SEC Looks to Continue Baseball Dominance

Grant Foree

March 08, 2023 at 10:00 am.

Casual fans of college athletics know the Southeastern Conference as a football powerhouse, which is fair to say. More avid fans of college sports know that the SEC is not only strong on the gridiron and, to an extent, the hardwood, but that the conference’s biggest strength is arguably the baseball diamond.

I’m not arguing that the SEC isn’t strong in football. That would be a terrible argument to make. After all, 13 of the last 17 national champions in football have come out of the SEC.

Instead, my argument is that, while the SEC is strong in football, the league is undoubtedly stronger in baseball and holds college baseball in a death grip that will only get stronger.

Every College World Series since 1993 has featured at least one team from the SEC, with the field being composed of four SEC teams multiple times during that stretch. Incredibly, the national champion has hailed from the SEC 12 times since 1993, including eight of the last 13 seasons.

In the preseason poll by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper (one of five polls that the NCAA recognizes for ranking teams), 12 SEC squads were ranked inside the top 50, including four of the top-5 and six of the top 10.

As I write this on March 8, 10 those teams are still all ranked in the most recent polls, with LSU and Tennessee ranked in the top-5, while Florida, Vanderbilt and Arkansas are inside the top 10. Ole Miss and Texas A&M have fallen a bit, while Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina have slowly moved up the rankings.

The SEC is so deep in baseball that the 2021 national champions, Mississippi State, were predicted to finish dead last in the Western Division.

To point to the league’s depth, look no further than last season, when Ole Miss, the national champion, only won one SEC series in Oxford and snuck into the NCAA tournament with a losing conference record.

All rankings and records included in this column are accurate as of the time of writing this column before the games of Wednesday, March 8.


LSU looks to return to glory 

In the 1990s, LSU was the dynasty of collegiate baseball. From 1990 to 2000, the Bayou Bengals, led by Skip Bertman, made it to the College World Series seven times, winning the national championship in five of those appearances. Since 2000, though, it’s been difficult for the Tigers to find that success, despite advancing to Omaha six times. The Tigers have played in the championship series twice in that timeframe, winning the title in 2009 and losing to Florida in 2021.

While the Tigers have struggled to win the title, LSU has still been one of the SEC’s best teams, making the NCAA tournament 18 times since 2001, winning the league regular season championship five times and the SEC tournament six times.

Under second-year head coach Jay Johnson, the Tigers are the betting favorites to win the College World Series in 2023, thanks to a great lineup and stacked rotation, and so far, LSU has shown why that’s the case.

LSU opened 2023 on a tear, going 11-1 in the season’s first three weeks. Impressively, the Tigers have won every game by at least three runs, with the exception of a 12-4 loss to Iowa on February 25. This dominance has kept the Tigers atop every college baseball poll.


Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M hope to finally win it all

Tennessee was the surprise of college baseball in 2022, dominating its way through the regular season and crushing nearly every team it faced in SEC play. The Vols won the “SEC double” (regular season and tournament championships) in 2022 and were the highest-ranked team in the country for much of the season. Tennessee fell short of Omaha a year ago, after advancing to the CWS in 2021. Tennessee’s 2023 is off to a great start, opening up with an impressive 11-3 record, thanks to a sweep of Gonzaga last weekend.

I don’t think any team has ever been as close to winning the national championship and losing as Arkansas was in 2018. Arkansas won the first game in that best-of-three series with Oregon State and was leading with two outs in the final inning of a potential series-clinching Game Two. Almost comically, three Razorbacks misplayed a foul ball that, if caught, would’ve won Arkansas its first national championship. Instead, the Hogs lost that series to Oregon State. Since then, Arkansas returned to Omaha twice, giving the program 11 trips in its history. Head coach Dave van Horn and his squad hope to finally ascend to the national mountaintop in 2023, opening the season with a 10-2 record.

It’s easy to forget the success that Butch Thompson and the Auburn Tigers have celebrated over the last few seasons. As far as much of the national media is concerned, Alabama and Auburn are good for football and basketball, perhaps not realizing that the Tigers have been to Omaha twice in the last three completed seasons. Amazingly, Auburn is still underrated and unranked in many polls, even after being one of the more successful programs over the past few seasons. In 2023, the Tigers are 10-1-1, with series wins over Indiana, USC and Lipscomb.

Texas A&M surprised almost everyone in 2022 by making it to Omaha in its first year under head coach Jim Schlossnagle. After Rob Childress led the Aggies for 15 seasons, the school administration decided to let Childress’ contract expire following the 2021 season. Under Childress, Texas A&M had moderate success, winning in both the Big 12 and SEC, but only advancing to Omaha twice. Enter Schlossnagle, who turned TCU into a perineal power in the Big 12. A&M was great in 2022, putting together a 44-20 season and winning the SEC West. The Aggies finally hosted a regional and super-regional for the first time since 2016 and were able to clinch a trip to the CWS in front of their home fans. 2023 hasn’t started the way Schlossnagle wanted, opening the season with a 8-4 record and a home series loss to Portland.


Florida, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss look to Dogpile again

No program has been as strong over the past decade as Vanderbilt. The Commodores, led by head coach Tim Corbin, made it to the CWS five times from 2011 to 2021, playing in the championship series four times and winning the title twice. In that period, Vanderbilt has seen plenty of MLB-ready talent come through the program, which Tim Corbin continues to recruit to Nashville. Last season was disappointing by Vanderbilt’s standards, as it failed to advance out of the Corvallis Regional, while its in-state rivals hosted a super-regional as the best team in the country. The ‘Dores have started 2023 well, opening up with a record of 9-4, with a series win over UCLA and a combined no-hitter last Sunday against Minnesota.

Like Vandy, Florida was incredibly strong in the 2010s, playing in the CWS eight times during that decade. In the league, Florida was dominant, winning the regular season title five times and picking up two tournament crowns. The Gators finally got their championship in 2017, sweeping LSU in the CWS championship series. Since then, Florida hasn’t been the same team we’d grown accustomed to seeing in Gainesville. Florida failed to advance to the super-regional round in each of its last three attempts, including the last two seasons in which Florida hosted the Gainesville Regional. The Gators are strong again in 2023, led by a deep pitching rotation that’s anchored by Sunday starter Jac Caglianone. Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s squad is 11-3 on the season and enters SEC play off the heels of a series win over No. 22 Miami last weekend.

Mississippi State made 11 trips to the CWS before it finally won the championship in 2021. For a while, it seemed like the Bulldogs wouldn’t be able to hoist the trophy in Omaha, falling short of the championship series year after year. After winning the title that season, Mississippi State fell apart. It’s common for the national championship-winning team to see many players move on to professional ball, but the 2021 MLB Draft left the cupboards bare for head coach Chris Lemonis and the Bulldogs. State missed the SEC Tournament last season, massively underperforming the preseason expectations. That roller coaster continued into the 2023 preseason when the Bulldogs were picked to finish last in the SEC West by the media and coaches. Mississippi State sits at 8-5 on the season, with some pretty bad losses.

Not many people expected Ole Miss to make the run it did to win the title in 2022. As I mentioned earlier, the Rebels were in grave danger of missing the NCAA tournament, and head coach Mike Bianco likely would’ve been packing his office up had the Rebels missed it. Instead, Ole Miss swept LSU in Baton Rouge to give it a chance at making the tournament. Heading to Hoover, the Rebels needed to win a few games, and they didn’t. Now, Ole Miss desperately needed help to make it, and it got the help it needed. Ole Miss ran through the tournament, winning the Coral Gables (Miami) Regional and sweeping Southern Mississippi in the Hattiesburg Super Regional. Ole Miss then handled business in Omaha to win its first national championship. The Rebels are hot in 2023, opening the season 11-2.


‘Dawgs and Gamecocks look to return to Omaha 

The SEC’s run of dominance really started in 2010 when South Carolina won the first of its back-to-back national championships. Since South Carolina won the 2011 title, things haven’t quite gone the way of the Gamecocks, only advancing to Omaha in 2012. South Carolina appeared in the regional stage of the NCAA tournament on six different occasions since 2011 and advanced to the super regionals four different times in that span. The Gamecocks missed out on the NCAA tournament in 2022 after posting a 27-28 record and losing to Florida in the SEC tournament. Head coach Mark Kingston and the 20th-ranked Gamecocks are 12-1 to open the season with a series win against Clemson this past weekend.

Georgia was a highly successful program from 1987-2008, making it to Omaha six times and winning the 1990 national championship. For the most part, Georgia’s success during that period was much of what kept the SEC relevant on the diamond, combined with LSU’s dynasty and other teams making trips to Omaha almost every season. Since Georgia’s 2008 trip to the CWS, the Bulldogs have made the NCAA tournament five times, but have failed to advance to the super-regional round. Georgia’s 2023 campaign opened with an 8-5 loss to Jacksonville State, but the Bulldogs have responded to win eight of their last 10 games, posting a record of 9-3. Following a series win over Georgia Tech last week, the Bulldogs have a two-game set with Sun Belt powerhouse Georgia Southern, led by power hitter Noah Ledford.


Alabama, Kentucky and Missouri want to return to the NCAA tournament

Alabama narrowly missed the NCAA tournament in 2022 after falling short of the SEC tournament semi-final, which many analysts expected would send the Crimson Tide to the dance. Despite a few trips to Omaha in the 190s, Alabama has never been a premier program on the baseball diamond. The expectations around head coach Brad Bohannon’s program changed over the offseason with many commentators and writers predicting that Alabama would make the tournament this season and could potentially host a regional. With one of the more experienced lineups and rotations in the SEC, the Crimson Tide are off to a 13-0 start, with some impressive series wins over inferior opponents. While the Tide have been impressive thus far, Alabama will have to hold its own in April and May to have a chance at making the NCAA tournament, much less hosting a regional for the first time since 2006.

Like Alabama, Kentucky needed a deep run in the SEC tournament to have a shot at getting a bid to the NCAA tournament last season. Unlike the Crimson Tide, though, Kentucky did advance all the way to the semi-final but lost to the eventual champions, Tennessee. Kentucky doesn’t have the history that the rest of the league has, with the Wildcats still in search of their first trip to a super-regional series. While the Wildcats sit at 10-2 to open the season, home losses to Elon and Wright State could hold Kentucky down this season, especially if it fails to win more than 12 games in conference play.

Outside of a national championship in 1954, Missouri hasn’t done much of anything in baseball. Since joining the SEC before the 2013 season, Missouri has done even less. Since joining the league, the Tigers have failed to make the NCAA tournament and missed the SEC tournament three times. In those 10 seasons, Missouri holds a record of 252-254, failing to win more than 15 SEC games in any of those seasons. Missouri’s 2023 campaign is off to a decent start, winning 10 of its first 12 games, including wins over Texas and TCU. Missouri has the unenviable task of playing through the SEC East, which will probably cause the Tigers to miss the SEC tournament again.