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Sorenson’s Off The Top Of My Head

Columns


Johnny Rosenblatt is my father. Annie Savoy is my mother. And I’m their bastard son.

Welcome to 2018 StitchHeads. It’s good to have you back. Been a while, hasn’t it? It has been eight months since the last pitch in Omaha, but every year it seems to get longer and longer. Time is just cruel. Or as Chrissie Hynde would sing, time the avenger. (Google it, millennials.)

So it’s been since June 27th that Florida’s Jackson Kowar threw the last pitch of the 2017 season, gaining the Gator program its first national title. Next thing you know, looking at all the preseason rankings and polls, there are the Gators at the top again. I’m sorry, was there even an offseason? They’ve got the stud pitchers back and enough fielders returning to give them a free pass to staying at the No. 1 spot.

I was on a radio show in Jackson, Miss., two weeks ago – yes, even two weeks before the opening weekend I was asked to be on a radio show – and the last thing the host, Richard Cross, asked me was, “What are you looking forward to the most this coming season?”

My knee-jerk reaction was, “I want to see how Florida does this season with an even bigger target on its back.”

This is a program that has spent 100-plus seasons without winning a national title, even though they’d come close a couple of times, runner-ups in 2005 and 2011. But this is the first time they’ll go into a season as both defending champions AND public enemy No. 1. So there are a number of things this team could do. They could take the “Eh, we’ve won a national title, we’re fine” type of approach and rest on their laurels. Or they could be super motivated to prove last year’s title wasn’t a fluke and want to string together back-to-back national titles.

And by the way (getting out my soap box), can we just forever bury that claim that “it is so hard to win back to back national titles”? In this century alone we’ve already seen Oregon State and South Carolina pull it off. And then, if you think about it, Vanderbilt and Virginia came within a whisker of pulling the trick as well. So why wouldn’t the Gators win themselves another big brass ring this season?

Anyway, I digress. Being on Mr. Cross’ radio show got me thinking, what else do I look forward to this baseball season? Well plenty actually. But here are some of the initial thoughts on that. See if you agree…

I also look forward to…

– I look forward to the first pitch of the season and the last pitch of the season. 
As you StitchHeads know from past years, these two things are for vastly different reasons, of course.

– I look forward to Year Four of D1Baseball.com
C’mon, you KNOW you dig this site too. I hate to blow our own horn here, but this really is the only college baseball site that truly matters. A virtual one-stop shop for our sport. We’ve got daily updated scores, standings, schedules, links to live video and audio, etc. etc. And of course, this is also the only place to find the writing of Aaron Fitt and Kendall Rogers as well. Plus, this year, you can also get an occasional visit from the esteemed Kyle Peterson, who says he will stop by once in a while to throw down some knowledge from a perspective that only he can give.

– I look forward to seeing if the SEC is up to snuff or not.
I mostly hate “conference is better” talk, but I thought the ACC had the better season last year, especially of the top teams. Then, lo and behold, when it came to the biggest stage, the Gators and Tigers played like teams of destiny to match up in the national finals. Now, the question is, will that kind effort be the norm for the Southern monster conference? Or will the ACC come back strong again in 2018? And what about the Big 12? It has proven to be formidable in recent years, especially the 2016 postseason. Either way, it looks like the SEC has the deeper conference this season. So we’ll see. Just remember, in 2016, when the SEC looked so dominant and destined for five or six teams in Omaha, they ended up coming up snake-eyes in Omaha, getting just one team there and not winning a single game once there. So don’t put your house note on anyone this year. This IS college baseball, after all.

– I look forward to seeing if the postseason will be chalk or will it be a total circus.
Staying on the postseason topic, last year was an anomaly. Almost all the favorites won. Sure, there was the Davidson story and Sam Houston State pulled a stunner in Lubbock, but we still got five national seeds in Omaha, including both of the championship series participants. That was a far cry from 2016 when upsets ruled the roost, including having six of seven SEC and nine of 10 ACC teams eliminated before Omaha. Something tells me that we’re going to go back to true “June Madness” this time around. I don’t see any dominant teams this season. Everyone has warts.

– I look forward to another non-national seed winning the national title.
Yes, last year was an anomaly, believe it or not. Florida’s national title marked just the third time in the last 14 years that a top eight seed won it all. I find that fact that 11 “upset” teams have won it all in the last 14 seasons. That’s just cool to me, sorry. Let’s hope it gets back to the usual way this coming June.

– I look forward to seeing how a few legends end their career.
Unfortunately for college StitchHeads everywhere, Miami’s Jim Morris and UCI’s Mike Gillespie are both heading into their final year of stalking the sidelines in our sport. Bummer man. I dig these dudes. Wouldn’t it be great if these old school generals ended their final season in Omaha? Granted, these two teams are both a little off the radar going into this season, but both coaches have a knack of taking teams to Omaha when people least expect it, so stay tuned.

– I look forward to the final season of Dick Cooke.
You don’t know who this is? Don’t worry, I’m sure Captain Cooke is used to that. But the longtime Davidson head coach deserves some major props for sticking around this long, winning a wild number of games over the years and mentoring so many young lives. Also, coach Cooke has a very underrated coaching tree which includes Pete Hughes (OU coach last year), Mik Aoki (Notre Dame), Brett Boretti (Columbia) and Chris Pollard (Duke). This will also be his final go-round, having announced his pending retirement just this past week.

– I look forward to seeing if the LSU Tigers can return to Omaha after all they had lost and if the Florida Gators can return to Omaha with all they have coming back.
Two very interesting teams to keep an eye on in SEC play. Both are “Omaha or Bust” types again.

– I look forward to seeing how the move to the AAC effects Wichita State.
Holy cow. It’s been a while since the Shockers were a force on the national scene. Well this year marks their first foray away from the Missouri Valley Conference and the American Athletic Conference will certainly be a challenge to them. Having draft darlings like OF Greyson Jenista and 3B Alec Bohm back will certainly help them adjust, but unlike the Valley, the AAC is near-certain to have tougher competition year after year. For instance, last season the AAC was the fourth-ranked conference in the country. This time, teams like ECU, Houston, UConn, South Florida and Tulane will make for a much more rigorous ride in conference play. Hey Shockers, put on your big-boy pants.

– I look forward to not seeing another college baseball program fall to the axe.
Last year, we lost Buffalo. And the rumors are that Cal’s baseball program is back to some form of limbo again due to the athletic department’s glaring budget deficits. I’m crossing my fingers, and toes, and everything that I can cross, that no other program meets the fate of a visit from “The Turk” this calendar year. But I know our luck too well.

– I look forward to being one year closer to the return of baseball at Boise State.
Yes! I almost forgot to mention that the blue-turf Broncos will be bringing baseball back in 2019. So add the state of Idaho back in the Division I footprint soon. (See, the news ain’t all bad in college baseball’s changing landscape)

– I look forward to the first weekend in March being like “Bracket Busters Weekend”
Remember the “Bracket Busters Weekend” they used to have in college basketball? It’s intent was to get mid-majors from around the country to play each other on a big stage with television cameras everywhere. Ya’ know, give ‘em some pub. Well I think the INTENT should’ve been for the mid-majors to host Power Five conference teams, like as if Duke would travel to Omaha to play Creighton. THAT’s how a Bracket Buster Weekend should’ve been played. But in baseball, we *sort of* have that on March 2-3-4. Here are some of the better matchups:

Houston College Classic
Sam Houston State will play Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Mississippi State.
Houston will play Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Mississippi State
Louisiana will play Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Mississippi State

Dairy Queen Classic
Minnesota will host UCLA, Arizona and Washington

Frisco College Classic
Louisiana Tech will play Texas A&M, Cal and Baylor

San Diego will host No. 23 Indiana

Long Beach State will host No. 9 Ole Miss.

College of Charleston will host Georgia.

Coastal Carolina will host Maryland as part of the Coastal Carolina Classic

Wichita State will host Nebraska.

Western Kentucky will host West Virginia

In addition to these games, there are also a number of good mid-majors that will get the chance to take on some Power Five conference teams on the road, like Yale at Virginia, Liberty at North Carolina, Maine at Miami, South Alabama at Texas Tech, UC Irvine at TCU, Florida Atlantic at Oregon, Michigan at Stanford and BYU at Auburn. Interesting weekend.

– I look forward to these teams being “Back” in 2018 in their respective Power Five conferences:

SEC: Ole Miss. 
With its last two recruiting classes being lauded as much as they were, I can’t foresee another losing record in conference play like last year (14-16).

Big 12: Oklahoma State
Hard to believe this team was just 8-14 in conference play last year. But they’ve got a winning pedigree and a rotation they really believe in. Imposing lefty Mitchell Stone will be one of the most interesting freshmen to follow as well.

Big 10: Purdue.
The Boilers haven’t had a winning mark in Big 10 play since their 2012 title-winning team, though they hit .500 last year. Eight fielders and lots of viable arms return to the fold.

Pac 12: Arizona State
Like Ole Miss above, the Devils have had two really strong recruiting classes and though they’ll still be young, this is the team that gets them back to the post-season after last year’s 24-29 disaster.

ACC: Georgia Tech
Last year was the only losing campaign in Danny Hall’s 21 years at Tech. But all the injuries to last year’s team will be a boon this year, especially if RHPs Tristin English and Jonathan Hughes come back from Tommy John throwing heat again.

– I look forward to these “low-major” teams being well-known come June:
There are mid-majors in our sport that we know will be good, like Dallas Baptist, Cal State Fullerton and Houston, plus many others. And then there are “low-majors” who don’t have much emphasis put on their baseball programs and their conferences are nearer to the lowest-rated in the conference RPI. Davidson from the 25th-ranked Atlantic 10 Conference was a good example of them last year, winning the Chapel Hill Regional. For 2018 here are some of the low-majors teams you will know about when June rolls around. Yes, I’m calling my upset shots now.

Yale
These guys won 34 games, went to the Corvallis Regional finals and return nearly everyone from that squad. They are the heavy favorites to repeat as Ivy champs, as you’d expect.

Kent State
It feels like 36 wins was a little “light” for this program last year, but with a senior-laden squad this season look for the Flashes to do some damage come Regional time. Of course, they’ve gotta get there first. (Don’t screw it up again, guys.)

Rhode Island
The Rams led the A-10 with a 3.65 team ERA in ’17, and that was without All American ace LHP Tyler Wilson, who missed most of the season. Hey A&M, watch out on opening weekend.

Oral Roberts
The Eagles won 43 games last season and return their entire four-man rotation and ace closer, led by Summit League pitcher of the year Josh McMinn. If you see them sent to Fayetteville again, just know they won’t be intimidated.

Wright State
The Raiders won a series at Clemson last season and return eight starters in the field. Draft darlings Ryan Weiss and Zane Collins will lead the rotation and RHP Caleb Sampen, the 2016 Horizon freshman of the year, is back from a redshirt year.

– I look forward to three or four Top 25 teams completely tanking-it this year.
Yes you StitchHeads out there who have been following me for years know this is an annual prediction of mine. And it is never wrong. Last year’s preseason rankings included Coastal Carolina, UC Santa Barbara, Miami and Ole Miss, none of which made the NCAAs. So take a good look at your own Top 25. Who do you think will fall short this year? You know it’s gonna happen. You know there are some chokers in there.

– I look forward to cheering for St. Peter’s more than anyone else this year.
Why the Peacocks? Well once again, they had a really crappy year in 2017. I mean REALLY crappy. As in, 0-for-38. Yes, SPU played thirty-eight games last year and lost each and every one of them. Arrrrrrgh! The good news is this is year No. 2 for head coach Danny Ramirez, so there should at least be some kind of comfort zone for him and his charges in 2018. First things first, get that 11.43 team ERA down and we’ll see where that takes you guys.

– I look forward to another season where the umpires completely ignore the high strike.
Hey guys, the strike zone goes up to the navel, not the knees. Please call it accordingly. And by the way, knock it off with the “amoeba strike zone” some of you umps had in Omaha last year. (I’m looking your direction Mr. Fullwood)

– I look forward to hearing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” about 198 times this season.
Okay, I’m kidding. I cringe every time this damn song comes on a stadium P.A. Please stop playing this song. Doesn’t anybody realize it is about a creepy older guy and his infatuation with an underage girl?

– I look forward to Mother Nature being much nicer this year.
I’m saying this in a “You BETTER be better to us, you jerk!” kind of way. Last year seemed like a bummer year for our sport. I could’ve sworn I saw Jim Cantore on some of the flights to games I took. Through February and March last year 224 games were either canceled or postponed. And just as I write this, I get word that Western Kentucky and Memphis have already scrapped their Friday opener due to expected rain. As I type this, the forecast shows a 70 percent chance of rain and a high temperature of 54 degrees for Friday. So they have scheduled a double-header for Saturday. Problem is… the Saturday forecast calls for a 100% chance of rain. Oi vey.

– I look forward to another season discovering new places and faces. 
As of this posting we are a mere 24 hours away from first pitch. How geeked are you StitchHeads out there? I can’t freakin’ wait, myself. I think wistfully to the season ahead and hope to make it to a few new stadiums and college baseball venues out there in stitched-ball land. There are a couple that are clearly on my radar and I want to get to. Hope you guys make it out to as many games as you possibly can as well. Using the Easton Lear Jet and “Jeeves” my driver, I’ll do the best I can.

Let ‘er rip, StitchHeads.

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