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Three More to Watch Out For

Publication Date: January 1, 2002

So, Who's Next?

About this time last year, I ran a column where I identified three teams who were likely to break out in 2001. I did this based not on any knowledge of returning players or new recruits, but based on their past history as teams who were consistently hanging around the #20-50 range in the ISR's or the polls -- teams that were consistently good but not great. Teams like that are close enough, and there's enough variation in who makes it to Omaha, that you can usually find one of them there each year.

Last year's teams were Nevada, Tulane, and Central Florida. Tulane was an obvious success, making their first trip to the CWS and spending much of the second half of the year hanging around the top 10. Their season is sufficient reason for me to be willing to try it again. Nevada turned out to have a bunch of freshmen in the lineup and struggled early -- I'd say they're not a bad guess for this year, but I won't repeat them. Central Florida had an acceptable year, but never really turned it up, either.

Three More for This Year

So, who should we watch for this year?

Cal State Northridge is an interesting choice. They don't exactly follow the pattern I've been describing, but there's a reason for that. In a move to de-emphasize athletics during the mid-'90's, the team was almost eliminated by the school administration. They lost their coach -- Bill Kernen, who resurfaces this year as North Carolina State's pitching coach -- and most of their players as they were told the program would be eliminated. However, they were given year-by-year reprieves, and eventually were allowed to assume that the program would survive. Although the ISR's wandered down below #100 in 1999 and 2000, last year they made it back up to #24, and I think that trend will continue this year.

South Alabama is the prototype breakthrough team. With the exception of an off year in 2000, their ISR's have always been between #25 and #40; before that, they were frequently ranked in the 20's or 30's in the polls. South Alabama's history in the '90's was a large case of what-if's; they were never the best team in their regional, but they were close enough on enough occasions that it's just plain bad luck that they haven't been to Omaha yet. It may not be this year, but sooner or later they'll get there.

Finally, a conference pick. The Southland Conference managed last year to be the #9 conference without actually having a consistently good team. There were several big non-conference wins, but they beat up on each other pretty badly. Overall, the league has had several quality teams over the last few years, so I'll take a representative from them as my third team. I'll take Louisiana-Monroe as the pick, because they've probably been the most consistently close over the years.

None of these are to be mistaken for specific predictions, of course. That's not a game I play all that often, for a number of reasons -- I hate dealing with the email from ticked-off fans of teams that I don't think will succeed; I dislike implying that I have future knowledge just because I've studied the past; I don't like the tendency we all have to root for teams just because we've predicted success for them, especially for someone like me who tries to stay impartial for the most part. Still and all, I think these are three to keep an eye on as you expand your radar a bit; they're all solid programs (I can imagine this column in 2075, as I'm down to only four remaining teams that I haven't chosen before and trying to pick out which one to leave out).

Baseball starts in about a week-and-a-half, sort of; time to get ready.

Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> Three More to Watch Out For About the author, Boyd Nation