Monday, January 17, 2011

In Just One Month...

Personally? I can't wait. February 18th can't get here fast enough. That Friday, at 6pm, officially begins the 2011 Auburn baseball season. (Well, for me it starts at 2pm so I can watch UAB vs UVA). So what can you expect from this year's Tigers? I'll do a full preview later, but for now here are the salient bullet points:

  • The Schedule is equal parts nasty and equal parts winnable.

The SEC West from top to bottom is in a complete rebuilding mode (even Auburn) and the majority of the SEC's talent and top teams will come from the East. Florida, Carolina, and Vanderbilt are all going to be early favorites for Omaha. That's where Auburn gets some help in the scheduling department with Arkansas, Alabama, and Vanderbilt all coming to Plainsman Park. That leaves two tough series (at LSU and at South Carolina) as the biggest road tests. The biggest blessing? Auburn avoids Florida on the schedule for the second straight year.

  • Pitching will be the difference in the SEC West.

That's what its going to come down to. At the start of the season, the SEC West Favorites will be pretty evenly split between Auburn/LSU/and Arkansas. The truth is that every SEC West Team will be facing some growing pains. Arkansas and LSU will return enough offensive weapons to make them competitive, but lost a ton of talent on the mound. Alabama will have a power outage with the loss of their big bats but only has one proven pitcher coming back. Ole Miss will have to complete rebuild their weekend rotation and Mississippi State it still one or two recruiting classes away from returning to the top. With every SEC West Team coming into the year with weekend rotation question marks, the team that can solidify a staff will stand out.

  • The NonConference Schedule will allow some Resume Wriggle Room

Arizona State, Virginia, Troy, Bethune Cookman, College of Charleston, Jacksonville State. Auburn's nonconference schedule is filled with teams that are Tournament Ready. It's going to make some for some fun games at Plainsman Park. It's also going to help the Resume come NCAA Tournament Selection Time.

  • Most Season Previews are going to say the same things, repeatedly.

How will Auburn replace Hunter Morris, Brian Fletcher, and Trent Mummey? How will the pitching replace Cole Nelson and Grant Dayton, etc etc. Basically Kendall Rogers summed it up in his early SEC Preview:

The Tigers’ season will hinge on their pitching staff. They finished last season with just a 5.00 ERA and must replace a pair of weekend starters in Cole Nelson and Grant Dayton, and top reliever Austin Hubbard. AU will be a favorite to compete for the SEC West title even without proven pitching. What could this team accomplish if the pitching staff comes through?

I don't really have an issue with this, but just an observation: Cole Nelson wasn't as critical to the teams success as we thought he was. Cole was solid, no doubt, but he ended up being up and down and a bit of a Roller Coaster. I'd say the emergence of two guys later in the season (Corey Luckie and Slade Smith) show that Auburn is set even better for 2011 and doesn't have as many questions as people think.

As for the other point. How do you replace Morris, Fletcher, and Mummey? Short answer is, "You Don't". You really don't need too. You saw signs of it last year when Auburn started manufacturing runs to win games. I would expect to see more of that, as Auburn shifts from a Power Offense to a Speed Offense. Hopefully, It will be a more balanced attack and with the changes to the metal bats, it will benefit Auburn.

  • My Early Predictions (that will probably be wrong)
    • SEC Tournament Teams (8): Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Kentucky.
    • SEC Champs: Florida
    • Regional Hosts: Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt

The Kentucky pick is a toss up. That 9th team is going to be a darkhorse whoever it is. I picked UK because the Cats have been so close that they have to get over the hump sooner or later.

Seriously, February 18th can't get here soon enough.

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