College baseball may be about series wins, but the best teams have to win every game they should win. The beauty of college baseball is that although any team can win on any given day, the best teams will usually always prevail against much worse teams. The best teams always end up in Omaha.
While losses are inevitable, No. 1 Virginia (9-2) cannot lose to the likes of Wright State with ace Danny Hultzen on the mound. While Virginia completed the Virginia tournament, which pitted the Cavaliers against Ivy champion Dartmouth and the Horizon League's best team (and at-large CWS participant), Wright State, with an impressive 3-1 record, No. 3 Florida State's (10-0) dominance over No. 4 Florida and previously-No. 29 Georgia disallows Virginia from dropping non-conference games against unranked opponents.
Anyway, this last weekend in college baseball gave us a true glimpse of the teams we should expect in Omaha, and those who will struggle this season. Teams like Virginia, Florida State, Florida, and Texas asserted themselves as the most elite, while Big West powerhouses Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine are falling by the wayside.
This considered, on to the power rankings, which should describe the best 20 teams in the nation:
1) Florida State, 10-0, Rivals No. 3, ACC
Florida State's combination of form and talent makes them the top team in the nation. An impressive win against then-No. 5 (now No. 4) Florida demonstrated that Florida State was better than its otherwise easy non-conference schedule indicated, while an absolutely dominant series sweep over previously-No. 29 Georgia affirmed that.
Stephen Cardullo and Tyler Holt were dominant over the weekend, and have been throughout the season as a whole. The Florida State lineup looks extremely scary, and the rotation concerns should be eased if the Seminoles can put up more than 10 runs per game with regularity.
Impressive Wins: Series vs. No. 29 Georgia, Game vs. No. 5 Florida
Could Do Better: The bats were quiet against Matt Loosen of Jacksonville, the A-Sun's best pitcher. They still did manage to win, though.
Ways to Keep Ranking: Keep on winning, which means taking the series at home against Virginia this weekend.
2) Virginia, 9-2, Rivals No. 1, ACC
Virginia may be considered the best team in the nation to many fans and sports sites, to my extreme pleasure, but they aren't the best team form-wise.
While Virginia finished its tournament 3-1 and beat two good teams in Dartmouth and Wright State, Virginia racked up one loss over the weekend. A top team like Virginia can oft afford taking a loss like that in its non-conference schedule.
Florida State differentiates itself from Virginia by finding a win to win against against a top pitcher in a close game. Although Alex Kaminsky is a top pitcher, Virginia cannot lose with Danny Hultzen on the mound. Virginia cannot waste great pitching performances, especially considering the prolific offense they possess.
Virginia redeemed itself against Kyle Hendricks, the Ivy League preseason All-American pitcher who scouts flocked to watch, but must find ways to consistently dominate good pitchers on inferior teams.
Impressive Wins: Games vs. Ivy League-favorite Dartmouth, Win vs. Horizon League-favorite Wright State
Could Do Better: Virginia has a dearth of power hitters. Every man in the Cavaliers' lineup can hit consistently and spray the ball, but there is absolutely no home run power in the lineup. (Revision/Rephrase: The lineup possesses a large amount of power, but they haven't displayed it at home pre-FSU game. After getting into heated discussions with true Virginia fans on The Sabre, I'm more than willing to concede that Virginia does have a great lineup with a lot of pop. Rather, I say that Virginia simply did not demonstrate this last weekend.)
Against good pitchers, the likes of Proscia, Parker, and Hicks have come up empty in terms of power. It's extremely frustrating as a Virginia fan seeing balls fall short on the warning track. I understand that Davenport Field is a pitcher's park with its big alleys, but the corners aren't home-run prohibitive and should suit pull hitting.
Jarrett Parker, in particular, need to buck up and hit again. Virginia is also a bit streaky in their hitting (although this point is a bit of a stretch because Virginia has consistently had 6-plus-run innings, which demonstrates more skill than luck), which needs to improve. Virginia can't have offensive showings like it had against Wright State.
Ways to Improve Ranking: Take the series against Florida State this weekend and keep on winning. Find a semblance of a power-hitting game. (Update: The Cavaliers did indeed find their power stroke Friday against FSU. Virginia won 5-0.)
3) Florida, 7-2, Rivals No. 4, SEC
Florida has exceeded all expectations in establishing itself as a top national team. Although they endured a disappointing loss against Florida State, they quickly bounced back against then-No. 10 Miami.
Super-freshman Nolan Fontana particularly impresses with his 8-14 showing against top-teams Florida State and Miami. Florida's lineup has been impressive this year and pulled the Gators and their less-than-impressive pitching to victories.
Impressive Wins: Series win vs. No. 13 Miami
Could Do Better: Their next homestand (rest of the OOC schedule) is weak, and their schedule insofar minus this past week is weak (although we can't blame them for USF struggling).
Ways to Improve Ranking: Run the table in their out-of-conference schedule and establish their pitching (which was questioned before the season).
4) Clemson, 9-1, Rivals No. 11, ACC
Clemson deserves more respect than they currently get; although they were considered an Omaha favorite, they deserve recognition as a top-five team. They swept a really good Wright State team (that Virginia only split) and took the series against then-No. 24 South Carolina.
Clemson's lineup is extremely balanced, and Kyle Parker and Jeff Schaus look extremely impressive.
Impressive Wins: Series win vs. No. 29 South Carolina
Could Do Better: The bullpen and bottom half of the lineup can improve.
Ways to Improve Ranking: Keep on winning, which means beating a resurgent and surprisingly good NC State squad this weekend.
5) Arizona State, 11-0, Rivals No. 6, Pac-10
We knew Arizona State would be good, but I never expected the Sun Devils to handle the Pat Murphy saga so seamlessly and gracefully. Credit manager Tim Esmay for this seamless transition.
ASU has been ridiculously dominant, winning by more than five runs seven times. Their extremely weak non-conference schedule diminishes their success, though.
Impressive Wins: Win vs. No. 18 Oregon State, Win vs. FIU
Could Do Better: Nothing of note.
Ways to Improve Ranking: Sweep a great Auburn squad and Cal State Fullerton.
6) LSU, 11-0, Rivals No. 2, SEC
Great team (and defending national champions) playing a crappy schedule. As you can see, I don't reward top teams playing crappy schedules. LSU beat a really good Pepperdine team twice, but their otherwise weak schedule diminishes their success.
The next two series against a great Kansas team and No. 14 Arkansas should show the Tigers' mettle.
7) Texas, 8-3, Rivals No. 5, Big 12
What a difference a few weeks make. The disaster against New Mexico has been more or less forgotten with wins over Stanford, No. 15 Rice, and Missouri. Last weekend's tournament against Rice, Houston (loss) and Missouri was definitely testy, but the Longhorns prevailed in better shape than they were previously. Jordan Etier looks extremely impressive.
Texas needs to slug through the rest of its weak non-conference schedule and brace for Rice and Oklahoma in the beginning and middle of its conference schedule.
8) Georgia Tech, 10-1, Rivals No. 7, ACC
This poor-schedule thing has been a theme with some of the top teams. You can't blame some of these top teams for scheduling cupcakes when they have their conference games (especially in the ACC), but Georgia Tech insofar has an inflated record.
Deck McGuire, however, is a pleasure to watch. From a Virginia fan's perspective, it's a shame that he's not a Cavalier, considering his Richmond roots.
Georgia Tech just needs to win every game this month, until they face a true opponent in No. 11 North Carolina at the end of March.
9) Arkansas, 8-2, Rivals No. 14, SEC
Arkansas is a team with a reputation (they did in fact beat Virginia last year) that has affirmed its dominance with a solid schedule this year. By demolishing Kansas and taking the series against a good Cal Golden Bears team, they have catapulted themselves into the SEC-contenders talk.
The Razorbacks are definitely ready to face LSU in two weeks.
10) Coastal Carolina, 10-1, Rivals No. 13, Big South
The Chanticleers have been impressive this season. They have demonstrated great balance and have played a solid schedule insofar (out of necessity).
I'm looking forward to the San Diego series at the end of the month.
11) East Carolina, 7-3, Rivals No. 10, C-USA
ECU has done itself extremely well after the season-opening series loss to Virginia. They looked impressive in their series win over South Carolina two weeks ago, although the games were testy and very close.
I'm looking forward to the Pepperdine series this weekend. If ECU can win the series, they will definitely move up the rankings and earn more national respect.
12) Rice, 7-5, Rivals No. 9, C-USA
They beat Houston, TCU and Texas Tech last weekend, and lost a 2-1 heartbreaker to Texas. They look good and have been resurgent over the past two weeks. Stanford's success has vindicated Rice's series loss to them as well.
I'm looking forward to Rice's next two series against Cal and San Diego. Wins in both series should leave them in good shape for the national-seed talk.
13) TCU, 8-2, Rivals No. 12, Mountain West
Solid team, solid schedule. No wins against amazing teams (Cal State Fullerton doesn't count), but no bad losses. TCU just needs to keep winning until next month's matchup against San Diego State.
14) UCLA, 9-0, Rivals No. 16, Pac-10
They look extremely impressive. Good squad, good wins so far. They will look to pull away in the Pac-10, and establish themselves as the best team on the West Coast.
15) Louisville, 11-0, Rivals No. 8, Big East
Blah schedule will change though when they face Ole Miss this weekend. They possess an extremely balanced lineup, and look great as a team.
16) Kentucky, 9-1, Rivals No. 19, SEC
James Paxton? Blah, the Wildcats don't need him. Lost to talented San Diego State team, but beat San Diego and look really good on offense. Their win against Coastal Carolina in the beginning of the season alongside the rest of their resume makes them a team to watch.
17) Mississippi, 9-2, Rivals No. 22, SEC
Great team, great reputation, poor schedule. They did beat a good Tulane team last weekend though, and will look to sway poll-voters with a series win against Louisville this weekend.
18) North Carolina, 10-1, Rivals No. 18, ACC
I'm sure the Tar Heels scheduled easy out-of-conference to make up for the loss of Ackley. Their record is inflated by their poor schedule, but they did sweep a decent Michigan team. Their loss today to William & Mary (makes UNC 10-2) hurts the Heels a lot.
They will look to make a statement against Florida State in two weeks.
19) Texas A&M, 9-2, Writers' Poll No. 29, Big 12
For a team of their baseball stature, the Aggies are doing really well. Their good performance in the Baylor Classic propels them to this ranking, despite their generally weak schedule insofar.
Texas A&M will need to make a statement against a really good Washington State squad that beat an extremely respected Bethune-Cookman squad twice this weekend.
20) Oklahoma, 11-1, Writers' Poll No. 19, Big 12
The Sooners are still riding the momentum of the San Diego State sweep, only losing to a really good Jacksonville squad.
The Sooners will have the opportunity to make a national statement when they play a game against No. 16 UCLA this weekend.
Honorable Mentions Who Have Demonstrated Good Form Over the Past Week
(in no particular order)
San Diego (WCC), Ohio State (Big 10), San Diego State (MWC), Oregon State (Pac-10), Stanford (Pac-10), New Mexico (MWC), Connecticut (Big East)
Image courtesy of Florida State Athletics (www.seminoles.com).