The defending National Champion South Carolina Gamecocks begin their title defense next week at home in Columbia, SC. In this excitement, I thought I would provide a little information about the Gamecocks opponents this season.
Here is a look at who the Gamecocks will be playing in 2011:
Santa Clara Broncos
Dates and location: February 18-20 in Columbia
Last season's record: 23-31 (8-13 in WCC)
Breakdown: The Broncos struggled to win last season and this season will probably be more of the same. The Broncos lost three of their four top hitters from last season. The lone returner is sophomore OF Matt Ozanne, who batted .380 last season. The pitching staff struggled and only returns one of its three weekend starters. Chris Mendoza is the lone one back, however, he was 4-6 last season with a 5.83 ERA. This should be a series sweep for the Gamecocks.
Southern Illinois Salukis
Dates and location: February 25-27 in Columbia
Last season's record: 28-29 (10-10 in Missouri Valley Conference)
Breakdown: The expectations are low for the Salukis in 2011, picked to finish seventh in their conference. The Salukis lost all three weekend starters from last season, though that may be a good thing because the Saluki staff struggled badly. They do bring back three of their top four hitters. They are lead by junior Chris Serritella who hit .374 with 13 HR and 64 RBI and senior Blake Pinnon who hit .333 with 8 HR and 45 RBI. This should also be a series sweep for the Gamecocks.
Dates and locations: March 1 in Columbia. March 15 in Greenville, SC.
Last season's record: 19-37 (11-19 in the Southern Conference)
Breakdown: The Gamecocks had no problems with the Paladins last season with two easy wins. Last year was the first really bad year in a long time for Furman. However, the team was very young and bring back a lot of talent.
The corps of returning regulars include 2010 SoCon Freshman of the Year Will Muzika (.329, 14 HR, 55 RBI), left fielder Will Owens (.351, 8 HR, 38 RBI), first baseman Aaron Thompkins (.342, 3 HR, 30 RBI) and right fielder Will Miller (.313, 5 HR, 34 RBI). The pitching staff will be this team's weakness. Should be two more wins for the Gamecocks but they may be slugfests.
Dates and locations: March 4 in Columbia. March 5 in Greenville. March 6 in Clemson, SC.
Last season's record: 45-25 (18-12 in the ACC)
Breakdown: The Tigers were able to take two of three from the Gamecocks in the regular season, but when it mattered most the Gamecocks swept two games from Clemson in the NCAA College World Series. The Tigers lost Kyle Parker to the Colorado Rockies but still return some offense in Jeff Schaus, Brad Miller and Richie Schaffer.
The team will struggle to find pitching like most college teams, but the Tigers are a preseason No. 7 ranking. The Gamecocks pitching staff may struggle for one of these games, I see Gamecocks taking two of three.
Date and location: March 9 in Columbia
Last season's record: 19-32 (5-25 in Southern Conference)
Breakdown: Gamecocks win. Not much to breakdown, the Wildcats are bad.
Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners
Dates and location: March 11-13 in Columbia
Last season's record: 26-30 (plays as an independent)
Breakdown: This team may be tricky for the Gamecocks. They are a team full of juniors with a lot of game experience. They had a lot of players playing in the Cape Cod summer league, which is probably the best summer league in the country. They are lead by junior C Jeremy Rodriguez, who hit .400 with 4 HR and 38 RBI last season. I think this team may sneak up and steal a game from Carolina. Even the best teams usually have a "bad" loss early on, this team will be the Gamecocks'.
Dates and locations: March 16 in Columbia. May 4 in Spartanburg, SC.
Last season's record: 17-38 (9-21 in the Southern Conference)
Breakdown: The Gamecocks had no problems with them last year and should have no problems again this year. However, caution in the road game. The Gamecocks have historically struggled on the road in these inter-state games.
Dates and location: March 18-20 in Columbia
Last season's record: 16-37 (5-23 in SEC)
Breakdown: Georgia had one of the worst seasons in school history last year and things do not look like they will improve much. The offense will be there, but will they be able to get anyone out? Gamecocks should get at least two of three here, if not a sweep.
College of Charleston Cougars
Dates and locations: March 22 in Columbia. April 19 in Charleston, SC.
Last season's record: 44-19 (22-8 in the Southern Conference)
Breakdown: The Cougars are actually ranked as high as No. 20 in some preseason polls. This team is going to be very tough for the Gamecocks. Catcher Rob Kral was named a preseason third team All-American as well. There are some big expectations in Charleston this year. The Cougars are lead by former Gamecock assistant coach Monte Lee. Both games will be tight and I think the teams will split the season series.
Rhode Island Rams
Date and location: March 23 in Columbia
Last season's record: 31-26 (17-10 in the Atlantic 10)
Breakdown: A nice A-10 team, but cannot hold a candle to the Gamecock lineup. Gamecocks get an easy win.
Dates and location: March 25-27 in Gainesville, FL
Last season's record: 47-17 (22-8 in the SEC)
Breakdown: Easily, the toughest series on the Gamecocks' schedule. The Gators are ranked third nationally in almost every preseason poll and even first in the Baseball America poll. This team is loaded and brings back all three weekend starters. Oh yeah, they also welcome first-rounder Karsten Whitson, who turned down the Bigs to come to UF, to the pitching staff. I do not like the matchup for the Gamecocks. I think they will lose two of three here.
The Citadel Bulldogs, Presbyterian Blue Hose, Charleston Southern Buccaneers and UNC Asheville Bulldogs
Dates and locations: March 30 (The Citadel); May 10 (Presbyterian); May 11 (Charleston Southern) and May 17 (Asheville) in Columbia, SC. April 12 (The Citadel) in Charleston, SC.
Breakdown: None of these teams are much to worry about for Gamecock fans, so I lumped them together. The Citadel always gives the Gamecocks fits so watch out for them especially in Charleston.
Dates and location: April 1-3 in Columbia.
Last season's record: 31-25 (13-17 in SEC)
Breakdown: Playing in their tiny field, the Wildcats always put up good offense, but it's their pitching that may have the most talent this year. Senior reliever Nick Kennedy will hold down the bullpen. Starters Jordan Cooper and Alex Meyer are both very good. The Gamecocks will take two of three because it is at home.
Dates and location: April 7-9 in Knoxville, TN
Last season's record: 30-26 (12-18 in SEC)
Breakdown: The Vols are in for another rough year. The offense should actually be good, but the pitching staff is very raw. The future is bright for UT though with stud freshman like OF Andrew Toles and C Ethan Bennett. The Gamecocks will take two of three because the young Gamecock pitching staff will struggle on the road this year.
Who will win the SEC East?
Dates and location: April 15-17 in Columbia
Last season's record: 46-20 (16-12 in SEC)
Breakdown: The Dores bring just about everyone back from last year's NCAA tournament team. That includes all three weekend starters. Sonny Gray leads those starters while Jason Esposito will lead the offense. I really like Vanderbilt's team this year and I think they come in and steal two of three from Carolina.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Dates and location: April 22-24 in Starkville, MS
Last season's record: 23-33 (6-24 in SEC)
Breakdown: The entire SEC West will probably be down this year and the Bulldogs are the worst of them all. Even on the road, I think the Gamecocks will sweep the Bulldogs this year.
Dates and location: April 29-May 1 in Columbia
Last season's record: 43-21 (20-10 in SEC)
Who will win the SEC West?
Breakdown: The Tigers are lead by standout C Tony Caldwell. I think the Tigers will make some noise and possibly win the West again, but they just have not improved on the mound enough. I think the Gamecocks take two of three.
Ole Miss Rebels
Dates and location: May 6-8 in Oxford, MS
Last season's record: 39-24 (16-14 in SEC)
Breakdown: The Rebels relied on their weekend starters to give them chances to win. Drew Pomeranz and Aaron Barrett are both gone though. This team will have to score a lot of runs to win. I see another two of three for the Gamecocks.
Dates and location: May 13-15 in Columbia
Last season's record: 43-21 (18-12 in SEC)
Breakdown: The Hogs will not do any one thing great, but they are a solid team. Catcher James McCann is the veteran leader on offense with two good freshmen in Ryne Stanek and Dominic Ficociello. I still see the Gamecocks winning another series here.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Dates and location: May 19-21 in Tuscaloosa, AL
Last season's record: 42-25 (15-15 in SEC)
Breakdown: The Tide have two really good players in OF Tyler Dugas and starting pitcher Nathan Kilcrease. Outside of those two, there is not much else. I still think Bama will surprise this year. On the road, the Gamecocks drop two of three to end season.
Well there you have it, everything you needed to know about the Gamecocks' opponents this year. Go Gamecocks!