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SEC Baseball Weekend Preview: South Carolina vs. An Instate Rival; LSU Faces Kansas

There aren't many marquee games this weekend, but the good news is that college baseball is finally back

Crystal LoGiudice / USA TODAY Sports

LEADING OFF

Baseball is back. That's simple enough, right? There's no shortage of storylines as we head into the first weekend of the season. Vanderbilt is looking to defend its first national title. The SEC has seven teams ranked in the USA Today coaches poll -- four in the Top 10 -- and three more receiving votes. And, of course, there is the ongoing saga of the unnecessary juicing of changes to the baseball used in the college game.

There aren't going to be a lot of answers provided by the first series of the season, though. For those coming at this from a college football standpoint: Imagine the first week of that season. Now cut the number of truly interesting games roughly in half. Or maybe by three quarters. Now you've got an idea of what the schedule looks like.

Vanderbilt, that reigning national champion we were talking about? Their first opponent is Santa Clara, which is viewed as no better than the ninth-best team in its own state. We know this because eight teams from California at least received votes in the USA Today poll, and Santa Clara was not one of them. Missouri is playing something called an "Iona," which I'm not even sure is a real thing. No one would notice if it were made up, given that it's Missouri baseball we're talking about.

Is Tennessee finally going to have the breakthrough year the Vols have been waiting for? The results against Florida International probably aren't going to tell us much. Can Florida repeat as regular-season conference champions? Maybe, but I wouldn't suggest trying to figure it out by watching this weekend's series against Rhode Island. Arkansas is actually playing North Dakota, which apparently does have a baseball team.

It will also take more than three games to accurately measure the difference that the new baseball will make. Perhaps, as its supporters argue, it will just turn up the offense a little bit and prove those of us who are wary of the change to be wrong. (Though in that case, they'll probably juice the bats and once again create something that only vaguely resembles actual baseball.) But we need an entire season of data before jumping to any conclusions about what difference the lowered seams will make.

THE BEST OF THE WEEKEND

College of Charleston at South Carolina. Again, it's slim pickings this weekend. But the Cougars are a fringe-y Top 25 team, nabbing No. 25 in the Collegiate Baseball rankings, a fair number of votes in the coaches poll, and No. 35 in the National College Baseball Writers Association poll. The Gamecocks are ranked across the board and are a perennial SEC contender. The College of Charleston sees the series as part of "a rapidly intensifying intra-state rivalry," but might want to slow down just a bit there. The Gamecocks are 48-6 against College of Charleston all-time, and a team should probably win more than 11 percent of the games against an opponent before calling the showdown a rivalry, much less a rapidly intensifying one.

Kansas at LSU. Ooh -- a series against another Power 5 team. In the loosest sense of the term, when it comes to baseball. The Jayhawks did make the NCAA tournament last year, and have a good amount of the talent from that team returning. The bad news for KU is that the losses include all four of their starting pitchers. And they're going up against an LSU team that returns the majority of its offensive firepower from last year. It seems like a pretty safe bet that Gorilla Ball will return to Baton Rouge this weekend, whether they're using the new baseballs or water-logged softballs.

THE LINEUP

DAY TIME GAME TV / WEB
Friday Noon ET Kentucky vs. Ball State (Wilmington, N.C.)
Noon ET Missouri vs. Iona (Cary, N.C.)
4 p.m. ET Binghamton at Auburn SEC NETWORK+
4 p.m. ET College of Charleston at South Carolina SEC NETWORK+
4 p.m. ET Missouri vs. Iona (Cary, N.C.)
4:05 p.m. ET North Dakota at Arkansas SEC NETWORK+
5 p.m. ET Eastern Illinois at Georgia SEC NETWORK+
5 p.m. ET William & Mary at Ole Miss SEC NETWORK+
5 p.m. ET Santa Clara at Vanderbilt SEC NETWORK+
5 p.m. ET Cincinnati at Mississippi State SEC NETWORK+
7 p.m. ET Rhode Island at Florida
7 p.m. ET Tennessee at Florida International
7:30 p.m. ET Maryland-Eastern Shore at Alabama SEC NETWORK+
7:35 p.m. ET Holy Cross at Texas A&M SEC NETWORK+
8 p.m. ET Kansas at LSU SEC NETWORK+
Saturday Noon ET Eastern Illinois at Georgia SEC NETWORK+
Noon ET Kentucky vs. Richmond (Wilmington, N.C.)
1 p.m. ET College of Charleston at South Carolina SEC NETWORK+
1 p.m. ET Miami (OH) at Mississippi State SEC NETWORK+
2 p.m. ET Missouri vs. Iona (Cary, N.C.)
2:05 p.m. ET North Dakota at Arkansas SEC NETWORK+
2:30 p.m. ET William & Mary at Ole Miss SEC NETWORK+
3 p.m. ET Kansas at LSU SEC NETWORK+
3 p.m. ET Santa Clara at Vanderbilt SEC NETWORK+
3 p.m. ET Maryland-Eastern Shore at Alabama SEC NETWORK+
3:05 p.m. ET Holy Cross at Texas A&M SEC NETWORK+
4 p.m. ET Binghamton at Auburn SEC NETWORK+
4 p.m. ET Rhode Island at Florida SEC NETWORK+
5 p.m. ET Cincinnati at Mississippi State SEC NETWORK+
5 p.m. ET Missouri vs. Iona (Cary, N.C.)
6 p.m. ET Tennessee at Florida International
Sunday 1 p.m. ET Eastern Illinois at Georgia SEC NETWORK+
1 p.m. ET Binghamton at Auburn
1 p.m. ET Rhode Island at Florida SEC NETWORK+
1 p.m. ET Santa Clara at Vanderbilt SEC NETWORK+
1 p.m. ET Tennessee at Florida International
1:05 p.m. ET Holy Cross at Texas A&M SEC NETWORK+
1:30 p.m. ET Kentucky at UNC-Wilmington
2 p.m. ET Kansas at LSU SEC NETWORK+
2 p.m. ET Maryland-Eastern Shore at Alabama SEC NETWORK+
2 p.m. ET College of Charleston at South Carolina SEC NETWORK+
2:05 p.m. ET North Dakota at Arkansas
2:30 p.m. ET William & Mary at Ole Miss
SEC NETWORK+
2:30 p.m. ET Cincinnati at Mississippi State