The Southeastern Conference's depth and dominance in college baseball shows no sign of ending any time soon.
Vanderbilt is coming off its first national championship after beating Virginia in the College World Series in June. LSU won a national title in 2009 while South Carolina took home back-to-back championships in 2010 and 2011.
Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State have all played for the national championship in the past decade. Eleven of the league's 14 teams have advanced to the CWS at least once since 1999.
"There's just so little difference in this league from the top to the bottom," Mississippi State coach John Cohen said. "That's why our teams do so well in the postseason. By the time you get through 30 games in our league, there's nothing you haven't seen."
The SEC once again figures to be a dominant force when regular season play opens on Friday across the country.
The Commodores return several top players from the team that won the national title a year ago — including pitcher Walker Buehler and shortstop Dansby Swanson — and have aspirations of another trip to Omaha.
"All the way around, I don't look at our team and say 'That's a strength' or 'That's the best we've ever had' — it's just pretty good across the line," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "Our lineup is decent and our pitching is decent. Now it's about who can attain that confidence as the season progresses."
Vanderbilt will have plenty of competition. Eight SEC teams are ranked in D1baseball.com's preseason top 25.
LSU returns several of its top hitters from a year ago, including shortstop Alex Bregman. Ole Miss is coming off its first College World Series since 1972 and returns power hitting first baseman Sikes Orvis, along with veteran pitcher Christian Trent.
Florida has talented sophomore pitchers Logan Shore and A.J. Puk. South Carolina also has a deep pitching staff led by Wil Crowe and Jack Wynkoop.
Here are some things to watch this spring in the Southeastern Conference during baseball season, which begins on Friday:
THE USUAL SUSPECTS: Several of the league's elite teams from the past few seasons expect to be good again. Vanderbilt returns plenty of talent from last season's national championship team. LSU has a deep, experienced lineup. South Carolina and Florida are especially talented on the mound. All four programs are ranked in D1baseball.com's preseason top 10.
OLE MISS ENCORE: The Rebels made it to the College World Series last season for the first time since 1972. Ole Miss lost quite a bit of talent from that team, but does return a solid core, including pitcher Christian Trent, shortstop Errol Robinson and first baseman Sikes Orvis. "When I look around I see a lot of good things," Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. "I am also excited to see some of the new guys step out on the field for the first time and contribute.
RISING TENNESSEE: Tennessee baseball has slowly improved under fourth-year coach Dave Serrano. This is the year the Volunteers hope to take another step and make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. Said Serrano: "We may not win every game because that's not how baseball works, but there's not many teams that we're going to look across the field and feel we're out-talented anymore."
UNDER THE RADAR: The SEC has so many quality programs, even perennial powerhouses like Arkansas and Mississippi State can get lost in the preseason shuffle. The Razorbacks aren't getting much early-season hype, but return an impressive pitching staff led by Trey Killian. The Bulldogs also have several veteran pitchers and a lineup that includes holdovers like Wes Rea and Gavin Collins.
BUILDING MISSOURI: The Tigers have a proud tradition in baseball and have recently had several alumni go on to Major League Baseball — including Ian Kinsler, Aaron Crow and Kyle Gibson. But Missouri has struggled during its first season since moving to the SEC from the Big 12, with a 16-44 record in conference play over two seasons.
AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee and Kurt Voigt contributed to this story.
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Posted on Thu, February 12, 2015
by DAVID BRANDT, AP Sports Writer