The latest evidence of this is Collegiate Baseball's Top 25 poll where only Cal State Fullerton (#12) made the list. No problem. TitanCentral.com has some loyal followers who are glad to fill the void. Here is a quick look around the Big West and an early predicted order of finish.
1. Fullerton. Yes, Fullerton lost quite a bit (again). But, Fullerton has reloaded and there is still a sizeable gap between the Titans and the rest of the conference that needs to be closed with Fullerton winning the conference by six games last year. This year's edition looks like it will have more power at the plate but less speed on the basepaths. The pitching looks like it will be solid once again with Roemer and Jorgenson on Fri's and Sat's.
2. Irvine. Irvine has most of their team back, although a couple of holes will need to be filled in the rotation that were left by Cassel and Swanson. But, Serrano definitely knows what he is doing with pitchers and has a good nucleus to build around in Gorgen and Erickson. If Irvine's offense improves, and it should with most of the position players back, this is the ballclub most likely to challenge Fullerton.
3. Riverside. Riverside has the most experienced pitching staff returning and there is definitely some talent there but they need to improve upon how they pitched in conference games (when the staff ERA was over 5), which they should be able to do. Riverside lost a couple of very good hitters and baserunners at the top of their lineup in Bigler and Hollingsworth and how well those two are replaced will indicate how productive Riverside's offense will be. Another key to Riverside's offense will be Salotti bouncing back to hit the way he did in '04 and '05.
4. Long Beach. It's kind of odd to pick a Long Beach team this low but by the end of last season they had moved from being a national top 25 type of team into the middle of the pack with the other teams chasing Fullerton (UCI, UCR, CP). Even though LB finished 1-2 games ahead of those teams, the team I saw at Blair Field at the end of the year wasn't as good as they were earlier in the year. They have some solid players returning (Perry, Espinosa, Peterson) but struggled offensively last year and that was with the best position player in the country (Longoria) who hit 11 of their 24 HR's. Also, it doesn't look like they will have two SP's who will be picked in the first four rounds like Carpenter and Hughes were, although Buckley is a very good pitching coach and playing at Blair Airport certainly helps the pitching staff.
5. Cal Poly. Cal Poly has more holes to fill with newcomers than any of the other top five teams that are usually in contention. This will be a rebuilding year for CP both on the mound (with no SP's back) and with quite a few losses among the position players (Lansford, Canepa, Van O). Larry Lee has recruited well and the newcomers will definitely get their chance this year in SLO.
6T. UCSB and Pacific. Not much separates these two teams. Both have most of their pitching staffs back, especially UCSB who also has two SP's (Martin, Morlock) back from '04-'05 who redshirted last year. Both lost the hitters who were easily the best hitters on their teams (Berezay, Valaika) and will be difficult to replace. Both should be similar to what they were last year, teams that are able to win some series but not pose a major threat to the teams in the top half of the conference.
8. Northridge. Year five and counting of the Rousey Rebuilding Plan. The pitching last year was much improved from the disasters of previous years but the hitting wasn't that good, which is a little odd considering that Northridge plays in the best hitters park in the conference. Northridge was a little more competitive last year than they were previously but they still have lots of work to do to get into the middle of the pack in the Big West.