The tradition continues with yet another five-part season preview that will take us right up to the very beginning of the 2010 UCLA baseball season on February 19th. We've got the basics of college baseball out of the way and took a look at the all-time UCLA team. In part 1 of our five-part preview, we took a quick look at last year, a peak at the schedule and some of the opinions from analysts around the country for 2010. Part 2 took a look into the pitchers. PPart 3featured the Bruins' position players and Part 4 took a look at the Pac 10. This part 5 will complete the preview as we take a look around the nation and where the Bruins stand in the national sense.
We've got a week back! That was the most exciting news of the college baseball offseason as the NCAA approved legislation to move the start date of the season up a week, extend the season to 15 weeks. Doing so allows programs to have no five-game weeks, a welcome change for most teams. The offseason also brought us more evidence of growth in the college game as ESPN announced record ratings for the College World Series and the NCAA recognized baseball as a revenue sport, joining only men's basketball and football as sports with that title. As we inch closer to the season, most of the talk has revolved around Rosenblatt Stadium (no relation), which has hosted the College World Series since 1950 and will host its final College World Series this season.
In past season previews, I have put together my own top 20, but in honor of Rosenblatt Stadium's final season (and so I can be wrong just eight times instead of 20), I present to you my eight for Omaha. These are the teams that I believe will be playing in the 2010 College World Series.
- Cal St. Fullerton
- East Carolina
- San Diego
I apologize to all eight of those teams now for jinxing whatever chances they had at making it to Omaha this season. In addition to those eight teams, there are a host of outstanding teams from various conferences around the country.
The ACC looks primed for another good season and has the type of depth they have lacked in recent years. By the time Selection Monday comes around, the ACC could be looking at nine legitimate Regional candidate teams. The ACC is headlined by Virginia, a program that has made an astonishing rise in the college baseball world. The program was almost dropped less than a decade ago and now are a top three team coming off of a College World Series appearance thanks to the outstanding work of head coach Brian O'Connor. Florida St. is another top 10 team out of the ACC, but their bullpen is a question mark, while Georgia Tech has one of the nation's best lineups and a legitimate ace in Deck McGuire although they lack much pitching beyond that. Clemson is another very good team, as is Miami and North Carolina will take aim at a fifth consecutive College World Series appearance.
Defending national champion LSU leads the way for the SEC and once again, the Tigers will be led by National Player of the Year candidate Blake Dean and National Pitcher of the Year candidate Anthony Renaudo. Florida got back to their winning ways last season by reaching the Super Regionals and with the bulk of that team back, they should be an Omaha threat once again. The same goes for Ole Miss, a 2009 Super Regional participant, while Arkansas did them both one better by going to the College World Series, which is a realistic goal once again. South Carolina had a down year in 2009, but look to be back with a top 15 team this year and Vanderbilt is a team that could easily end up in the top 15 by the end of the year.
The Big XII will be down in 2010, but they have one amazing team in Texas. Led by what is probably the nation's best rotations, the Longhorns are considered by many the best team in the country, which is usually the case when a legitimate Saturday starter is in the bullpen as the closer because there isn't any room in the rotation for him. Kansas looks ready to take their first big step forward in 2010 with a few hard throwers on the mound and a good defense behind them. After those two, there isn't much to write home about in the Big XII.
With the Big XII down, a few teams from other conferences will look to take advantage. Conference USA has two legitimate top 10 teams led by Rice and their uber potent lineup that revolves around possibly the nation's best hitter, Anthony Rendon. The Owls have questions on the mound, but head coach Wayne Graham always finds pitchers to develop. East Carolina took a step forward in 2009 by advancing to the Super Regionals and in 2010 they can take it a step farther by making it to Omaha with a lineup featuring seven players that batted over .315 last year. Another Carolina team with high hopes is Coastal Carolina, who has Cody Wheeler to lead a solid rotation. TCU will look to return to the Super Regionals this season with an outstanding pitching staff that adds first round pick, Matt Purke. Louisville is the cream of the Big East crop with an offense that will scare any opponent.
The quality of play up north continues to improve and this season it is Ohio St. that will carry the region's Omaha hopes. Led by Alex Wimmers, one of the nation's best pitchers, the Buckeyes also have a good lineup, but will need a couple more pitchers to step up. Minnesota made it to a Regional last season and have the best bullpen in the region with some experienced hitters as well. The cold, upper Midwest has one high quality team in Wichita St., who feature an incredible weekend rotation, but appear to be short on bats.
We've already covered the Pac-10, but quality baseball on the west coast goes well beyond those 10 teams. As always, Cal St. Fullerton is a force to be reckoned with thanks to the return of their entire weekend rotation, all of whom have fantastic stuff. The Titans have some bats to go along with those arms and will execute in the field as they always do. They will not coast through the Big West with UC Irvine chasing them though. A second legitimate top five team in the Big West, the Anteaters feature a top shelf ace in Danny Bilbona with one of the country's better closers in Eric Pettis. The Fullerton vs. Irvine series will be one of the best all year and could determine the conference champion. Cal Poly gives the Big West another quality team as the Mustangs bring an array of hitters to the table, but will need some quality pitchers to emerge. After down seasons last year, both Pepperdine and San Diego should rise back up and dominate the West Coast Conference again. Pepperdine is led by Cole Cook, a tall, lanky righthander, while San Diego's 2009 season was derailed by injuries. If they can stay healthy, they will have a dominant pitching staff to complement what is one of the Toreros better lineups in recent years.
That is your look around the nation as we head into the 2010 college baseball season. You now know all about the Bruins, from pitchers to hitters and you're up to date on the entire Pac-10. Toss this look at the country in there and you're ready for the season, which kicks off in just two days because on Friday, 301 teams will begin their quest to be the last team standing at Rosenblatt Stadium for the final time.