While the start of the 2023 Major League Baseball season is still some six weeks away, baseball at the college level is just about ready to start playing for keeps. Indeed, the winding, forking path to the College World Series in Omaha gets underway very soon, and as such we're here to preview the season to come.
Ole Miss enters the 2023 season as the reigning national champion in Division I, and as we'll soon see they have plausible designs on becoming the first repeat College World Series winner since South Carolina in 2010-11. Now let's get to previewin'.
2023 preseason rankings
To get started, let's take a look at some composite rankings. What we've done is taken each of the six major preseason polls (Baseball America, Perfect Game, USA Today coaches' poll, D1Baseball.com, Collegiate Baseball Magazine, and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers' Association) and assigned "poll points" to each team ranked in the top 25 of each poll. No. 1 teams get 25 points, No. 2 teams get 24 points, all the way down to the No. 25 teams, which get one point. We add all the points up -- across, again, all six major polls -- and arrive at our composite preseason rankings.
Here's a look at what comes out of the wash for 2022:
Also receiving poll points: UC-Santa Barbara (12), Alabama (7), Texas (5), Mississippi State (4), Georgia Tech (3), South Carolina (3)
LSU was ranked No. 1 in all six preseason polls, which means they racked up the maximum 150 poll points. Time was when LSU was the dominant program in all of college baseball, but that hasn't been the case for a while. They last won the national championship in 2009, and they haven't made the College World Series field of eight since 2017. In 2023, however, second-year head coach Jay Johnson has assembled what may be LSU's best team in quite some time. Center fielder Dylan Crews is a true star, NC State transfer Tommy White (the ACC Freshman of the Year) gives them another big bat, and there's an embarrassment of riches when it comes to right-handed pitching up and down the roster. Throw in the rigors of the SEC schedule, and LSU, if healthy, should be ready for a very deep run in the postseason.
As for reigning champ Ole Miss, they check in at No. 10 in the composite rankings, and one outlet had them as high as No. 4. They've addressed lineup departures with some key transfers, and in the rotation freshman righty Grayson Saunier has the potential to be the top debutante in college baseball this season.
Let's widen our scope a bit and put together some preseason conference rankings by adding up all the poll points conference by conference (we'll also include the "others receiving poll points" teams in our tabulations). Behold the relevant digits:
Total poll points
As is typically the case, the SEC profiles as the top conference and does by a cavernous margin. The SEC boasts seven of the top 10 teams in the composite rankings, and eight of the conference's 14 teams cracked the top 25. In all, 11 of the SEC's 14 teams received poll points. In related matters, the SEC has claimed the last three national championships in baseball and eight of the last 13.
How the NCAA Tournament and College World Series work
Given that college baseball isn't as widely followed as the football and basketball collegiate variants, perhaps a brief postseason explainer is in order. Here's how it all works, in bullet-point format for today's harried sales professional ...
- The first round of play is known as the regional, and it's a double-elimination format featuring four teams. Each of the 16 one-seeds hosts its respective regional, when possible. Only one team out of four survives each regional.
- The winner of each regional advances to the super regional, which is a best-of-three series between two regional winners.
- The winner of each super regional -- eight teams in all -- advances to the College World Series in Omaha.
- The College World Series is a double-elimination format until the final two teams are left standing. At that point, the slates are wiped clean, and it's a best-of-three series to determine the national champion.
- The field of 64 also includes eight national national seeds, which you may consider the pre-tourney favorites to reach Omaha. National seeds get to host super regionals should they advance that far.
So, yes, it's quite different from the more familiar March Madness format, but it typically entails similar levels of, you know, madness.
A brief walking tour of the college baseball calendar for 2023? As you wish.
- Feb. 17: Regular season opens
- March 10: Pac-12 conference play begins
- March 17: SEC, Big 12 conference play begins
- May 23-27: Pac-12 Tournament
- May 23-28: SEC, ACC Tournaments
- May24-28: Big 12 Tournament
- May 29: NCAA Tournament field of 64 announced
- June 2-5: NCAA Regional play
- June 8-11: NCAA Super Regional play
- June 16-26: College World Series in Omaha
Players to watch
The top draft-eligible D1 collegians -- i.e., juniors, seniors, or sophomores who will turn 21 before the draft? Here's our R.J. Anderson's ranked list of the top college players to watch this season when it comes to the MLB Draft:
1. Dylan Crews, OF, LSU
2. Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee
3. Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida
4. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Ole Miss
5. Hurston Waldrep, RHP, Florida
6. Rhett Lowder, RHP, Wake Forest
7. Enrique Bradfield, OF, Vanderbilt
8. Jacob Wilson, SS, Grand Canyon
9. Matt Shaw, SS, Maryland
10. Brayden Taylor, 3B, TCU
Not surprisingly, SEC talents predominate. Here's R.J.'s full look at the 2023 draft class.
A bit of history
In conclusion -- and to highlight what's ultimately at stake each year in the College World Series -- let's run down all the past college baseball national champions and runners-up:
|2022||Ole Miss (42-23)||Oklahoma|
|2021||Mississippi State (50-18)||Vanderbilt|
|2018||Oregon State (55-12-1)||Arkansas|
|2016||Coastal Carolina (55-18)||Arizona|
|2013||UCLA (49-17)||Mississippi State|
|2012||Arizona (48-17)||South Carolina|
|2011||South Carolina (55-14)||Florida|
|2010||South Carolina (54-16)||UCLA|
|2008||Fresno State (47-31)||Georgia|
|2007||Oregon State (49-18)||North Carolina|
|2006||Oregon State (50-16)||North Carolina|
|2004||Cal State Fullerton (47-22)||Texas|
|2002||Texas (57-15)||South Carolina|
|2001||Miami (Fla.) (53-12)||Stanford|
|1999||Miami (Fla.) (50-13)||Florida State|
|1998||Southern California (49-17)||Arizona State|
|1996||LSU (52-15)||Miami (Fla.)|
|1995||Cal State Fullerton (57-9)||Southern California|
|1994||Oklahoma (50-17)||Georgia Tech|
|1993||LSU (53-17-1)||Wichita State|
|1992||Pepperdine||Cal State Fullerton|
|1991||LSU (55-18)||Wichita State|
|1990||Georgia (52-19)||Oklahoma State|
|1989||Wichita State (68-16)||Texas|
|1988||Stanford (46-23)||Arizona State|
|1987||Stanford (53-17)||Oklahoma State|
|1986||Arizona (49-19)||Florida State|
|1985||Miami (Fla.) (64-16)||Texas|
|1984||Cal State Fullerton (66-20)||Texas|
|1982||Miami (Fla.) (55-17-1)||Wichita State|
|1981||Arizona State (55-13)||Oklahoma State|
|1979||Cal State Fullerton (60-14-1)||Arkansas|
|1978||Southern California (54-9)||Arizona State|
|1977||Arizona State (57-12)||South Carolina|
|1976||Arizona (56-17)||Eastern Michigan|
|1975||Texas (59-6)||South Carolina|
|1974||Southern California (50-20)||Miami (Fla.)|
|1973||Southern California (51-11)||Arizona State|
|1972||Southern California (47-13-1)||Arizona State|
|1971||Southern California (46-11)||Southern Illinois|
|1970||Southern California (45-13)||Florida State|
|1969||Arizona State (56-11)||Tulsa|
|1968||Southern California (43-12-1)||Southern Illinois|
|1967||Arizona State (53-12)||Houston|
|1966||Ohio State (27-6-1)||Oklahoma State|
|1965||Arizona State (54-8)||Ohio State|
|1963||Southern California (35-10)||Arizona|
|1962||Michigan (34-15)||Santa Clara|
|1961||Southern California (36-7)||Oklahoma State|
|1960||Minnesota (34-7-1)||Southern California|
|1959||Oklahoma State (27-5)||Arizona|
|1958||Southern California (29-3)||Missouri|
|1957||California (35-10)||Penn State|
|1955||Wake Forest (29-7)||Western Michigan|
|1952||Holy Cross (21-3)||Missouri|
|1950||Texas (27-6)||Washington State|
|1949||Texas (23-7)||Wake Forest|
|1948||Southern California (26-4)||Yale|
Yes, the state of Mississippi has claimed the last two national titles, and with three leading D-1 programs in the state -- Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Southern Miss -- they have a real shot at making it three in a row.
Now go forth and enjoy the actual, real-life, on-field baseball.