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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

1:15 p.m.Kendall's Daily Take: Tuesday, November 4

In our latest feature, we took an inside look at college baseball's best conferences.

There have been times in the past when I criticized the SEC for its lack of postseason success, but with Georgia advancing to the CWS championship series last season, that talk can rest for now. Also, I don't think you'll find many people arguing against the SEC at least being the the nation's most balanced conference.

I really think the top of the ACC is outstanding, but the bottom of the league leaves something to be desired. The Big 12, however, is a conference that's in trouble right now. Outside of Texas and Texas A&M, there's not a team in the league I expect to have a great chance to advance to the College World Series in '09.

Also of note, I really like the Pac-10. Sure, the bottom of the league leaves something to be desired, but Washington State was much better than its record last season indicated. The Pac-10 probably will not have an elite team this spring, but certainly will have several good teams.

Conferences almost making our list include the Missouri Valley and Colonial Athletic Association.

The Missouri Valley is improving and Wichita State and Creighton have been solid programs the past few seasons. Missouri State also made a CWS appearance a few seasons ago, and is coming off a more than respectable '08 campaign. UNC Wilmington, meanwhile, leads the CAA.

Overall, it's going to be interesting to see how the power shifts in the near future. I think the Pac-10 really is gaining a lot of ground, but does it have the horses from top-to-bottom to overtake the SEC in the conference hierarchy? I think there's a strong chance it'll happen.
Monday, November 03, 2008

12:34 p.m.Kendall's Daily Take: Monday, November 3

Our coverage the past week has had a little West Coast flavor. In my latest feature, I took an inside look at Cal State Fullerton and what's happening in the Big West Conference.

While Fullerton promises to have another good spring campaign, the conference as a whole really has impressed me the past few seasons.

Let's face it, there was a time when it was pretty much Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State, and then everyone else. That certainly is no longer the case.

Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State continue to win at a high level, but other programs also are competing for the conference crown and for a chance to reach the College World Series.

UC Irvine made a bold statement two seasons ago with a trip to Omaha, and was in the driver's seat against LSU last season before the Tigers turned the Super regional around. UC Davis also competed hard in the Palo Alto regional.

Then there are programs such as UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara.

Riverside recently won a Big West conference title and really came on strong last season despite an incredibly slow start. UCSB, meanwhile, probably should have been in a regional last season but was snubbed. The Gauchos should have another good team in 2009.

Overall, the Big West is not full of schools with premier facilities, but each school's administrators seem to be focused on creating winners on the baseball diamond. The conference also is littered with many great coaches.

For that and more, I give the Big West a tip of my cap for being arguably the most improved conference the past few seasons.
Thursday, October 30, 2008

5:57 p.m.Kendall's Daily Take: Thursday, October 30

In a feature we released earlier today, I took an inside look at how Arizona State's fall workouts were proceeding.

Well, workouts are going about the way I figured they would. The Sun Devils are going to have an incredibly difficult time replacing Brett Wallace, Ike Davis, Petey Paramore and others, but make no mistake about it, they have plenty of talent to make a run at another conference title in '09.

Despite Arizona State's key departures, I still see this team in the top 20, maybe in the 20-25 range.

I'm a strong believer that junior right-handed pitcher Mike Leake will be a dominant staff ace this spring. I also believe Jason Franzblau and Seth Blair will be a little better than people think, while Leake told me Wednesday afternoon that he was very impressed with junior transfer Josh Spence, who's a talented lefty. Also, don't forget about freshman Jordan Swagerty, who likely will factor into the equation both in the field and on the mound.

Offensively, the Sun Devils have a plethora of holes to fill. But honestly, when is the last time anyone has worried about an ASU offense? It probably won't be this year as well. Having veteran outfielder Jason Kipnis back in the mix is huge for the Sun Devils.

Overall, I think this is a team that will start the season a little slow, but will pick up steam as they gain more experience.

The Sun Devils aren't going anywhere this spring. They'll still be a conference title contender.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008

12:03 p.m.Kendall's Daily Take: Wednesday, October 29

Given the fact there are so many great college baseball stadiums, it's always difficult to rank ballparks.

Two teams not on our list, South Carolina and LSU, surely will be on the list when their respective stadiums are finished in the coming months.

While we took an inside look at the best stadiums in our latest feature, here's a list of five colleges with tremendous atmospheres.

* Florida State: There's really nothing negative to say about Seminoles fans. FSU fans pack Dick Howser Stadium for big series and the atmosphere generally is unmatched anywhere else. The Animals of Section B also put on a great display, and are some of the most loyal fans you'll find. Animals zookeeper, as they call him, Drew Hankin knows how to take care of visitors to Tallahassee.

* Texas A&M: Attendance in Aggieland has declined a bit the past two seasons, likely because of ticket prices, but A&M is one of the best places to watch a college baseball game. From the pitch-by-pitch heckling traditions to the raucous atmosphere for big series, very few places measure up to the fans in College Station.

* LSU: You haven't lived until you attend a football or baseball game in Baton Rouge. While Tigers fans can be a little wild, that's part of their nature and it's something you must embrace. From the phenomenal cuisine in the parking lot to the insane atmosphere inside, LSU is as good as it gets in college baseball. Bar none one of my top three places to attend a sporting event.

* Ole Miss: While Mississippi State can pack the house and have a raucous atmosphere for a postseason event, Ole Miss seems to rock it out for every weekend conference series. Crazy college students often line the grassy areas down the two foul lines and in the outfield, sparking what I call a frenzy in the stadium. Ole Miss definitely is on my to-do list for this season.

* Arkansas: Is there anything the Razorbacks don't support? From incredible fan support in other lesser known sports to college baseball, Razorbacks love their athletics. That attitude certainly spills out at Baum Stadium, where chants of "Woo Pig Sooie" are common. Razorbacks fans also know when to turn up the noise in crucial situations. As with Ole Miss, Arkansas is on my to-do list this season.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

11:45 a.m.Kendall's Daily Take: Tuesday, October 28

We continued our state programs rankings Monday with an inside look at the state of Tennessee.

Unlike southern counterparts North Carolina and South Carolina, the state of Tennessee is relatively weak in the college baseball department.

Vanderbilt has made strides the past few seasons, but still is looking for that important trip to the College World Series. Tennessee, meanwhile, has a few CWS appearances, but now that seems like ancient history.

After the Commodores and Volunteers it gets pretty ugly. Memphis had a good 2007 campaign, but was bad again last year. Austin Peay also had a down '08 campaign, while Middle Tennessee hopes a new ballpark will once again get the program headed the right direction.

Lipscomb, which has a nice but small facility, is another program to watch after what it accomplished in the Athens regional last season. But can the Bison compete at the same level as programs such as Vandy and Tennessee? That certainly is more unlikely than likely.

Overall, I believe Vanderbilt eventually will get to Omaha. I also believe Todd Raleigh will get it turned around at Tennessee with his hard-nosed approach that is sitting well with folks in Knoxville.

It'll be interesting to see if the state of Tennessee can improve in the near future.

Monday, October 27, 2008

2:33 p.m.Kendall's Daily Take: Monday, October 27

In our latest feature, we took an inside look at Louisville and the return of power hitting third baseman Chris Dominguez.

I have to say that Louisville is one of the great stories in college baseball.

When Dan McDonnell took over the Cardinals, the program had experienced very little success on the national stage in its history. McDonnell certainly has changed the attitude and perception.

Two seasons ago the Cardinals surprised many by making their first trip to the College World Series. UL started slow last season but really rose to the occasion at the end of the season, and was narrowly ousted from the postseason by Georgia, who eventually played for the national title.

With the NCAA regional loss to Georgia now a distant memory, the Cardinals are focused on the task at hand for the '09 season, another trip to the College World Series.

Though the season still is a few months away, the Cards could have their best team in the McDonnell era in '09.

The Cards will have a talented and more experienced offensive lineup and they welcome back veteran left-handed pitcher Justin Marks, who has the ability to be dominant.

While the Cards consider themselves a southern program, I believe they're showing what it takes to win in college baseball as a northern team.
Friday, October 24, 2008

4:40 p.m.Kendall's Daily Take: Friday, October 24

When Alabama coach Jim Wells decided to retire for just under a week over a year ago, many people were left wondering why it happened in the first place.

Though Wells is the only person that can tell the truth about the incident, there probably were various reasons why he decided to retire.

Wells cited personal reasons, so let's go with that. Also, it has come to my knowledge in the past that Alabama administrators aren't exactly throwing money at the baseball program, while football coach Nick Saban probably would get a gold-plated bathroom sink if he asked for one.

If Alabama soon announces stadium renovations, you probably know what happened.

Anyway, I think Wells made the right decision to return to college baseball. He's not old and he obviously still is able to recruit. Sure, the Crimson Tide has had some off years during his tenure, but postseason appearances are the norm.

Now the Crimson Tide is in great shape as the offense promises to be strong this spring and the pitching staff could be good with more experience.

Though Wells is a guy that doesn't dwell on the past, I think he'd agree that he made the right decision to return to coaching.

I also believe that in the end, Alabama, too, will be happy with that decision.
Thursday, October 23, 2008

4:03 p.m.Kendall's Daily Take: Thursday, October 23

We've discussed various NCAA proposals the past few months, and it'll be interesting to see what happens in a few weeks when many Division I head coaches meet in Indianapolis.

I've spoken with many coaches lately that claim they're going to take a more proactive approach with the new proposed legislation, meaning they want to make sure some things don't get passed.

My take is that it's about time the coaches got involved.

I was fortunate enough to travel to the ABCA convention last winter in Philadelphia, and also will be in San Diego for the convention in January. And I found it interesting that only Clemson's Jack Leggett and South Carolina's Ray Tanner were vocal about some legislation.

I really have no problem with coaches choosing to take a calmer approach with the legislation, but if you want to approach it that way, you can't be vocal when things get passed.

With the latest round of proposals, I think many coaches are starting to figure out that some rules are worth standing up against. And honestly, this is a great development for college baseball, the coaches and of course the most important people, the players.

With the coaches finally more involved in the legislation debate process, it'll be interesting to see if we can get a few new proposals either not passed or amended in some way.

Kudos to the college baseball coaches for finally standing up for the sport.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008

1:34 p.m.Thought of the Day: Wednesday, October 22

With the World Series starting tonight, much of my attention the past few days has been on the former recent college players that are making a huge impact for the Tampa Bay Rays.

That leads me to my next small discussion: Which current big leaguers were the most impressive college players, at least in my eyes.

First, the best player I've ever seen in college baseball in person without a doubt is former Washington pitcher and current San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum. I saw Lincecum pitch in a tournament at Texas A&M a few years ago, and his off-speed stuff was just incredible. His unorthodox pitching motion was also something to see.

Second, though very recent, I also have to put former Vanderbilt pitcher David Price on my list. Obviously I saw him pitch a few times when I wasn't on the road two seasons ago, but Price just knew how to approach every hitter. What people may not realize is that Price has come a long way. At one point early in his college career, Price was rather erratic. He obviously turned that around and become an amazing pitcher as a junior for the Commodores.

Third, in terms of hitters, I would have to give the nod to former Rice star and current Houston Astros infielder Lance Berkman. Berkman was an absolute stud hitter in college and I can still remember him causing many headaches for opposing pitchers and coaches. He also was part of the Rice teams that essentially got that program on the stage as one of the nation's elite.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

12:23 p.m.Thought of the Day: Tuesday, October 21

The prevalence of many former Division I players in this year's World Series has reopened the debate about whether it's smarter to go pro out of high school or attend college for three years.

I don't think everyone will ever come to a consensus on the issue, but it's interesting to me that both Tampa Bay and Philadelphia's rosters are filled with former big-time college players.

Of course, the rosters also include B.J. Upton and Scott Kazmir, who didn't attend college.

Obviously I think it benefits players, unless you're offered a crazy amount of money, to attend college instead of signing out of high school.

Here's why:

When it comes to succeeding on the biggest stages in baseball, the players that do so usually are mature, concentrated and composed in crucial situations. Some guys a year out of high school may be able to deal with that situation. Many guys out of college, however, would have little trouble dealing with that situation.

While high school is a beneficial time in a person's life, college is the perfect opportunity to go to class and earn a degree, while also maturing and having a chance to make the College World Series and compete for the national.

People have their opinions, and they're certainly to be respected, but I think the ability of guys like Evan Longoria and David Price to make a huge impact just a year out of college says something about their development in college baseball.