If expectations for next season hold true, Texas and Texas A&M will battle for the Big 12 title, and possibly the national title.
Despite losing outfielders Jordan Danks and Kyle Russell to the MLB Draft, Texas should be an improved team. The Aggies, meanwhile, received a big boost when pitcher Alex Wilson decided to return to college this fall.
In our fourth offseason mailbag, we take an inside look at Texas and Texas A&M, LSU, Auburn, Tennessee and Pacific's fragile situation.
After once again failing to get a team to Omaha this past season, which teams from the Big 12 have the best chance to reach the CWS in 2009?
— Johnathan in Houston
Barring somewhat of a surprise, the 2009 Big 12 title race will be between heated rivals Texas and Texas A&M.
The Longhorns once again failed to get past the Regional round this past season, but have a very talented and experienced team returning to campus this fall. The Aggies, meanwhile, will have an excellent weekend rotation.
To be more specific, I think Texas sophomore pitcher Brandon Workman will be much improved next season, while Michael Torres, Brandon Belt and Cameron Rupp will spearhead a good offensive lineup.
For the Aggies, Alex Wilson, Barret Loux and Brooks Raley will make up a very good weekend rotation, while relievers Kyle Thebeau and Travis Starling are coming off impressive 2008 campaigns.
While the Aggies and Longhorns lead the charge in the Big 12, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Missouri may also compete for the crown.
Between the Longhorns and Aggies, at least one of those teams will be in 2009 College World Series. You can mark that down.
After year one of the Raleigh era, how do you think Tennessee will do next season?
– James in Knoxville, Tenn.
When Tennessee beat Texas early in the 2008 season, the Volunteers appeared to be a potential surprise team in the SEC. The Vols eventually finished the season with an overall record of 27-29.
Though the Vols were unable to finish Todd Raleigh's first season on a high note, the future appears to be bright.
The Vols have an excellent outfielder with sophomore Kentrail Davis, while pitchers Bryan Morgado and Nick Hernandez have the attributes to be dominant weekend starters.
The Vols, like most teams, have some important holes to fill in 2009. However, I definitely see this team improving its overall record.
Will Tennessee be a postseason team? That may be stretching it.
Tigers fight back
Is Auburn ever going to see its way back to being a very good program under new coach John Pawlowski?
– Byron in Madison, Ala.
The SEC is a tough league to build a perennial power in, but Pawlowski isn't exactly starting from scratch.
Though Tom Slater was a failure at Auburn, he was an excellent recruiter, and has given Pawlowski an excellent base of talent to choose from.
I was also impressed with what Pawlowski accomplished at College of Charleston. There's no doubt the Cougars were snubbed from the Regionals the past two seasons. But even with South Carolina and Clemson down the highway, Pawlowski managed to guide the program to a Super Regional.
In his first season as coach, Pawlowski will have three excellent hitters in Hunter Morris, Joseph Sanders and Brian Fletcher at his disposal. Left-handed pitcher Grant Dayton has the attributes to be a dominant ace.
While Auburn will have talent in Pawlowski's first year, it takes time to build a consistent winner. But if there's a coach that can do it, it's Pawlowski.
Auburn has a national name, a wonderful facility and the talent to succeed. Now they have a coach that can take them to an elite level.
LSU still desirable
How could you not include LSU on your list of easiest places to recruit along with Texas, Miami, USC and Arizona State?
– Donnie in Maurepas, La.
I certainly didn't realize it was a sign of disrespect to not list LSU as one of the nation's five easiest places to recruit.
Let's be honest here, LSU has a historic baseball program and I absolutely love the passion Tigers fans display. However, Baton Rouge is not exactly as desirable of a place to live when compared to our top five.
For starters, Texas resides in one of the nation's highest-ranked cities, Miami is, well, Miami, USC is nationally a popular school and has the whole Los Angeles mystic in its favor. Then there's Arizona State, which is located in an area that has over 330 days of sun a year.
Let's also remember that LSU is third or fourth fiddle to most high school players coming out of the state of Texas. Very seldom will you see a player in Texas choose to play baseball at LSU over Texas, Texas A&M and Rice, among others. It's the same as if a Texas school tried to go into Louisiana and land some of the state's best players.
LSU is a great program and southern Louisiana is culturally rich, but there's a reason coach Paul Mainieri isn't invading Texas or surrounding states.
I'd list LSU as one of the top ten easiest places to recruit, but top five is going a little too far.
Setbacks at Pacific
Why do you think Pacific coach Ed Sprague let assistants Steve Pearse and Jim Yanko go?
– Phil in Stockton, Calif. -----
For the first time in awhile, Pacific is in the news. However, it's not exactly a positive development.
The Tigers let go assistants Steve Pearse and Jim Yanko this summer, which shows signs of major instability.
Perhaps more than anything, I'm trying to figure out how Pearse and Yanko were the fall guys this summer. It's not like coach Ed Sprague has done a great job in his five seasons at Pacific.
Let's look at what Sprague has accomplished: In his five seasons, Sprague has guided the Tigers to finishes of 20-34, 30-28, 30-25, 16-43 and recently a last-place finish in the Big West with an overall record of 14-41.
By the looks of this situation, it seems that Sprague might've been forced to release Pearse and Yanko. However, I find it very interesting that Pearse apparently wasn't good enough for Pacific, but found his way on to a solid coaching staff at UCLA.
If I were a betting man, I'd say Sprague has a year to get the program's act together. Two winnings seasons in five years is bad.