Baseball Season Preview: Part V

NORMAN, Okla. – The next part of the series is in, and Sooners Illustrated now presents the three major concerns the Sooners will have to deal with coming into the season.

1. Replacing Jeremy Erben in the bullpen: Junior third baseman Garrett Buechele may have gotten all the headlines and attention last year, but the team's MVP had to be Jeremy Erben. He did just about everything for the pitching staff. He was the perfect short reliever. He pounded out five to seven innings when the starter wasn't effective. He even closed out games as well as the usual closer, senior Ryan Duke. Now that he's gone, head coach Sunny Golloway has to find a way to fill the void Erben left behind. The only way the Sooners can replace him is by finding one pitcher for each of the roles he left empty. OU's bullpen should be strong this year, but Golloway needs to figure out which pitcher(s) will emerge as the bridge from the starter to Duke.

2. The team's inability to complete a conference sweep last year: Yes, it's a new year and the mere fact the Sooners won seven of its nine Big 12 series last year is a good thing. But OU probably lost out on a national seed last year because it only had one sweep during conference play. And this wasn't an issue for only the 2010 squad. The Sooners have swept two conference series and have been swept in four conference series dating back to 2008. If OU can put together more sweeps during Big 12 play, then not only will the team have a few more wins, but the seeding selection committee will look more favorably at OU.

3. Not falling victim to the preseason hype: Every player has and will say that the high rankings from the various polls mean absolutely nothing, and that is the perfect attitude to come into the season following a year where some people thought the Sooners overachieved (especially following last year's Texas series). But no matter the attitude the team takes on, it knows it has a target on its back. Other teams will be coming after them harder than ever. The Sooners will be all right as long as the players stay humble and completely embody the clichéd "take it one game at a time" approach. But if they get an unhealthy ego, then things could go terribly wrong.

Stay tuned for the next part of the series.

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