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October 15, 2007

Baseball Mailbag: The other challenger

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He'll be working all summer to get you ready for the fall and answer your questions every week in his College Baseball Mailbag.
September 24: Already looking ahead
October 1: Fall Storylines surface
October 9: That time again

With the return of several key contributors, Arizona State has earned many headlines this off-season. In-state rival Arizona hopes to shift the media attention its direction in 2008.

The Wildcats failed to reach the Super Regional round last season, but return several key components. Junior right-hander Preston Guilmet is one of the nation's premier arms, while third baseman Brad Glenn is a consistent hitter.

If Arizona fulfills its potential, an Omaha berth is expected.

In addition to the Wildcats, we also take an inside look at some of college baseball's "mid-major" conferences, while also focusing on the sport's television future. We conclude the mailbag with our thoughts on the coaching situation at UC Irvine.

Here's this week's national mailbag:

KENDALL'S MAILBAG

Copper State contenders

We've heard a lot about Arizona State. What are your thoughts on Arizona for the upcoming season?

-- Tim in Phoenix
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Arizona State and UCLA might be the preseason favorites to win the Pac-10, but Arizona also has the ability to compete for the national title.

The Wildcats are loaded in every facet.

After compiling dominant numbers last season, junior right-handed pitcher Preston Guilmet returns as the headliner. Fellow starter David Coulon is also back in the mix.

The bullpen is also in great shape.

Reliever Jason Stoffel is coming off an impressive freshman campaign, while Daniel Schlereth and Cory Burns hope to continue their successful ways.

The Wildcats are also excited about their offense.

Arizona must replace Bill Rhinehart, but welcomes back C.J. Ziegler, Colt Sedbrook, Brad Glenn, T.J. Steele, Diallo Fon, among others.

Ziegler, Sedbrook, Glenn and Steele each hit over .320 last season, while Fon batted an even .300 for the Wildcats.

When competing for national titles, balance is a major key.

Not only does Arizona have an impressive weekend rotation and a dominant bullpen, it also has an experienced lineup with a plethora of productive hitters.

It's still early, but the Wildcats are national contenders.

Giving others some love

Going deeper in the conference discussion, how would you rank the "mid-major" leagues such as the C-USA, Mo Valley, Big East, Mountain West and others?

-- Andy in Owensboro, Ky.
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In football, you have the Big Six conferences the Big 12, Big Ten, ACC, Pac-10, SEC and Big East.

In baseball, it's my belief the six major conferences are the Big 12, ACC, SEC, Pac-10, Big West and Conference USA.

Out of those conferences, I'd go with the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac-10, Big West and C-USA in that order.

What about everyone else?

Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette and Troy are consistent winners, while South Alabama has been a contender in the past. Florida Atlantic is another program that has the ability to take the next step. With many of these schools battling the big boys in the Southeastern part of the country, you have to give them credit.

West Coast Conference: The WCC needs someone to rise to the occasion in 2008. San Diego and Pepperdine are good candidates. San Francisco caught the nation's attention two seasons ago, while San Diego earned a national seed last season. Pepperdine is also a mainstay in the postseason, while Gonzaga appears to be rising. The WCC needs to improve, but the league could soon be in better shape.

Big Ten: Michigan caught the nation's attention with its heroics last season, but it wasn't the first hurrah for the conference. Minnesota has experienced a wealth of success, while Ohio State is always capable of putting together an impressive campaign. Of course, there's Michigan, a potential national title contender in 2008. In the rising category, Penn State and Iowa are moving upward.

Big East: With Louisville reaching the College World Series last season, the Big East has made another stride on the national stage. Though the Cardinals have the league's members feeling confident, there's still work to be done. Rutgers reached the NCAA Tournament last season and hopes to continue its winning ways. Meanwhile, St. John's is expected to field another talented team. Additionally, look for Notre Dame to return to winning, while South Florida is a program to watch.

Missouri Valley: The rest of the league could use some help, but you can't argue with what Wichita State and Creighton have accomplished. The Shockers are one of the nation's perennial powers, while Ed Servais has the Bluejays aiming for consistency. Evansville reached the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago, while Bradley and Southern Illinois each showed promise last season.

Big South: The bottom of the league is weak, but historically, you can't get much better than Coastal Carolina and Winthrop. The Chanticleers hosted an NCAA Regional in Myrtle Beach, S.C., last season, while the Eagles have shown consistency. Liberty is another team to watch in the near future with former South Carolina assistant Jim Toman leading the charge. Other teams need to improve, but Coastal Carolina finally gave the league something to be proud of last season.

Southern: Much like the Big South, the Southern Conference doesn't have much balance. However, the top of the league is strong with Western Carolina and College of Charleston leading the charge. The Catamounts must rebound from the loss of former coach Todd Raleigh, while the Cougars hope to rise to the occasion after failing to reach the NCAA Tournament last season. Furman has recently reached the postseason, while Wofford won the conference tournament in 2007. Appalachian State is a rising program, while Elon has shown the ability to make noise.

Lack of exposure

What's the situation with ESPN not televising many regular season games? Do you see the network covering more games in the near future?

-- Matthew in Bloomington, Ind.
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One of the best questions I've ever received. Congratulations Matthew.

With the season still four months away, many college baseball aficionados are curious; what will the television coverage be like in 2008?

If the many rumors are true, it won't be much better. Heck, it could be worse.

ESPN's college baseball coverage is a joke.

Sure, the network rises to the occasion in the Super Regional round and during the College World Series. But if ESPN wasn't there to broadcast games, another network would step up to the bar.

Though I respect ESPN's postseason coverage, their regular season coverage is a nightmare. Perhaps I'm blinded by the great sport of college baseball, but I'm seriously doubting people enjoy watching World Strongest Man competitions in addition to two-year-old poker games.

Then again, nothing screams sports like a strenuous poker game.

In all seriousness, something doesn't add up. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, ESPN did a great job of covering college baseball. Somehow, the desire to cover the sport faded throughout the 1990s and is now at an all-time low. At least that's the way I view the situation.

Like every television network, ESPN makes money off advertising. That means a program needs viewers. Some critics have stated that college baseball just doesn't draw ratings and viewers. Well, my rebuttal to that would be, what type of ratings do you expect to get when you only cover two weekends of the season?

Showing North Carolina A&T and Winthrop in a Tuesday game isn't going to get it done, sorry ESPN. Also, my apologies to those outstanding Winthrop fans out there.

College baseball is like every sport and television program it has a following. Would American Idol have an intense following and great ratings if it was shown just two weeks out of the year? Would the NFL be one of the most successful professional leagues if the Super Bowl was the only game ever televised.

The answer to each of those questions is a resounding no.

If ESPN made a strong commitment to college baseball by showing teams such as South Carolina, Texas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and others on a consistent basis, a following would be created and the sport would flourish.

In my four years of covering college baseball, I've seen an enormous rise in the number of fans interested in the sport.

Somehow, ESPN hasn't gotten that memo.

Anteaters still searching

With Mike Gillespie and Pat Shine being named coaches at UC Irvine last week, what's their situation with hiring a pitching coach?

-- Brian in Alameda, Calif.
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I think we're finally starting to see why Dave Serrano left UC Irvine for Cal State Fullerton, among other reasons.

In addition to the Titan tradition, Serrano listed athletic department stability as one of the chief reasons for his departure.

UC Irvine displayed instability during its coaching search.

Not only did the Anteater administration drag their feet at times, it also took some time to approve the contracts of new coaches Mike Gillespie and Pat Shine.

Perhaps the delay was just part of the contractual process, but how many schools take two weeks to approve a contract? Based on my experiences, UC Irvine is one of the few institutions to fall under that category.

Though the Gillespie coaching search was handled poorly, the Anteater administration has shown a commitment to baseball in other ways. Not only did they construct a state-of-the-art clubhouse, they've also hired three outstanding coaches John Savage, Dave Serrano and now Mike Gillespie.

Moving forward, the Anteaters must find a pitching coach.

The Eaters originally set their sights on Pepperdine assistant Sean Kenny, but he chose to stay put in beautiful Malibu, Calif. They were then rumored to target Fresno State's Ted Silva, but that rumor never materialized.

Strangely enough, the Eaters were then rumored to have offered the job to a scout in the region. He apparently turned them down.

So where should the Anteaters look now?

I'd go with Ted Silva. Sure, hiring a former Cal State Fullerton may not look so great with Serrano shunning the Eaters for the Titans. But a quick look at Silva's resume displays a plethora of credentials.

Silva played and coached at Cal State Fullerton, and he knows exactly what it takes to knock the Titans off their perch.

In my eyes, it's a win-win situation for the Eaters. However, Gillespie is a respectable coach and might have something else in mind. Stay tuned.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Mailbag, click here.