Five things to know about the 2014 Division I college baseball season
Here are five things to know about the NCAA Division I college baseball season:
RISE OF THE ACC: The Atlantic Coast Conference hasn't won a national championship in baseball since 1955, but the league is loaded with potential contenders this season. Virginia is ranked No. 1 in the country by Baseball America and returns most of its lineup. North Carolina State has arguably the best pitcher in the country in junior left-hander Carlos Rodon, who had a 10-3 record last season with a 2.99 ERA and 184 strikeouts in 132 innings. Florida State returns experienced starting pitchers Brandon Leibrandt and Luke Weaver. And don't forget the Seminoles' closer -- two-sport star Jameis Winston.
DEAD BALL ERA COMES TO AN END: The NCAA's new standard for metal bats -- implemented before the 2011 season -- has produced seismic change across college baseball, with home runs and scoring dropping drastically. But the self-inflicted Dead Ball Era is likely coming to an end. The NCAA has approved a new flat-seam ball for the 2015 season, which is expected to increase offense. Until then, it looks like pitching, speed and defense will dominate at least one more season.
A BIG 10 THREAT: It's not often that a team from the Big 10 has a legitimate shot at the national title, but Indiana is an exception. The Hoosiers made it to the College World Series last season and are expected to be very good again. Indiana's lineup should have as much power as anyone in the country with Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis returning. The two combined for 28 homers last season. The Hoosiers will be tested early since 15 of their first 17 games are at road or neutral sites.
SEC PARITY: The Southeastern Conference is once again expected to be among the deepest leagues in the country, but is there anyone in the bunch who is a true threat to win the national title? Mississippi State, South Carolina, LSU and Vanderbilt are all among the favorites to reach Omaha. Mississippi State made it to the national championship series last season before losing to UCLA and returns arguably the best bullpen in the country. South Carolina returns an experienced lineup that includes infielder Joey Pankake, who hit .311 with 11 homers in 2013, and the Gamecocks aren't far removed from back-to-back NCAA titles in 2010 and 2011. LSU's Aaron Nola (12-1, 1.57) and Vanderbilt's Tyler Beede (14-1, 2.32) are dominant aces.
WEST IS BEST: UCLA is the defending national champion but must replace a large portion of the pitching staff that carried the Bruins throughout 2013. Oregon State returns many of its players after making the CWS last season, including outfielder Michael Conforto and ace Andrew Moore. Over in the Big West Conference, Cal State Fullerton should be very good thanks to a pitching staff that includes Thomas Eshelman, Justin Garza and Grahmm Wiest, who combined for a 33-6 record last season.