Jun 25, 2013; Omaha, NE, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs players pose with the second place trophy after game 2 of the College World Series finals against the UCLA Bruins at TD Ameritrade Park. UCLA defeated Mississippi State 8-0. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
We were so close last year to winning the National Championship, why shouldn’t we win it this year?
To be honest, the logic is pretty sound considering what Mississippi State has returning to Starkville in 2014. So why shouldn’t we win it? Well, it isn’t easy as we all learned last year. There are 298 teams in Division 1 baseball, and only one of those teams gets to hoist the National Championship Trophy.
The biggest obstacle that Mississippi State will face in getting their first National Championship in any sport is going to be our own conference. Eight teams of the Preseason Top 30 according to Collegiate Baseball come from the SEC. Five of those eight are in the SEC West. The only two that aren’t in the poll are Arkansas and Auburn, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Arkansas make their way into that poll pretty quickly as well. The SEC is so loaded every year in baseball every year that it sometimes beats itself up. The conference can normally secure at least one or two national seeds, but getting more than that is often difficult simply because there is so much depth in the conference. You obviously don’t have to win your conference to win the National Championship, but having a good conference season certainly helps.
Another obstacle that is such an unknown is injuries. This is especially true of the pitching staff. Mississippi State’s season almost got derailed early last year because two of the pitchers that we were counting on were limited in both their effectiveness and their contributions. That would be Jacob Lindgren and Brandon Woodruff. Instead of using it as an excuse John Cohen and Butch Thompson did what almost no other coaching staff would do and built the strength of the pitching staff from the bullpen. It was an unorthodox manner to say the least, but it worked. If we start to run into injuries, will the coaching staff be able to pull another rabbit out of their hat? Let’s hope that we don’t have to find out.
One of the things that will help Mississippi State this year is the schedule. When the league expanded to 14 teams, it meant that baseball teams would only play 4 teams from the opposite division as opposed to the five that it had been. We will not be playing South Carolina, Florida, or Kentucky. South Carolina and Florida should be solid ball clubs, so that’s a relief. Vanderbilt will challenge to be the best team in the East, but we at least get them in Starkville this year. Mississippi State would love nothing more than to wrap up one of those national seeds in the NCAA Tournament. To do so, I think they need to win around 20 games in conference play, and get as close to 40 wins as possible in the regular season. For every victory they fall short of that, it will make performing well in the SEC Tournament (or possibly winning it) that much more important.
Speaking of the SEC Tournament, if Mississippi State has a spectacular regular season, they simply need to have a good, but not necessarily great showing in the SEC Tournament. Winning two or three games might be all that they would need to do to lock up one of those national seeds. It would be nice to win, but I don’t want to derail a possible National Championship run because we taxed our pitching staff trying to win the conference tournament. That’s always a delicate balance that isn’t easy to manage sometimes.
This one is the toughest to call, simply because it is such a daunting feat. It will be a completely different role for Mississippi State fans. There is a lot of talk surrounding the football team as being a “dark horse” contender in 2014. Make no mistake about it, Mississippi State is no dark horse in baseball this year. Most publications are picking Mississippi State to win the West (even if the coaches picked us to finish second, although slightly so) and SEC. When analysts who follow college baseball are asked about the favorites for winning the College World Series, most will choose Cal State Fullerton as the favorite, but the Bulldogs are often listed right along with them. Expectations aren’t just high for the 2014 Bulldogs, they are astronomical. Some Bulldog fans will feel like Alabama does in football, anything less than a national tile will be viewed as a disappointment. Whether that is right or not is a time for a different discussion. So is it fact or fiction? Being the eternal optimist that I am, I’m going to say fact. Even if I am wrong, I think we are in store for a great season. It all starts this afternoon at 4:oo at Dudy Noble Field. Buckle in everyone, we are going to be in for one wild ride!