more weight that weekday matchups. That same week the Gators lost a pair of mid-week contests to UCF, although the Knights stacked their pitching so their top two starters – J.J. Montgomery and Joe Sheridan – would face Florida, who sent a freshman hurler to the mound in each of those games.

This weekend Florida has another big test ahead of them, possibly their biggest of the regular season, as they host an Arkansas squad that is coming off of a very loud sweep of Kentucky, in Fayetteville, out-scoring the Wildcats 39-15. Beavers fans suddenly become Hogs fans for the weekend, as a series win by Arkansas would definitely create a changing at the guard at the top of the rankings … that is assuming it’s Oregon State and not Arkansas that is taking over at the top should Florida fall.

Despite the fact that Jackson Kowar was knocked around a little bit last weekend by South Carolina, the Gators still boast one of the nation’s best weekend trios, if not the best. Brady Singer, Kowar and Tyler Dyson are a combined 12-2 with a 2.22 ERA and have accounted for nearly half of Florida’s innings pitched this season (with a nifty 93-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio to boot).

The offense has also been more effective this year than it was a year ago, as third baseman Jonathan India in particular is having a big season, hitting .397-8-18, and he has only committed one error at the hot corner. J.J. Schwarz has turned things around as a senior, middle infielder Deacon Liput recently returned to the lineup and Nelson Maldonado, Will Daton, Blake Reese and Nick Horvath are all hitting over .300.

In addition, the team is strong up the middle on defense, as Horvath in particular has turned into a nightly human highlight reel in center field. The bullpen is just as strong, if not stronger, than the starting staff, as closer Michael Byrne already has five saves and has yet to be scored upon, with numerous other hard-throwing options to turn to.

I think you get the picture by this point. As expected, Florida is very good and more than deserving to continue to carry the No. 1 ranking as the defending national champion.

However, the Razorbacks arrived in Gainesville with the SEC’s second-best offense (they have scored 189 runs in 21 games, one less than Kentucky’s 190), and their staff ERA of 2.66 is third in conference (Florida is at 2.91). While they’re still trying to identify a consistent, third starter to go on Sundays, staff ace Blaine Knight and Saturday starter Isaiah Campbell have been dominant with ERAs of 1.30 and 1.73 respectively.

Having those two in their current roles has been a huge boost to Arkansas, as Knight was draft eligible as a sophomore a year ago yet decided to return for his junior year while Campbell was expected to be a big part of last year’s team but missed almost the entire season due to injury. Both regularly sit in the low-90s, and can touch higher, with big breaking balls, so their stuff can go toe-to-toe with Florida’s dynamic starting staff.

After Arkansas went with a Johnny Wholestaff approach in their mid-week game against Charlotte, a 6-3 loss to the 49ers, it appears lefthander Kacey Murphy will be taking the third weekend starting role against Florida. Murphy also has a sub-2.00 ERA this season (1.69) in a starting role, although he has been starting the team’s mid-week contests, so once again an opposing team is stacking their deck with hopes of taking down the No. 1 Gators.

And with all of that content shared we haven’t even gotten to Arkansas’ dangerous lineup, a unit that is slashing .321/.433/.559 as a team. Outfielder Dominic Fletcher is the only everyday regular not hitting over .300 (.220), but even then he has come up with some big games and is also an asset defensively thanks to possessing quite possibly the biggest outfield arm in all of college baseball.

Luke Bonfield, like J.J. Schwarz, is enjoying a big senior season, Carson Shaddy and Grant Koch continue to play big roles on both sides of the ball, Eric Cole is enjoying a breakout season and the team is getting huge contributions from a pair of freshman, Heston Kjerstad and Casey Martin.

Make sure you take care of your weekend chores early as this series is must-see TV.

Bottom 10 shakeup?

Last week there was no movement among the teams ranked 16-25 in the Perfect Game College Top 25 as all 10 teams enjoyed winning weeks. There also weren’t a lot of teams making especially loud statements to force their way into the rankings. So, for once, at least for one week, it appears that the 25 teams represented in the rankings are as close to being the most deserving as you’re going to find at any point of the season.

That of course means by the law of averages that this week there’s going to be significant shakeup, which wouldn’t be surprising as each team ranked from 16 to 25 plays a significant series as shown in the Top 25 in Action as listed above. We’re not going to detail each of these series, but here are a few that especially catch our attention that aren’t being played among teams in the Power 5 conferences:

East Carolina at UCF

You can’t fault UCF for scheduling so competitively with their mid-week matchups, although this week they lost a pair of games to Florida State which came after an impressive 16-1 run, which followed their 1-3 start to the season. With American Athletic Conference play beginning this weekend the Knights couldn’t stack their starters as they did a couple of weeks ago against Florida, although Jordan Spicer and Thad Ward both have intriguing pro upside.

Each of their weekend starters – J.J. Montgomery, Chris Williams and Joe Sheridan – has an ERA well below 2.00 as they’re missing bats at a high rate while limiting opposing baserunners. The bullpen is just as deep, with a quartet of hurlers – Garrett Westberg, Bryce Tucker, Cre Finfrock and Eric Hepple – who also have ERAs below 2.00. Rylan Thomas has been the story on offense as he has emerged as a legitimate Golden Spikes candidate.

ECU can match UCF in starters, at least on Friday and Saturday, as Chris Holba and Trey Benton have also been especially stingy when it comes to giving up runs, much less baserunners. Their two primary bullpen arms – Alec Burleson and Ryan Ross – have only allowed one earned run to score in nearly 30 combined relief innings, while Tyler Smith has seemingly emerged as a more-than-capable third starter after shutting out Maryland last weekend for 5 2/3 innings.

The Pirates’ offense isn’t quite as potent, but they make contact, steal bases and play good defense as a unit.

San Diego State at UNLV

UNLV’s success as a Mountain West power this season has been well documented, and it’s important to point out that their success is far from a fluke. They have statement wins over Indiana State, Oregon, Loyola Marymount, Fresno State, Iowa, Utah, and most recently, Arizona State, and are now primed for one of the biggest MWC series of the season as they prepare to host San Diego State.

The Rebels have four starters that have made five starts apiece and are a combined 11-2 while accounting for 103 of the team’s 198 innings played. Chase Maddux, son of Hall of Fame righthander Greg Maddux, is enjoying a breakout redshirt sophomore season after a prolific prep career at perennial national powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School. Closer Bryan Menendez has secured the back end of games with seven saves while outfielder Kyle Isbel is on the short list of way-too-early Golden Spikes favorites by slashing .447/.495/.819 this season.

The Aztecs have some big statement wins of their own, sweeping UC Santa Barbara to open the year before beating both Arizona and Grand Canyon at the Tony Gwynn Legacy tournament. They’ve been on the radar for Top 25 inclusion ever since, but a few imperfect weeks have prevented them from forcing their way in. They did win a big series over Cal Poly last weekend, and another series win over a ranked UNLV squad could cause the two-teams to flip-flop their current positions.

Senior lefthander Jacob Erickson has performed admirably as the team’s newly-minted Friday starter the last two weekends, and junior righthander Garrett Hill has been the steadiest presence on the staff throwing on Sundays. The team has three relievers they feel comfortable throwing in almost any situation in Adrian Mardueno, Jacob Flores and closer Jorge Fernandez, each of whom has made at least 10 appearances already this year.

The offense is nowhere near as powerful as UNLV’s, but they have a nice collection of station-to-station hitters that know how to work counts and get on base. San Diego State likely can’t win a slugfest against UNLV so their pitchers are going to have to keep these contests close.

Dallas Baptist at Sam Houston State

DBU has had somewhat of an up-and-down season so far, getting swept, and essentially shut down, during their second weekend series of the year at Clemson only to bounce back and win eight of their next 13 games. They’ve split their two mid-week games against a ranked Oklahoma squad and they also have a mid-week win over Oklahoma State and a recent mid-week loss against Baylor.

The offense hasn’t been as stout as originally thought, as two of their regulars, Matt Duce and Garrett Wolforth, are hitting below .200 and have yet to find rhythm at the plate. That said, the top of the order is still in good hands as toolsy center fielder Jameson Hannah and Devlin Grandberg are getting the job done, slashing .407/.462/.617 and .370/.472/.658, respectively.

In a similar vein neither M.D. Johnson nor Jordan Martinson has been as productive as hoped going into the year in regards to the Patriots’ pitching staff, although Luke Eldred and Kody Funderburk have both shown flashes of dominance.

After going 1-2 at the Shriners College Classic in Houston, going 1-2 against three tried-and-true SEC programs, which included a thrilling win over No. 11 Vanderbilt, Sam Houston State won nine in a row, losing only recently to Texas, on the road, in a mid-week matchup. Otherwise they swept both Lamar and a once-surging Texas A&M Corpus Christi team, in addition to Baylor, as part of a challenging eight-game road trip.

Outfielder Hunter Hearn and infielder Andrew Fregia continue to power the offense while the pitching staff has five arms that have thrown at least 22 innings so far this year and none of them has an ERA above 3.63. That group doesn’t include Kyle Backhus and Dakota Mills, who have been dominant out of the bullpen, especially Mills with his eye-popping 32-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 1/3 innings.

While this isn’t an in-conference matchup, pitting one of the best from the Missouri Valley Conference against the best the Southland has to offer, a series win could go a long way to helping one of both of their resumes when it comes to the postseason.

Southern Miss at Florida Atlantic

While no one is going to let Southern Miss sneak up on them, especially after they opened their season with a series sweep over Mississippi State, Florida Atlantic has quietly gone 16-5 to open the season and have won eight of their last nine games, including a mid-week contest over Miami in Coral Gables. The Owls’ weekend trio of Jake Miednik, Kyle Marman and Vince Coletti is a combined 9-2 with a 1.81 ERA and an impressive 110-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 89 2/3 innings.

Miednik will have to be at his best going up against the PG/Rawlings Pitcher of the Week, Nick Sandlin, who was actually considered for the honor two previous times this season thanks to his dominance thus far. While Sandlin’s 55-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34 innings of work is more impressive than FAU’s combined starting staff, the Eagles’ offense is once again the carrying force for Southern Miss. Although they’re slashing .303/.412/.448 as a team, a few of their hitters haven’t quite hit their stride yet, including Preseason All-American Matt Wallner, whose .313-3-15 numbers look rather pedestrian compared to what he did a year ago.

Although it is still early in the season, especially in regards to conference play, this series could be crucial in an always-competitive Conference USA.