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2023 SEC Preview - LSU the Favorite, But Plenty of Challengers

Since the 2009 season an SEC team has won the College World Series eight times — what might be even more impressive is that six different SEC teams have won the College World Series over that span.

But it goes beyond that, in just the last two years alone all but two teams (Kentucky and Missouri) have made an NCAA Tournament appearance. And if you go back to 2012, every SEC team has made the tournament over that time. Dating back to 2008, 11 of the 14 teams in the SEC have reached the College World Series at least once. Only Kentucky, Missouri, and Alabama have failed to do so during that time.

In the past two seasons, the SEC has seen two of the most dominant regular season teams in college baseball history with Arkansas in 2021 and Tennessee in 2022. Both of them had to witness another SEC team taking the ultimate crown with Mississippi State winning 2021 and Ole Miss this past season.

So who will it be this time?

What’s ahead in 2023?

The conference is once again stacked at the top of the rankings with seven teams ranked in the top 13 of the College Baseball Nation Preseason Top 50.

LSU appears to be the most complete team in the country on paper with Dylan Crews leading the lineup and a handful of frontline starting pitchers with Paul Skenes, Thatcher Hurd, Ty Floyd, and Grant Taylor.

Not to mention they got the big bat of Tommy White in the transfer portal along with Christian Little to make their rotation even deeper.

But don’t count out Tennessee who is looking to finish off what they couldn’t last season. Chase Dollander figures to be the first pitcher taken in the 2023 MLB Draft, and he headlines what might be the best rotation in college baseball with Chase Burns and Drew Beam behind him.

You can’t count out the defending champs in Ole Miss who have a talented lineup returning led by top prospect Jacob Gonzalez at shortstop.

The Aggies made a surprise run to Omaha last year and return a big portion of their lineup as well as Nathan Dettmer on the mound.

Florida hasn’t made it past a regional since 2018, but they looked poised to do so in 2023 with a Player of the Year candidate in Wyatt Langford. And don’t forget about Arkansas and Vanderbilt who don’t have the elite depth they’re accustomed to having, but there’s still plenty of talent there.

As far as some dark horse contenders, Auburn, Alabama, and South Carolina all have some elite talent at the front of their weekend rotations with Grayson Hitt (Alabama), Joseph Gonzalez (Auburn), and Will Sanders (South Carolina). If they can build around those pieces with players brought in through the portal they could certainly make some noise this year.

And while it was a disastrous season for Mississippi State in 2022, they’re looking forward to putting that behind them in 2023.

Top prospects to watch

With great teams comes great players and there are plenty of top prospects to watch this season.

Crews, Dollander, Jacob Gonzalez, Langford, Enrique Bradfield Jr., Sanders, and Skenes all earned preseason prospect all-American accolades.

Brandon Sproat from Florida is another pitcher who has the ability to take a big step forward in 2023 and move up the draft boards.

Sticking with the Gators, Josh Rivera has a chance to really have a breakout season with the bat – he’s always had a nice glove – and rise up draft boards as well becoming one of the best college shortstops in the class.

But if there are two players you need to go out and try to see in person this year, it’s Crews and Dollander. Both are incredibly rare talents who figure to have great success at the next level.

Series to Watch

The SEC is always a part of a couple of big early season tournaments. Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and Missouri will be part of the College Baseball Showdown in the opening weekend facing off against Big 12 opponents TCU, Oklahoma State, and Texas.

Things don’t slow down in the second weekend of the season with Vanderbilt playing a series against UCLA, Mississippi State taking on Arizona State, and Ole Miss playing Maryland.

In week three you have your regular ACC-SEC rivalry series with Georiga-Georgia Tech, Clemson-South Carolina, and Miami-Florida. But you also have Texas A&M in the Shriners College Classic where they will face Louisville, Rice, and Texas Tech.

There are typically a few ranked matchups every week in the SEC, and sometimes multiple top 10 matchups.

Perhaps the headline matchup of the year will be on the seventh weekend (March 31-April 2) when LSU and Tennessee meet in Alex Box Stadium. That will be must-see for every college baseball fan in the country.

You never want to miss a rivalry series, but how could you miss watching the past two National Champions face off? Ole Miss will be going to Mississippi State April 14-16 with the most recent bragging rights.

Texas A&M has to face LSU, Tennessee, and Ole Miss in their first three conference series – playing in the SEC ain’t easy.

Another rivalry series that can’t be missed right now is Tennessee-Vanderbilt. This edition will take place in front of a wild set of fans in Knoxville April 21-23.

Final Thoughts

Last year we wondered at times if the SEC was having a down year or if all of the teams were just that good and kept beating up on each other. It turned out the latter was true with four teams making it to Omaha. Also, a team that finished with a losing conference record and was one of the last four teams to get into the NCAA Tournament won it all.

The unfortunate reality of the SEC is that somebody has to lose.

This conference looks loaded once again as all of these teams are talented enough to be considered one of the 64 best teams in the country.

But only one of them can finish on top, and the odds are that it will be a team from the SEC once again. Will it be the overwhelming favorite in LSU, or will another team that gets forgotten during the season make a late push and surprise everyone?

That’s what makes the journey of a baseball season so exciting, so sit back and enjoy the ride.


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