So here we are, 231 days since Coastal Carolina raised the trophy as College World Series champions in Omaha, Nebraska, after barely escaping an equally surprising Arizona team that nobody expected to be there. That means it's been about 166 days since the reality of the Chanticleers winning it all actually set in and we could stop pinching ourselves. Yes, it happened.
Now, another journey dawns, as the 2017 college baseball season tosses the old horsehide out once again on Friday. Another wild five-month drama will ensue between now and late June, when a new champion will be crowned.
What will shake out between now and then? Who are the teams to watch? Who are the future pro players to catch while they will still give you their autographs with a smile? What are the storylines this year? Let's get the ball rolling and give you a head's up on what to look for this 2017 season. Just remember, nothing ever goes according to script. Arizona and Coastal Carolina gave us that smack of reality last June.
Will Coastal Carolina repeat as national champion?
Very unlikely. It's never wise to count out coach Gary Gilmore's boys, though, especially after last year's run in which they showed all kinds of moxie once the calendar turned to June. But shed no tears for the Chanticleers. They'll probably win the Sun Belt, go to the postseason and have a shot at a return to Omaha.
Will the SEC and ACC rebound from last June's postseason collapse?
The southern monster conferences were at the top of the polls and bracket projections all year. Then the bright lights of the Big Dance shone down, and 15 of the 17 teams with NCAA tournament bids crumbled, leaving only two teams to advance to Omaha. Once there, both Florida and Miami were out in two games. Fluke? Aberration? Probably so. Just know that it most likely won't happen like that again this year.
Will the Big 12 stay at the top?
No conference as a whole had a better postseason than the Big 12, seeing Oklahoma State win at South Carolina, TCU stun Texas A&M in College Station, and Texas Tech edge East Carolina to reach Omaha. All three of those Big 12 teams will be factors again this season, especially the Horned Frogs and Red Raiders, who are insanely deep on the mound. Joining them will be a revamped Texas team under the leadership of new head coach David Pierce.
Is the Big West the best non-Power Five conference?
It's become a running theme: Which Big West team is going to emerge from the rubble and make a surprise run at Omaha? Although the Sun Belt has Coastal Carolina and Louisiana Lafayette, the Big West could be remarkably deep this season, led by Cal State Fullerton and UC Santa Barbara, plus postseason contenders Long Beach State and Cal Poly. Want a dark horse? Look at steadily improving CSU Northridge.
Will the Pac-12 get back to power status?
Parity is never a friend to the West Coast, for some reason. Last year, a team with an overall losing record (Utah) won the conference title, but Arizona's run to the title series made amends and showed that the conference had some underappreciated mettle. This year, Oregon State, which was mysteriously snubbed by the NCAA committee last season, and Stanford have the pitching to play to late June. Arizona and Arizona State had some personnel losses but sport two of the best recruiting classes in the country.
TCU Horned Frogs
Oozing with talented returnees already, the Frogs add first-round draft pick Nick Lodolo, a dynamic LHP, to the squad this season. Now it's title or bust for coach Jim Schlossnagle's crew.
Four players who were drafted last June decided to return for another season, automatically giving coach Paul Mainieri an intimidating squad that could make amends for last year's super regional exit.
Lots of talent left campus, but this is coach Kevin O'Sullivan we're talking about, and the Gator guru still has eight players who project to be top-three-round picks in this year's draft. Almost unfair.
Florida State Seminoles
Coach Mike Martin is the perennial bridesmaid in college baseball, but this year could be his best chance to bring home the brass ring because of great pitching and stars like SS Taylor Walls and 3B Dylan Busby.
Cal State Fullerton Titans
Surprised? Don't be. It is well known how good the Titans can be when they've got lockdown pitching. The starting rotation of Colton Eastman, John Gavin and Connor Seabold is the nation's best.
Oregon State Beavers
Yes, it's weird to say these guys are "off the radar," but they did miss the NCAA tournament last year. Luke Heimlich and Bryce Fehmel form a stout 1-2 pitching punch on the weekends, and Max Engelbrekt is a bullpen stud.
The best team in the Bayou State? Don't tell LSU, but the Ragin' Cajuns are uber-experienced and have the talent to pitch and defend with the nation's best. The big question is, can they hit?
UNC Wilmington Seahawks
The Columbia Regional finalists return an upperclassmen-heavy lineup, led by 1B Nick Feight. Coach Mark Scalf thinks his pitching staff can go 12 to 13 arms deep.
The Cardinal are postseason veterans who have missed the tournament the last two seasons. But a high-quality pitching staff returns most everyone and is backed by the top-rated defense in the country.
Speaking of championship-level pitching, the Big Red should make room on the trophy shelf, because nearly every hurler is back from a team that sported a 3.12 team ERA, third in the Big Ten.
Alex Lange, RHP, LSU
After a 12-0 freshman year, Lange got knocked around a little last season, going 8-4 with a 3.79 ERA. If he returns to form, the Tigers have all the other pieces for a national title run.
Seth Beer, C, Clemson
The premier slugger in college baseball never blinked as a freshman, hitting .369 with 18 home runs. The problem is, he may not see many strikes thrown his way this year.
Andrew Beckwith, RHP, Coastal Carolina
The nation's wins leader a year ago (15-1) and the CWS MVP, Beckwith returns for his senior year and solidifies the CCU pitching staff as one of the nation's best.
Tristan Beck, RHP, Stanford
A back injury will sideline the Cardinal ace for a few weeks. If he returns to his dominant form, Stanford will be tough to deal with. The coaches assure that it's not an arm issue.
Brendan McKay, P/1B, Louisville
There is no better two-way player in the country. McKay has been a dominant lefty on the mound and also one of the most dangerous cleanup hitters in Division I.
The last stand for "9"
Longtime Stanford head coach Mark Marquess has announced that this will be his final season on The Farm. After 1,585 victories, he has the horses to compete for a national title in 2017. Storybook finish in Omaha?
The Zen Master of college baseball is gone
After 47 years and 1,975 wins, Augie Garrido retired as the head baseball coach of Texas. Pierce comes over from Tulane to take the reins and inherits the pressure cooker that is Longhorns baseball.
Bring 'em to the Promised Land
In four years, Chad Holbrook has yet to bring South Carolina to Omaha. But this year, he has a handful of future pro pitchers in the rotation, which could deliver the Gamecocks to TD Ameritrade Park.
Godwin the godsend
Not that he can't win a national title at East Carolina, but if third-year coach Cliff Godwin has another big year in Greenville (78 wins in two years), he could be the next name to land a Power Five coaching gig.
The "Old General" is still going strong
Apparently there is no "stop" button on Rice head coach Wayne Graham, who turns 81 in April. He has another postseason-ready team, but can it contend for Omaha?
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