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2007 COLLEGE BASEBALL PREVIEW: SOUTHERN AND SUN BELT
January 17, 2007

SCS.com It's mid-January now, and that means it's time to begin looking ahead to the upcoming college baseball season. SCS.com begins the 2007 preview with an in-depth look into a pair of up-and-coming conferences. The Southern Conference favorite appears to be College of Charleston, a 2006 Super Regional participant, while Louisiana-Lafayette and South Alabama appear to have the early edge in the Sun Belt this spring. Both conferences have a number teams capable of making runs not only at NCAA bids, but runs once they get into the Tournament come late May.

SOUTHERN | SUN BELT

SOUTHERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW

The Favorites

The College of Charleston and the Phoenix of Elon will once again be the favorites in the Southern Conference in 2007. In 2006, the Phoenix and the Cougars combined to win 91 games against just 35 losses. The Cougars went into Lexington, Kentucky and won that Regional, advancing to the Super Regional. I expect to see the Cougars win the conference this spring, but Elon will be in the mix as well. The SOCON will put two - maybe three - teams in the NCAA tourney in 2007. The Cougars return a dominating pitching staff for this season and have plenty of offense to go with their outstanding arms. CofC will be going for their fourth straight conference title in 2007.

The Sleepers

The Paladins of Furman could be the third SOCON team to make the tourney this spring. They went 32-23 a year ago and were very close to being a good team. Western Carolina and Georgia Southern could contend, and will likely be above .500 teams in the conference. The Citadel will be in the mix also. The SOCON has become a very good baseball conference in recent years, and the emergence of these teams further solidifies the league.

The Rest

Appalachian State, Wofford, Davidson, and UNC-Greensboro struggled in 2006, and I see no reason for improvement in 2007. ASU had some young talent last year, but I donít think they will finish above .500. However, if they can win early and build confidence they could make some noise. The Mountaineers are still a year away.

The Preseason Standings Projection

1. College of Charleston
2. Elon
3. Furman
4. Western Carolina
5. Georgia Southern
6. The Citadel
7. Appalachian State
8. Wofford
9. UNC-Greensboro
10. Davidson

The All-Conference Team

C: Blake Murphy, Western Carolina
1B: Robert Rodenbaugh, Elon
2B: Chris Campbell, College of Charleston
3B: Adam Weaver, Elon
SS: Oliver Marmol, College of Charleston
OF: Steven Strausbaugh, Western Carolina
OF: Gregory Zage, Davidson
OF: Jay Jackson, Furman
DH: Ryan Addison, Elon
SP: Nick Chigges, College of Charleston
SP: Danny Meszaros, College of Charleston
SP: Timmy Martin, The Citadel
RP: Nick Hollstegge, Furman
RP: Jesse Lewter, Elon
Preseason Co-Players of the Year: Nick Chigges (College of Charleston) and Robert Rodebaugh (Elon)

With each passing year, the SOCON keeps getting better and better. This year the conference will be trying to put three teams in the NCAA after sending two last year. I think College of Charleston, Elon, and either Furman or Western Carolina will all make the Tournament. The SOCON has so many quality players, and each roster has transfers from the likes of Norte Dame, Clemson, and others. After the Cougars of Charleston went into SEC country and won a regional last spring, the conference has solidified itself as a formidable foe in the postseason.

SUN BELT CONFERENCE PREVIEW

The Favorites

UL-Lafayette and South Alabama appear to be the favorites in 2007, while defending conference champion Troy lost a number of key players but should be in the mix as well. I expect the Sun Belt to get 3 - maybe 4 - bids to the NCAA tourney. The key players for the Jags will third baseman David Doss and first baseman Jeff Cunningham. Doss was selected as Sun Belt Freshman of the year a year ago after hitting over .400 with 39 RBI. Cunningham was named a first team All-Sun Belt selection a year ago. Newcomers will anchor the Jags' pitching staff.

The Ragin Cajuns of ULL will have lefty Hunter Moody return. He went 12-2 in 2006 and won Sun Belt pitcher of the year. Catcher Jonathon Lucroy will also be an assest for the Cajuns. Coach Tony Robichaux enters his 13th season with the Cajuns. I think that UL-Lafayette will win the Sun Belt, but do not count out the Jaguars. South Alabama went 39-21 last year and was 16-7 in the league, while ULL went 39-20 and 19-5 in Sun Belt play.

The Ragin Cajuns should have a better pitching staff than the Jags, and that is why I see them winning the conference over the South Alabama. Hunter Moody was the Sun Belt Pitcher of the year in 2006 after posting outstanding numbers, and he returns as the early favorite for player of the year. Moody went 12-2 with an ERA of 2.63, and he also had 86 strike outs with only 39 walks. Danny Farquhar was a stud out of the bullpen with a 6-1 record and a 2.17 ERA. Buddy Glass will also help in the rotation, he was 8-3 in 2006.

The South Alabama pitching staff will be spearheaded by Joey Doan and Eric Gonzalez. They combined for a 11-6 record in 2006. They must step up and replace 21 wins by departed seniors. The untested pitching staff will be the unknown for this Jaguar team. If the pitching comes together this team can compete for the conference title.

The Sleepers

I don't know if you can classify the defending conference champs as sleepers, but they lost a lot of fire power. They will be good again in 2007, but I seriously doubt they can win 20 games again in conference play. Florida International will be solid. They appeared to be a player last season before a midseason collapse to finish at 12-12 in conference play. Coach Danny Price hopes not to revisit last years failure after so much early success. Middle Tennessee showed signs at the end of last season that they may be able to be a player this year. If I had to name a true sleeper, it would be the University of New Orleans. They were 30-28 overall and 12-12 in the Sun Belt. Bryan Cryer returns after going 7-1 with a 2.72 ERA in 17 starts. Also watch for Johnny Giavotella in the infield for the Privateers.

The Rest

The rest of the field consists of Arkansas-Little Rock, Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Western Kentucky, and Louisiana-Monroe. This group will make little or no impact on the confereence race. Arkansas State has an outside shot at being .500. That would be a big improvement for thier 22-30 (7-16) run last year. Josh Yates had a great year in 2006 with 13 HR and 62 RBi while hitting .376. He also started all 50 games for the Tribe. So if there is a team in the lower half to make a run, it might be ASU.

The Preseason Standings Projection

1. UL-Lafayette
2. South Alabama
3. Troy
4. New Orleans
5. Florida International
6. Middle Tennessee
7. Arkansas State
8. Florida Atlantic
9. Western Kentucky
10. UL-Monroe
11. Arkansas-Little Rock
Projected NCAA Tournament Teams: UL-Lafayette, South Alabama, Troy
NCAA Bubble Teams: New Orleans, Florida International

The All-Conference Team

C: Jonathon Lucroy, UL-Lafayette
1B: Josh Dew, Troy
2B: Johnny Giavotella, New Orleans
3B: David Doss, South Alabama
SS: Josh Yates, Arkansas State
OF: Ian Craze, Troy
OF: James McOwen, Florida International
OF: Ryan Gotcher, Arkansas-Little Rock
SP: Hunter Moody, UL-Lafayette
SP: Bryan Cryer, New Orleans
SP: Walker Whitley, Florida International
RP: Josh Dew, Troy
RP: Danny Farquhar, UL-Lafayette
Preseason Player of the Year: Hunter Moody, UL-Lafayette

The Sun Belt is emerging as one of the better mid-majors in college baseball. If the Sun Belt can get three bids to the NCAA, they will establish themselves further into being a threat in the NCAA tourney. The Sun Belt has always been strong at the top, but weak after a couple of teams; now they are building depth as a conference. They are now a legitmate conference with 3 to 5 good teams. If a team like New Orleans or maybe Arkansas State can step up, the Sun Belt will no longer be a footnote in college baseball.

U.S.A.
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