With another upcoming wave of conference realignment, Conference USA (CUSA) is one of the conferences that has already moved teams in and some teams out and will look considerably different in 2023. Southern Miss, Old Dominion, and Marshall have departed, and Dallas Baptist has arrived. But before we look to the future, let’s revisit what happened in 2022.
In 2022, Southern Miss won the regular season conference championship with a 23-7 record in conference. With a 43-16 overall record in the regular season, the Golden Eagles earned the No. 15 national seed and hosted a regional in Hattiesburg. After several thrilling games, Southern Miss outlasted LSU in two of three games between the two teams to move on to the Super Regional round where eventual College World Series champion Ole Miss eliminated the Golden Eagles in two games.
Louisiana Tech (42-19) was the only other CUSA team to play beyond the conference championship. The Bulldogs topped UTSA 9-8 in the tournament final to claim the title and earn a regional bid. Louisiana Tech traveled to the Austin Regional where they faced Texas and future conference mate Dallas Baptist.
2022 was also a relatively successful year for CUSA in terms of the draft. The schools remaining in CUSA, along with DBU, saw a total of thirteen players drafted in the July Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. Southern Miss had five players drafted in their last year as members of CUSA. While this does not directly mean anything for CUSA in 2023, it does show that you have to be talented to compete for the CUSA conference championship.
What's Ahead in 2023
Several teams will compete for the crown in 2023 in what promises to be a wide-open race.
DBU, the No. 49 team in the Preseason Top 50, brings a player development and postseason pedigree to CUSA and will immediately contend for the CUSA title. True to form, the Patriots schedule a daunting non-conference schedule, including a matchup with No. 8 Southern Miss.
UTSA, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, and Louisiana Tech are the more tenured members of CUSA that will also compete for the title. No. 36 UTSA won 38 games in 2022 and was among the first four teams to miss the NCAA postseason, while No. 37 Charlotte won 36 games a year ago and is bringing in the second ranked JUCO recruiting class, according to Perfect Game.
Florida Atlantic, winners 35 times in 2022, lead the second tier of CUSA teams which could move into the top tier. Head coach John McCormack made three changes to his coaching staff in the offseason, including two new faces to help lead the Owls. Outfielder Nolan Schnauel returns for his third season with Florida Atlantic as one of the premier players in CUSA, one of only three players to earn preseason recognition. As a sophomore last year, Schnauel batted .369 with 16 home runs and 56 RBI.
The two other CUSA players who received preseason recogntion both play for Lane Burroughs at Louisiana Tech: Jonathan Fincher (SP) and Cole McConnell (OF). Fincher is about to embark upon his sixth season in Ruston. Over the previous two seasons, Fincher has been a big arm for the Bulldogs, and he has pitched big innings in big games. In 2022, Fincher ate up 79 1/3 innings on the mound in 14 starts and was 8-2 with a 3.52 ERA and a 73-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. McConnell batted .336 with a school record 76 RBI in 2022 and spent his summer in the Cape Cod League where he made the All-Star team.
Five Series to Watch in 2023
Louisiana Tech will travel to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas in a three-game series in mid-March, the weekend before conference play begins.
March 31 DBU at Louisiana Tech
April 21 LA Tech at DBU
May 12 DBU at UTSA
May 18 UTSA at Louisiana Tech (to close out the regular season)
CUSA has four teams in the College Baseball Nation Preseason Top 50, with all four teams clustered together in the bottom fifteen picks: UTSA (36), Charlotte (37), LA Tech (43), DBU (49). The top five teams in CUSA have scheduled top competition for their non-conference action to help them get ready for the conference battles that await them.
Can UTSA make the leap after just missing the NCAA tournament last year? Can Louisiana Tech take over the top spot after being second fiddle last season? Can DBU move to a new conference and leave the opposition behind? These questions and more will be answered in what promises to be one of the most competitive season in CUSA in years.
As the season arrives, Louisiana Tech appears to have the best pitching, at least on paper. Lane Burroughs returns a tested team with experienced players at every position. As with all the other teams in all the other conferences, seeing the results of returning players and mixing them with players from the transfer portal will prove which of the top five teams in CUSA is poised to play the longest. Seeing the Bulldogs at the top of the heap at the end of May would surprise no one.