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Bruin Baseball Season Preview Part 5: The Nation

Bumped. GO BRUINS. -N

As I began writing this season's Bruin baseball preview, I found myself more excited than I've been since I began following Bruin baseball in 1999. This led me to writing a far longer than expected preview that I'm going to split into 5 parts and post over the next two weeks leading to the season opener on Friday the 22nd. Part 1 is a look back at last season and a peak into this season. Part 2 will look into the pitchers. Part 3 will feature the Bruins' position players and Part 4 will be a look at the Pac 10. Part 5 will complete the preview as we take a look around the nation and where the Bruins stand in the national sense.

This year will certainly be an interesting in college baseball. The NCAA imposed a new rule of a mandatory start date, which doesn't allow games to be played before February 22. This is a change from the past where the west coast and southern schools began their games in early February and the cold weather schools would have to travel south and play in tournament and road games throughout February. This rule change forces teams to play a condensed schedule and teams like UCLA will be playing five games in a week for the first time. It also affects the way we view teams because teams with powerful offenses and depth issues on the mound (Arizona St., Miami) will be pushed to the limit with so many games in a week. That said, here is my personal top 20 and a little bit on what to look for around the country this college baseball season.

1)    Arizona St.
2)    UCLA
3)    Rice
4)    Miami
5)    Vanderbilt
6)    San Diego
7)    Arizona
8)    Oregon St.
9)    Texas
10)    Missouri
11)    North Carolina
12)    Ole Miss
13)    Virginia
14)    South Carolina
15)    Mississippi St.
16)    Cal State Fullerton
17)    Wichita St.
18)    Long Beach St.
19)    Michigan
20)    Baylor

Now with my top 20 out there to be ridiculed at season's end, let's see what the different regions have to offer in 2008.

The south will again be strong as the SEC and ACC field a plethora of solid teams.  The best of these teams looks to be Miami, who have one of the nation's best lineups, led by Yonder Alonso and Dennis Raben. The Hurricanes lack pitching depth so how they manage to keep opposing teams off the scoreboard in this era of the condensed schedule will be something to keep an eye out for. Vanderbilt is another team to keep an eye out for with most experts' preseason POY Pedro Alvarez at the hot corner. Alvarez will depend on their bats this season, a departure from recent history in Nashville, but when you lose starting pitchers like David price and Casey Weathers it is not overly surprising. Both Mississippi schools have a realistic shot at Omaha as Mississippi St. looks to reach Omaha for the second consecutive year and Ole Miss looks to go for the first time. North Carolina and South Carolina both have talented rosters, but questions. The Tarheels hope to improve upon their past two CWS heartbreaks, which ended in 2nd place finishes, but will have to do so without their top two pitchers from last season.

The central boasts a host of teams with Omaha aspirations, led by perennial title contender Rice. The Owls lost their top player Joe Savery, but have one of the nation's top pitchers in Cole St. Clair and Aaron Luna leading the charge at the plate. Texas is also a team to watch after being eliminated in the regionals for the second consecutive season as a #1 seed. With one of the nation's best hitters, Kyle Russell and Jordan Danks to go with a deep pitching staff, the Longhorns have the talent to go all the way. Out in Columbia, the Missouri Tigers have a chance to continue building their program. After winning the Malibu regional in 2006, the Tigers took the next step in 2007 by earning a #1 seed and hosted a regional. With one of the best weekend rotations in the Big XII, Missouri could not only host a regional again, but a super regional as well. Wichita St. touts a strong pitching staff lead by Aaron Shafer and hopes to move a step further than last season when they were upset by UC Irvine in the super regionals at home. With one of the toughest places to play in Eck Stadium, Wichita St. needs only to earn themselves a home regional and super regional to make themselves a favorite to reach Omaha. Baylor is a team similar to UCLA last season. The Bears were extremely young in 2007 and made a regional earning their players valuable experience. In 2008, they hope to take the next step and put that experience to use.

The north will be one of the country's most interesting regions as we will get to see whether the NCAA's rule changes intended to benefit the north pay off. In addition to the mandatory start date, the NCAA also pushed the start of practices back, hoping to help out the northern schools who can't practice outside until March. The cream of the crop up north is Michigan, a super regional participant a year ago. After upsetting Vanderbilt in the regionals, Michigan was in line to host a super regional, but were forced to travel to Oregon St. because their beautiful renovated stadium was under construction. Despite being ousted by Oregon St., Michigan showed they have a quality program and will be a force for years to come. St. John's figures to be the other northern program with a chance to make an imprint nationally. They have talent, but play an extremely weak schedule so we may not know how good they really are until regionals begin.

We've already covered the Pac 10 so let's see what else the west has to offer. San Diego (USD, not UCSD) was a huge disappointment in the 2007 tournament, flaming out in the regionals they hosted by losing their first to games as a national seed. The Torreros have to come out strong in 2008 to put 2007 behind them and I expect they will behind the country's best weekend rotation. Cal State Fullerton advanced to the CWS last season despite being in a "rebuilding year" so that alone tells you how strong their program is, however George Horton left his post as head coach for the same position in Oregon. As a result, the Titans have some questions to answer, but they should be in capable hands with former UC Irvine head coach Dave Serrano taking over. Serrano took the Anteaters to the CWS last season and with Jeff Kaplan anchoring the rotation, the Titans will once again be one of the west's top programs. Long Beach St. will also have a strong squad with pitchers Andrew Liebel and Vance Worley in the rotation. With the two of them on the hill and SS Danny Espinosa, the Dirtbags will not be short on talent.

With my top 20 already on record, let's further explore my extremely limited prediction skills by taking a crack at the CWS championship series and eventual national champion. I'm going to leave UCLA out of the prediction and give you an actual objective view. I'm going to take Rice and Arizona St. in the championship series with the Owls' pitching besting the Sun Devils' bats two games to one.

I'll have my Oklahoma series preview tomorrow, but this concludes my 2008 college baseball preview so peruse the five parts, inform yourself a bit, maybe chime in with your season prediction and sit back and watch our Bruins try and make their way to Omaha. GO BRUINS!!!

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.

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