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January 24, 2007

Beavers highlight the storylines

When the 2007 season begins Thursday night with Oregon State and Hawaii-Hilo doing battle on the islands, a new chapter in college baseball's history book will officially start.

It seems like yesterday that Oregon State hoisted the National Championship trophy above its head in Omaha. But like Beavers head coach Pat Casey said, it's a new year and a new team.

Like Oregon State, traditional power LSU enters the season with high hopes. The excitement stems from the addition of head cocah Paul Mainieri.

Mainieri was highly successful at Notre Dame. The Tigers just hope his past success translates into championships in Baton Rouge.

While LSU aspires for more, its neighbor to the south Tulane is ready to return to its home field of Turchin Stadium.

Other intriguing storylines have also surfaced this spring.

Expectations have never been higher at Virginia and Vanderbilt, while the race for the Big 12 title is wide open.

Texas and Oklahoma State lead the Big 12 charge, while Nebraska, Baylor, Texas Tech and others are within striking distance.

These questions and more currently intrigue our minds. But when the page is turned on the 2007 season, which story will be remembered most?

Top 5 Storylines
Oregon State's rise up the college baseball charts
Oregon State was the story of the year in 2006. But as the Beavers get ready to start the season on Thursday, they have assumed a different role. The Beavers are without weekend starters Dallas Buck and Jonah Nickerson and reliever Kevin Gunderson. OSU must also replace several key hitters, including Shea McFeely and Bill Rowe. While head coach Pat Casey realizes there are holes to fill, he remains optimistic about his team's chances this season. The Beavers expect weekend starters Mike Stutes and Danny Turpen to elevate their play, while Eddie Kunz is a headliner out of the pen. Newcomers Jorge Reyes and Blake Keitzman will also get significant innings on the mound. While the pitching staff's situation is becoming clearer, the offense is still in limbo with veterans Darwin Barney and Mitch Canham leading the way. LSU transfer Jason Ogata should factor into the equation, while Drew George and Jordan Lennerton are two to watch. For those expecting a massive letdown, you'll likely be disappointed.
The Paul Mainieri era beginning at LSU
When attending a game at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., one quick glance at the right field billboard listing all of LSU's national titles is enough to get anyone excited about college baseball. So, when the Tigers went on the road to find a new coach this past summer, they wanted someone with an impressive track record. At the end, Notre Dame's Paul Mainieri was the man. Mainieri doesn't have a national title to his name, but what he does bring to the table is a history of success at an unlikely place. As Mainieri and the Tigers move forward, a few questions are present. However, they're in much better shape than people might think. LSU welcomes back experienced pitchers Clay Dirks and Louis Coleman. But that duo hasn't made the most noise. That honor goes to newcomers Jared Bradford and Charlie Furbush. With a much improved pitching staff and talented lineup, the Tigers could have a June vacation sooner than previously thought. Of course, that's what LSU had in mind when they hired Mainieri.
The expectations of Virginia and Vanderbilt
If there are two teams that will garner more attention than Vanderbilt or Virginia this season, color me surprised. As the season draws closer, the Commodores and Cavaliers are two of the nation's hottest names. It's for good reason, too. Virginia enters the season with one of the nation's most impressive weekend rotations. Two-way star Sean Doolittle is a perfect front-line starter, while sophomore Jacob Thompson blossomed during his freshman campaign in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers also return a talented lineup led by outfielder Brandon Marsh. Like Virginia, the Commodores have a stellar front-line starter in junior left-hander David Price. The Dores also welcome back sophomore third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who dazzled observers during his freshman campaign. Virginia is a team that needs to produce results this season, while Vanderbilt is close to being in the same boat. Either way, one of these two teams needs to make a push toward the top.
Tulane's return to Turchin Stadium
When Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans, the Tulane baseball team was displaced to Lubbock, Texas. From there, the Green Wave returned to the Big Easy in the spring, but was unable to play at their home field Turchin Stadium. Turchin was submerged during Hurricane Katrina. And as a result, it has undergone massive renovations to the tune of $7.5 million. The renovations include a new playing surface, club seating, additional chair-back seats, a new press box and many other amenities that fans, players and coaches alike will enjoy. The Green Wave is tentatively scheduled to reopen Turchin's gates for a March 27th midweek bout with in-state rival Nicholls State. The first weekend series comes later that week, as Tulane welcomes East Carolina to the Crescent City. The upcoming season will hold a special place in the hearts of those associated with Tulane and New Orleans. If the Green Wave make it to Omaha, it would be a huge lift to an area that needs more positive press.
The Big 12's wide open race
With each year that passes, parity is becoming more noticeable in college baseball. Just ask the 10 teams competing in the Big 12. Perennial power Texas enters the season as the league favorite, but even the Longhorns have little room to breathe. The next team in line is Oklahoma State, which returns arguably the nation's top lineup with Tyler Mach, Corey Brown and Keanon Simon leading the way. After the Longhorns and Cowboys, the conference remains a close race with Nebraska, Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas Tech within striking distance. Even Texas A&M and Missouri are capable of making some noise during league play. But when the dust settles on the regular season, it will likely be the Longhorns, Cowboys and Huskers battling for the top spot. In what many believe to be a down year in the Big 12, the conference as a whole is probably in better shape than it has ever been. Will the Longhorns, Cowboys and Huskers please the prognosticators at the end of the year? It's likely but still uncertain.