Time to Take Tennessee Seriously?
One of the near-constants of SEC baseball over the last few years is that Tennessee was bad. Sometimes the Vols went through brief brushes with mediocrity, and other times they slumped to truly terrible, but mostly, it was just bad. In fact, Tennessee hasn't been consistently good since the height of the Rod Delmonico Era -- yes, that's his real name -- in the mid-1990s.
But now the Vols are 7-0. They are one of five undefeated teams still standing in the SEC. And while no one is going to mistake UNLV for presumptive national title favorites, the Rebels were on the fringes of the Top 25 coming into this weekend. (They were No. 29 per Collegiate Baseball, which goes beyond the Top 25 for reasons that have never been clear to me.) And Tennessee -- consistently bad Tennessee -- swept them.
It wasn't a series of routs; the Vols won the series by a combined four runs. The Friday game was particularly harrowing, with Tennessee allowing five runs on one hit (a grand slam) in the ninth inning before shutting down UNLV for an 8-7 win. The bullpen probably needs some work; Tennessee also gave up two runs in the ninth inning Saturday before breaking the tie with a run in the bottom of the inning. But it might be time to start considering the Volunteers as a contender for the NCAA tournament, at least, and maybe something more.
The flip side of the surprise coin right now is Mississippi State. After making it to the championship series in last year's NCAA tournament and bowing as high as No. 4 in the preseason polls, the Bulldogs were expected to largely coast through February and perhaps not really sweat until the series against Vanderbilt more than a month into the season.
Um, that hasn't really happened. Mississippi State now stands at 4-4, having lost to Western Carolina once and Memphis before splitting this past weekend's games against Holy Cross. The Bulldogs pitching staff got knocked around for 13 runs over the last two games, which meant that Wes Rea's three homers in the second half of a Saturday double-header went for naught. The Bulldogs have slipped all the way to No. 18 in Baseball America (USA Today hasn't yet released an in-season poll), and that's after the easy part of the schedule.
If it's just a slump, Mississippi State would rather have it now than when the SEC schedule rolls around in March. But that means that the Bulldogs have a few weeks to figure out a course correction if they want to get back to Omaha.
Hurricanes a Warning for Florida?
There's really nothing wrong with losing two of three to Miami (FL). The Hurricanes are a solid program in one of the few conferences that would be able to hold its own in a head-to-head challenge against the SEC. (Which actually isn't a bad idea for a preseason tournament of some sort.)
Still, the lost series puts Florida at 5-3 on the season, and following last season's struggles, it's not unfair to ask whether the Gators are all the way back. There are no teams quite as good as Miami left on Florida's pre-SEC schedule, so any stumbles from here on out could signal real problems in Gainesville.
Again, no USA Today yet, so Baseball America on its own will have to do.
|2||Florida St. Seminoles||6-0||4|
|3||South Carolina Gamecocks||7-0||5|
|4||Oregon St. Beavers||5-2||2|
|5||Cal State Fullerton Titans||4-3||3|
|6||N.C. State Wolfpack||5-1||6|
|10||Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns||7-1||14|
|13||Cal Poly Mustangs||6-1||22|
|16||TCU Horned Frogs||6-1||19|
|18||Mississippi St. Bulldogs||4-4||7|
|21||Alabama Crimson Tide||4-2||21|
|22||UNC Tar Heels||3-3||21|
|23||Texas A&M Aggies||6-1||24|
No new teams in or out of the Baseball America Top 25, which might seem odd, given that, you know, Indiana has lost five of the seven games it's played and everything. Really, it's problematic enough having .500 records in the poll right now, but understandable in the early going. But there's a point at which you should no longer be eligible for taking the "it's early" excuse, and it feels like that point is somewhere north of a .286 winning percentage.
As for the SEC, there aren't really any major moves outside of Mississippi State's drop. The Gamecocks climb into the Top 3, while LSU and Vanderbilt still seem a bit underranked, but the season could straighten that out as we move along.