Please tell us it’s true. It’s really here. The SEC’s true best sport — baseball — is now upon us. This isn’t a dream right?
It might seem like it, given a bit of SEC country was dealing with the remnants of an ice storm Monday morning. But come Friday, as the weather continues to warm, the league’s teams will begin their regular seasons. Baseball season begins this weekend.
That wasn’t a joke above, either. Baseball is the SEC’s best sport. At least, it’s the sport in which the league dominates wholly over every other conference in the land. This year is no different. Three teams could be counted among the five or six favorites for a national championship. Another three or four are in line to perhaps host an NCAA Regional. Three more after that, maybe another four, could vie for an NCAA Tournament spot.
As we did all through last season, SEC Country will keep you updated on the sport. Every Monday, we will release our league power poll. These aren’t the league standings, nor the league top-25 rankings. This is a list of how dangerous we think these teams are, on a whole, in the moment.
Without further ado, let’s play ball.
14. Alabama (previously 14th)
Last year: 19-34-1
Next series: vs. Valparaiso
My gosh, what a disastrous season for the Crimson Tide in 2017. Greg Goff lasted all of one year after allegations of player mistreatment. In comes Auburn assistant Brad Bohannon, who, by all accounts, is the opposite of Goff, personality-wise. This culture has a long way to go to be changed, though.
Last year: 25-32, 11-19
Next series: vs. Georgia
Remember when Georgia made the College World Series? Seems like decades ago. The Bulldogs have fallen on hard times. If they don’t finish 13th, they’re no higher than 11th, anyway. Another long year down in Athens.
Last year: 27-25, 7-21
Next series: vs. Maryland
Arkansas fans will watch this team closer than usual, given former assistant coach Tony Vitello is now heading up the Vols. To be frank, he’s the only reason Tennessee is this high. There is a real dearth of talent in the program right now.
Last year: 14-16, 36-23
Next series: at Florida International
Steve Bieser begins his first year at Mizzou with a task. A large task. From just a couple hundred miles down the road at Southeast Missouri State, he turned that team into a small-conference power. Columbia and the SEC are a different game than Cape Girardeau and the Ohio Valley Conference.
10. South Carolina
Last year: 35-25, 13-17
Next series: vs. Virginia Military Institute
At one point last year the Gamecocks were the No. 1 team in this power poll. Bad luck struck South Carolina like no team we have seen in years. Tons of underclassmen had to have more at-bats than they were ready for. It was the same with the pitching staff, which got tossed into the fire early, as well. Now, practically, they’re all back. If there’s a team to jump higher than this season-opening slot, it’s South Carolina.
Last year: 37-26, 16-14
Next series: vs. Longwood
Look, Auburn lost a ton off last year’s overachieving team. The best three hitters are gone. Two-thirds of the weekend rotation is gone. The bullpen was an unmitaged disaster after the one returnee, Calvin Coker. But for someone reason, call it the Casey Mize Effect, Auburn could mess around and make another NCAA Tournament.
8. Mississippi State
Last year: 40-27, 17-13
Next series: at Southern Miss
Brent Rooker is gone. That’s a bummer for all of college baseball … except Mississippi State’s opponents. Jake Mangum remains one of the best table-setters in the game, though, and the Bulldogs have plenty of pitching. Eighth sounds low. It isn’t. Not in this league.
Last year: 36-25-1, 15-13-1
Next series: vs. Duke
Vanderbilt baseball hasn’t missed the NCAA Tournament since 2005. This is the likeliest team to break that streak. Note, not predicting it will happen, but these Commodores don’t scare like some teams of the past do. Outside Julian Infante, who is a slamming first baseman, Vanderbilt is good, but not great.
6. Ole Miss
Last year: 32-25, 14-16
Next series: vs. Winthrop
Ole Miss has the pitching, no doubt about it. Hitting, however, may leave some things to be desired. It’s hard to get a handle on a team that was downright mediocre in 2017, returns a lot, and then is expected by league’s coaches and national writers to be a top-15 team.
Last year: 52-20, 21-9
Next series: vs. Notre Dame
LSU is what LSU is, right? The Tigers simply reload. This year’s team doesn’t have the well-established names like teams past, but Zach Watson could very well play himself into being the league’s Player of the Year. A small question at pitching, but mostly you figure Paul Mainieri’s bunch to simply plug-and-play.
4. Texas A&M
Last year: 41-23, 16-14
Next series: vs. Rhode Island
Torn on this team. They were a whole bunch of average in SEC play last year but then turned it on in the postseason. Not convinced they’re that good, as good as they showed in June. But they have the best hitting infield in college baseball probably. One of, anyway. If there’s a team to pick to finish far lower than projected, let’s go with the Aggies.
Last year: 43-23, 19-11
Next series: at Wofford
Not a darkhorse for the SEC title given the Wildcats are third and a preseason top-10 team in the country. But considering how far and away Florida is — and how far back Kentucky was a couple years ago — it’s still odd to see it this high. Make no mistake, though, last year wasn’t a fluke.
Last year: 45-19, 18-11
Next series: vs. Bucknell
On paper, this is the best Arkansas team in years. They’re even better than the crew a few years back that was preseason No. 1 in the nation. This Arkansas team has a handful more professional prospects than that one. There’s a good mix of solid college guys, too, who probably won’t see much action for pay, but are dynamite at this level.
Overall: 52-19, 21-9
Next series: vs. Siena
A practically unanimous choice as preseason No. 1, the Gators are the favorites to win another national championship. Back-to-back. They have the pitching. They have the hitting. The coaching is there. Can they survive the rigors of the SEC?