Thursday Thoughts - 64 Things That Will Happen In 2008
There are plenty of certainties this college baseball season. So I've decided to take the 64 things that I'm sure will happen and lay them out for you here. Feel free to disagree, but I'm so sure I'm right that I'll shave my head if I miss on any of these things.
So here you go: The 64 Things That Will (Almost Certainly) Happen In College Baseball In 2008:
(Pat Casey and the Beavers hope to win title No. 3 this June)
1- Oregon State will not win the national title.
And the more I write that the more Emails I get from Beaver fans saying "Thank you for doubting us. We love when you guys in the media do that."
2- North Carolina will not finish as runners-up again.
As I said in the preview on UNC, unless you're some kind of perverse Duke basketball fan, you hate seeing Coach Mike Fox get THISCLOSE to the national title and come up snake-eyes twice.
(Coach Mike Fox and his Tarheels pray they won't finish No. 2 again)
3- Rice won't start out 2-0 in Omaha only to lose two straight again.
It's happened two years in a row now and it's just weird. Surely fate won't be this cruel again.
4- The SEC will get more than five teams into the NCAA tournament.
Last year may have been one of the biggest hiccups in history, with only five SEC teams making the Big Dance. If the recruiting rankings hold any water, this should be a monster year. A full seven SEC teams were ranked in the Top 12 of the fall 2005 recruiting classes. Those players are all juniors now.
5- The SEC won't have a team go 0-2 in Omaha again.
Going back to 2003, six of the last 10 teams to go uno-dos-adios at the CWS have been from the SEC. Even Mark Etheridge gave his own home conference a your-schedules-are-too-easy-based berating after Mississippi State was eliminated last June. But better luck is on tap for 2008. The SEC will be more competitive on the national stage. (Though I admit I feel weird just having to write that.)
6- The number of college baseball rankings will still be about FIVE TOO MANY.
For a sport that really doesn't need rankings - Damn! - there sure are a lot of rankings. NCBWA, Baseball Weekly Coaches, Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, Rivals, Ping!, PG Crosschecker, TMZ.com, People Magazine, Oprah... stop the insanity!
7- A handful of pre-season Top 25 teams will tank it big time this year.
It happens every year. Remember Evansville, Winthrop, Tennessee and Georgia Tech? They were all ranked last year in the pre-season. None of them made the NCAA tournament field. Let's see who flops this year.
8- Wayne Graham, Augie Garrido, Mike Martin and Ron Polk still won't retire after this season.
And college baseball will be all the better for it.
9- But if none of those coaches make it to Omaha in June, Coach Martin will get the most heat from his fan base.
The Seminoles have come up short too many times since their last visit to The O in 2000, including losing on their home field in the post-season three times.
10- For the first time in 10 years George Horton won't be mentioned for any job openings.
Annually the biggest rumor source in college baseball. But thankfully he's busy getting his Ducks in a row.
11- Once again ESPN just won't "get it" when it comes to college baseball.
For a network that televises the grand stage of the game, it stuns me that they still continue to have NO original content on their website, choosing to pirate Baseball America's coverage instead. And also, we'll all be subjected to poor coverage in Omaha where mis-pronounced names, incorrect facts and endless human interest features on Oregon State will leave us numb.
(Two caveats: Kyle Peterson is a great analyst. And though Mike Patrick doesn't follow the sport all year, he's a good play-by-play guy).
(Kyle Peterson is the best thing ESPN has going in its sparse college baseball coverage)
12- Coppin State will win a game.
Last year the Eagles went a painful 0-44. And I was hoping to find their schedule was full of Division II or III teams this year just for insurance Ws, but there are very few. They'll still get a win (or two) somewhere. And when they do, they'll be my Team of the Week. Go Eagles!
13- St. Peter's will have a winning record.
I am the biggest bandwagonner for the Peacocks. Last year they went 23-29 and 13-13 in the MAAC. Despite being picked 7th in the conference, they have seven starters back and some decent pitchers. Tell you what, they'll at least have their first winning season in the MAAC since 1997. Go Peacocks!
14- Mark Etheridge will still be the hardest working man in college baseball media.
This guy is one prolific machine. His Daily Dose is a big hit with me, as is his NCAA projections, which are more dead-on than anyone else's. Forget that his website is called "SEBaseball.com" Mark knows college baseball across the board better than anyone I know. (Okay Mark, send me my check for mentioning that.)
15- Aaron Fitt will have to answer "Why isn't my team ranked?" questions time and time again.
His weekly Top 25 Chat at Baseball America is required reading for me, but gah! Fans just don't get it when their teams aren't ranked where they want them to be. And he has to address this question 10-12 times a season.
16- Texas will win a Regional again.
It's weird to think the Longhorns have fallen on their home turf in each of the last two seasons. But revamped Disch-Falk Field will see their winning ways in 2008. I.e.: the Augie Factor will return.
17- The Big East won't be questioned when it gets three teams into the NCAAs again this year.
Thank you Notre Dame of 2002 and Louisville of 2007. Coach Dan McDonnell deserves the loudest plaudits. Now, imagine if the Big East gets FOUR bids?
18- Somewhere out there in baseball-land we'll see another bizarre coaching resignation like McNeese State had in 2007.
Coach Chad Clement quit his post in the first week of the season. Terry Burrows took over and the Cowboys turned around a 4-23 start to finish 18-12. If college basketball is any indication (Bobby Knight. Lute Olson. John Brady... well, he didn't resign) it will probably happen in baseball again too.
19- Just like their basketball brethren, the Pac 10 will beat each other silly as the best conference in the country.
At least it's the best THIS YEAR. (calm down all you SEC, ACC, Big 12 honks)
20- No one with a nickname as cool as "Anteaters" will make the CWS.
Well, unless you consider "Sun Devils" to be cooler.
21- My College World Series prediction of
making the field of eight, will change... often.
I'm looking your way Michigan, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Long Beach State and Arizona. Oh what the hell, you too St. Peter's.
22- If you're looking for a class act to cheer for this year, choose Dave Schrage.
2007 wasn't so easy for the Notre Dame skipper. His wife passed away in the off-season and then his team finished 28-28-1, the first non-39+ win season for ND since 1987. A calmer and more focused 2008 should help. Along with the No. 4 ranked recruiting class coming to South Bend.
23- Once again I'll hear the phrase "___ (Fill in the blank) ___ has the worst fans!"
And once again I'll remind everyone that there are a few bad fans in every fan base. No one is immune. (This comment is a carry-over from my football work)
24- Mother Nature will still be a bitch.
The spring of 2007 was pretty harsh with endless rain in the Northeast, Hurricane Barry during the Regionals and the most important series in the Big 10, Minnesota at Michigan, getting wiped out altogether. I'm crossing my fingers that this will be a mild one... then again, as I write this it's 10 degrees in Omaha.
25- Rice will finish Conference USA play somewhere near 22-2 again.
And those voices that claimed the WAC was so weak and that C-USA would be a more stern test for the Owls will get quieter and quieter. (I can almost hear you squeak people.)
26- Bethune-Cookman will win the Black College Baseball National Championship again in 2008.
Mainly because the SWAC is so much stronger, and because of that SWAC favorite Prairie View will take some lumps before winning the conference with an uglier mark.
27- Speaking of, the SWAC will keep getting stronger and stronger.
Recruiting and facilities keep getting better in this once-downtrodden league. In fact, remember when Southern used to dominate year-in, year-out? Remember when Prairie View won three games in 2003? Remember when Arkansas-Pine Bluff played more like Arkansas-Pine Box? Those days are long gone as most everyone is improved.
28- Despite only nine returning letterman, Oral Roberts will continue to dominate in the Summit.
ORU has lapped the field in the Mid-Continent-now-Summit League. Just to give you an idea, the Eagles have gone 98-7 in conference play the last five years.
29- Fresno State will host its first Regional since 1992.
The Bulldogs are beginning to dominate the WAC like I thought they would when Mike Batesole took over the program. And Beiden Field is a great venue to catch a game too.
30- No white outs. No black outs. No pink outs.
There's a reason why I like college baseball more than football or basketball.
31- No faux confetti showers when the national championship trophy is presented.
There's another reason why I like college baseball more than football or basketball.
32- Niagara's Tim Alberts will quietly remain one of the better hitters in the country.
The Purple Eagle outfielder hit .379 and had a nation-leading 35 game hitting streak in 2007.
33- Okay, if Alberts is quietly one of the better hitters, then Ryan Lavarnway is quietly the BEST hitter in the country.
The Yale outfielder had a nation's best .467 average as a Sophomore. And he's a student at Yale, so you know he's smart enough to figure out a way to keep that average up in the stratosphere again this year.
34- Hell, if you want to see the best hitters in the country this year, stay in the North.
Of the 12 .400+ hitters returning from last year, six are in the snowbelt:
Ryan Lavarnway, Yale .467
Ryne White, Purdue, .452
John Koehniein, Youngstown State, .434
Matt Prokopowicz, Hofstra, .416
Ryan Murphy, Brown, .410
Cole White, Army, .408
34- I don't know why but I have the feeling that Jordan Danks is going to have a better year than Kyle Russell.
Both Texas talents are outstanding, no bones about it. But this seems like one of those perfect "the target is too big" situations for Russell. He went a little (emphasis on "little") cold down the stretch in 2007.
35- I guarantee I'll be at a couple of games this year where the coeds sitting in front of me will ask each other "Do they play seven or nine innings in college?"
Happens every year.
36- I guarantee I'll be at a couple of games this year where the coeds sitting in front of me will have their thong panties riding up two inches above their pants' waistline.
And no matter how hard I try to look away...
37- Remember last year's early upsets? Mercer beat Miami twice. Wright State beat Ole Miss twice. Illinois-Chicago took two from Tennessee and Kent State won a series at Florida. When that happens again this year to another set of Top 25 teams, don't be shocked at the ramifications.
Those should've been hints about the post-season swoons and snubs of these big-conference victims.
38- No matter what they do, the Big 10 still won't get enough respect nationally.
Still, wanna know the most encouraging thing about the Big 10? Have you seen how many games they'll get televised on the Big 10 Network? Try three games a weekend and even some mid-week games. Any additional pub for our sport is great in my book. Especially for a conference that deserves more.
39- Beer gardens outside of Rosenblatt during the College World Series will continue to dwindle in number.
40- Yet the number of bowl games will continue to needlessly grow again for undeserving teams to play in.
Oh wait, that's football. Sorry, I'll get back to baseball now.
41- Though there are a lot of good tournaments out there, all will pale in comparison to the Urban Invitational in Compton that will feature UCLA, USC, Southern and Bethune-Cookman.
This is part of the MLB's RBI program and a good idea too. Best feature of the weekend? USC and Southern's bands will be there and have a competition before their game. Gee, I wonder which band will win? (Yes, I know the answer).
42- The Colonial will replace the Big South as the "It" mid-major conference in the East.
Old Dominion is pre-season No. 25 in Baseball America.
Virginia Commonwealth is loaded for another run.
UNC-Wilmington looks stocked for a return to the post-season.
And Delaware is also on the rise after being part of a four-way tie for first.
Winthrop crumbled under expectations last year and had too many studs transfer out.
Coastal Carolina won't quite live up to its Regional-hosting squad of 2007.
And Liberty will have to adjust to a new regime under Jim Toman before winning consistently.
43- Besides the CAA, the America East will be the best conference race to watch.
Nothing ever stays the same in the AmEast. In the past four years we've seen four different regular season champions and four different tournament champions. This year's race looks as wide open as ever. But you have to figure Maine will be back in the driver's seat if they live up to potential.
44- The Mountain West will once again be the biggest underachievers.
If you've ever been to a game at UNLV, BYU, San Diego State, Utah or New Mexico, you've sat in some of the finest baseball facilities in the country. Still, only TCU looks like a viable national player again this year. But watch out for BYU's potential.
45- College baseball will continue to be smarter than college football because they won't try to change the name to something unwieldy and stupid like "Football Bowl Subdivision" - a phrase I still refuse to use.
46- Hawaii and Hawaii-Hilo will start the season a week earlier than everyone else (Friday February 15th) and everybody will say "Hmmm. Maybe starting the season one week earlier will be just fine for college baseball."
And next year, it will be so.
47- With the condensed season, five-game weeks and weather issues, a lot of Top 25 teams will end the regular season playing less than 50 games.
48- ... and a lot of Northern schools will see this happen to Southern schools and say, "Oh poor babies. Welcome to our world."
(Remember my Q&A with Minnesota's John Anderson from last year?)
49- www.NCAA-baseball.com will continue to be the most kick-ass website on the planet and I will continue to be addicted to it all season long.
Thank you Jeremy and Cindy.
50- A lot of smaller conferences will continue to hold post-season tournaments where third or fourth place finishers will win it and go to the NCAA tournament instead of their best team.
Or, like the Southern Conference last year, will see a last place team get hot and win their tourney (Wofford). C'mon small and mid-majors, just stop with the conference tournaments, will ya'?
51- After a few years of going walk-about, the Southland Conference will be "back" in 2008.
Look for it to be a multi-bid league for the first time since 2005 and to start pulling more early season upsets again.
52- The Sun Belt will be the best mid-major conference out there this season.
Look for the return of Florida Atlantic, South Alabama and Florida International to the contending scene. UL-L will be huge with a stud pitching rotation and Tom Walters will continue to pull miracles out of his New Orleans team. I like this conference a lot.
53- Oklahoma State will not end Arkansas' season for the third year in a row.
Hogs will be down a notch and will hit the road for the post-season. Oklahoma State lost way too much and, like their rival Sooners last year, will have a tough time making the post-season.
54- At least three times this year I bet I'll see an outfielder lose a pop-fly in the sun while his sunglasses rest on top of his hat.
They're not a fashion accessory guys.
55- Once again the high strike will never be called by a home plate ump.
And you know there are many times when it needs to be.
56- I will continue to call for more college ballparks to serve beer like Tulane and Long Beach State do.
Then, I'll see another drunken fan acting an ass to an opposing fan and it will remind me that beer at games is not always a great thing.
(Mmmm. Beer at Long Beach. Beer can be a good and bad thing.)
57- There are seven phrases you'll still never catch me using in a column.
1- no-no (for a no hitter)
2- walk-off home run (never seen a player walk)
3- it is what it is
4- body of work
5- pitchers "dual" (instead of duel)
6- swagger (horrible word talking heads use too much)
7- that RPI is great
58- The West will be wicked-good this year.
As scary as that sounds, the West didn't exactly have vintage seasons the last two years. (Yeah, I know Oregon State has won it all both those years). But that will change this year. The Pac 10 will have practically no weak links. The Big West has improvement all across the board. And the West Coast Conference will have major incentive with its 0-4 post-season mark. Oh and as I stated, Fresno will be a monster too.
59- The selection committee will still find a way to screw the West.
Although the committee did one of its best jobs in years last season, you DO remember how they crammed every team in the West on one side of the bracket, right? That was below par.
60- Still, the West will get better treatment than the old days.
Prior to last year, the West was usually funneled into two Super Regionals, not four. Even if it meant matching up conference rivals.
61- For the first time since 2003, this year's national champion will be one of the eight national seeds.
Which leads me to...
62- For the seventh straight year, the national champion will come from West of the Mississippi River.
Which leads me to...
63- The best-of-three title round in Omaha will see?...
Missouri vs. Arizona State.
At least that's my pick for now. Hey, how 'bout sticking your neck out and making a pick?
64- Somewhere out there in college baseball-land this year an All American or All-conference player will eventually go on to the pros, have an incredible career and be caught using steroids, forever soiling their names - and our sport.
I just hope I'm wrong. That's all.