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College  | Story  | 4/21/2011

Preview: Pac-10 picture takes shape

Kendall Rogers     

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PREMIUM FEATURE:
Oklahoma State-Texas A&M have different backgrounds, same results



Wacky may be what people refer to the Western Athletic Conference as, but the word certainly applies to the Pac-10 so far this season.

Before the season, Oregon and Washington State were expected to take huge steps forward, and UCLA and Stanford were national title contenders.

Well, Oregon needs a miracle to reach the NCAA postseason with a terrible RPI and 2-7 mark in Pac-10 play, while Washington State is having a nightmarish campaign with a 2-10 mark in conference. UCLA, meanwhile, finally is heating up but still has an RPI of 58 and Stanford dropped out of the rankings this week after falling to 3-6 in league play.

While those teams have struggled at times this season, Arizona State continues to experience a wealth of success, California is meeting expectations and Oregon State has been a huge surprise with the Pac-10 lead at 8-1 in league play.

Another important weekend is here with Arizona State at California, UCLA at Stanford and other Pac-10 series highlighting the weekend.

We take an inside look at the weekend in college baseball.

WHO’S HOT

Oregon State: The Beavers have won nine-straight games and are coming off a road series sweep over Stanford. They’re currently in national seed territory atop the Pac-10 standings.

Virginia: The Cavaliers are ranked No. 2 by us and are red-hot having won seven-straight games, including series wins over Duke and Georgia Tech the past two weekends. Next up for the Cavaliers is a date with N.C. State.

Cal State Fullerton: Remember when there were question marks about the Titans? Well, the Titans have won six-straight contests and are winners of 19 of their last 21 games. Dave Serrano’s club is on a roll.

Connecticut: The Huskies were written off by many after non-conference play, but they’re heating up and playing more like themselves so far in Big East play. The Huskies have won seven-straight contests and are 11-2 in league play.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks lead the SEC and are on a roll after taking two of three from Vanderbilt. With Vandy and Florida out of the way, the Gamecocks could be on cruise control moving forward.

WHO’S NOT

Kentucky: The Wildcats are having yet another disappointing campaign. They’re a dismal 2-13 in the SEC, losers of four-straight games and have a 2-8 record in the last 10 games. Things don’t get easier with Arkansas on the schedule this weekend.

Minnesota: The Golden Gophers were one of the Big Ten favorites entering the season, but they have some work to do with a 3-6 mark in conference. They also have lost seven of their last ten games.

Missouri: The Tigers are having a nightmarish campaign this spring. The Tigers are 2-9 in Big 12 play and 1-9 in their last 10 games. It’s just one of those seasons for coach Tim Jamieson's club.

Buffalo: The Bulls might have some solid individual players, but they’re extremely poor as an overall team. Buffalo is 0-11 in MAC play and has lost 14-straight games. We’ll see if they can snap the losing streak against Kent State this weekend.

New Mexico: We’ve been waiting for the Lobos to finally turn the corner, but that doesn’t appear to be coming. The Lobos are 1-9 in Mountain West play and have lost seven-straight games.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

Big 12 title race takes more shape: Looking at the Big 12 standings entering the weekend, you’ll notice Texas A&M, Texas and Oklahoma State at the top. The Aggies and Longhorns are atop the conference standings with 11-4 records, while Oklahoma State is third with a 10-5 record. After those three, Kansas, who plays Texas at home this weekend, is 8-7 and three games back, and Oklahoma is 7-7 and 3 1/2 games back. The title picture could become clearer this weekend. The Aggies play host to the Cowboys in College Station and Texas travels to Kansas.

Big series for UCLA and Stanford: Before the season began, this was penciled in as one of the top three-game series of the season. Well, it’s still an important series, but for a much different reason than expected. Stanford was in good shape a couple of weeks ago. However, it since has dropped series to USC and Oregon State, falling to 3-6 in Pac-10 play. UCLA, meanwhile, played bad baseball in non-conference play, but suddenly is 9-3 in Pac-10 play and playing more like the team that was expected to compete for the national title. The Cardinal desperately needs to bounce back this weekend. UCLA, meanwhile, needs to improve in RPI.

Miami gets tested yet again: There are some that believe Miami’s 13-4 ACC record is one of the most deceiving figures in college baseball today. Others, though, believe the Hurricanes truly have turned the corner. Well, we’ll find out the next few weeks what exactly is the case. The Hurricanes have compiled an impressive league record, but went 0-3 against Georgia Tech in the only ACC series against an upper echelon club. The next three weeks? The ‘Canes have North Carolina this weekend before facing Florida State, Virginia and Duke to end ACC play. Yeah, that stretch won’t be easy.

LSU’s backs are against the wall: When the Tigers swept Cal State Fullerton at home in non-conference play, they appeared to be yet another Bayou Bengal club primed to compete for the national title. But things have gone south since that series, and the Tigers have lost all but one SEC series. They now enter one of the toughest series of the season at Vanderbilt with a dismal 4-11 record and an 11th place conference standing. The Tigers have their backs against the wall, but there’s a good chance this team, at best, is 5-13 at best, in conference after this weekend. That would be a team not worthy of a postseason appearance.

Big series in two mid-major conferences: The power conferences aren’t the only ones with huge series this weekend. The same is the case in the Atlantic Sun and Sun Belt. Stetson, a potential NCAA Regional host, gets a stiff test this weekend as it travels to Jacksonville to face the surging Dolphins. In the Sun Belt, Troy, which dropped a surprising series to Middle Tennessee State last weekend, welcomes Western Kentucky, which is just a game back of the Trojans in the standings. The top spot in both conferences could change hands this weekend.

SERIES TO WATCH

No. 13 Arizona State at No. 16 California: The Sun Devils showed last week they know how to rebound from adversity. The Devils swept Washington State after getting swept by Oregon State the previous weekend. Now the Devils hit the road for the first time since that OSU series to face California. The Golden Bears are coming off a home series sweep over Washington and could use a series win over the Devils to bolster their postseason resume. Both teams have some talented arms and offensive cogs, but look for the Bears to get the job done at home.

No. 20 UCLA at Stanford: The Bruins suddenly are playing a solid brand of baseball and have an excellent 9-3 Pac-10 record entering the weekend. The Cardinal, meanwhile, only has an overall record of 17-12 and desperately needs a conference series win after dropping the last two series to USC and Oregon State. Stanford is just 3-6 in Pac-10 play. The Cardinal matches up well on Friday with stud pitcher Mark Appel going against UCLA’s Gerrit Cole. The Bruins otherwise have the edge on the mound and in the series.

N.C. State at No. 2 Virginia: The Wolfpack entered last weekend’s series against North Carolina in bad shape from a postseason standpoint. But after sweeping the rival Tar Heels, they’re back in the field this week. Perhaps the momentum gained from that series win will springboard them to a successful finish. The Pack, though, has a tough chore this weekend against the sizzling Cavaliers. N.C. State is playing a better brand of baseball, but asking for a road series win over the Cavaliers is asking for too much.

No. 1 South Carolina at Mississippi State: The Bulldogs aren’t yet in danger of missing the NCAA postseason, but that could change should they not finish the season on a high note. The Bulldogs made a statement four weeks ago with a home series sweep over Auburn. However, they’ve since lost series to Georgia, Florida and Arkansas. The Bulldogs need to find a way to bounce back this weekend. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, are used to having a target on their backs and are playing a good brand of baseball entering the weekend. Folks in Starkville, Miss., will be treated to a good series, but look for the Gamecocks to head home victorious.

LSU at No. 3 Vanderbilt: The Tigers might’ve found a glimmer of hope with a solid midweek win over Southern Mississippi, but they still have a plethora of work to do to cement themselves in the NCAA postseason picture. The Tigers have just one SEC series win (Ole Miss) this season, and that likely won’t change this weekend. Just as the Tigers picked up a huge midweek win, they’ll hit the road and play a Vanderbilt club that has a substantial advantage and is coming off a tough road series loss to South Carolina. LSU young pitchers Kurt McCune and Kevin Gausman must pitch at a high level this weekend to have a chance.

Alabama at No. 4 Florida: The Crimson Tide was in great shape just a couple of weeks ago, but they need to find a way to get back on track. That’ll be tough against Florida, though. The Crimson Tide has dropped their last two series against Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Florida, meanwhile, has a huge advantage on the mound in this series and is coming off a solid road series win over Georgia. Barring a surprise, look for Florida to add another series win to its resume.

No. 15 Oklahoma State at No. 5 Texas A&M: The Cowboys and Aggies both have offenses that can be solid in spurts, but it’ll be tough to get on a roll this weekend considering both teams have impressive pitching staffs. The Aggies and Cowboys both have solid weekend rotations, with the Aggie having the edge. Both also have some talented relievers. Don’t look for many runs to be scored in this series, with the Aggies having a slight advantage at home. This is expected to be a fantastic series between a pair of Big 12 title contenders.

Nebraska at No. 17 Oklahoma: The Huskers are coming off a home series win over Kansas State and a solid midweek win over Creighton, but still have much work to do to reach the NCAA postseason with an RPI of 59 and a 5-7 Big 12 mark. The Huskers’ resume could greatly improve this weekend with a series win over the Sooners, who are coming off a tough series loss to rival Oklahoma State. OU has been extremely inconsistent this spring, but it knows how important this home series is to its postseason picture. The Sooners should take care of business.

No. 25 Miami at No. 10 North Carolina: There’s no question the Hurricanes have an extremely talented pitching staff, but we’re wondering how their offense will fair against North Carolina this weekend. The ‘Canes are an impressive 13-4 in ACC play, but lost all three games to the best league opponent they’ve played. We’ll find out all we need about the Hurricanes this weekend. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, were shell-shocked by a road series loss to N.C. State and will be motivated this weekend. It’s hard to imagine the Tar Heels losing this home series.

No. 22 Rice at UAB: The Owls are playing a solid brand of baseball and have their sights set on an NCAA Regional host heading down the final stretch of the season. They’ll actually get a stiff test this weekend against the Blazers. The Blazers dropped a series to surprising Memphis last week, but still have a chance to reach the postseason. UAB is 6-6 in conference and has an RPI (63) that needs to improve to have a legitimate chance. UAB is 5-5 vs. RPI Top 50 teams. Don’t be too surprised if this series comes down to the finale.

No. 18 Stetson at Jacksonville: The Hatters have put together a fantastic campaign and headline the Atlantic Sun. But don’t be surprised when the Dolphins upset them this weekend. Though Stetson is more known at this point in the season, the Dolphins are very solid and would be in the NCAA postseason if the season ended today. They have an RPI of 56 with a 23-13 overall record. The Dolphins need productive weekends from Adam Brett Walker and Dan Gulbransen to take this series. The Atlantic Sun finally takes center stage.

No. 7 Texas at Kansas: If you’re a fan of offense, you might want to avoid following this series. It’s safe to say each game of this series is expected to be short with both teams possessing some solid pitchers and poor offenses. The Longhorns and Jayhawks are ranked in the 200s nationally in offensive production, with the Longhorns have the edge on the mound with starters Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green and stud closer Cory Knebel leading the charge. Kansas, though, is playing well at home, so don’t be surprised if this series ends in an upset.

No. 6 Cal State Fullerton at Cal Poly: The Titans are far removed from their road trip earlier this season, and enter the Cal Poly series winning of 19 of their last 21 games. The Titans put that on the line this weekend against the Mustangs, who are playing a better brand of baseball these days, having won two of their last three series in Big West play against UC Riverside and Cal State Northridge. The upset alert could be elevated slightly by the fact Fullerton starting pitcher Noe Ramirez will miss the weekend with an ankle injury. The Titans, though, still should win the road series.

East Carolina at Houston: The Pirates got back in the postseason picture this week after winning a crucial home series over Central Florida last weekend. They still have little room for error as they head to Houston this weekend. ECU is 6-6 in conference with an RPI of 23 and overall record of 25-12. Houston, meanwhile, is just .500 overall and needs a series win to get back in the postseason discussion. Interestingly, UH is tied for first in conference with a 6-3 record. There’s a lot at stake when these two meet this weekend.

Western Kentucky at Troy: The Trojans have struggled the last week, but look for them to return to their impressive ways against the HIlltoppers this weekend. The Hilltoppers have won back-to-back Sun Belt series over Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State, while the Trojans are coming off a surprising series loss to Middle Tennessee State. Troy is firmly entrenched in the NCAA postseason picture, while WKU needs to improve its resume with just an RPI of 67.

TALKING POSTSEASON

Central Florida: Coach Terry Rooney has turned the tide of the program with some strong recruiting, but he’s still looking to earn an NCAA postseason bid with the Knights. That may or may not happen this season. The Knights improved to 2-0 against Florida this season with a solid midweek win, but still have much work to do with a road series against Memphis looming. The Knights have a high RPI of 27 with a 24-14 record. However, they’re just 4-8 in C-USA play with a 5-7 mark vs. RPI Top 25, 8-8 vs. RPI Top 50 and 10-12 vs. RPI Top 100. UCF is on the bad side of the bubble as of today, but that’d likely change with a series win over the Tigers.

LSU: We talked about the curious case of the Tigers earlier in the preview, but let’s take a closer look at where the Tigers stand from a postseason standpoint. Despite the horrible SEC record, the Tigers have an RPI of 24 with a 24-14 overall record. Not too bad. Going more in-depth, LSU is 6-10 vs. RPI Top 25, 8-11 vs. RPI Top 50 and 13-12 vs. RPI Top 100. The Tigers will get some credit for their record vs. RPI Top 100, but the resume still doesn’t warrant a postseason bid. LSU has a lot of work to do in SEC play down the stretch.

Oregon State: The Beavers have been red-hot the past few weeks, and have climbed from the 30s to the top 10 in the latest RPI figures. The Beavers are in good shape for a national seed and will have to lose it. Someone else isn’t going to take it from them at this point in the season. OSU is 27-7 with an RPI of 10. It also is 6-2 vs. RPI Top 25, 10-3 vs. RPI Top 50 and 16-4 vs. RPI Top 100. It’s safe to say coach Pat Casey is doing a fantastic job this spring.

Stetson: After having Stetson as an NCAA Regional host in our projections for two weeks, it was tough to pass it up for Arkansas. However, the Razorbacks have a higher RPI and their resume continues to improve. Additionally, it’d be hard for the NCAA committee to turn down the huge gate he Razorbacks would draw. Still, the Hatters are very much still in the mix for a host spot. The Hatters are 29-8 with an RPI of 26. They also are 4-0 vs. RPI Top 25, 6-2 vs. RPI Top 50 and 13-3 vs. RPI Top 100.

UCLA: It’ll be very interesting to see how much the Bruins can move up in the RPI the final few weeks of the regular season. The Bruins suffered some bad non-conference losses, and as a result have a 20-12 record with an RPI of 58. They still have some work to do to be 100 percent safe despite being a No. 2 postseason seed in our projections this week. The Bruins are 0-2 vs. RPI Top 25, 4-4 vs. RPI Top 50 and 10-11 vs. RPI Top 100.


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 kendall@perfectgame.org