Welcome to the SEC SPORTS FAN SEC baseball preview for the 2011 season. Overall, SEC baseball appears stronger than ever and you would have to bet that an SEC team is favored to win it all again. After all, we are leading the college baseball world with 4 of the top 10 ranked teams right now: Florida #1; Vandy #2; South Carolina #4; and LSU #10.
Last season was very exciting as we saw our very own South Carolina Gamecocks win the NCAA College World Series title, the leagues 2nd straight, and this season looks to be just as fun. We always abide by the ESPN.com Top 25 poll rankings here and there are six SEC members parked in this year's preseason poll, three of which are in the top ten teams in America. Both the SEC East and SEC West have there share of good teams and there should be a good balance between the divisions this season. I hope everyone enjoys this season and hopefully, it ends with another SEC team winning the title in Omaha.
SEC East Division
Florida Gators - The Gators are coming off an 2010 SEC championship season and a trip to last years College World Series in Omaha where they went winless losing to NCAA runner-up UCLA and Florida State.
They have a wealth of talent back this season in Gainesville where they return eight position starters and eleven pitchers from last seasons SEC champions that went 22-8 in the SEC. They were chosen as the SEC favorites again by the league coaches in their 20th annual preseason poll and are ranked #3 by ESPN to start the season. You can say that all things are looking up for the Gators to start this season off on the right foot. That being said there are still eleven other teams in this league that want to step into the box and see what they can do to stand between these Gators and their seventh trip to Omaha.
Vanderbilt Commodores - The strength for the Commodores this season is going to be the pitching staff. The Commodores top four starters are the best starting rotation in the league and will carry the team far. To go farther than they did last year, which was just short of Omaha, the offense is going to have to answer the call on the few days the pitching doesn't hold up. I mean you have to score some runs to win and with that starting staff, it won't have to be many. The Commodores are looking to improve on their 16-12 SEC record of a season ago. ESPN has the Commodores ranked #4 to start this season and look for the Commodores to be around those top elite teams all season. Vandy will be pushing the Gators for that SEC crown all season and hope to be able to ride that powerful pitching all the way to Omaha this year.
South Carolina Gamecocks - Last seasons ride for the Gamecocks was magical and it ended with South Carolina lugging the NCAA College World Series title back to Columbia with them. One title they did not bring back with them was the SEC title as the Gamecocks went 21-9 and fell a game shy of Florida for the SEC East division and overall SEC championship last season. They expect the strength of the team last year during that run through Omaha to be just as strong this season and that is their bullpen. It seemed all the Gamecocks needed their starters to do was manage the game and keep them in the game until their bullpen was able to get in there and close out a lot of those close games. It seems they will be right back there again as ESPN has the Gamecocks ranked #8 to start this season and maybe they can win the title this year that eluded them last season. The SEC title.
Kentucky Wildcats - The Wildcats are looking to get over that same hump they have been stuck on the past few seasons. Its seems they just fall short of cracking through the bubble and making it to the SEC tournament in Hoover, Alabama every season. This season may best their best shot yet, because after the top 6 teams, everyone else seems to be pretty evenly ranked. The Wildcats lost a three games series against Georgia last year to end the season that would have put them in Hoover. The Wildcats finished with a 13-17 SEC record and just a game behind LSU for the last SEC tournament berth. The Cats have some nice young pitchers and possess some good team speed and will try again to use it to get to this years SEC tournament.
Georgia Bulldogs - It was strange not seeing the Bulldogs among the leaders in the SEC race last season. After being among the leagues strongest clubs, last season saw the Bulldogs struggle mightily and finish in the lower half of the league. The Bulldogs finished dead last among SEC schools with a 5-23 SEC record. The pitching staff took most of the blame as opponents averaged 9 runs against the Bulldogs and Georgia pitchers tossed eighty five wild pitches during the season. Georgia players are excited this year and they are hoping that last season was a mere bump in the road and that they are back among the leaders this season in the SEC race.
Tennessee Volunteers - The Volunteers are hoping their own backyard will lead them to Omaha's backyard as they have some good local stars they are hoping develop into future SEC stars as well. Tennessee had a decent season last year although they took their lumps in the SEC matches, a 12-18 SEC record. They hope those lumps they took were mere lessons on the way to a winning grade this season in the SEC. Of course, being in the tough SEC East will make that climb just as tough for the Volunteers but, they have their mind set on getting to the top this year.
SEC West Division
LSU Tigers - The LSU Tigers are looking to be led by a returning group of eight position starters to the top of the SEC West this season. Last year's SEC tournament champions, who had a 14-16 SEC record, will also have eight pitchers that played some last year coming back as well. LSU is just two years removed from a College World Series title and still have a decent core of those players on board. ESPN has the Tigers ranked #15 to start this season and the SEC coaches have voted the Tigers the team to beat in the SEC West this season. If the Tigers are able to blend the veterans and youth they have on the roster by seasons end they could very well be in the hunt in Omaha again.
Auburn Tigers - What do we make of the Auburn Tigers? It seems every season they are either under or over everyone's expectations. Just take last season where the SEC coaches voted them to finish fifth in their SEC preseason poll and they go on to win the SEC West with a 20-10 SEC record and were within two games of Florida's overall SEC Championship. The Tigers come into this season ranked #23 in the preseason top 25 and return 18 players from last years SEC West division championship squad. The Tigers will be a tough foe for anyone and look to scratch and claw their way to a repeat as SEC West Champions.
Arkansas Razorbacks - The Razorbacks lost some of the power from last years SEC West division runner-ups. Arkansas, who finished 18-12 in SEC play last year, does return their team captain, who is a catcher and he has a lot of good young pitching to mold this season. ESPN has the Razorbacks ranked #24 in their preseason poll. The Razorbacks will lean on those young arms and their overall athleticism to win games this year. They are depending on their pitching staff being strong and their overall team speed to generate more runs this season. The Hogs are hoping the young players and veteran holdovers will gel in time for a solid run to Omaha at seasons end.
Alabama Crimson Tide - The Crimson Tide were able to make a late run and just fell short in the SEC tournament last season. Sadly, they lost a good chunk of their pitching and the catchers, although talented, are very young. What the Tide do have to look forward to is their defense being solid as they welcome back their entire starting infield from last season. The Crimson Tide finished SEC play with a 15-15 record last season and hope their defense will be strong again and carry them while the young pitchers develop. If all goes well, the boys in crimson may well be making another late season run again this year.
Mississippi Rebels - The Mississippi Rebels slipped a little bit last year after winning the SEC West the season before. The Rebels still managed a 16-14 SEC record and the good news is they return some very good pitchers this season. The anchor of that group of pitchers is going to be the bullpen as the Rebels welcome back two very strong relief pitchers for this years run. If the starters can keep the Rebs in the games the bullpen will be very successful this year. The Rebels are hoping that success results in another shot at the SEC West title.
Mississippi State Bulldogs - Everything has come crumbling down for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. After years of being at the top of the heap, they now find themselves at the very bottom and having to scratch and claw to regain their spot at the top again. The Diamond Dogs finished SEC play a lowly 6-24 last season and it doesn't look much better this year as the coaches in the SEC have them ranked dead last again in their SEC preseason vote. The Bulldogs have been recruiting very well and are looking for those players to step in and contribute right away. If they are able to, then MSU may have a fighters chance to get out of that basement and right back in the mix in the SEC West.
Thanks to Ollie Walden for writing this article for SEC Sports Fan.
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