Rebs-Hogs looking for wins, possible sweep

Ole Miss has been a part of five three-game sweeps this season and the SEC has become more of a league with lots of them. The Rebels try to bounce back from a sweep at Kentucky last weekend, while Arkansas hopes to build on its sweep over Alabama in Fayetteville.

Ole Miss has been involved in five sweeps this season – three for and two against.

The Southeastern Conference is filled with three-game weekend sweeps these days. Not long ago winning two of three was thought to be the standard. Now it seems some think sweep and it happens more.

Players and coaches always talk one game at a time. If they win two during a weekend, then obviously they want three. Some fans seem to talk sweep from the get-go.

Ole Miss' five sweeps to be involved with this season rank first in the SEC. The Rebels beat Georgia on the road and swept LSU and Tennessee at home. Road sweeps came at the hands of Alabama and Kentucky.

South Carolina is next, having been involved in four sweeps, followed by LSU, Georgia, and Alabama with three. Eleven teams have been involved in at least one with Arkansas (beating Alabama last weekend) and Tennessee (losing to Ole Miss) having just one apiece on their 2006 records.

As we've noted before, Ole Miss didn't sweep a single SEC team in three games from 1989 to 1999. That the Rebels have been involved in so many the past few years – they've swept 13 SEC series since the Mike Bianco era began in 2001 – may speak about overall changes in the league.

Ron Polk at State has always built his program on winning two of three every weekend and says so. Win two-thirds of your games and your SEC champs.

Ironically the only team with neither a positive or negative three-game SEC sweep this season is Mississippi State. The Bulldogs might have swept Tennessee the first weekend of league play but after winning two, the Sunday finale was rained out.

In this era the sweep seems more prevalent, and Bianco says parity has a lot to do with it.

"Maybe it's because we've been involved in so many this year, but I guess in any given year there could be more than in the past," he said. "We used to all think sweeping or getting swept was so difficult. But now everybody is so good that if a team is playing well at that time, then that edge might just be enough to win three or for the other team to lose three."

Bianco believes homefield advantage plays a bigger role now than in the past.

"The reason I say that is because everybody draws now," he said. "You go to Kentucky or Vanderbilt and they draw 2,000 a game now. That didn't used to happen. I think homefield advantage lifts the home team and helps them rather than drags the other team down. The home crowd helps the home team play better, because that emotional lift is so big."

Rebel sophomore shortstop Zack Cozart says a "sweep" mindset does seem to come from a team with confidence.

"Last year even we didn't see as many sweeps it seems," he said. "It's hard to sweep, but I really believe the advantage for teams comes at home. The crowds really help. Once you win the first two, you have that confidence that you've beaten them twice, why not beat them three."

Cozart says playing at home, like the Rebels will be doing this weekend, is huge to accomplishing their goals because of the support.

"When we're at home here with 5,000 fans cheering for us, the fans can really help get us up," said Cozart, who had a terrific series against Arkansas last year as the Rebs won the SEC West in Fayetteville with a three-game sweep of the Hogs. "On the road, you have a lot less support. I'm telling you, there's just that confidence at home. The crowd always helps us so much."

Bianco says any way you slice it or dice it, the improvement in SEC baseball the past decade is the reason that on any given weekend anything can happen.

"Really nothing surprises me anymore in this league," he said. "Everybody is so close that it can just come down to one pitch or one play or one mistake and that can be the game or the sweep. The teams are that good and that close.

"Ten years ago things were different," he said. "There were some teams at the top and then some other teams. But now everybody is good and competitive and every weekend is a challenge."

Still he strives for that one-game-at-a-time mentality for his ballclub.

"We want to win on Friday night," Bianco said. "Then we want to win on Saturday. Then we move on and want to win on Sunday. That's the way we have to approach it."

Bianco says 10th-ranked Arkansas (34-15 overall, 14-10 in the SEC) will bring its "A" game to Oxford for the weekend.

"They play hard and do everything well," Bianco said. "They have some power, they can hit home runs, they steal, they run the bases well, everything. Pitching seems to be more of their strength than offense this year, just when you look at the numbers. They're obviously good. They just swept the team (Alabama) that was leading the Southeastern Conference. So it's another big weekend."


It's been a somewhat unusual season in the SEC in some other aspects. Teams go up and down in a hurry, and there've also been some fairly long streaks, like MSU starting the season 18-0 and the Rebels winning 11 in a row going to UK last weekend.

Ole Miss, ranked 22nd now with a 31-18 overall record and a 13-11 SEC mark, headed to Kentucky as one of the hottest teams in the league but was also playing one of the hottest in the Wildcats.

This weekend Arkansas comes in blazing, while teams like Georgia (eight straight wins overall including six in the SEC) and LSU (three straight SEC wins after sweeping Auburn) join them as teams on a bit of a roll.

The flip side finds teams like Vanderbilt and South Carolina slumping a bit for now. Both were so hot in the early going, but each has lost eight of its last 10 SEC games. USC even lost to Wofford College last week.

"It's been a season of streaks," Cozart said. "Georgia was struggling a couple of weeks ago, and now they're 13-11 and tied with us. It's one of those things that you just can't have an off weekend, and every weekend is huge. This weekend against Arkansas we have to get back to winning again."


Ole Miss-Arkansas series game notes from Bill Bunting of Ole Miss athletics media relations appear on the Spirit message board tacked at the top.

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