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October 27, 2008

Vanderbilt highlights Volunteer State

Many states have two popular schools and everyone else, and the state of Tennessee certainly isn't an exception to the rule.

While Tennessee is the most popular university in the Volunteer State, the baseball program actually sits second behind Tim Corbin's Vanderbilt Commodores.

The Commodores were the nation's top national seed entering the 2007 postseason and finished last season with an impressive 41-22 overall record. Tennessee, meanwhile, welcomed a new coach last season and finished with a 27-29 overall record.

Besides the Commodores and Volunteers, the state of Tennessee doesn't offer much when it comes to successful baseball programs.

We rank the state of Tennessee's baseball programs.

1. Vanderbilt

The Commodores might have trouble taking over the Volunteer State in other sports, but certainly have had little trouble accomplishing that goal in baseball the past few seasons. Vanderbilt finished last season with an overall record of 41-22 and another NCAA regional berth. They also earned the top national seed in '07 and finished the season with a 54-13 overall record. The Commodores finished the '06 campaign with a regional berth and an overall record of 38-27. Though VU has been unable to make a huge statement nationally, the program is the state's best.

2. Tennessee

The Volunteers reached the College World Series in '05 with an overall record of 46-21, but have since been a blip on the national radar. The Vols finished '06 with a 31-24 record and ended the '07 campaign with an overall record of 34-25. Hoping to get the tide turned in a more positive direction, the Vols decided to part ways with Rod Delmonico after '07 and hired Todd Raleigh. In Raleigh's first season ('08), he guided the Volunteers to an overall record of 27-29. Turning the Vols into an SEC title contender is a tough chore for Raleigh, but he certainly knows how to get it done.

3. Memphis

The Tigers had one of the most miraculous turnarounds in Division I baseball history a few seasons ago, but currently are trying to establish some consistency. The Tigers finished the '06 season with an overall record of 32-28 and took a giant step forward in '07 with a 36-27 overall record and an NCAA regional berth. In '08, the Tigers took a step back with a dismal overall record of 17-38. Coach Daron Schoenrock has brought toughness to the Memphis program, but consistency is the next order of business.

4. Austin Peay

Give coach Gary McClure some credit for making Austin Peay a team to be reckoned with in the Ohio Valley Conference. I vividly remember the Governors giving top-seeded Vanderbilt a scare as the four seed in the Nashville regional two seasons ago. The Governors finished the '07 season with an overall record of 40-22, but took a step back last season with a 27-29 record. With four OVC Coach of the Year awards under his belt, McClure hopes to guide the Governors the right direction again in '09.

5. Middle Tennessee State

The Blue Raiders experienced some success when they joined the Sun Belt in '01, but have been unable to experience success the past few seasons. The Raiders finished last season with an overall record of 27-29. They finished '07 with a 32-28 record and in a three-way tie for second place in the Sun Belt. Additionally, the Blue Raiders ended the '06 season with an overall record of 30-25. With a beautiful new ballpark recently constructed, perhaps MTSU will get back on track.

6. Lipscomb

Everyone remembers the Bison from last season. After winning the Atlantic Sun automatic berth, the Bison was sent to the Athens regional, where they surprised the nation by beating Georgia 10-7 in the Friday finale. The Bison was unable to win the regional but certainly made a statement. Lipscomb finished last season with an overall record of 33-30. It also finished the '07 season with a 28-30 record and '06 with a 22-32. Could last season's success be a glimpse of the future for the Bison?

7. Belmont

Belmont has become a household name in college basketball, but the same can't be said for the baseball program, which still is trying to find an identity in the Atlantic Sun. The Bruins finished last season with an overall record of 25-33. The also finished the '06 season with a 24-31 record, but had a respectable '07 campaign with an overall record of 34-26 record and a third-place conference finish. Can the Bruins follow the lead of crosstown rival Lipscomb and soon make some noise in the A-Sun?

8. Tennessee Tech

Are the Golden Eagles becoming a team to watch for in the Ohio Valley Conference? Recent trends certainly insinuate that. While the Golden Eagles still are trying to find an identity in the OVC, they've improved the last three seasons. The Eagles finished the '06 campaign with an overall record of 18-36. They finished the '07 season with an overall record of 26-28, but ended last season with a much-improved 35-23 mark. The Eagles hope to continue showing progress.

9. East Tennessee State

The Buccaneers know what it's like to compete in an improved Atlantic Sun. The Bucs finished last season with an overall record of 18-38. They also finished the '07 and '06 seasons with records of 26-29 and 31-27, respectively. Though the Bucs have failed to impress the last three seasons, coach Tony Skole knows what needs to happen for the program to finally turn the corner.

10. Tennessee-Martin

Martin is at the top of the list when it comes to programs that can't seem to find an identity. The Skyhawks finished last season with an overall record of 10-41. They also finished '07 and '06 with records of 19-36 and 20-35, respectively. It'll be interesting to see if the Seahawks can somehow become a player in the OVC.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.