What To Watch For Opening Weekend In College Baseball (2/18)

Image credit: Jace Jung (John Williamson)

Top 25 Schedule

Rank Team Opponents (Fri., Sat., Sun.) TV Notes
1 Texas Rice Longhorn Network  
2 Vanderbilt (19) Oklahoma State SEC Network+  
3 Mississippi State Long Beach State SEC Network+  
4 Notre Dame vs. Manhattan, Stetson, Delaware YouTube.com/HatterVision (Fri., Sun.), ESPN+ (Sat.) Hatter Classic, DeLand, Fla.
5 Virginia vs. Bellarmine, Gardner-Webb, New Jersey Tech   Jerry Bryson Classic, Boiling Springs, N.C.
6 Florida Liberty SEC Network+  
7 Stanford Cal State Fullerton Pac-12 Network Plus  
8 Arkansas Illinois State SEC Network+  
9 Mississippi Charleston Southern SEC Network+  
10 Louisiana State Maine SEC Network+  
11 Oregon State vs. New Mexico (Fri., Mon.), Gonzaga (Sat., Sun.) FloSports Surprise, Ariz.
12 Florida State James Madison ACC Network Extra  
13 Arizona vs. Kansas State, Oklahoma, (23) Texas Tech FloSports State Farm Showdown, Arlington, Texas
14 Georgia Albany SEC Network+  
15 East Carolina Bryant ESPN+   
16 North Carolina State Evansville ACC Network Extra  
17 Tennessee Georgia Southern SEC Network+  
18 UC Irvine at Louisiana-Lafayette ESPN+  
19 Oklahoma State at (2) Vanderbilt SEC Network+  
20 Nebraska at Sam Houston State ESPN+ (Fri.)  
21 Georgia Tech Wright State ACC Network Extra  
22 UCLA Cal State Northridge Pac-12 Network Plus  
23 Texas Tech vs. Michigan, Auburn, (13) Arizona FloSports State Farm Showdown, Arlington, Texas
24 Old Dominion Iona CUSA.TV  
25 Miami Towson ACC Network Extra  

What To Watch

(19) Oklahoma State at (2) Vanderbilt

Opening Weekend provides a blockbuster series, as Oklahoma State travels to Nashville. The Commodores won this series in Stillwater a season ago, but that was with Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter leading the way. Now, Vanderbilt will roll out its new-look rotation for the first time, turning to righthanders Chris McElvain and Nick Maldonado—who both mostly pitched in relief in 2021—and freshman lefthander Carter Holton. The good news for Vanderbilt is that while the trio is short on starting experience, they aren’t lacking talent and they’ll be supported by a veteran, powerful offense. Leading hitter Dominic Keegan and dynamic leadoff hitter Enrique Bradfield Jr. are back to lead the lineup and there’s plenty of depth around the diamond for the Commodores.

Oklahoma State has the potential to challenge Texas for the Big 12 title this spring, but it also has a lot of newness in both the lineup and pitching staff. Righthander Justin Campbell returns to lead the rotation and veteran slugger Jake Thompson is back in the lineup. But the Cowboys need newcomers like righthander Victor Mederos and freshman Roc Riggio to hit the ground running and returners like third baseman Nolan McLean and righthander Trevor Martin to step forward. If they can do so this weekend, it could be the start of a special spring for the Cowboys.

Long Beach State at (3) Mississippi State

The reigning national champions won’t have any time to sit on their laurels this weekend with the Dirtbags coming to Dudy Noble Field. Beach upset Mississippi State at home in this series in 2020 before the season was halted and it had a regionals-worthy resume in 2021, though it was snubbed by the selection committee. The Dirtbags are primed for a breakthrough season in 2022, led by a strong pitching staff fronted by ace Luis Ramirez and closer Devereaux Harrison. Announcing that breakout on Opening Weekend in Starkville will not be easy, however. Mississippi State will turn to Preseason All-American righthander Landon Sims to set the tone with his Friday night debut after last season serving as the team’s relief ace. Mississippi State is replacing several key players from last season including SEC player of the year Tanner Allen and College World Series Most Outstanding Player Will Bednar, but the Bulldogs have no shortage of talent and won’t be overlooking the Dirtbags this weekend.

State Farm College Baseball Showdown, Arlington, Texas
(13) Arizona, Auburn, Kansas State, Michigan, Oklahoma, (23) Texas Tech

This tournament made a big splash a year ago in its inaugural season, as it brought in a field with six teams that ranked in the top 15 in the preseason rankings—a group that ultimately produced the Big 12 champion (Texas), the Big 12 Tournament champion (Texas Christian), the SEC’s regular-season and tournament champion (Arkansas) and the national champion (Mississippi State). This year’s field is not as strong, but it offers no shortage of interest.

Arizona is entering the season under the direction of first-year coach Chip Hale, who returns to his alma mater after a long career coaching and managing in the major leagues. Auburn and Oklahoma are looking to bounce back after disappointing seasons that saw them finish under .500 and miss the NCAA Tournament. Kansas State made some strides in 2021 but is now replacing the program’s first ever first-round pick. Michigan also is replacing several key players from its 2021 regionals team and will be eager to get this season off to a strong start against high-end competition. Texas Tech has the best player in the field in All-American second baseman Jace Jung, but much of the lineup around him is unproven. No matter how the tournament turns out on the field, all six teams should come away from the weekend with a better feel for where they stand.

(18) UC Irvine at Louisiana-Lafayette

Two teams with big aspirations for the 2022 season will open the year against each other. UCI enters the season as the Big West favorite after winning the conference title a season ago, while UL last season won the Sun Belt Conference West Division. This weekend represents a big opportunity for both teams—the Anteaters are looking for what should be a strong series win and one that would provide an RPI boost and the Cajuns have a chance to lay down an early marker with a series win against a ranked opponent. One intriguing underlying storyline is that this will mark a return to UL for new UCI DH Ben Fitzgerald, who transferred over the summer after last season leading the Cajuns with 12 home runs. Also keep an eye on UCI outfielder Nathan Church, who last season hit .369/.424/.583 to lead the team in batting.

South Florida Round-Robin, Tampa
Charlotte, Connecticut, Louisville, South Florida

Without a ranked team in the field, this tournament is flying a bit under the radar. But of all the tournaments this weekend, only this one includes a trio of NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago—and the lone team in the field to miss regionals is a powerhouse in Louisville. All four teams have intriguing upside in 2022 and hopefully this weekend will help to provide early answers surrounding them. Charlotte is looking to build on its 2021 momentum after advancing to regionals for the first time in a decade and returns Conference USA player of the year Austin Knight but must replace several key pieces of last year’s team. UConn last season won the Big East in its first season back in the conference, but between the draft and the injury this fall of dynamic two-way player Reggie Crawford, the Huskies are also replacing a lot of talent. Louisville hit a late-season swoon in 2021 and missed the NCAA Tournament and now must replace first overall draft pick Henry Davis. USF, on the flip side, made a Cinderella run in the postseason—first winning the American Athletic Conference Tournament as a No. 6 seed to advance to regionals and then winning the Gainesville Regional, upsetting Florida and Miami along the way—and now is looking to build on that success.

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