Updated: Aug 25
The academic year is kicking off around the country, and with that, it is time to release College Baseball Nation's Way-Too-Early Top 25. With the unpredictability in collegiate athletics caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the task of paring down the 302 division I baseball teams into a top 25 was even more difficult than usual.
Early this week, we shrunk the list down to the 76 teams we think will compete at the top of college baseball in 2021, and now we have dropped that list to 25.
Coming in at number one are the Florida Gators. The Gators finished the shortened 2020 season at number two in the country and had one of the best imaginable offseasons. The Gators' 43-year streak of having a player drafted in the MLB Draft was cut short in this year's five-round draft, which means that most of Florida's top-notch talent will be returning to the field in 2021. Tommy Mace, Jack Leftwitch, and Hunter Barco all return to the weekend rotation which anchored a pitching staff that only allowed 2.7 runs per game in 2020. In other Florida Gators news, Florida Ballpark at Mckethan Field will be ready for the 2021 season, just in time to likely host a Regional and Super Regional.
Number two UCLA and third-ranked Texas Tech each look to lead the way in their respective conferences in 2021. Both of these teams have a substantial leg up in terms of talent on the next best team in their conference. Matt McLain (SS/OF) out of UCLA has already been drafted in the first round (2018) and will likely hear his name called early in the 2021 MLB Draft. A youth movement at Texas Tech includes 2020 standouts Jace Jung, Cal Conley, and Nate Rombach.
Number four Ole Miss finished 2020 in the top spot of College Baseball Nation's Power Rankings. The loss of Anthony Servideo and Tyler Keenan will be difficult for the Rebels, but consistent recruiting over the past several years has set Ole Miss up to compete at the top of the SEC West. Fellow SEC member, Vanderbilt, rounds out the top five. Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter highlight the best rotation in the country. The duo will look to be the top two picks in the 2021 MLB Draft.
Arkansas, Louisville, TCU, Mississippi State, and Florida State fill spots five through ten. TCU jumps from the 21st spot in our last rankings. The Horned Frogs lost no players to professional baseball and bring in a top 15 recruiting class.
LSU, Virginia, Texas, Arizona, and Georgia Tech check in at numbers 11 through 15. Virginia looked poised to turn the corner in 2020, finishing the year at #24. The Cavaliers, like TCU, lost no one to professional baseball from last year's team.
Duke, Wake Forest, Arizona State, Georgia, and ECU finish off the top 20. Georgia falls ten spots after losing Emerson Handcock and Cole Wilcox out of their rotation to the MLB Draft. Tucker Bradley and Cam Shepherd also leave for professional baseball, signing as undrafted free agents. Cam Shepherd's departure leaves a hole in the Bulldogs infield; Shepherd tallied 198 starts at shortstop during his time at Georgia. ECU marks the highest ranked team in the American Athletic Conference.
Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara, NC State, Pepperdine, and UCF round out the top 25. The Big West was poised for a banner year in 2020, and 2021 is looking like another strong year for the conference with Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara bringing back talented teams. Pepperdine is the lone representative from the West Coast Conference in our top 25.
In total, the SEC and ACC each have seven teams represented in the top 25, the Big XII and Pac-12 each have three, the American and Big West each have two, and the West Coast Conference has one.
A wide range of factors could influence the top 25 between now and the beginning of the college baseball season. Though many conferences, including the Big Ten and Pac-12, have suspended fall athletic competitions, the current expectation is that spring sports will be allowed to practice. If this changes, there will be a clear advantage to teams who are able to practice in the fall.
Additionally, players opting out of the season could have a substantial impact on the rankings. Because of the ever-changing collegiate athletic landscape due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be presumptuous to predict whether or not players will opt out. With college baseball season still several months out, no players have announced an intent to opt out.
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