After taking a closer look at this week's poll, a few things jump out. First and foremost, pitching. The top 5 teams in the country are stellar in the pitching department. The #2 thing is balance throughout the line-up. The days of Gorilla ball are over. While there are some stars like Florida State's Eddy Martinez-Esteve (.371 6 HR 32 RBI), for the most part, the HRs and RBIs of the top squads are sprinkled throughout the line-up.
There are 4 teams ahead of MSU in this week's poll, #1 Rice, #2 Cal State Fullerton, #3 Florida State, and #4 Stanford. I did a little research to see what makes these teams tick and to see if they're earning these rankings on the field or in the media.
#1 Rice. The Owls have made a habit over the last few years of going deep into the NCAA tournament and reaching Omaha on occasion. Rice is for real. The Owls are 28-1 with the lone loss coming against Alabama (6-5) in Houston, TX at the Minute Maid Collegiate Baseball Tournament. Since that loss, the Owls have won 25 straight. Among the victims are nationally ranked Nebraska and Baylor. Rice plays in the WAC and won't see a lot of top shelf competition in the conference schedule, but they are a great team. They have 8 starters hitting .315 or better. They have a team ERA of 2.39 and a 3.9/1 strikeout to walk ratio. They are a team to watch and while they may drop a few games here or there, it would be very surprising to see them drop out of the top 10 considering the quality of competition.
#2. Cal State Fullerton. The Titans don't get excited about much more than baseball. They hail from the Big West Conference and they rule the roost. CSF boasts a 14-0 home record this year. They have won 2 of 3 over nationally ranked Long Beach State and even swept #4 Stanford. The Titans are 24-6 and have a bona fide shot at the national title. Pitching depth was a question mark in the pre-season, but Super Freshman Dustin Miller has become the ace of the staff with a 5-1 mark on the young campaign. As a staff, the Titans have a 2.58 ERA and a robust 4.1/1 strike out to walk ratio. They have a return three- game series with Long Beach State to close out the season, but it appears to be clear sailing if their pitching holds up.
#3. Florida State. There aren't many more college baseball programs in the nation as celebrated as the Florida State Seminoles. I once read where a journalist called them the team of the 90s based on their overall winning percentage during that decade. While that's nice, LSU did manage to win 4 national titles in that same stretch.
They have a legendary coach in Mike Martin and have produced more great players than you can shake a tomahawk at. FSU is 28-5, but have found the goings a little tougher since conference play started. The 'Noles are 6-3 in the ACC after losing a series to NC State. The team has an overall batting average of .300, but it is difficult at this time to tell if this is a quality FSU program. Playing in the ACC will help, especially since they've already played nationally ranked NC State and UNC. The 'Noles must be careful because the GT Yellow Jackets are a little miffed after this weekend's debacle against Miami. GT may be good enough to wrestle the crown away from their neighbors to the South.
#4. Stanford. I really don't understand this ranking, which is to say there is some funny business here. The Cardinal is 18-9. Which is the same record LSU has. Stanford has been swept by CSF and lost 2 of 3 to FSU. While those are 5 quality losses, quality teams don't get swept. Stanford did manage to take 2 of 3 against Texas, USC, Arizona State, and Washington. Those are all nice accomplishments and the Cardinal deserves to be ranked, but ranking them 4th is just silly. How can you say that Stanford is a better team than MSU because they got swept by the #2 team in the country? I am sorry, losses may make you better, but they shouldn't improve your ranking.
#5 Mississippi State. The Bulldogs won all their games last week. The Bulldogs hammered Morehead State during the week and swept Mississippi during a three-game, weekend series in Oxford. The Bullies, after splitting a pair with UAB (W, 13-4) and Mississippi (L, 1-5) Tuesday and Wednesday, play host to Kentucky this weekend. Kentucky is the only team in the SEC still searching for SEC win #1. The Diamond Dawgs get a rare light mid-week next week before hosting top 10 Auburn as part of Super Bulldog Weekend. This series will be pivotal in the SEC West as well as the overall SEC crown. Should the Bullies be fortunate enough to sweep the Wildcats and win the series with Auburn, they would find themselves in prime condition with a 13-2 conference record at the halfway point.
The fun continues later in the month with road trips to NCAA runner-up South Carolina and SEC East leader Florida. These two teams were less than hospitable to the Bulldogs a year ago. When you sprinkle in a few non-conference match-ups like Valley, Samford, USM , and ULM, it's plain to see that the road to Omaha will not be an easy one for the Bulldogs. Unlike most of the teams in front of them, the Mississippi State baseball team won't win anything on paper, they'll have to earn it between the lines.
MSU is 23-4-1, but in all fairness was about 2 ground balls away from 25-2-1. This team could be as good as anyone in the nation. They sport a 2.34 ERA and a 2.6/1 strike out to walk ratio.
There is a lot of baseball left to be played, but most of it will be played in our ball yard. In fact, of the 28 games left, 19 will be played at Dudy Noble and Western Division contenders such as Alabama, Auburn and LSU must visit Dudy Noble. These are key match-ups and only make our road sweeps over Arkansas and Mississippi mean even more important.
It's a fun time to be a Bulldog and this is the kind of team that Bulldogs young and old expect from Coach Polk and staff. Polls are fun to talk about, but Tommy Raffo told me during his playing days back in 1989 that the only poll that counts is the last one. Well, Raffo, here's hoping we finally find ourselves atop that one.
Until next week,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.