August 11, 2008

Sunday Summations: Answers to the 64 Things that would happen in 2008

First, a quick apology and begging of your pardon. I've been a little buried in summer fun and frolic. Also, I've been doing a few football things for CBS, little did I realize they would want some pigskin stuff from me. But I'm not complaining.

So I'm about three weeks too late with this post-season report on the 64 Things That Will Happen In College Baseball in 2008 and how they turned out. I guess this is also a way to keep you interested in some baseball garb in the off-season as well. So maybe I'm doing you a favor, in a weird way. Speaking of favors, special thanks to Brian Foley and his killer site: He was nice enough to supply my column with a link, since it's nearly impossible to find on its own right now.

So with all that, here's the evaluation to my 64 predictions. I'll give a "right" and "wrong" answer for each, just to let you know how good of a prognosticator I am - or how bad I am. Hope you enjoy. And don't worry, I'll write more as the off-season goes on.

Let's get a quick lesson in reminiscing first. Ahhh 2008, you were a lot of fun. How did you go so fast?

Now, enough of that soppy stuff, here we go Stitch-heads...

(A picture is worth a million words. Not a lot of things went right for Pat Casey and the title defenders)

1- Oregon State will not win the national title.
But who would've figured they'd not even make it to the Big Dance? That's a pretty big faceplant with some pretty inexplicable losses thrown in. But I'm sure the Beavers will be back. Pat Casey has out-recruited the Pac 10 lately.

2- North Carolina will not finish as runners-up again.
Whew, that was close! The Heels finish just out of the top two. But my instinct tells me that they would've found a way to beat Georgia, if not for those other red hot Bulldogs getting in the way. And by the way, I'll say it here, I think Coach Mike Fox deserved to win the National Coach of the Year award. Any and all of them.

(Mike Fox, head coach of North Carolina, would win my vote for Coach of the Year. How many times can he get his team to the cusp of a national championship? What a great run he's on.)

3- Rice won't start out 2-0 in Omaha only to lose two straight again.
Unfortunately, I got this one right too, but only because they went out in two games. And painfully so, giving up a three-run lead going into the bottom of the 9th against LSU.

4- The SEC will get more than five teams into the NCAA tournament.
They did. In spades. But nine teams? C'mon people.

5- The SEC won't have a team go 0-2 in Omaha again.
But the conference came THISCLOSE to having it happen again, if not for LSU's white-knuckle comeback vs. Rice - which provided possibly the most exciting game of the CWS. I also made the statement that the SEC would be "more competitive on the national stage." And that they were, especially with Georgia going to the title round and nearly winning it all.

(LSU's dramatic four-run rally in the 9th to beat Rice kept an SEC team from going 0-2 in Omaha again. It also gave us the most exciting moment of the College World Series this year. Incredible.)

6- The number of college baseball rankings will still be about FIVE TOO MANY.
Of course it's true. In fact, I'm still waiting to see how TMZ's final poll comes out. But too many Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Angelina Jolie's baby picture stories keep getting in the way of its release.

7- A handful of pre-season Top 25 teams will tank it big time this year.
We saw this happen pretty quickly. Teams like Old Dominion, Louisiana-Lafayette, Clemson and Oregon State, started the season ranked and sat home in June. There's your handful. Who was the worst tank job of 2008? I say the award goes to ODU. And yes, I realize the Beavers started out at No. 7. But the Monarchs finished with a 25-27 record and went just 14-14 in a much easier conference. Plus, expected studs Anthony Shawler and Dan Hudson combined to go just 10-9 and had ERAs of 5.35 and 4.70.

8- Wayne Graham, Augie Garrido, Mike Martin and Ron Polk still won't retire after this season.
Whew! Almost got this one wrong. But thanks to Coach Polk's move to unpaid assistant at UAB, he's still in the game. Just like the other three.

9- But if none of those coaches make it to Omaha in June, Coach Martin will get the most heat from his fan base.
Well Martin made his way to Omaha after all, for the first time since 2000. But it didn't seem to sit well with the Noles faithful that they not only ended up empty-handed on the national title trophy gathering, but that they were also gone in two games, eliminated by their much-hated rival Miami too. Ouch.

10- For the first time in 10 years George Horton won't be mentioned for any job openings.
And the message boards can be calm for at least another 10 months on this subject.

11- Once again ESPN just won't "get it" when it comes to college baseball.
I'm glad to report that ESPN is finally beginning to step up in the college baseball department. They still only televised six stinkin' games on ESPNU during the season (insert one of those creepy unhappy faces here), but the website began to finally take steps at having some original content, including a great weekly feature of previews and stats from our boy Jeremy Mills. That was definitely a must-read. Plus, they had running blogs at a few Super Regionals and in Omaha as well. Good for you guys. But Kyle Peterson is still far and away the best thing about ESPN's college baseball coverage. Though I admit I kind of like his work as a color commentator better than the on-field gig he pulls at the CWS.

12- Coppin State will win a game.
And I say, "Yes!" Love the Eagles. In fact, as I documented when it happened, CSU not only won a game vs. North Carolina Central back on March 11th, but they proved it was no fluke by sweeping a double-header that day with the 11-7 and 7-6 wins. Coppin finished the season with four wins in all, including roadies at VMI and Georgetown. Next year, let's work on bettering that 0-18 MEAC mark, eh guys?

13- St. Peter's will have a winning record.
Damn. My other favorite 98-pound weakling in college baseball could only muster a 20-30 mark and went just 7-16 in MAAC play, which was second-to-last. A step backward for the Peacocks after 2007's promising 23-29 team.

14- Mark Etheridge will still be the hardest working man in college baseball media.
Mr. is wicked good. Won't go into all the details, but just know that nobody out there has a bigger strain on his personal/professional life yet still pumps out tons of required readings each week. Okay, besides me.

15- Aaron Fitt will have to answer "Why isn't my team ranked?" questions time and time again.
Duh, no brainer here. And I made a mistake in the pre-season "64 Things" article. I wrote that he'll have to address this question "10-12 times a season." That's a small typo, because I meant to end that sentence with "10-12 times a week." Because as you probably saw every week on his chats, a handful of people came up with the same mind-knumbing question/complaint about their teams' ranking. Sorry 'bout that mis-type on my part, Aaron. But people please, rankings don't matter.

16- Texas will win a Regional again.
Damn. I don't know what's going on with Augie's mojo the past few years. But splitting a pair of one-run games with St. John's and losing out to Rice in the Regionals ain't cuttin' it. Not for UT fans.

17- The Big East won't be questioned when it gets three teams into the NCAAs again this year.
St. John's and Louisville were the only reps in the Big Dance from the B.E. this time, and the Johnnies were the only locks to make it. So theoretically, this could've been a one-bid league if the Red Storm had won the Big East tournament. Both teams represented themselves well, playing with the big boys from the SEC and Big 12, but this league needs to be more consistent.

18- Somewhere out there in baseball-land we'll see another bizarre coaching resignation like McNeese State had in 2007.
I'd have to say the firing of Central Florida's Jay Bergman. Just six wins shy of his 1,000th win at UCF, and fresh off a win over No. 4 Rice, Bergman was mysteriously shown the door on May 1st of this season. This year's Knights team started out 19-1. Without the legendary skipper, UCF finished 5-15. It's almost as curious of a firing as LMU's Frank Cruz, who was fired two weeks ago - yes, in the middle of summer - without much of a reason given to the media.

19- Just like their basketball brethren, the Pac 10 will beat each other silly as the best conference in the country.
The Pac 10 was far and away the No. 1 conference in Boyd Nation's ISR ratings and was a close second in the horrible RPI rating. And when you factor in depth, then you realize the Pac 10 was much deeper than the ACC. Hell, even last place Washington State won 3-of-4 at NCAA tourney-bound Oklahoma and went 2-2 vs. UC Davis. Or you could look at Oregon State for a good indication that the Pac 10 was murder to play in. This was a team that won a series vs. national runner-up Georgia.

(I'm sure it's no great consolation, but Donnie Marbut's Washington State Cougars were the best last-place team in the country this year.)

20- No one with a nickname as cool as "Anteaters" will make the CWS.
Well, then again, "Tar Heels" is pretty cool too. And at least it's not "Bulldogs" or something common like that.

21- My College World Series prediction of
Arizona State
South Carolina
Ohio State
making the field of eight, will change... often.
And it did. But going back and checking four or five times to make sure, I never once included Fresno State into my projections.

(When Tommy Mendonca went down with three hyper-extended/dislocated fingers in the Long Beach Regional, Fresno State's chances looked even dimmer... if that was possible.)

22- If you're looking for a class act to cheer for this year, choose Dave Schrage, the coach of Notre Dame.
Coach Schrage had a better go-round this time, finishing the season at 33-21 and third in the Big East. Still not quite to the level we're used to seeing from the Irish, who had an 18-year streak of 40+ win seasons broken in 2005. That Top 10 recruiting class will be sophomores in 2009, so look for a return to their 40-win ways.

23- Once again I'll hear the phrase "___ (Fill in the blank) ___ has the worst fans!"
Yep, heard it a number of times this season. Again, everybody has their share of bad fans. Everybody. But the good thing is that most fans are outstanding and you're proud that they are big supporters of our sport. But the bad ones ruin it for a lot of teams. And it can't be helped in this Springer-like society.

24- Mother Nature will still be a bitch.
Plenty of examples, but the most troubling one was the fact that Cleveland State had a full 20 games effected by rain and snow. Nineteen of which were cancelled or postponed altogether. Valparaiso had 17 games effected by rain or snow and Albany and Illinois had 15 games each.

25- Rice will finish Conference USA play somewhere near 22-2 again.
The Owls finished C-USA play at 21-3. It didn't look good early on as they went 1-2 in their second conference weekend at home against Southern Miss. But from that point on, they barely broke a sweat as they breezed to another title.

26- Bethune-Cookman will win the Black College Baseball National Championship again in 2008.
In fact, I was really impressed with the Wildcats when I saw them in the Urban Invitational back in March. I was thinking all along that they had the arms to challenge any big BCS team out there when the regionals came around. Unfortunately, BCU still went 0-2, albeit in a tough Coral Gables Regional field.

27- The SWAC will keep getting stronger and stronger.
Well, partially right. If you listen to Southern coach Roger Cador, it's the SWAC West Division that is getting stronger. "We set the tone. What happened was everybody wanted to catch up with us." Coach Cador crowed to me when I talked with him at the Urban Invitational in Compton. "And because of that everybody in our division has improved by leaps and bounds because the A.D.'s made the commitment. They hired good coaches and put the money into their programs."

Sure enough, just to prove his point, West division also-ran Texas Southern ended up winning the SWAC tournament over Prairie View.

28- Despite only nine returning letterman, Oral Roberts will continue to dominate in the Summit.
This was an easy one, I know. ORU kept their easy-to-peg success rate going in the newly named Summit Conference by going 24-4 and winning the regular season title by a full seven-and-a-half games in front of improving Southern Utah. (By the way, big props to SUU for going from 11-45 in 2007 to 31-28 this season.)

(Sometimes you have to wonder if the Eagle's need to bother wearing fielding gloves in their Summit Conference games.)

29- Fresno State will host its first Regional since 1992.
And by a long shot too, right? But I still would've pegged this one if Batesole and Co. had played to their potential at least 60% of the season. And by the way, that's part of the reason that I don't believe Mike Batesole deserves a Coach of the Year honor. Great job at the end of the season, obviously, but his team underachieved all season long before righting the rudder in late May and June.

30- One of the things I love about college baseball is that there are none of those cheesy white outs, black outs or pink outs.
But I will say that there was supposed to be a "Wear White Wednesday" in Omaha during the College World Series in honor of the Iowa flood victims. But to be honest, I never did see much solidarity in this venture as I scanned the crowd that night.

31- No faux confetti showers when the national championship trophy is presented.
Thankfully, that's just a football thing cooked up by the TV honks at Fox.

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.
Well, sort of wrong. Alberts still had a decent year, leading the Purple Eagles with a .348 average and his seven home runs and 36 RBI. On top of all that, he also led the team with 13-of-14 stolen bases and 22 walks. So he was still a do-it-all type for Niagara and ends his career with the school's highest career average at .360. He just didn't reach into the .400+ range like many expected. No shame though.

33- Okay, if Alberts is quietly one of the better hitters, then Ryan Lavarnway is quietly the BEST hitter in the country.
Well, he may have fallen short of his national-best .467 average from 2007, but he did hit .398 with 13 home runs and 42 RBI in an injury-shortened 34 games. And he also was selected in the 6th round of the MLB draft by the Red Sox. But I think we all discovered that he is certainly no Buster Posey. Of course, who is?

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.
This year there were 44 hitters with season averages above .400. Of those, and depending on how you draw your "North" line geographically, only 14 of them were from Northern schools. Turns out the hot bats in the nation this year were more in the Southeast. Seven of the top 10 averages came from the humidity belt, led by Mr. Posey, who hit a blistering .463 on the season.

35- I don't know why but I have the feeling that Jordan Danks is going to have a better year than Kyle Russell.
Depending on how you look at things, of course. But Danks had a better season hitting-wise, .321 to Russell's .296. He also had more stolen bases, 14-to-3, more doubles, 22-to-10, more triples, seven-to-three and less errors, 1-to-4. But Russell did blast 19 home runs to only seven for Danks.

36- 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?"
But I think I actually only heard it twice. And once was from a father with his son who was wondering out loud, not a pack of sorority girls watching their new boyfriends play for the first time.

37- 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.
About 300 times, not just a couple.

38- No matter what they do, the Big 10 still won't get enough respect nationally.
This wasn't the Big 10s year. Not even close. It looks like only Michigan showed up to play in 2008. Even going so far as to hosting a Regional in re-vamped Ray Fisher Stadium. But other than that, the Big 10 crumbled in the spotlight for 2008 - and yes, that spotlight includes its own network too. Second place Purdue had terrible luck in non-conference games (two one-run losses at Baylor), third place Penn State had a losing record over all (27-31) and expected powers Ohio State (30-26) and Minnesota (20-35, first losing season since the 60s) were stunning under-achievers.

39- Beer gardens outside of Rosenblatt during the College World Series will continue to dwindle in number.
If memory serves me, there appeared to be only two out there this year. One near the Gorilla Burger place on 13th and the one next to Zesto. But the days of great beer gardens is about to come to an end altogether with the NCAA controlling everything in a six-block radius around the new stadium. Drink up.

(These comely lasses manning the beer garden next to Zesto will gladly pour you a cold one when you need it most. Too bad the NCAA will make sure they're out of a job when the new stadium and its Gestapo rules kick in.)

40- Yet the number of bowl games will continue to needlessly grow again for undeserving teams to play in.
There are now 29 bowl games. Yes, twenty-freakin-nine! That's about 10-to-15 too many. Hell, there's something called the St. Petersburg Bowl now. Is that played in Russia? And there is also a brand new "Congressional Bowl" on the docket too. Do we REALLY want to remind ourselves that we have that shiftless part of government immortalized by a college football game?

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.
The Southern U. band, the USC Song Girls, Reggie Smith, Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis, Southern, Bethune-Cookman, USC, UCLA, there's no doubt this was THE best regular season tournament in the country. If only for the Southern band alone.

(They simply came to get down man. The Southern band freakin' ruled the Urban Invitational in Compton that night in March.)

42- The Colonial will replace the Big South as the "It" mid-major conference in the East.
The Big South tripped all the way down to No. 16 in the conference RPI rankings, so the CAA finished far ahead of them, who finished as the 9th best conference. The CAA did finish one rung behind the Southern Conference in the RPI rankings, but the Colonial sent its top two teams to the NCAAs while the SoCon only sent one.

43- Besides the CAA, the America East will be the best conference race to watch.
This year, the Best Race Award had to go to the Big West, where six teams had a chance at the title (and automatic bid to the big dance) going into the final weekend of play. Fullerton and Long Beach tied for the title and UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside finished two games out. UC Davis, who earned an at-large bid, finished three games behind.

As for the AmEast, for the first time since Maine pulled the trick in the early 2000s, the America East had a back-to-back regular season title winner with Binghamton taking the crown for the second straight year at 15-8. But the Bearcats lost six games to second place Stony Brook on the season, including a pair of shutout losses in the post-season tournament.

44- The Mountain West will once again be the biggest underachievers.
As has been the case for years now, the conference with the best facilities in the West got only one team into the NCAAs and finished No. 15 in the conference RPIs. C'mon guys, step it up a notch or six.

(Brand new Lupton Stadium at TCU is a shining jewel in the facility-rich but results-bereft Mountain West Conference. Let's hope that changes soon.)

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.
Sorry, there had to be some gimmes on this list.

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."
Looking at the early 2009 schedules (and hearing nothing from the NCAA rules committee), it doesn't appear as if the season will get any earlier of a start next season. But I did hear a lot of rumblings from coaches and parents of players saying that a week earlier start would be more optimal.

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.
I thought the new rules and common start date would have teams scrambling to find games and weather to play in at the end of the season. But then, I look at Fresno's final record of 47-31 and realize that 78 games is even MORE than what we normally see a team play.

48- ... and a lot of Northern schools will see this happen to Southern and Western schools and say, "Oh poor babies. Welcome to our world."
See the answer to No. 47.

49- will continue to be the most kick-ass website on the planet and I will continue to be addicted to it all season long.
On the Saturday of Regionals alone, the site got over 220,000 hits. In one damn day! Nice. And no matter what press box I was sitting in, there was always a computer next to me with its screen stuck on that site checking other scores. What a great, great tool that is to help keep up with college baseball across the country. 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.
It happens every year. Guess you can't argue with Lipscomb and Bucknell going despite not winning the regular season, since they pulled off huge round one upsets over Georgia and Florida State respectively. But I would've loved to see how MAAC regular season champ Canisius would've done since they were one of the rare small conference 40-game winners. Ditto for overall co-champs Kent State and Bowling Green out of the MAC, who had to sit back and watch Eastern Michigan get quickly run out of the Ann Arbor Regional. Then there were those embarrassing teams with a losing record getting into the big dance:
- Mount St. Mary's, 21-32, quickly lost two games in Cary. They finished 4th in the NEC.
- Eastern Illinois, 27-30, made no noise in the Lincoln Regional.
- Texas Southern, 16-34, got hot for one weekend and kept SWAC division winners Jackson State and Southern at home.

51- After a few years of going walk-about, the Southland Conference will be "back" in 2008.
The top teams did fairly well, including Texas-San Antonio and Lamar, the two division winners (and UT-SA beat teams like College of Charleston, Texas, Houston and Baylor too). But on the whole, there were still very few marquee wins and Sam Houston went 0-fer in the Houston Regional. Only five teams ended up with 30+ wins. No multi-bids for the SLC as I predicted too. The bottom feeders seemed to get even worse as well, with McNeese and Nicholls both ending with win totals in the teens. Not a good year in the Southland.

52- The Sun Belt will be the best mid-major conference out there this season.
Easily, the West Coast Conference gets this honor, being the No. 7 RPI conference and No. 3 in Boyd Nation's ISR rankings. The Sun Belt was rated No. 9 and 10 in those respective rankings. Louisiana-Monroe won the regular season title, but didn't get an at-large bid because of a 34-24 record and high RPI. Of course, at the beginning of the season Louisiana-Lafayette was expected to be a contender for Omaha, but face-planted to a 30-29 finish.

53- Oklahoma State will not end Arkansas' season for the third year in a row.
You know, this was a stretch to happen anyway. As it turns out, OSU stayed at home during the Regionals, falling twice to Wichita State. Arkansas, a 9th place finisher in the SEC, ended its season as a controversial at-large recipient in the NCAAs and proved it didn't belong by going 0-2 in the Palo Alto Regional

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.
I actually only saw it happen once this season. Though I just saw Vladimir Guerrero pull the trick for the Angels last week. (I know, pro ball. Ew! I suddenly feel all dirty.)

55- Once again the high strike will never be called by a home plate ump.
And just as I wrote in the pre-season 64 Things column, you know there are many times when it needs to be. The strike zone goes above the belt line too umps. Call it.

56- I will continue to call for more college ballparks to serve beer like Tulane and Long Beach State do.
And from what I found, it turns out that Rice was added to the list of schools that sell beer at their baseball games. Good for them, because you know those Rice fans are probably smart enough to be able to act responsible after a few brews at a ballgame. I worry about other fan bases that get beer served to them.

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
And you'll see this credo again next season.

58- The West will be wicked-good this year.
Well, sort of. I mean, the West did provide another national champion in the Fresno State Bulldogs and the Pac 10, Big West and West Coast were 1-2-3 in Boyd Nation's conference Iterative Strength Ratings. But other than that, it was a huge year in the Southeast. North Carolina, Miami and Florida State were 1-2-3 all year long in the rankings. Buster Posey and Gordon Beckham were the two best players week-in, week-out. LSU was the biggest on-field story most of the year with its 23-game winning streak. And the SEC once again provided nine teams to the big dance.

Early thoughts for dominant region next year? Look for a huge upsurge from the Brazos Valley, as teams like Baylor, Texas A&M, Texas and Rice are primed to be national monsters.

59- The selection committee will still find a way to screw the West.
By and large, the West was given fair treatment for the most part. Had UC Irvine and Arizona been at home, they probably would've won their way to Omaha, but you can't fault the committee for giving Miami and LSU home Supers. In fact, the West was given more chances for teams to get to Omaha than they usually are, but still only got two.

60- Still, the West will get better treatment than the old days.
Re-read No. 59. UCI and Arizona gave the West more chances to put teams to Omaha. So quitcher bitchin' you occidental types.

61- For the first time since 2003, this year's national champion will be one of the eight national seeds.
Look, the streak's gotta end SOME time. And despite more national seeds in Omaha than we're used to seeing (6), it was still a non-top 8 that won the title again. Hell, it was a non-top 48 team that won it all, as you may or may not know, Fresno State was a No. 4 seed going into the Regionals. (And if you didn't know that, turn in your Stitch-head membership card immediately!)

62- For the seventh straight year, the national champion will come from West of the Mississippi River.
After seeing the field of eight at the CWS, I wouldn't have guessed this one would come true. Though I did pick Rice as one of my favorites.

63- The best-of-three title round in Omaha will see?... Missouri vs. Arizona State.
Yep, screwed the pooch on this one. Oh well, I also noticed none of you sent in your pre-season picks for the final two either. So I still sleep well at night, thank you.

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.
Give it a few years. And in the meantime, just be thankful that Barry Bonds is no longer in our sport anymore. Then again, there's this huge chunk of bad news:


Eric Sorenson Eric Sorenson
Eric Sorenson is's National Baseball Columnist, and also appears on CSTV as a baseball expert