Commentary

College baseball gift guide

Originally Published: December 22, 2011
By Eric Sorenson | ESPN.com

It's the holidays, which means it's the time of year when the spirit of giving is prevalent everywhere you go.

College baseball is no different. If we were to make a list of gifts to be handed out for the coming season, what would it look like? Well, Baseball Santa has made his list and checked it twice. Yes, the "naughty and nice" part comes into play, too.

Here's a list of college baseball gifts for the upcoming season that teams and conferences may find underneath the tree when they wake up Christmas morning.

To: Arizona State
From: Their Sun Devils' inner psyche
Gift: Motivation

The NCAA has levied a one-year postseason ban on the Devils, after all, so this season could very well be a wash. You have to wonder what this team's mindset will be. There is still plenty of talent on the Sun Devils' roster, but will they stay motivated enough to play up to their potential?

To: Arkansas
From: Razorbacks fans
Gift: More comfortable games

Hold on to your EKGs, Hogs fans. The 2011 Razorbacks were white-knuckle experts, playing in 22 one-run games and 11 two-run games, going 17-16 in them. Like Texas' aforementioned issues, a big problem for Arkansas was a stagnant offense in the clutch (the Hogs hit just .270 as a team). Here's to Dominic Ficociello, Bo Bigham and incoming Oklahoma State transfer Dane Phillips getting things untracked in Hogtown, for their fans' sake.

To: Cal State Fullerton
From: California politicians
Gift: The ability to pay a baseball coach a real salary

Here's the deal: The state of California's budget is in the toilet, the education system is bankrupt and state university athletic departments are cash-strapped. Thus, Fullerton can't keep a coach. You know how much more a Texas, Oregon or Tennessee can pay a head coach? Who knows -- maybe a state administrator can hit the lottery and help pay for new head honcho Rick Vanderhook, who is first-class in his own right.

To: Clemson
From: The gods of fate
Gift: A better ending

For the last two months of the 2011 regular season, the Tigers became the hottest team in the country, going 27-6. And everything seemed normal when they raced out to a 2-0 start when they hosted a regional. Then came two stunning losses to UConn to crash out of the NCAA tournament -- one in crushing come-from-behind fashion. To add insult to injury, the Tigers had to sit back and watch their in-state rival, South Carolina, win another national title.

To: Florida
From: The rest of college baseball
Gift: A sense of mercy

The Gators have just about the exact same team returning from last year and will not only be the overwhelming preseason No. 1-ranked team in every poll -- they will probably pound everyone into submission all season long. Here's hoping they eventually show some compassion and call off the dogs.

To: Florida State
From: The midweek scheduling committee
Gift: Some challenging games.

We've seen this formula before: The Seminoles play a lot of home games against weak teams and then the postseason comes along and they face the top-end pitchers of good teams and lay an egg. Challenging midweek games versus Florida, UCF, Stetson and Jacksonville would be more interesting if they were weekend series. So go ahead and reschedule those to three-game series. Who knows? Maybe it'll help Noles hitters face better pitching all season long.

To: Georgia Tech
From: The NCAA selection committee
Gift: No more surprise "hot" teams in its NCAA tournament bracket

With last year's stunning regional losses to Austin Peay and Mississippi State, the Jackets saw their season end on their home field for the sixth time in the last nine years. Four of those times, they entered regional play as a national seed. It's time to right this wrong because it's getting to where teams are volunteering to go to Atlanta in the NCAAs.

To: Miami
From: The NCAA clearinghouse
Gift: Eligibility for Peter O'Brien (finally)

Though Miami is using phrases such as "likely" and "will probably" in association with the transfer of the All-American catcher's transfer, let's go ahead and have the NCAA people make that announcement official. It'll give all parties involved that warm Christmas feeling. For the Hurricanes, it will take the sting off losing numerous offensive weapons, including three-year starting catcher Stephen Perez.

To: The state of Mississippi
From: Father Time
Gift: Patience

It might be a lean year in the Magnolia State. Ole Miss, Southern Miss and Mississippi State return only 10 field starters and two weekend pitchers between them. However, all three programs brought in banner recruiting classes (ranked No. 3, No. 13 and No. 20 by Collegiate Baseball, respectively) and will field young teams, so they could experience some growing pains this year. But fret not, fans -- after two or three years, these guys could all explode on the national scene.

To: Rice
From: Karma
Gift: One more national title for the "Old General"

With all he's done for the sport (and for Rice University), it would be more than fitting to see the patriarch of college baseball coaches ride off into the sunset with one more national title to his name. Wouldn't it? Wayne Graham gets back every starter in the field and all three weekend starters on the mound this year. Karma, the rest is up to you.

To: St. John's
From: The NCAA selection committee
Gift: A home regional in June.

The Johnnies got a "gift" from the committee in June with an at-large bid over LSU. But with nearly everyone back this season and a preseason ranking of No. 11 by Collegiate Baseball, can't you just see a regional played at MCU Park, the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones? The NCAA tournament may be coming to Coney Island.

To: South Carolina
From: The other seven teams at the CWS
Gift: An ability to finally lose in Omaha

The Gamecocks are on an 11-game winning streak at the CWS. In other words, nobody has come up this clutch since that other USC, the Trojans, used to dominate in the early 1970s. I mean, these guys just don't lose in Omaha. The scary thing is that coach Ray Tanner admits these past two championship teams haven't even been his best teams.

To: Stanford
From: The schedule-maker
Gift: A nonconference slate that won't bury them early

You have to love Stanford's guts, taking on teams like Vanderbilt, Texas, Fresno State and Rice in the first four weeks of the season. The Cardinal is plenty talented enough to stay in the top 10 all season long and contend for a national title, but their schedule is tough enough to leave them with season-long bruises that could leave them treading water with the voters.

To: Texas
From: Aeolus, the Greek god of wind
Gift: Strong tailwinds when the Longhorns are batting

We all know that Texas is perennially one of the best pitching teams in the country. With Sam Stafford, Hoby Milner and Corey Knebel, this year will be no different. But the Longhorns' bats hit a boney-armed .254 last year. They have potential pop and a spacious stadium to play in; all they need is a force of nature to help them spray some gap shots around to make this offense formidable.

To: TCU
From: The football side of the equation
Gift: A change of heart so the Horned Frogs don't have to play in the Big East.

Oh wait. Cancel … CANCEL! This gift shipped early and has already been delivered. North Pole FAIL. As a bonus, the Frogs will now get to play in the Big 12 and save thousands and maybe even millions in travel costs across all sports.

To: UC Irvine
From: Coaches and baseball writers
Gift: An apology for underestimation

Not sure how people miss out on the Anteaters year-in, year-out, but it's becoming habitual to neglect them. In the past five seasons, UCI has been in both the preseason coaches' and NCBWA writers' top 20 polls just once (No. 7 in each in 2010). But the Eaters have finished in the top 20 in all five seasons, with three top-10 finishes. That probably says more about Mike Gillespie's Hall of Fame coaching ability.

To: UCLA
From: Last year's freshman class
Gift: Another dominating rotation

Nobody lost more talent on the mound -- maybe in history -- than the Bruins this season. Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer were taken at Nos. 1 and 3 in the June MLB draft. So the Bruins are hurting, right? (Insert finger-wagging here). Not necessarily, people. Sunday starter Adam Plutko returns and will be joined by fellow freshman All-American Zach Weiss and hard-throwing Nick Vander Tuig, all of whom had ERAs below 3.00 in 66 combined appearances. All three will be high-round draft picks in June 2013.

To: Vanderbilt
From: The Northeast talent pool
Gift: Some new stud arms.

It must be coach Tim Corbin's Massachusetts roots, but nobody taps the Northeast talent pool in recruiting quite like Vandy does. Losing first-round draft picks Sonny Gray and Grayson Garvin would be devastating to most pitching staffs. But for Corbin, it's no muss, no fuss. Look for monster years from sophomore Kevin Ziomek (Amherst, Mass.) and incoming first-round draftee Tyler Beede (Auburn, Mass).

To: Virginia
From: Keith Werman
Gift: Heart and hustle

With only four returning starters back in the field and zero starting pitchers back, this will surely be a rebuilding season in Charlottesville. But one of those returnees is the force of nature known as Keith Werman, one of the most exciting players in the country. The 5-foot-7, 150-pound second baseman is a great lead-by-example type whose inspiring play will be as infectious as ever this season.

To: The ACC
From: The Atlantic Division
Gift: New contenders

This could be a transition season for the ACC with a heavy exodus of talent in places like Virginia, Florida State, Miami and North Carolina. Because of recent recruiting bonanzas, both Maryland and North Carolina State should be vastly improved this season and the Tom Walters effect at Wake Forest could be huge, especially with the return of seven field starters and two weekend pitchers.

To: The Pac-12
From: Boyd Nation
Gift: A better formula than the RPI

Sure, the RPI is going to make some changes starting next year, but they are not the fixes this conference needs. In the last 10 years, the Pac-12 has finished ranked as the toughest conference in Boyd Nation's ISR ratings six times and finished second three times. But get this: In that same 10-year period, the Pac-12 has never finished first in the RPI formula the NCAA selection committee uses. Even worse, the league has been ranked as low as the fourth-best conference eight times and second twice. Really?

To: The fans of the SEC
From: Coppertone
Gift: SPF 50 sunblock.

These fans need extra protection on their skin for the sixth day of competition the SEC tournament has added to the schedule now … and for blocking the glare from all their national title trophies.

To: Dallas Baptist, Jacksonville, Stony Brook, Charlotte, Stetson, Creighton, Georgia Southern, Wichita State, FIU, College of Charleston, Maine, Texas State, Missouri State, Troy, etc.
From: The smart people on the selection committee
Gift: To ignore the "anchor effect"

Every year we see mid-major conference teams take down the big-money boys during the pre-conference or midweek part of the season. And every year we see those same teams having their RPIs dragged down by weak conference mates or bad scheduling they have little control over. Here's to one year when they're rewarded for their good wins and not dragged through the weeds for their weak wins.

To: The NCAA
From: College baseball fans
Gift: Acknowledgement of good

We may crab about the RPI and who got robbed of the 64th and last NCAA tournament bid and everything, but each December we watch college football and the travesty and furor that the BCS title game causes and I think we can all agree that college baseball does things the right way in deciding a champion. We are all grateful that we're not watching the baseball version of South Carolina versus Texas in the FurnitureGallery.com PingBall Bowl and then voting on a champion.

Notes

SEC goes to 10-for-tourney: The SEC made news by announcing that its conference tournament will expand from eight teams to 10 teams and from five days to six days for the foreseeable future, as the conference heads toward an increase to 14 teams in 2013 with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri. The tournament field will consist of the winners of the Eastern and Western Divisions and then eight "at-large" teams seeded three through 10. The Tuesday through Friday days will be double-elimination play and Saturday and Sunday will be single-elimination.

ACC Mondays: Looks like ACC baseball has joined the ESPN television party. This past week the network announced the beginning of a TV deal for "ACC Mondays" from mid-March to mid-May. Though it is packaged to showcase various spring Olympic sports, six of the nine Monday showcases will be baseball games, starting with Virginia at Florida State on March 19. There will also be two softball games shown in April and the ACC women's lacrosse championship in late April.

Back to Friday start for College World Series: For the 2012 CWS only, the CWS schedule will revert back to the Friday start, one day earlier than it now begins. The move means the games will be played from Friday, June 15, through June 25 or 26 if necessary. The earlier start date was necessitated by the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, which will be held in the CenturyLink Center (formerly the Qwest Center), which shares parking with TD Ameritrade Park. The swimming trials actually begin on Monday, June 25, which will also be the second day of the best-of-three championship series. The CWS schedule will go back to its normal Saturday start in 2013.

Eric Sorenson, who runs College Baseball Today, and Walter Villa are regular contributors to ESPN's college baseball coverage. Follow Eric on Twitter: @stitch_head