This time of year, a hefty majority of all questions submitted in our weekly college chat, as well as those sent via e-mail or Twitter, center around the battle for postseason positioning. Our readers want to know how the races for national seeds, host sites and at-large bids are shaping up—so it's time to roll out our weekly Stock Report feature. Every Tuesday here on the College Blog, we'll examine how the postseason picture has shifted over the weekend. Rather than get bogged down in the jigsaw puzzle that is a full field of 64 projection, we're not going to worry about which regionals teams get sent to. We're just looking at who's in, who's out, who's on the bubble. This discussion is weighted much more toward performance and remaining schedule than projection based on talent, but it's also not intended to show what the field would look like if the season ended today. We're still looking ahead.
During this discussion, we will reference the NCAA's official RPI report, which is released every Tuesday and is updated through the weekend's games. We'll also reference the useful RPI Needs Report at Boyd's World. And we'll make use of records against the top 25, 50 or 100 in the RPI—there is some margin for error with those figures, but they are accurate enough to serve our purposes.
We'll get to at-large chances in a bit, but let's start with a look at which teams are on track to earn national seeds and which are on track to host regionals through the first nine weeks of the season:
SECURE TEAMS: Kentucky, Florida State, Florida
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Louisiana State, UCLA, North Carolina, Baylor, Oregon
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Texas A&M, South Carolina, Cal State Fullerton, Rice, North Carolina State, Purdue, Arizona
Changes from our midseason Field of 64 projection two weeks ago: LSU, UCLA and Baylor replace Arizona, Stanford and Rice as national seeds.
Since sweeping Stanford two weeks ago, Arizona has gone 3-4, including losses at Utah Valley (No. 159) and Utah (No. 190). The RPI needs report says Arizona needs a 17-3 finish to land inside the top eight at the end of the year—a tall order in the Pac-12. If the Wildcats win the conference, they won't need a top-eight RPI, and currently they are tied with the Bruins and Ducks for first place. But the last two weeks have certainly put them lower in the national seed pecking order.
We gave Stanford the benefit of the doubt two weeks ago based on its strong nonconference performance and its talent, but the Cardinal has not hit since then, losing a home series against Oregon this weekend. The Ducks, meanwhile, have surged into national seed position with three straight series wins against Arizona State, at UCLA and at Stanford. That is enough to land Oregon a national seed in our current projections even with an RPI outside the top eight (No. 12). UCLA has the strongest RPI of any Pac-12 team (No. 3); that, combined with its place in the standings and an early series win against Baylor that looks better by the week, lands the Bruins a national seed comfortably.
The Aggies are ranked No. 2 in the BA Top 25, and clearly they are still a strong national seed contender. But Baylor keeps on winning and currently sits seven spots ahead of the Aggies (No. 13) in the RPI. If A&M wins its series against the Bears this weekend, it will surge past Baylor in the pecking order, but for now we'll give Baylor the nod based on its sterling 15-0 Big 12 mark and its robust RPI. The other factor working against both teams is the weakness of their conference. Baylor is just 1-2 against the top 25 in the RPI and 5-3 against the top 50, while A&M is 1-2 against the top 25, 4-2 against the top 50. Most other national seed contenders have played—and won—more games against top competition. Even Purdue is 4-2 against the top 50, and it plays in the Big Ten.
SECURE TEAMS: The eight national seeds—Kentucky, Florida State, Florida, LSU, UCLA, North Carolina, Baylor and Oregon; Texas A&M, Cal State Fullerton, South Carolina, Rice
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): North Carolina State, Purdue, Arizona, Stanford
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Arkansas, Miami, Central Florida, Mississippi, Gonzaga
Changes from the midseason field of 64 projection two weeks ago: N.C. State and Oregon replace Miami and Arkansas.
Two weeks ago, we wrote that Miami and N.C. State were neck-and-neck for a third hosting spot out of the ACC. We gave Miami the slight edge based on the superior experience and depth of its pitching staff, with the caveat that the Wolfpack was a little better off in the RPI and would host if it continued on its course. Since then, Miami swept a huge series against North Carolina but went 1-4 in its other five games, dropping it six spots to No. 17 in the RPI. The Wolfpack has gone 5-3 in the last two weeks, dropping a series at Maryland but winning another road series at Clemson, the net result of which kept the 'Pack inside the top 10 in the RPI, 10 places in front of the 'Canes. Now the schedule opens up for N.C. State, which has three straight very winnable and even sweepable home series coming up against Boston College, Duke and Cal State Bakersfield. Miami could still host as a fourth team out of the ACC, but right now its resume lags slightly behind those of our other hosts. The Hurricanes are 8-9 against the top 50, while Stanford is 11-7, despite its recent lackluster play.
Arkansas still has a host-worthy RPI (No. 9), but a home series loss to Kentucky last week hurt, especially with road series against Ole Miss and Florida coming up over the next two weeks, followed by a tough home series against South Carolina. The Hogs have a chance to solidify their position as a host if they can make some noise over those three weekends, but for now they slide out of a hosting spot.
Purdue and Gonzaga have managed to construct robust RPIs (No. 10 and No. 14, respectively) despite playing in mid-major conferences and in cold-weather climates. The committee has shown it is eager to reward cold-weather teams who put together strong resumes, so Purdue is a no-brainer host, though it almost certainly will be at an off-campus, professional ballpark site such as Fort Wayne or Gary. Gonzaga, meanwhile, has a beautiful on-campus facility that the NCAA would surely like to showcase, but winning the WCC would seemingly be critical to Gonzaga's hopes, and right now we still project San Diego (which can't host on campus and is very unlikely to submit a bid to host off campus) as the WCC champion. The Toreros reinforced their position as conference front-runner by taking two of three from the Zags two weeks ago.
There are 30 automatic bids awarded to conference champions, and these 14 are safe bets to be one-bid leagues:
America East, Atlantic 10, Colonial Athletic Association, Horizon, Ivy, Metro-Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Mountain West, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Summit, Southwestern.
Out of all those conferences, only Texas Christian has a strong enough RPI (No. 43) to have a realistic shot at earning an at-large bid if it fails to win its automatic bid. If TCU does win the MWC tournament, that will be a one-bid league, which is what we will consider it for this exercise.
Below is a conference-by-conference look at which teams are on track to make the field in potential multi-bid leagues, and which teams are on the wrong side of the bubble through nine weeks. With five weeks left to play before Selection Monday, the at-large picture is still very fluid, so we have quite a few changes from our field two weeks ago. Here are the changes from the midseason field of 64 projection, in a nutshell:
IN: Maryland, Oklahoma, Dallas Baptist, Indiana State, California, Southeastern Louisiana, Texas-Arlington
OUT: Georgia Tech, Stetson, Missouri, Michigan State, UC Irvine, Texas State, Cal Poly
The last three teams in our field this week are Texas-Arlington, California and Indiana State.
Atlantic Coast Conference (8 total bids)
SAFELY IN: Florida State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Miami, Virginia
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Clemson, Maryland, Wake Forest
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech
Changes from our midseason projection: Maryland replaces Georgia Tech as the ACC's eighth team. The banged-up Yellow Jackets have slumped to 7-11 in the ACC, tying them with Maryland, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech for the all-important final two slots in the conference tournament. The Yellow Jackets (No. 41) have the worst RPI of that trio, as Maryland is No. 26 and Wake is No. 27. And the Demon Deacons just helped themselves considerably by winning a series over the Jackets, while Maryland has won back-to-back series against N.C. State and Duke to resuscitate its at-large hopes. The good news for Georgia Tech: its remaining schedule offers plenty of opportunities to boost its RPI and pad its at-large resume with quality wins, as the RPI Needs Report says a 12-7 finish will land it inside the top 32, and an 8-11 finish will land it inside the top 45, which is borderline at-large territory. The bad news for the Jackets: it won't be easy to win games against its challenging remaining schedule, which features road series at UNC and Virginia plus home sets against Clemson and Miami. For now, the Jackets are on the outside looking in until they prove they are capable of winning series against legit regional contenders—something they have yet to do in any of their first nine series.
Keep an eye on Virginia Tech, which vaulted itself into the at-large discussion with a series win against Miami this weekend, propelling it to No. 38 in the RPI, up 12 spots from a week earlier. But getting swept at home by Duke in Week Six still lingers as a glaring blemish on the Hokies' resume. They'll get a chance to bolster their case with series over the next two weekends against fellow bubble dwellers Wake Forest and Maryland. If Tech fares well enough over its final four conference series to land a spot in the ACC tournament, it figures to get an at-large bid. But we're not projecting that to happen.
Atlantic Sun (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: None.
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Belmont
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Stetson, South Carolina-Upstate, Kennesaw State
One change from the midseason projection: Stetson drops out of our field of 64.
On the heels of a strong 2011 for the A-Sun, 2012 is shaping up as a disappointment. Stetson and Jacksonville entered the season with high hopes, but Jacksonville's year has been a 14-23, 4-8 disaster, and Stetson is treading water. A series loss at Kennesaw State this weekend dropped the Hatters to fifth place in the A-Sun at 6-6 (23-12 overall). Its RPI is still within at-large striking range (No. 59), but the rest of its resume is sorely lacking.
First-place Belmont (11-4 in the A-Sun, No. 50 in the RPI) now stands as the A-Sun team with the best chance at an at-large bid if it fails to win the conference tournament, but it sustained a setback with a midweek loss at Vanderbilt and a series loss at Mercer in the last week. Upstate and Kennesaw have plenty of work to lift their mid-70s RPIs into at-large territory, but if either team catches fire down the stretch it stands at least an outside chance at an at-large bid. But this conference looks more and more like a one-bid league regardless.
Big 12 (4 bids)
SAFELY IN: Baylor, Texas A&M, Texas
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Oklahoma
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
One change from the midseason projection: Oklahoma replaces Missouri as the Big 12's fourth team. The Tigers squandered their at-large hopes over the last two weeks, as they were swept in back-to-back series by Baylor and OU to plummet to 3-9 in the conference and No. 117 in the RPI. Oklahoma, meanwhile, has leapt from No. 93 to No. 58 in the span of a week, and the RPI Needs Report says a 14-6 finish will land the Sooners inside the top 45 at the end of the year. They could do better than that against a very soft remaining schedule that only features one more series against a team inside the top 100: No. 6 Baylor in Norman.
Big East (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Louisville
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): South Florida, Connecticut, St. John's
No change from the midseason Field of 64 projection. The Cardinals are the only team with an RPI (No. 52) in at-large range, and they'll need a 14-6 finish to land inside the top 45 at season's end, so the Big East could conceivably be a one-bid league even if Louisville fails to capture the automatic bid. But we like Louisville's talent and expect it to rebound from this past weekend's series loss to Seton Hall and make a run at the regular-season crown (it trails first-place USF by two games).
The Bulls fell 11 spots from No. 78 to No. 89 in the RPI after a 2-2 week that included a road series win at Pittsburgh (No. 208). Despite its 10-2 conference record, South Florida lacks quality wins—it is just 1-2 against the top 50. It will need a torrid finish to boost its RPI into at-large range. The same goes for UConn (No. 100) and St. John's (No. 92), who are on the very fringe of the at-large discussion.
Big South (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Coastal Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Liberty, Radford, Campbell
No change from the midseason projection. At No. 60 in the RPI, the Chanticleers are very much a bubble team if they fail to win the automatic bid, and the Needs Report says they'll have to go 15-5 down the stretch to land inside the top 45. Coastal is the most talented team in its league, and a strong finish should be doable, though a road series at first-place LIberty in two weeks followed by home set against Campbell are critical.
At 30-10 overall and 9-3 in the Big South, Liberty has positioned itself as an at-large contender, but it too will need a strong finish to boost its No. 72 RPI. The Flames are just 1-0 against the top 50 and have two midweek road games left against North Carolina and Virginia Tech that loom large. But not as large as the Coastal Carolina series. Liberty coach Jim Toman has lamented the fact that his team has been left out of regionals in the past because it couldn't beat Coastal, but that's the reality in the Big South: beating the Chanticleers is a must if Liberty is going to make a run at an at-large spot. A 13-4 finish lands the Flames inside the top 45, per the needs report. Campbell (No. 88) and Radford (No. 79) are on the fringes of this discussion and will need to catch fire down the stretch to have a chance at at-large spots.
Big Ten (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Purdue
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan State
One change from the midseason projection: Michigan State drops out of our field of 64, making the Big Ten a one-bid league (unless Purdue gets upset in the conference tournament, in which case it will of course land an at-large spot). A 3-2 week against Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan and Indiana dropped MSU 15 places to No. 68 in the RPI; the Spartans just don't have much room for error going forward. The Needs Report says they must finish 16-4 to land inside the top 45, while Nebraska (No. 71) must go 15-3. There is parity in the Big Ten after Purdue, and it's hard to predict either team to get hot enough to climb into at-large range. But both teams have series remaining against the Boilermakers, which gives them a chance to make some noise.
Despite a 4-11 record against the top 75 in the RPI (and 2-4 against the top 50), Ohio State has a surprisingly strong RPI (No. 39). The Buckeyes have lost series against Nebraska, Michigan State and Purdue, the three best teams in the league. There is no substance to OSU's resume, despite its curiously inflated RPI. The RPI Needs Report says the Buckeyes need to finish 18-4 to land inside the top 45. Don't count on it.
Big West (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Cal Poly, Long Beach State, UC Irvine
One change: UC Irvine and Cal Poly fall out of our field of 64, making the Big West a one-bid league unless Fullerton fails to capture the automatic bid. Cal Poly looked like it was making its move as the league's No. 2 team after sweeping UCI two weeks ago, but the Mustangs stubbed their toe this past weekend, losing a series to Cal State Northridge that dropped them 12 spots to No. 69 in the RPI. It needs a 20-2 finish to land inside the top 45. For Poly to have any chance, it must win its series at Fullerton this weekend.
Long Beach State is still below .500 overall (16-17), but it has won four straight series—three on the road—to climb into a tie with Fullerton atop the Big West standings. The Dirtbags jumped from No. 83 to No. 66 in the RPI after going 4-0 last week against San Diego State and UC Santa Barbara, and they'll need to continue playing at a very high level to make a run at an at-large spot. Their more likely path to a regional might be to win the automatic bid. The final series of the season—at home against Fullerton—could make all the difference. For now, we'll continue to project the Titans as the Big West champion.
Conference USA (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Rice, Central Florida, East Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Tulane, Southern Mississippi
No change from the midseason field. Tulane jumped from No. 129 to No. 90 in the RPI last week, and its RPI should continue to climb if it gets hot in conference play. Its next three weekends—against UCF, at ECU, vs. Southern Miss—will make or break Tulane's case. If it wins all three, it should find itself in at-large position. But that's a tall order. Southern Miss is in a similar position: it ranks 93rd in the RPI and needs a 16-3 finish to land in the top 45, per the Needs Report. USM is a long shot.
Independents (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Dallas Baptist
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
One change from our midseason projection: Dallas Baptist joins our field of 64. The Patriots have won seven straight series since getting swept at Rice, including a crucial series win against Missouri State. DBU vaulted 22 spots to No. 33 in the RPI after going 3-1 last week, and it needs just an 11-10 finish to land in the top 45. Given how soft the bubble is, Dallas Baptist is in terrific shape in its last season as a Division I independent.
Missouri Valley (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Missouri State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Indiana State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Illinois State, Wichita State
One change from the midseason projection: Indiana State joins our field, giving the MVC a second bid. Missouri State is in great shape at No. 30 in the RPI and needing only a 9-9 finish to land in the top 45, and a 12-6 finish to crack the top 32. The first-place Sycamores have more work to do—they need a 15-5 finish. But the schedule sets up favorably: Indiana State has home series left against the three best teams on its schedule—Dallas Baptist, Wichita State and Missouri State. Those are challenging series, but all are at home, so give the Sycamores the benefit of the doubt.
Pacific-12 (7 bids)
SAFELY IN: UCLA, Oregon, Arizona, Stanford, Oregon State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Southern California, California
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Washington, Washington State
One change from the midseason projection: California joins our field of 64 as the Pac-12's seventh team. That is largely a product of a shortage of quality bubble teams than a testament to Cal's resume, but the Golden Bears did help themselves with a series win against fellow bubble dweller Washington this weekend. That helped Cal climb 12 spots to No. 65 in the RPI, and it needs just an 11-9 finish to land inside the top 45 at season's end. Three of its last five series are at home, though it still must face conference heavyweights Oregon and Stanford (on the road) plus Arizona and UCLA (at home). The road won't be easy, but Cal is still talented and experienced, so we'll give it the benefit of the doubt.
USC owns a head-to-head series win against Cal, which could loom large. The Trojans are 47th in the RPI but can still land in the top 45 with a 10-12 finish, or climb into the top 32 with a 13-9 stretch. Like Cal, USC has three remaining home series, but it also must still face the three teams tied for first place—Oregon and UCLA on the road, Arizona at home.
Southeastern Conference (9 bids)
SAFELY IN: Kentucky, Louisiana State, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Auburn, Mississippi State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Tennessee, Vanderbilt
No change from our midseason projection. The SEC is college baseball's strongest conference, and given the dearth of quality at-large teams elsewhere around the country, the SEC seems quite likely to send nine teams to regionals—with a shot at 10.
Auburn plunged from No. 23 all the way to No. 63 in the RPI after losing a series to Vanderbilt last week, but we still like the Tigers' resume best of the conference's four bubble teams (we're elevating Georgia from the bubble to the secure category after its series win against Ole Miss this weekend). Quality series wins matter, and Auburn owns three of them—at Ole Miss, vs. LSU and vs. Mississippi State. MSU's best series win came against Vandy, while Tennessee has won just one series against a team inside the top 100 (Seton Hall). This weekend's series between the Volunteers and Bulldogs is huge, but it's in Starkville, and the Bulldogs have a bit more talent, so we'll give MSU the edge.
Vandy has more talent than both teams and is hanging around the periphery of the at-large discussion thanks to a solid last four weeks. During that stretch, the Commodores have won series against Georgia and Auburn, and they haven't gotten swept. Vanderbilt has played an absurdly strong schedule, with 15 games against top 25 RPI teams (going 2-13 in those games) and eight more against 26-50 teams (going 4-4). That strength of schedule has helped prop up its RPI despite its 16-20 record. If Vanderbilt can get hot and finish above .500 overall, it has a pretty good chance at salvaging an at-large spot.
Southern Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): College of Charleston, Elon, Appalachian State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Western Carolina, Georgia Southern
No change from our midseason projection. The SoCon is having a strong year, and its top three teams continue to find themselves in pretty solid—though not ironclad—at-large position. The RPI Needs Report does not demand any particularly torrid stretches for any of the three to land inside the top 45.
The Catamounts climbed eight spots to No. 61 last week, and the meat of their schedule is still in front of them: at Samford, vs. College of Charleston, at Elon, at Georgia Southern, vs. Appalachian State. Certainly, that is a bruising stretch, but it also presents opportunity: if WCU can go 12-7 down the stretch, it lands in the top 45, per the Needs Report. That won't be easy.
Southland Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Sam Houston State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Southeastern Louisiana, Texas-Arlington
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Texas State
Changes from the midseason projection: Southeastern Louisiana and UT Arlington join the field of 64, while Texas State drops out. Three bids would be unprecedented for the Southland, but the league is having a strong year, and we have a lack of quality options at the back of our field. Southeastern put itself in great position with a sweep of Texas State this past weekend, and the Lions also own a sweep of Arlington. The Mavericks' case is buoyed by a bevy of striking midweek wins: at Texas, at Oklahoma, vs. Baylor, vs. TCU, at Texas A&M. Thanks to that strong midweek work, the Mavericks can land inside the top 45 with a 13-4 finish, and the meat of their conference schedule is behind them.
Sun Belt (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Florida Atlantic
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Florida International
No change from midseason. It's a very poor year for the Sun Belt, which has just three teams inside the top 100 in the RPI (FAU at No. 55, FIU at No. 82, Louisiana-Monroe at No. 98). This is a one-bid league, unless Florida Atlantic gets upset in the conference tournament, in which case it has a shot at an at-large bid. But the Owls need a 14-4 finish to land inside the top 45.
West Coast Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: San Diego, Gonzaga
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Pepperdine
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Portland, Brigham Young
No change from midseason. The WCC is enjoying a banner year, and stands a strong chance to send three teams to regionals. Pepperdine is just 5-4 in the league, tied for fifth place, but its series win against Portland this weekend was huge, and its RPI remains inside the top 30 (No. 28).
Western Athletic Conference (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: New Mexico State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Nevada, Hawaii
No change from last week. The Aggies are still sitting pretty at No. 24 in the RPI, though they did drop nine spots from a week ago. Nevada (No. 70) and Hawaii (No. 85) are on the periphery of the at-large discussion and need to catch fire down the stretch.