Until now, it's been easy to write off Tennessee's undefeated start as the function of a weak schedule. That will change if the Volunteers can do well this weekend, when they travel to Arizona State to take on the Sun Devils in a three-game series.
ASU hasn't exactly been overpowering this year. They beat Baylor two games to one in the season-opening series, then promptly went on a three-game skid that featured losses to New Mexico, Long Beach State and UC-Irvine. Still, Arizona State plays in the Pac-12 and got a fair number of votes in the USA Today coaches poll. The Sun Devils bat .292 as a team, though Brett Lilek is the only regular starter they have with an ERA under 4.50.
Tennessee doesn't need to sweep this series to promote itself as a legitimate threat in the SEC East, though that would certainly help. But if the Vols want to quiet the doubters, they probably need to take two of three. If they lose the series or get swept, there will be plenty of critics ready to say that the start of the season has been nothing more than a mirage.
West of the Mississippi State
Mississippi State is also traveling to the Pacific Time Zone this weekend, going to Arizona for the Hi Corbett Classic in Tuscon. The host team isn't much to worry about; the Wildcats are 6-7 and have lost five straight, to Seton Hall and Long Beach State. They did beat Alcorn State by a lot.
The more troubling team might be UC-Santa Barbara, fresh off a season that took the Gauchos to the NCAA tournament. They're 7-1 right now, not including a win against Waseda University from Japan. Among the wins that do count is a 6-4 victory against UCLA in Westwood. The Gauchos are also getting a few points from the USA Today pollsters.
The Friday schedule doesn't do Mississippi State any favors: The most likely team to be jet-lagged is also the one that plays a double-header on the opening day of the tournament.
Taking It Easy
Most of the rest of the SEC is going to have a relatively easy weekend, as we gear up for conference play to begin next week (finally). Missouri hosting Southern Miss might be the best series on the remainder of the board, which includes such titanic clashes as Purdue at LSU and Brown at South Carolina. Ole Miss is hosting Arkansas-Little Rock while Vanderbilt hosts Winthrop.
Georgia does host the Georgia Bulldog Invitation, apparently because it wants the opportunity to be embarrassed at home by multiple teams on the same weekend. Buffalo, North Florida and Western Carolina swing by. What's left of Auburn hosts Mercer, which has started to get a bit of traction in the polls after a 12-2 start.
The only SEC games that appear to be televised in any way are Ole Miss' first two games against Arkansas-Little Rock, which "air" on ESPN3 on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET and Saturday at 5 p.m. ET.