UCLA started off the 2011 baseball season as a College World Series runner up from a year ago and a top three team in every poll. They were also picked to win the Pac-10 and with everything they were expected to do in the regular season, it was supposed to earn them a national seed and the right to host a Regional. That is what happened last year and that is what was supposed to happen this year. Well, things haven't exactly gone as people expected it to.
Series losses to San Jose St. and Nebraska to go along with dropping two of three at the Dodgertown Classic in back-to-back-to-back weeks put a damper on much of the excitement. All of a sudden UCLA was battling against the .500 mark, not in arguments about who might be the best team in the country. Instead of arguing about the RPI and its inherent unfairness towards West Coast teams and how the Bruins could be the number one national seed with only a top 10 RPI and not the number one RPI, UCLA was left to wonder how they could have a RPI out of the top 100.
Just four weeks into the season, UCLA could kiss their chances of earning a national seed good bye. It looked like they could kiss their chances of hosting a Regional good bye too. Teams with an RPI over 100 don't have the slightest of chances to host a Regional, but things have changed since the Bruins had three consecutive losing weekends. They have since won four consecutive Pac-10 series and are only a half game out of first place in the Pac-10. Now, talk of the Bruins making a run at a Regional host spot isn't so ludicrous.
After defeating San Diego St. on Tuesday night, UCLA's RPI moved up to 59. To appreciate just how incredible that is, a mere 21 days ago, it was all the way down at 108. To be in the Regional host discussion, a team usually has to be in the top 25 of the RPI. Projecting future RPI's is difficult and there is a bit of a moving target, but it looks like the Bruins will need a 15-9 or 16-8 finish to get into the top 25 of the RPI.
For UCLA to finish that strong it will take very good play down the stretch and it is undoubtedly difficult, but it is do-able. If the Bruins can finish with 15 or 16 more wins they would not only jump into the RPI range necessary to make a claim for a Regional host spot, but they will be racking up wins in the Pac-10. That may or not be enough to chase down what looks to be a very, very good Oregon St. squad that currently leads the conference, but it will definitely have them in the top two or three of the Pac-10.
A top two or three Pac-10 finish is just another highlight for UCLA's resume in angling for the host spot. So a top 25 RPI and high conference finish would be plusses, but that wouldn't be all. The Bruins are currently 4-4 versus the RPI top 50 with games against RPI top 50 trams Arizona St., Cal St. Fullerton, Oregon St., Stanford and Cal all left on the schedule. If the Bruins finish strong, they will add wins against all those teams and have an impressive record against the RPI top 50 as well.
It's almost certain that Oregon St. and Cal St. Fullerton will host Regionals, but that's about all that is certain for the West Coast's three or four host spots. Arizona St. is still banned from the postseason, although their upcoming appeal may change that.
Fresno St. and Stanford appear to be the next in line to put in a claim for a Regional host spot, but they have their own issues. The Bulldogs have a weak schedule coming in and will need a strong finish of their own to keep their RPI in the top 25. Add in that they absolutely must win the WAC and the threat of Hawaii nipping it from them makes it tough. At the same time, Stanford was swept at home by Oregon St. last weekend and are just 3-6 in conference so they have work to do as well.
So the road to a Regional host spot is there. A national seed is out of reach so if the Bruins want to host any Super Regional they might make they will be dependent on an upset in the Regional their Regional is matched up against, but they can get into a Regional host spot. It's a long way up and it is something that you would not predict to happen because a 15-9 or 16-8 finish is tough no matter which team you're talking about. That said, for the first time since the third week of the season, the road is there.