Season's biggest surprises
Special to ESPN.com
I know, I hear what you're saying. It's early. Gotcha. But even though we are barely three full weeks into the season, we're still seeing some unfamiliar names creep into the national picture for college baseball. A few of them have pulled some pretty big upsets, leading to more and more talk of the proverbial P-word (parity).
So even though the RPI numbers are a little wild right now (as you'll see from the ones provided by Boyd Nation here) and should be taken with a fist-sized grain of salt, these are the handful of teams that have pulled some nice W's and are primed for big things in 2011. Of course, we also have to include when their litmus-test game will be coming up on the schedule so we can check for legitimacy.
The surprise teams so far:
Boyd's World RPI: 113
Big win: at Texas, 10-1
Big stat: In seven of their eight wins, the Terps have held opponents to three runs or less.
Litmus test: at Georgia Tech this weekend
Boyd's World RPI: 60
Big win: vs. UConn, 10-2; at Louisville, 6-4
Big stat: The Boilers have beaten three ranked teams and are off to their best start since 1993.
Litmus test: at Vanderbilt, March 15
Boyd's World RPI: 56
Big wins: UCLA, 2-1 and 5-4
Big stat: Huskers pitchers held UCLA to a .162 average in three games last week.
Litmus test: vs. Fresno State this weekend
Boyd's World RPI: 7
Big wins: at FIU, 10-2, 7-1; vs. Tulane, 13-1; vs. Alabama, 6-2
Big stat: Had 31 combined hits in wins over Tulane and Alabama.
Litmus test: at Texas State, April 15-17
Boyd's World RPI: 25
Big wins: vs. Nebraska, 7-2; at Baylor, 13-2
Big stat: Going into this weekend, the mound staff has 113 strikeouts in 104 innings.
Litmus test: at Texas, March 15
Cal State Bakersfield
Boyd's World RPI: 73
Big wins: vs. Washington State, 11-10; at Arizona State, 2-1
Big stat: Against ASU, the Roadrunners were out-hit 10-4 and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the 10th inning.
Litmus test: at South Carolina this weekend
Boyd's World RPI: 87
Big wins: at New Mexico, 4-3, 4-3, 10-6 and 8-7; at Kansas, 4-3
Big stat: As usual, it's great defense. So far, the Bluejays have committed just 11 errors, compared to 23 by their opponents.
Litmus test: vs. Portland, April 1-3
Boyd's World RPI: 2
Big wins: vs. Southern Miss, 4-3 and 13-4
Big stat: The starting-weekend rotation has given up just 13 earned runs and nine walks in 59.1 innings.
Litmus test: at Auburn, March 29 and vs. Auburn, April 5
Sam Houston State
Boyd's World RPI: 85
Big wins: vs. Tulane, 3-2; vs. Nebraska, 7-1 and 10-9; at Rice 7-0
Big stat: Not a weak stat to these guys as they hit .330, pitch at 2.67, defend at .982 and have stolen 37 bases.
Litmus test: at Texas State, March 18-20
San Jose State
Boyd's World RPI: 94
Big wins: at UCLA, 5-3 and 8-3
Big stat: Though Zack Jones is only hitting .290 so far, he has 17 K's in just 11.2 innings and two saves.
Litmus test: vs. Fresno State, April 8-10
Adams balances baseball, football
Special to ESPN.com
Brian Adams admits he sticks out on a baseball field.
Kentucky's 6-foot-4 and 230-pound sophomore center fielder has 4.4 speed and had three catches as a freshman backup wide receiver for the football team. He is perhaps even more intriguing as a baseball talent.
In fact, the Cincinnati Reds drafted him in the 45th round in 2009, when he was a high school senior at South Forsyth (Ga.). A quarterback in high school, Adams missed his senior season after separating his left shoulder and then redshirted at Kentucky when a potentially fatal blood clot was discovered after he noticed swelling in his right arm.
Adams, 20, was inactive for six months while he was treated. But now that he is fully recovered, where does he see his future as a pro prospect -- football or baseball?
"I don't know," he said. "I am blessed to be able to play both and see where God takes me."
When asked which sport he enjoyed more, Adams was again skillfully noncommittal.
"It depends on which one I'm playing at the time," he said. "In the spring, I'm loving baseball. In the fall, I love football, and I don't even want to swing a bat.
"I love the competition. And right now, in the SEC in baseball, it's great competition."
Indeed, it would not be hyperbole to say that Kentucky plays in one of the toughest baseball divisions ever.
According to the latest ESPN/USA Today rankings, three of the top four teams in the nation play in the SEC East: No. 1 Florida, No. 3 Vanderbilt and No. 4 South Carolina, the reigning NCAA champions. The SEC West is strong, too, with No. 8 LSU, No. 14 Arkansas and No. 24 Auburn.
"It's exciting," said Kentucky coach Gary Henderson, looking at the bright side. "We know that if we do well in the SEC, we have a chance to be among the elite teams in the country."
Henderson did not have a winning conference record in his first two years as Kentucky's head coach and is off to a 6-7 start this year -- with league play a week away.
But what makes Kentucky an interesting team to follow is talented players such as Adams and pitcher Alex Meyer, a 6-9, 220-pound right-hander who consistently fires his fastball between 94 and 97 mph.
"Alex has done a good job getting stronger, adding 25 pounds since he got here," Henderson said. Meyer, a junior, is a possible first-round pick. "He's not done developing. He has a chance to lead a pitching staff."
Meyer is off to a 1-2 start with a 3.86 ERA. But more importantly, he is holding hitters to a .186 batting average and has 26 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings.
Adams, meanwhile, is off to a .393 start in nine games, all starts. As a freshman last season, he hit .472 in 18 games, including the past eight starts.
"I'm not a football coach," Henderson said when asked which sport gives Adams more hope for a pro future. "All I know is that he has tremendous baseball potential.
"He's big, strong, fast and intelligent. And remember, he hasn't had a fall yet [in baseball, because of football], and he hasn't had a summer. The more time he spends playing baseball, the better he gets."
Adams plans to play both this spring. In the mornings, he will practice football, as long as the Kentucky baseball team is in town. In the afternoons and evenings, it's baseball. And somewhere in there, he finds time for school, family and his girlfriend, Amanda.
"It's pretty difficult," Adams said of his balancing act. "But the coaches do a great job of setting up my schedule to allow me to do both."
Places to be this weekend
Special to ESPN.com
If you're in the area, check out these matchups. If you're not, buy a plane ticket and make your way to one of these locales.
1. No. 12 Cal State Fullerton at No. 8 LSU
Key matchup: Fullerton starters versus LSU hitters. It's pretty cut and dried: The Titans starters Noe Ramirez, Tyler Pill and Colin O'Connell have ERAs of 1.71, 1.86 and 0.82 respectively. The Tigers hit .326 and are led by JaCoby Jones, who is hitting .447 and has three home runs himself. Side note: Also pay attention to the defenses, which Fullerton sweeps at a .984 fielding percentage and LSU is just .958.
2. No. 6 Virginia at No. 7 Clemson
I know this is just Week 4 here, but this is where things start to get serious. The ACC kicks off conference play, and this behemoth matchup is as tasty as it gets. Both teams have an impressive win or two and a lot of easy scrimmages to their credit. There are some ominous hints that this could be a tough one for the Tigers, though, as their sophomore flinger Kevin Brady, who was 2-0/1.10 in three starts, will miss the series with a strained muscle. Also, the Cavaliers have committed just three errors and allowed just three stolen bases in their 13 games.
Key matchup: UVa pitching versus Clemson hitting. Just like the Fullerton-LSU matchup above, this one comes down to whichever team strength shows up better. The Wahoos lead the ACC with a ridiculous 1.62 team ERA, led by Danny Hultzen's Friday night performances in which he sports 3-0/0.89 numbers and a 36-to-1 K-to-walk ratio. The Tigers have the top two hitters in the ACC in Spencer Kieboom (.538) and Phil Pohl (.478). Also, Brad Miller (.370) leads the conference with 14 walks.
3. The AT&T Tournament, San Francisco
Teams involved: No. 20 Rice, Long Beach State, Cal, Louisiana-Lafayette, San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara.
It's pretty easy to say that the Owls are the favorites here at McCovey Cove. But keep in mind that Wayne Graham's troops have had their struggles when they've ventured west in recent seasons, going 4-11 in games on the left side of the Rockies in the past four years. Cal looks to rebound after losing to San Diego State and Oklahoma in a pair of frustrating nip-and-tuck games last weekend.
Key matchup: Long Beach State's Andrew Gagnon versus Rice's Anthony Rendon. Andrew Gagnon has been the exception to the Beach's struggles, holding opponents to a .194 average. Rendon is clipping along at .435, but will need his hitting to be more contagious, since only he and Craig Manuel are above .300 in the order.
4. The Dodgertown Classic, Los Angeles
Teams involved: No. 10 UCLA, USC, St. Mary's, Georgia
This one lost some luster when the Bruins went 1-2 in back-to-back weekends, USC dropped eight in a row and Georgia was swept at Stetson to start the season. The only good news heading into the weekend for any of the teams would have to be Gaels ace Mark Anderson, who is 2-0/0.95 and has given up just 10 hits in his 19 innings of work, which includes wins over Oregon and UC Irvine. He should have his way with USC, which comes in hitting just .244 as a team. Watch for Sunday's USC-UCLA matchup, though. Last year, the two rivals drew 14,588 in Dodger Stadium.
Key matchup: UCLA's hitting versus themselves. With a team ERA of 1.55 and opposing batters hitting just .185, it's obviously not the pitching that is the Bruins' bugaboo. The UCLAns would easily be expected to sweep the field in this tournament, if not for their offense. The Bruins bats are hitting a wispy .241 so far, with only Cody Keefer going better than .300 (at .333). Keep an eye on Jeff Gelalich and Beau Amaral, though, as both are perfect in stolen bases in nine combined attempts.
For the rest of Eric's top 10 places to be, check out ESPN.com's College Baseball Blog.
Top 25 matchups
Rhode Island at No. 1 Florida
Arkansas-Little Rock at No. 2 Oklahoma
UIC at No. 3 Vanderbilt
Cal State Bakersfield at No. 4 South Carolina
Maine at No. 5 Florida State
No. 6 Virginia at No. 7 Clemson
No. 12 Cal State Fullerton at No. 8 LSU
No. 9 Arizona State at No. 24 Auburn
No. 10 UCLA vs. Georgia/St. Mary's/USC
Houston Baptist at No. 11 TCU
Brown at No. 13 Texas
No. 14 Arkansas at San Diego State
FIU at No. 15 Texas A&M
No. 16 UNC at Wake Forest
Northern Colorado at No. 17 Arizona
Sacramento State at No. 18 UC Irvine
No. 20 Rice vs. Long Beach St./Cal/UCSB
No. 21 Louisville vs. Pepperdine/USC
No. 22 Fresno State at Nebraska
No. 23 College of Charleston at Davidson
No. 25 Wichita State at Tulane
Q&A: Dave Esquer
No story this season holds more intrigue than the Cal Bears. The program is scheduled to be eliminated after this season, despite this being one of coach Dave Esquer's best teams in his 12 years in Berkeley. A lot of attention has been levied his way, and for obvious reasons. I caught up with the Cal head coach at last week's tournament in San Diego to get an update on his situation and to get the pulse of his team. -- Eric Sorenson
ES: My first question is, are you getting tired of answering questions about your program being eliminated?
DE: Yes I am. (Laughs). I wish it was a done deal in the sense that we were back and on the map and working toward next season. Right now, we're not. But there's still a glimmer of hope and a ray of light and we still have an opportunity to prove ourselves and reverse the chancellor's decision.
ES: You raved about your team's work ethic in the fall. Is that still the same now?
DE: Oh, absolutely. They come to the park every day with a lot of energy and it's translated to games very well. I appreciate that we've been in every game and made our opponents have to play very good to beat us. And it's all been in how they've practiced and how they've prepared themselves. It hasn't surprised me in how confidently our guys have played.
ES: Talk a little bit about your rotation and how good they've been.
DE: They're different kinds of pitchers -- Erik Johnson, Justin Jones and Dixon Anderson -- they all have different approaches, but I think the thing that has helped them is that they've come out and thrown the ball aggressively in the strike zone. And because our defense is better it's made them a little bit more confident on the mound. They also know that we've been better on the back side of our bullpen too, so there's a real comfort level all the way around.
ES: You talked before about having to be an agent for your players and their future. Are you still helping them find places for next year?
DE: It's part of what we have to do. We know our kids are wanting to explore their options, and we're helping them as much as we can. There's kind of three levels to it: Some guys want to have their decision right away, some will have to wait a little while and see how they play this season, and there will be some that may wait until summer baseball before they decide. But we're going to help them either way.
ES: I wanted to ask about your situation. As successful as you've been at a place with so few amenities like Cal, if the program isn't kept, I can't imagine you're going to be out there long in the job market. Somebody's gonna snatch you up quick. Have you had time to think about your future beyond this year?
DE: I really haven't, to be honest. Ya know, opening day was the only time I thought about myself, in the sense that every season seems to go so fast. Next thing you know, you're standing there for the last game of the season, wondering how it all went by so fast and how opening day seemed like yesterday. So on opening day this year I kind of caught myself thinking about how quickly the last day of the season was going to be here. Then I was having that feeling of "Now what do I do?"
Tweet Of The Week
In focus: Cal State Bakersfield
Boyd's World RPI: 73
Reason to watch: They're fearless. Not too many teams will agree to take on Washington State, Arizona State, Fresno State and South Carolina in the first four weeks of the season. But Roadrunners coach Bill Kernan doesn't blink at those kind of things. "We will likely come away with bloody noses from those fights, but our objective is to continue using these experiences to get tougher and more experienced."
They've already beaten Wazzu, Kansas and the Sun Devils in a 2-1 extra-innings thriller to give them an 11-2 start to the season, before losing Tuesday's game at Fresno. Now they head to No. 4 South Carolina. Scary, right?
"Win or lose, our goal is the same every day," Kernan said. "We want to play to the best of our ability and let somebody else tell us the score at the end of the game." -- Eric Sorenson
Under the radar: FIU
FIU is more than just Garrett Wittels. The shortstop's 56-game hit streak was snapped on opening day, and the rape charge against him in the Bahamas has yet to be ruled on in court. The national media left FIU's campus after the opener, but while they have been gone, the Golden Panthers have gotten hot and are 11-3 and had won 10 straight before losing at Rice on Wednesday. Last week, Kyle Fitzpatrick threw FIU's first no-hitter in 32 years. Four days later, Daniel DeSimone almost matched the feat, pitching 8 2/3 innings of no-hit ball as FIU swept Seton Hall in three games. Wittels, by the way, is hitting .353 and leads the team with 16 RBIs.-- Walter Villa
The Caravelle Resort Classic, Conway, S.C.
Teams Involved: Coastal Carolina, Kent State, Notre Dame and UAB
Great collection of mid-major teams that come in with large chips -- nay, make that large boulders -- on their shoulders. After a pair of blowout losses to Cal and NC State, Coastal has played better and hopes to make amends with some solid wins here. Kent State is madder than a wet hen after losing three whisker-close games at No. 21 Louisville and needs the additional RPI points. No one seems to notice that the Blazers are off to a blazing start this season (at 8-3) and feature one of the more valuable players in the country in Jamal Austin, who has a .488 batting average with 10 stolen bases already. -- Eric Sorenson
Upset watch: Louisville
No. 21 Louisville (8-3) at Pepperdine (5-6)
Nobody blinked when the Cards jumped out to an 8-3 mark this season. That's about right. But if you had asked me whether the team batting average of .229 would be expected, I might have said, "What in the name of Chris Dominguez is goin' on here?" The Cardinals are now in need of some pop. But as you might know, Eddy D. Field Stadium is no place to find an overflow of offense. If it's not the talented arms of Pepperdine's pitchers, it's the incoming ocean breezes that kill everything at the warning track. Waves starters Jon Moscot and Aaron Gates are holding their opponents to .257 and .203 averages respectively, which is pretty stout considering the strength of schedule they've faced (roadies to UCLA, Fresno State and East Carolina). If they find some offense themselves, this one could turn the Waves into tsunamis. -- Eric Sorenson
Watch out for: Notre Dame
Expectations are modest for Notre Dame coach Mik Aoki's first season. The Irish, who made the NCAAs nine times from 1995 to 2006 under coach Paul Mainieri, struggled when Dave Schrage took over. He was replaced after ND went 22-32 last season and 119-104-1 in his four years at the helm. Aoki, who in 2009 led Boston College to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 42 years, has said he can see his team winning 30-plus games this season -- modest goals, remember -- but added that the number could drop to 15 or so if the team suffers injuries. Notre Dame is 4-6 with much-improved pitching (3.00 ERA). The offense, however, has struggled (.242). In their six losses, the Irish have been held to two or fewer runs each time. -- Walter Villa
What we're reading
• Each week, Jeremy Mills highlights the weekend's biggest statistical storylines in our College Baseball Blog.
• UCLA ace Trevor Bauer has a shot at going in the first round, but not if he's overworked this season, writes Jason A. Churchill.
• Jeff Sackmann from CollegeSplits.com looked at the stats of some of the nation's most surprising teams.
• Oregon and Oregon State are taking the heat of the Civil War to the diamond, writes Insider's Jeff Bradley.
Capital One Cup
The Capital One Cup rewards the best Division I men's and women's programs in the country for their on-field performance throughout the year. For more information about the Cup, visit capitalonecup.com.