Friday, February 22, 2008

The Day of Ping!

I was really hoping to be able to give a summary/analysis of the American-Open-Wheel Amalgamergafiblendification this week, and that's why I've held off on commenting on it, and as it looks like its at least getting set back to this afternoon at best; there is a lot of interesting talk about drivers and teams making moves and Rahal and Hunter-Reay doing PR together, but for now its time to look at what we do know is coming tonight.

NCAA baseball opening day!

Although technically Hawai'i and Hawai'i-Hilo got the ok to start their season against each other last week, the entirety of the season starts tonight across the nation...

I've been to a lot of sporting events of all types and all levels of competition, and I have to admit that possibly my favorite would have to be college baseball. Ticket prices are cheap, the games are generally competitive (depending on the competition), you can watch talent develop, its extremely family friendly (a great thing to attend with your kids) Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium constantly allows the championship to feel like a purer form of the game and most of all...
the underdog ALWAYS has a shot; even through LSU's reign in the 90s, parity has been the cover story of NCAA baseball as you have had 13 different champions over the past 20 years... and the team to win the last 2 is from a northern colder weather state.

So what do you have to look forward to this year? Well the first obvious note is that there is NO FAVORITE going into this season, the polls currently give us Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA as starting #1 teams: Baseball America, USA Today, Collegiate Basseball, Rivals.

USA Today's poll alone has 6 different teams receiving first place votes, and every poll is about 50/50 with teams that were ranked at the end of last year vs. ones that weren't. So what does that all mean... it means whatever team you root for has a realistic shot, no one is thought to have a huge edge... and this goes back to talking about parity in just following the sport, any conference and any team can upset and contend: the contendors list goes from your typical Tigers, Rebels, Trojans, Hurricanes, Gators, and Longhorns, to the Torreros, Owls, Commodores, Golden Eagles, Ragin' Cajuns, Anteaters, Green Wave, and (my personal favorite) the Dirtbags.

Other things to look for:

Here in Baton Rouge, LSU's fans are desperately hoping that the Tigers can get back to the playoffs as they try to recover from baseball's version of the Bear Bryant effect after Skip Bertman took them to 17 straight regionals and 5 National titles... 2 years hiatus from the playoffs is sending the city into a frenzy, and especially more-so when ALL 3 of its in-state rivals (Tulane, UNO, and ULL) all made the playoffs last year, and Tulane continues to hold its place in the Top 25. The team looks more like a small ball team than its past "gorilla ball" teams (though it does sport 2 of its BCS champion football players), will it work?

Can anyone in Mississippi make the next step: Southern Miss, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss made the playoffs last year and are all expected to be good again, can any make the next step through Omaha?

Can Conference-USA finally stake a real position of power? with Rice, ECU and Tulane already starting in most polls and Southern Miss and Houston just outside, but has yet to make its way through to the end with only Rice and Tulane actually making it to Omaha in the history but never making it to the championship.

Will North Carolina be the Buffalo Bills/New England Revolution of college baseball? They've lost the championship twice, and in fact twice to the same team... Can they win it this time or is their championship game run over?

Will cold schools make themselves known? Will the NCAA's new cohesive starting date and practice dates take away the southern edge? Michigan, BYU, Maine, and others have flirted with the polls in the past, Michigan and Ohio state have now managed to take their rivalry to baseball, AND though its not generally known for being warm or cold, Oregon state has taken the past 2 championships, I'd say we were already moving into their direction. I'd think it has somewhat to do with College baseball growing popularity and parity, but forcing the Southern schools to wait until northern Schools are at least close to playable has to help level the playing field.

Speaking of the beavers. Oregon state has once again been told that their previous experience and accomplishments won;t help them and no one expects them to win it all this year. Twice now they have, according to experts, limped or barely made their way into the playoffs only to upset all the favorites and win it all. Can they make it 3 or will NCAA's baseball parity make itself known once again...

What to look for this weekend... for me? well it looks like the closest I'll get to news for the Indanapolis area will be the LSU Tigers starting their baseball season against the Hoosiers tonight... for you? well anything, any game you can find, there are plenty great match-ups out there and plenty Steve Miller Band and "put me in coach" to hear as the team's warm up, take your kids out, say hi to the players who in most cases will say hi back, and have a great night tonight at a game!

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