Originally Published: March 10, 2011

Season's biggest surprises

By Eric Sorenson
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:

Maryland
Record: 8-4
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

Purdue
Record: 9-2
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

Nebraska
Record: 8-4
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

Southeastern Louisiana
Record: 9-4
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

Texas State
Record: 9-3
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
Record: 11-3
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

Creighton
Record: 9-3
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

Troy
Record: 9-3
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
Record: 11-2
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
Record: 8-4
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

By Walter Villa
Special to ESPN.com

Brian Adams admits he sticks out on a baseball field.

[+] Enlarge
UK Athletics/David Coyle Now that he's fully recovered, Brian Adams has made a big impact for the Wildcats.

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

By Eric Sorenson
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

[+] Enlarge
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireCraig Manuel is one of two players in Rice's lineup hitting above .300.
It might be easy to say that this is the most intriguing nonconference matchup of the weekend, if not the entire season. The homestanding Tigers have played mostly tin cans up to this point. But they've also raised two big red flags along the way, one being the fact that Mikie Mahtook has already hit six home runs this season and the other being their 8-7 loss to Princeton on Sunday. Lack of focus? Maybe so. But one thing is for sure: The Bayou Bashers had better not drop their guard against the uber-talented Titans, who have experience and -- as witnessed by their trip to TCU -- aren't afraid to go into hostile territory and win.
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.

Eric Sorenson, who runs College Baseball Today, is a regular contributor to ESPN's college baseball coverage. Follow Eric on Twitter: @stitch_head

Follow ESPN.com's college sports coverage on Twitter and on Facebook.

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?