The 2022 baseball season is set to begin in less than a month, and 14 teams are all vying to make it to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
Mississippi State and Vanderbilt-- the defending national champion and national-runner up, respectively-- are looking to be among the best in the nation this season. Arkansas, Ole Miss, Florida and LSU are also looking to make a run for the top spot. Truly, most SEC teams have a great chance of making it deep in the postseason.
This season, the competition within the SEC will be fierce up until the last week of the year. Here is my early ranking of who will finish at the top and bottom of both the SEC East and the SEC West.
1. Vanderbilt: The Commodores finished the 2021 season as the National Runners-Up and are looking at another potential postseason run. Despite losing key pitchers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, head coach Tim Corbin always seems to have his team in shape. The program continually recruits well-- partially due to a scholarship advantage-- and can fill in any position.
2. Florida: In 2021, the Gators struggled through a difficult season. They finished the year 38-22 and in third place in the SEC East. Florida is returning some talented players and has brought in a top-10 recruiting class, so expect the team to do much better in the 2022 season. Before we know it, Florida could be among the top teams in the nation and return to Omaha for the 13th time in program history.
3. Tennessee: Although the Volunteers haven't been a major baseball force in years, the team turned that all around in 2021. In head coach Tony Vitello's fourth season, his team made it through a challenging SEC schedule and into the College World Series. Will the team be able to have the same success in 2022, or were they a one-hit-wonder? Right now, Tennessee looks to be competitive and make another post-season run, but things can change quickly.
4. Georgia: The Bulldogs might be one of the most improved SEC teams heading into the 2022 season. They only lost four players at the end of 2021, so they are bringing back plenty of experience. The only reason Georgia is not ranked higher than fourth in the East is that they typically do not recruit as well as the other SEC teams and fluctuate throughout the season.
5. South Carolina: Did the Gamecocks have a breakthrough season in 2021? Not really. Although they did rise into the rankings last season, they fell out of the postseason in the NCAA Regionals. South Carolina has a very young squad with little experience working together, and the team's pitching outlook is unclear. However, the Gamecocks have a storied baseball history and usually pull together a little bit of success.
6. Kentucky: The Wildcats showed flashes of success last season, but ultimately couldn't compete with the best of the best in the SEC. Kentucky will fare well against midweek opponents and weaker teams, but they will probably stumble once they get into weekend SEC play.
7. Missouri: To put it kindly, the Tigers are not a baseball school. They finished the 2021 season with a 15-36 overall record and didn't even make an appearance in the SEC Tournament. Missouri underperforms every season in just about every aspect and never seems to bring in a full team of talented players that can work together well.
1. Mississippi State: The 2021 CWS National Champions are looking to make it to Omaha for the fourth-consecutive season. Mississippi State lost a few key players to the 2022 MLB Draft, but the bullpen is deep and some of the team's best hitters are back. The team's biggest weakness will be figuring out the perfect combination of players to win with-- they struggled at times with this last season.
2. Arkansas: The Razorbacks could have arguably been ranked at the top of the SEC West, but some devastating news from the program took them down a notch. The team announced last week that star right-handed pitcher Peyton Pallette will miss the entire 2022 season due to injury. Luckily, Arkansas is talented enough to rebound from this loss. They just have to prove once again that they can rise against adversity.
3. Ole Miss: Every season, the Rebels tend to be ranked highly in the preseason and fall short of making it to Omaha. This season, they might turn that around...as long as they can play well defensively. Although Ole Miss brought back a group of powerful hitters, they lost their best pitchers at the end of the 2021 season. Can the Rebels perform well enough on the mound to make it farther than the Super Regionals?
4. LSU: Does LSU deserve to be ranked as highly as they have been in every 2022 preseason poll? That's up in the air right now. The team was talented in 2021 but struggled to finish with a 38-25 record. However, they did manage to pick up the slack at the end of the season and made it to a Super Regional. Plus, the Tigers are returning all but two members of the 2021 team. New head coach Jay Johnson will have his work cut out for him as he tries to get his team back to the top of the SEC.
5. Texas A&M: The Aggies struggled in the 2021 season, but two-time National Coach of the Year Jim Schlossnagle might be just what the team needs. The new leader out of TCU has a proven history of success and can turn a mediocre Texas A&M team around. It will take a few seasons for the team to reach success, but the 2022 season will be the starting point.
6. Auburn: It's hard to believe that a few seasons ago, Auburn was in the CWS. Now, the Tigers are a shell of that former team. Luckily, they are returning some talented position players and a few experienced pitchers. Although they struggled with a 25-27 overall record last season, Auburn will likely go up from there and make small--but important-- strides this season.
7. Alabama: Right now, it looks like the Crimson Tide might need to stick to football. Alabama is not returning a strong group of hitters or pitchers, and likely won't make it far in the postseason. Perhaps the Crimson Tide can pull off some sort of miracle season, but they might need football head coach Nick Saban to come in for that to happen.