College Midseason Report
See also: Projecting the 64-team NCAA tournament field
The midpoint of the 2006 season arrives a week after every team ranked 15th or lower in the Top 25 all lost series, with five suffering sweeps. Three of the top five teams also lost series. So seven new teams moved into the rankings, and the nation saw its fourth team crowned No. 1 on the year.
That's the kind of parity 2006 has brought. No more than five teams have held the No. 1 spot in the rankings in any year since 2000, totals that include surprise champions Cal State Fullerton in 2004 and Texas in 2002 that only were ranked first in the final Top 25 of the season.
Here's a quick rundown of the highlights of the first half.TOP GAMESNew Mexico State 12, Washington 11 (10 innings)
New Mexico State trailed Washington 11-3 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, and the Huskies flooded the field with defensive replacements. Ace Tim Lincecum already had left the game after five innings of work. Eight consecutive Aggies reached base to open the inning, and they had all scored once Brandon Lance hit a grand slam to tie the score at 11. Vince Rodden's RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning completed the comeback in the wildest game of the year.Texas 5, Rice 4
The featured matchup of the Houston Astros College Classic lived up to its billing in front of 27,134 fans at Minute Maid Park--the fourth-largest crowd to see a regular-season college game. Texas ace Kyle McCulloch dueled Rice's Joe Savery for seven innings and left with a 3-1 lead. Rice scored twice in the eighth and once in the ninth to take the lead before Texas freshman Kyle Russell hit a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the inning to give the Longhorns the win. It was Russell's second career at-bat, but turned out to be one that earned him an everyday role. It marked Rice's seventh straight loss to Texas, a losing streak that now has swelled to nine games. Nebraska 4, North Carolina State 3
Nebraska junior righthander Joba Chamberlain made his first start of the season against a North Carolina State offense that had scored 105 runs in its previous six games. Chamberlain held the Wolfpack to two hits over 7 1/3 innings, proving his status as one of the nation's elite arms. His performance stood out even more after N.C. State homered twice to score three runs off Nebraska closer Brett Jensen in the ninth inning to add a twinge of drama to the ending.Rice 3, Cal State Fullerton 2
Rice has played a lot of exciting games this year, as this one narrowly edged the Owls' 3-2 win against Nebraska in which Eddie Degerman out-dueled Chamberlain. Fullerton's Wes Roemer (who went 64 1/3 innings this season before issuing his first walk) performed marginally better than Degerman on this night, leaving with a 2-1 lead after seven innings. Rice tied the score in the eighth inning against Fullerton's Vinnie Pestano, scoring the only earned run the durable closer has allowed in the season, and won it when Josh Rodriguez, limited to DH duties by an elbow injury, homered to lead off the bottom of the 10th inning. James Madison 35, Wagner 2
James Madison slugged its way to a 19-10 start this year with games like this. The Dukes hit 10 homers in scoring 35 runs, 17 of which came in a 55-minute sixth inning that featured grand slams by Brett Gardner and Michael Cowgill. Two grand slams in one inning tied an NCAA record, and a third one (by Nate Schill) tied another mark. Cowgill hit three homers in the game, which was the second of a doubleheader. The Dukes won the opener 27-5 on the strength of five more home runs. Kellen Kulbacki homered in each game and was leading the team (and the nation) with 15 on the year, and Cowgill had 13.TOP PLAYER: Evan Longoria, 3b, Long Beach State
Scouts continue to malign this year's crop of position players, and while that kind of talk seems to arise every year, shuffling through statistics and scouting reports from the draft class of 2006 starts to verify that claim. Players such as Jacob Dempsey (Winthrop), Luke Gorsett (Nebraska), Luke Hopkins (New Mexico), Kellen Kulbacki and Shawn Scobee are enjoying fabulous seasons, but none carry the type of prospect profile to take the prize here. Longoria gets the call through the process of elimination. Longoria will battle Texas center fielder Drew Stubbs as the first position player off the board this spring, and he's batting .353/.473/.627 with seven home runs playing in a graveyard of a ballpark in Blair Field against the nation's most difficult non-conference schedule. The 2005 Cape Cod League MVP, Longoria appears a safe draft choice who could reach the majors quickly, but it's tough to find a talent evaluator who'd take him over his 2005 teammate Troy Tulowitzki, the seventh overall pick last year.TOP PITCHER: Andrew Miller, lhp, North Carolina
With the position-player crop looking scarce, power pitchers have commanded nearly all the attention to the halfway point. And no one has generated more buzz than Miller, who is meeting the massive hype with which he entered the season. The highest-drafted unsigned player from 2003 (third round) and twice the Cape Cod League's top prospect, Miller was 6-0, 1.34 with a 61-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 47 innings. His four-seam fastball reaches the mid 90s, but Miller has found success locating his 89-91 mph two-seamer and cutter while using his hard-biting slider as a strikeout pitch. The 6-foot-6 junior might have cemented his status as the top pick in June's draft over his last two starts. He held Georgia Tech and Florida State each to four hits over seven scoreless innings. He punctuated the Tech start with a career-best 13 strikeouts and one walk, and then punched out nine FSU hitters against one walk while permitting only one Florida State batter to hit a ball in the air.TOP FRESHMAN: Jared Prince, of/rhp, Washington State
Rice's Joe Savery stood in this place a year ago, and a similar player follows him. Prince has emerged as the face of Washington State's rebuilding plan. The Cougars were 15-17, 0-6 in the Pac-10 at last year's midpoint, but have improved to 21-9, 3-3 this season. Prince, a 6-foot-3 athlete who plays center and left field, bats in the middle of the order with .429/.524/.582 numbers that include 12 doubles, a homer and 30 RBIs. He has walked 17 times against 13 strikeouts. Now those offensive numbers aren't quite enough to trump Allan Dykstra's 11 home runs at Wake Forest or Kyle Russell's team leadership in the triple crown categories at Texas, but neither of them pitch. Prince does, and he's gone 4-0, 0.36 with a 17-2 strikeout-walk ratio in 25 innings. He allowed his only earned run of the year in a 2-1 series-opening win against Arizona State.TOP SENIOR: Eddie Degerman, rhp, Rice
Degerman has found a hard time gaining appreciation. He spent two years at UC Irvine without once making an appearance. He worked out of Rice's bullpen in 2004 and opened 2005 there before ending the year as the staff ace. Still, he slipped to the Red Sox in the 41st round. His value has appreciated since then, thanks to his 12-to-6 curveball and precision command. He has put up PlayStation numbers for the Owls, going 6-0, 0.98 with a 76-19 strikeout-walk ratio and 29 hits allowed in 55 innings. Batters have hit .149 with only one home run against Degerman.TOP TWO-WAY PLAYER: Damon Sublett, 2b/rhp, Wichita State
The preseason All-America team featured four two-way players in Joe Savery, Matt Wieters, Brad Lincoln and Sean Doolittle, and Sublett's .402/.504/.616 numbers trump all of them offensively. The 6-foot-1 sophomore had hit six home runs, more than any of them aside from Lincoln, and added 11 steals and 33 runs from the middle of the Wichita State's lineup. Sublett isn't the same dominant starter that Savery, Lincoln and Doolittle have proven to be this season, but he still hasn't allowed an earned run in his college career. Though Sublett did allow an unearned run against Creighton--the first tally of any type against him--he had allowed two hits and three walks in nine innings while recording 18 strikeouts, five saves and a win.TOP COACH: Ray Tanner, South Carolina
Ron Polk started the year 18-0 at Mississippi State, and Mike Martin helped Florida State to a 25-2 record before their clubs dropped conference series on the road as March turned to April. Tanner's club reinforced its strong start with its second consecutive series sweep at Louisiana State's Alex Box Stadium. South Carolina fans might have felt concern after their team barely squeezed out a season-opening series victory against Elon, but the Gamecocks have lost just two games since (at Clemson and at Auburn) for a 22-3 mark overall and 8-1 record that leads the Southeastern Conference. Not bad for a team that lost six everyday players, its weekend rotation and closer from a 41-23 team in 2005. Now Tanner will have to adjust to the loss of weekend starter Arik Hempy to an elbow injury. Another nod goes to Nebraska's Mike Anderson for guiding his club to a 20-5 start after losing six key hitters (plus Ryan Bohanan to injury), two key lefthanders and pitching coach Rob Childress from the 2005 College World Series team.TOP SURPRISE: Old Dominion
Old Dominion hasn't experienced a winning season since 2000 and went 22-33, 5-19 a year ago, failing to make the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. Yet here are the Monarchs at 29-3, 12-0 and ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since May 1996. ODU's 18-game win streak tied Mississippi State for the longest streak this year and the 1985 edition of the Monarchs for the longest streak since the program moved to Division I in 1977. Credit second-year coach Jerry Meyers with the turnaround, much of it coming with the same roster with which ODU played the 2005 season. Junior righthander Jason Godin (7-0, 3.54), who logged 31 innings in 2004 and redshirted last year, and senior first baseman/DH Dana Arrowood, batting .431 in the cleanup spot a year after registering 29 at-bats, are products of that improvement. Freshmen Dan Hudson (5-0, 1.75), Anthony Shawler (.300-3-7 and 2-0, 3.24 with a save) and Ross Fetterly (1-0, 2.04 with two saves) have played well from the start.TOP DISAPPOINTMENT: Florida
Florida advanced to the championship round of the 2005 College World Series and returned the majority of its position players--including three preseason All-America picks--along with two veteran pitchers and a stable full of well-recruited arms who seemingly lacked only experience. The Gators opened the year at No. 3 and rose to No. 2 following a sweep at Miami. Florida beat Florida A&M 15-5 in a midweek game to improve to 7-1, but that's when trouble arose. Matt LaPorta, the 2005 NCAA home run leader, strained an oblique muscle in that game and missed the next 13 games--six of which resulted in losses. But Florida has gone just 4-7 since his return and stood 19-13, 3-6 overall and out of the Top 25. LaPorta was batting .239-4-15 and fellow All-Americans Brian Jeroloman (.230-3-24) and Adam Davis (.273-5-27) were also slumping. Meanwhile, Florida was still searching for an effective starter other than sophomore righthander Bryan Augenstein (6-2, 2.51) as it had a 4.30 ERA when he didn't pitch and had also committed 55 errors. Coach Pat McMahon won't make excuses out of shortstop and defensive stalwart Justin Tordi and 2005 ace Alan Horne signing professional contracts in August, but perhaps the Gators miss them more than was anticipated.