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College  | Story  | 3/21/2019

Weekend Preview: Week 6

Patrick Ebert      Mike Rooney     
Photo: Levi Prater (Ty Russell/OU Athletics)

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

Although the ACC enters its third week of league play, conference play across the country continues to get underway, with a few conferences needing to wait yet another week before they're in full swing. NC State gets a a big early season test on the road against Miami, Texas will look for a statement road victory at TCU, ECU hosts a dangerous UCF club and both UCLA/Arizona and Arizona State/Oregon give the Pac-12 a pair of exciting series to follow. In non-conference action, Texas Tech hosts both Michigan and Stetson over the weekend as the Red Raiders won't have much of a chance to lick their wounds after losing their Big 12-opening series at Texas last weekend.

For as good as those series will be all eyes will be on the SEC, particularly with the debut of games on Thursday night. And we're in for a good one to kick things off as No. 6 Vanderbilt plays host to No. 13 Florida. Both teams lost their series a week ago, Vanderbilt on the road to Texas A&M and Florida at home to now No. 2 Mississippi State. Unless this one ends 1-1-1 (or crazier yet, 0-0-3), someone has to win this series and someone has to lose. It should be pointed out that this is a matchup between two of the last five national champions.

But that series may not even be the best of what the SEC has to offer this weekend. Mississippi State returns home to face an Auburn squad that has one of the best records in all of college baseball this year at 19-2 and is riding a 14-game winning streak into Starkville. Mississippi State is one game better at 20-2 and the projected matchups of Tanner Burns vs. Ethan Small and Jack Owen vs. JT Ginn in the first two games will provide a Super Regional atmosphere.

Coming into the year it was projected that Vanderbilt, Florida, Mississippi State and Auburn would all be good, and they haven't disappointed. Below we take a deeper look at an Oklahoma team that entered the year without much hype that could take a shaky Big 12 Conference by storm. We also identify five series from coast to coast that have "upset alert" written all over them.

Stay tuned to Perfect Game this weekend as Jheremy Brown will be on hand for Clemson at Boston College and Greg Gerard will see LSU at Georgia.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 UCLA home vs. Arizona Los Angeles, CA
2 Mississippi State home vs. No. 7 Auburn Starkville, MS
3 Stanford home vs. Utah Stanford, CA
4 Oregon State home vs. California Corvallis, OR
5 Louisville home vs. Georgia Tech Louisville, KY
6 Vanderbilt home vs. No. 13 Florida Nashville, TN
7 Auburn at No. 2 Mississippi State Starkville, MS
8 NC State at Miami Coral Gables, FL
9 North Carolina at Virginia Tech Blacksburg, VA
10 Arkansas at Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
11 Texas at No. 20 Texas Christian Fort Worth, TX
12 Georgia home vs. No. 14 LSU Athens, GA
13 Florida at No. 6 Vanderbilt Nashville, TN
14 Louisiana State at No. 12 Georgia Athens, GA
15 Mississippi at Missouri Columbia, MO
16 East Carolina home vs. UCF Greenville, NC
17 Texas A&M at Kentucky Lexington, KY
18 Texas Tech home vs. Michigan, Stetson Lubbock, TX
19 Coastal Carolina home vs. Troy Conway, SC
20 Texas Christian home vs. No. 11 Texas Fort Worth, TX
21 Arizona State at Oregon Eugene, OR
22 Florida State at Notre Dame South Bend, IN
23 UC Irvine home vs. Washington State Irvine, CA
24 Connecticut at Houston Houston, TX
25 Oklahoma home vs. Kansas Norman, OK

Surgin’ Sooners

Oklahoma, the newest member of the Top 25, is one of the season’s biggest surprises. They’ve yet to have a major statement victory, which is why the jury is still out as to how legitimate their 18-4 record is, but that record alone is impressive. They’ve won every weekend series, including recent ones over Rice and Missouri State, they beat both of the hosts of the Tony Gwynn Legacy event (San Diego and San Diego State) and they’re coming off of a two-game midweek sweep over New Mexico, taming a potent Lobos offense in the process.

Remember when Kyler Murray played baseball? A year ago, Murray and Co. gave Mississippi State a run for their money in the Tallahassee Regional, taking it to the Bulldogs with a 20-10 win in the first game before MSU got a fresh breath of life in game two and went on their magical run to Omaha.

Murray was just one piece of a talented outfield trio from a year ago, a unit that included Steele Walker and Cade Harris. Jake Irvin and Devon Perez fronted an effective pitching staff, and those five, among others, did not return for the 2019 season. Add a season-ending injury in the preseason to Braidyn Fink, who was supposed to be their closer, and you were looking at a new-look Sooners team heading into 2019 with more questions than answers.

Whatever those questions were they’ve been answered to this point of the season as they're hitting .295 as a team with a staff ERA of 2.43. Their starting staff goes four deep, possibly five, and their weekend starters get better as the weekend progresses from Cade Cavalli to Nathan Wiles to Levi Prater, who is coming off of a 15-strikeout performance against Missouri State. Midweek starter Ben Abram, a 6-foot-7, 264-pound freshman, is 5-0 with a 1.61 ERA in six games, five of which are starts, to begin his collegiate career.

While it was the outfield that carried the offense a year ago it’s the infield doing so this year. On the left side third baseman Brylie Ware is the senior leader on both sides of the ball and shortstop Brandon Zaragoza provides rock-solid defense and a steady contact bat. On the right side, second baseman Conor McKenna is hitting .313 this year after batting .402 at a California junior college a year ago and sophomore slugger Tyler Hardman is enjoying a big, breakout season.

Kansas heads to Norman this weekend with a trip to West Virginia on the docket the weekend after that. From there OU has weekend series against TCU, Baylor, Minnesota, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas from early April until the end of the regular season.

It should be pointed out that the Big 12 is wide open this year. To this point Texas Tech hasn’t been as dominant as we thought they would be heading into the season. For as exciting as Texas’ play has been, their production has been streaky. TCU has had to win four in a row to get to their current 13-6 record. Baylor and Oklahoma State, who both entered the year in the middle of the Top 25, have already been knocked out.

The Sooners team is young, with numerous freshmen and sophomores contributing at a high level and a seemingly endless well of options in the bullpen. All of that makes for a good recipe for success for head coach Skip Johnson, however, the biggest tests for this team are yet to come.

– Patrick Ebert

Upset City

In honor of the NCAA basketball tournament, let’s take this opportunity to look at potential upsets for college baseball’s sixth week of the season. Just when you thought it was safe to come outside …

Arizona State at Oregon

The Sun Devils are the nation’s only undefeated team and this club is known for its elite offense. The Arizona State lineup is long and is led by stars Hunter Bishop and Spencer Torkelson. And the middle infield defense of Alika Williams and Drew Swift is another hidden weapon here.

On the other hand, PK Park is arguably the nation’s most difficult hitters’ park. And these Ducks are plucky. They nearly took a series at Texas Tech and this club showed great mettle in avoiding a sweep at the hands of Washington last weekend. The Ducks will most likely be without pitchers Kenyon Yovan and Cole Stringer this weekend but fireballer Ryne Nelson may have turned the corner versus the Huskies.

This will be the Sun Devils first weekend road trip and these Ducks are hitting a higher-than-normal .276 with 30 stolen bases. We’re calling a series victory for the Ducks.

Florida State at Notre Dame

The Irish were run off the field at Arizona State, surrendering 46 runs in three games on opening weekend and a 4-7 start to the season caused many to write this club off. At second glance the Sun Devils may have the nation’s best offense after all and Notre Dame has now won back-to-back ACC road series (Wake Forest and Duke) to come into the weekend at 4-2 in league play.

The Seminoles are 15-5 but they have lost four of their last six games. This lineup features four true freshmen so there have been the predictable ups and downs. Defense has been an issue as of late but the primary concern would the struggles of aces Drew Parrish (5.88 ERA) and C.J. Van Eyk (4.85 ERA).

But let’s not bury the lead: the highs in South Bend this weekend will be 36, 45, and 53 degrees. Give me the team from northern Indiana.

North Carolina at Virginia Tech

John Szefc is an old-fashioned program builder but year two feels early even per his track record. The Hokies are 15-6 coming into the weekend and nearly won their opening ACC series versus Florida State. This team is very offensive and the park also plays in favor of the hitters. But the team ERA of 2.89 is the statistic that jumps out at you. Freshman lefthander Chris Gerard is 2-0 with a 0.35 ERA through the first five starts of his career.

The Tar Heels bring a roster full of high-profile players with immense physical talent. Michael Busch is one of the nation’s purest lefthanded hitters and he owns a .500 on-base percentage. While ace Gianluca Dalatri is off to an excellent start, the trio of Austin Bergner, Tyler Baum and Caden O’Brien haven’t been the dominant group that was anticipated.

The Tar Heels head to Blacksburg looking to flush their shocking 0-3 weekend at Clemson from two weeks ago – give us the home dogs.

Michigan at Texas Tech

Michigan appears to be the class of the Big Ten in 2019. This is a veteran position player group and sophomores Jesse Franklin and Jordan Nwogu have star upside. While the pitching staff may lack elite depth, the rotation of Tommy Henry, Karl Kaufmann and Jeff Criswell matches up with anyone in any league, it not the nation.

The Texas Tech roster is the envy of college baseball. There is Olympic-caliber speed, endless velocity on the mound and a Golden Spikes Award favorite in third baseman Josh Jung. What the Red Raiders have lacked so far is consistency.

To be fair, Tim Tadlock has tested this group with what has been arguably the nation’s toughest schedule to this point. The pitching has been fine but not great. Give us the Wolverines to make up for a disappointing weekend in Los Angeles two weeks ago.

Quick Picks

Ole Miss at Missouri: Mizzou lacks the baseball atmosphere of the rest of the SEC. However, the Tigers do have outstanding lefthanded pitching that could neutralize middle-of-the-order Rebel bats Cole Zabowski and Tyler Keenan. And Kameron Misner is going to take over a weekend eventually.

Cal Baptist at Grand Canyon: Much like Grand Canyon before them, the Lancers aim to go from Division II power to consistent top-of-the-WAC program. The ‘Lopes have won three of the last four WAC titles. It won’t be easy but give us Gary Adcock’s road dogs.

Illinois State at Illinois: Here are two clubs off to excellent starts. The Redbirds own a win at Vanderbilt and they will certainly have a little extra juice for their big brothers from the Big Ten.

Miami (Ohio) at Kent State: The Golden Flashes have won three consecutive MAC regular season titles. They are battle-tested, having played a hellacious non-conference schedule once again. But the Redhawks are scorching hot and winners of 13 in a row. Road dogs, road dogs for all my men.

– Mike Rooney