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November 24, 2008

California highlights best baseball states

California, Texas and Florida are three of the nation's most populated states. Coincidentally, they also are the best three states for college baseball programs.

California leads the way.

The Golden State features Fresno State, last season's national champion. Cal State Fullerton and Stanford also are excellent programs in the state, while others such as San Diego, UC Riverside and UC Irvine recently have made statements.

Texas also has a wealth of programs with Rice, Texas and Texas A&M as the headliners, while Miami and Florida State obviously lead the charge in the Sunshine State.

Surprising to some are the states of North Carolina and South Carolina. North Carolina features UNC, N.C. State, East Carolina and Elon, while South Carolina despite its small population is filled with successful programs such as Coastal Carolina, South Carolina, Clemson and College of Charleston.

We take an inside look at the top-20 states for college baseball.

1. California

The state of California has so many good programs they're almost tough to keep up with. USC obviously is one of the nation's most historic programs, but Cal State Fullerton has been the cream of the crop the last 10 seasons. There also are programs such as San Diego and Fresno State that recently have made noise. Observers have their own opinions on the matter, but I feel the best baseball is played in the Golden State. It also has the toughest postseason regionals.

2. Texas

Texas is home to several good programs. UT has won six national titles and is looking to return to Omaha this spring, while Rice currently is the state's best program and won the 2003 national title. Texas A&M is a rising power in the Lone Star State while Baylor, TCU and Houston also are solid programs. While the state of Texas doesn't have as many good programs as California, it certainly isn't far behind. The state should have three national title contenders this spring, including Rice, Texas A&M and Texas.

3. Florida

When it comes to traditional powers, it doesn't get much better than Miami and Florida State. The Hurricanes have taken care of business in Omaha on several occasions, while the Seminoles continue to rack up impressive overall records each season. Florida also is a program on the rise, and will compete for the SEC crown this spring. The Gators also played Texas for the '05 national title. Outside of UM, FSU and UF, UCF is a program to watch in the future. Also keep an eye on Stetson and Bethune-Cookman, which really have done a nice job despite being overshadowed by bigger in-state foes.

4. North Carolina

The state of North Carolina really has come a long way the past few seasons. North Carolina obviously leads the state with three-consecutive College World Series appearances, while N.C. State is second behind the Tar Heels after making a super regional last season. East Carolina also is a consistent postseason contender, while Elon has done a great job considering the competition in the area. Much credit also goes to UNC Wilmington and Charlotte, which have become notable programs the past few seasons.

5. South Carolina

Considering the population of the state of South Carolina, the number of good programs in the region is astounding. South Carolina and Clemson obviously lead the Palmetto State as consistent postseason contenders, while Coastal Carolina recently has become a national power. There also are programs such as Winthrop and College of Charleston, which also recently have been postseason contenders. South Carolina is a step behind North Carolina, but the small difference is impressive considering the population difference between the states.

6. Louisiana

The state of Louisiana's baseball programs are on the upswing. LSU is the state's traditional power and returned to Omaha last season, but Louisiana-Lafayette also has appeared in the CWS this decade. Rick Jones also had done a nice job as coach at Tulane, while rising coach Tom Walter is doing a phenomenal job at turning New Orleans into a consistent postseason contender. There also are programs such as Louisiana-Monroe, Northwestern State and Louisiana Tech that occasionally make a statement on the national stage.

7. Mississippi

The state of Mississippi doesn't have many programs, but the ones they do have certainly have made statements the past few seasons. After reaching another NCAA regional last season, Ole Miss is the state's best program. Mississippi State, meanwhile, reached the CWS two seasons ago but took a step back last season. It hopes to turn the tide with new coach John Cohen now in charge. Southern Miss also deserves a wealth of credit. Without the name of an institution like Ole Miss or State, coach Corky Palmer continues to do a great job of making the Golden Eagles a consistent postseason contender.

8. Oklahoma

As with Mississippi, the state of Oklahoma doesn't have many programs, but certainly has some star power. Oklahoma State is the traditional power in the state continues to be a consistent postseason contender. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is the last program in the state to win the national title. The Sooners also are consistently in an NCAA regional each season. Then there's Oral Roberts, which has done a great job of becoming a national player the past few seasons. OSU and OU are doing well with unlimited resources, while ORU is getting it done despite being overshadowed in the Sooner State.

9. Alabama

The state of Alabama recently has declined, but appears to be moving forward with the University of Alabama in great shape for the upcoming season and Auburn excited about its newest coach, former College of Charleston coach John Pawlowski. Outside of UA, Troy has been a consistent postseason contender while South Alabama hopes to make a strong return following its recent lapse. It's also important to remember Jacksonville State and UAB. JSU almost made an NCAA regional last season, while UAB soon hopes to turn the corner with coach Brian Shoop guiding the way.

10. Arizona

The state of Arizona only has two Division I programs, but they're certainly good ones. Arizona State is one of the nation's perennial powers, while Arizona is not far behind with its rich history. Though other states have more star power because of how many programs are in the region, the state of Arizona relies on two of the nation's best programs to carry the torch each postseason.

The Next 10 ...

11. Virginia
12. Georgia
13. Kentucky
14. Michigan
15. Kansas
16. Ohio
17. Washington
18. Tennessee
19. Indiana
20. Missouri

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