College baseball 2021 season preview: Preseason rankings, key dates, players to know and more


Last year, the NCAA awarded no Division I national championship in baseball for the first time since the title was forged back in 1947. That’s of course because of the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which caused college baseball to shut down in March and cancel all spring and winter championships. That, among other things, meant no 2020 College World Series. 

Given that the pandemic is ongoing, nothing is to be assumed with regard to the 2021 college baseball season. However, as things stand now — and as more and more people get vaccinated — the intention is to crown a champion at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska which gets underway on June 19. Here’s hoping. 

Powered by such optimistic assumptions regarding college baseball in 2021, we’re here to preview the season that begins very soon. We’ll commence doing just that following the conclusion of this unnecessary sentence.

Composite 2021 preseason rankings

To get started, let’s take a look at some composite rankings. What we’ve done is taken each of the six major preseason polls (Baseball America, Perfect Game, USA Today coaches’ poll, D1Baseball.com, Collegiate Baseball, and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers’ Association) and assigned “poll points” to each team ranked in the top 25 of each poll. No. 1-ranked teams get 25 points, No. 2-ranked teams get 24 points, all the way down to the No. 25-ranked teams, which get one point. So we add all the points up — across, again, all six major polls — and arrive at our composite preseason rankings.

Here’s a look at what comes out of the wash for 2021: 

1.

Florida

150

SEC

16-1

2.

UCLA

141

Pac-12

13-2

3.

Texas Tech

135

Big 12

16-3

4.

Vanderbilt

132

SEC

13-5

5.

Ole Miss

126

SEC

16-1

6.

Louisville

119

ACC

13-4

7.

Mississippi State

106

SEC

12-4

8.

LSU

97

SEC

12-5

9.

Miami

86

ACC

12-4

10.

Virginia

83

ACC

14-4

11.

UC-Santa Barbara

79

Big West

13-2

12.

Arkansas

76

SEC

11-5

T-13.

NC State

74

ACC

14-3

T-13.

Texas

74

Big 12

14-3

15.

TCU

66

Big 12

11-4

16.

Arizona

62

Pac-12

10-5

T-17.

Florida State

39

ACC

12-5

T-17.

Georgia Tech

39

ACC

11-5

19.

East Carolina

34

American Athletic

13-4

T-20.

South Carolina

30

SEC

12-4

T-20.

Tennessee

30

SEC

15-2

22.

Oklahoma State

23

Big 12

13-5

T-23.

Arizona State

22

Pac-12

13-4

T-23.

Michigan

22

Big Ten

8-7

25.

West Virginia

21

Big 12

11-5

Also receiving poll points: Georgia (20), Auburn (13), Indiana (12), Duke (10), Wake Forest (10), Oklahoma (7), Central Florida (3), Coastal Carolina (3), Ohio State (3), Dallas Baptist (2), Alabama (1), Clemson (1)

So Florida topped all six polls, which accounts for their maxed-out total of 150 poll points. That’s not surprising given that the Gators return almost every core contributor from last year’s squad and complement that core with a top-tier recruiting class. Vanderbilt, who won the last national championship in 2019, checks in at fourth. The most recent College World Series runner-up, Michigan, is tied for 23rd and the only Big Ten team in the top 25 composite rankings. The last “Cinderella” to win it all — depending upon how you define the somewhat imprecise term — was Coastal Carolina in 2016, and if the preseason polls are any guide then UC-Santa Barbara would seem to have the best shot of becoming the next. 

Conference rankings

Let’s widen our scope a bit and cobble together some preseason conference rankings by adding up all the poll points conference by conference (we’ll also include the “others receiving poll points” teams in our tabulations). The digits: 

SEC

781

ACC

461

Big 12

330

Pac-12

203

Big West

79

Tie – American Athletic, Big Ten

37

Sun Belt

3

Missouri Valley

2

Not surprisingly, the SEC lords over all it surveys. Down yonder the conference boasts five of the top 10 teams in the composite rankings, and overall 11 of the conference’s 14 teams received poll points (!). That’s fully in keeping with recent history, as the SEC has claimed six of the last 11 national championships. The conference tied a record by placing four teams in the 2019 College World Series, and multiple SEC teams have made the eight-team College World Series in each of the last three seasons (2020 excepted, obviously). 

As is typically the case, you see a significant drop-off in conference depth after the big four (SEC, ACC, Big 12, and Pac-10). In terms of building programs, baseball is a tough sport for cold-weather conferences, which explains why the Big Ten, unlike in football and basketball, isn’t among the giants and hasn’t been for a very long time. The conference has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence in recent years, which is largely explained by increased investment in the sport. 

At the conference level, though, the headline remains the ongoing dominance of the SEC.

Key dates

How’s about a brief walking tour of the college baseball calendar for 2021? How’s about indeed. 

  • February 19-21: Opening weekend for Division I is highlighted by the 2021 State Farm College Baseball Showdown at Globe Life Field, home of the Texas Rangers. The showdown will feature No. 3 Texas Tech, No. 5 Ole Miss, No. 7 Mississippi State, No. 12 Arkansas, No. 13 Texas, and No. 15 TCU. 
  • May 25-30: The SEC Tournament goes down in Hoover, Ala. The ACC Tournament also covers these dates. 
  • May 26-30: The Big 12 Tournament takes place in Oklahoma City. 
  • May 31: It’s Memorial Day and also Selection Monday, as the NCAA Tournament field of 64 is announced. 
  • June 19: The College World Series in Omaha begins. 
  • July 11-13: The 2021 MLB Draft takes place. 

How the NCAA Tournament and College World Series work

Given that college baseball isn’t as widely followed as the football and basketball collegiate variants, perhaps a brief postseason explainer is in order. Here’s how it all works, in bullet-point format for today’s harried sales professional … 

  • The first round of play is known as the regional, and it’s a round-robin, double-elimination format featuring four teams. Each of the 16 one-seeds hosts its respective regional, when possible. Only one team out of four survives each regional. 
  • The winner of each regional advances to the super regional, which a best-of-three series between two regional winnes.
  • The winner of each super regional — eight teams in all — advances to the College World Series in Omaha.
  • The College World Series is a double-elimination format until the final two teams are left standing. At that point, the slates are wiped clean, and it’s a best-of-three series to determine the national champion.
  • The field of 64 also includes eight national national seeds, which you may consider the pre-tourney favorites to reach Omaha. National seeds get to host super regionals should they advance that far.

So, yes, it’s quite different from the more familiar March Madness format, but it typically entails similar levels of, you know, madness. 

Players to watch

Top draft-eligible D1 collegians — i.e., juniors, seniors, or sophomores who will turn 21 before the draft — include Vanderbilt right-handers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, UCLA shortstop Matt McLain, Miami-FL catcher Adrian Del Castillo, Florida outfielder Jud Fabian, LSU right-hander Jaden Hill, Louisville third baseman Alex Binelas, Texas right-hander Ty Madden, Sam Houston outfielder Colton Cowser, Wake Forest shortstop Kahlil Watson, and Kansas State lefty Jordan Wicks. That’s of course a partial listing, as the season to come could drastically change draft stock up and down the board. 

Our own R.J. Anderson will soon have a more in-depth look at the 2021 draft class. In the meantime, please enjoy some footage of Rocker, who’s in the mix for top overall pick, cutting a swath through the 2019 NCAA Tournament: 

A bit of history

In conclusion, let’s run down all the past college baseball national champions and runners-up: 

2020 None None
2019 Vanderbilt (59-12) Michigan
2018 Oregon State (55-12-1) Arkansas
2017 Florida (52-19) LSU
2016 Coastal Carolina (55-18) Arizona
2015 Virginia (44-24) Vanderbilt
2014 Vanderbilt (51-21) Virginia
2013 UCLA (49-17) Mississippi State
2012 Arizona (48-17) South Carolina
2011 South Carolina (55-14) Florida
2010 South Carolina (54-16) UCLA
2009 LSU (56-17) Texas
2008 Fresno State (47-31) Georgia
2007 Oregon State (49-18) North Carolina
2006 Oregon State (50-16) North Carolina
2005 Texas (56-16) Florida
2004 Cal State Fullerton (47-22) Texas
2003 Rice (58-12) Stanford
2002 Texas (57-15) South Carolina
2001 Miami (Fla.) (53-12) Stanford
2000 LSU (52-17) Stanford
1999 Miami (Fla.) (50-13) Florida State
1998 Southern California (49-17) Arizona State
1997 LSU (57-13) Alabama
1996 LSU (52-15) Miami (Fla.)
1995 Cal State Fullerton (57-9) Southern California
1994 Oklahoma (50-17) Georgia Tech
1993 LSU (53-17-1) Wichita State
1992 Pepperdine Cal State Fullerton
1991 LSU (55-18) Wichita State
1990 Georgia (52-19) Oklahoma State
1989 Wichita State (68-16) Texas
1988 Stanford (46-23) Arizona State
1987 Stanford (53-17) Oklahoma State
1986 Arizona (49-19) Florida State
1985 Miami (Fla.) (64-16) Texas
1984 Cal State Fullerton (66-20) Texas
1983 Texas (66-14) Alabama
1982 Miami (Fla.) (55-17-1) Wichita State
1981 Arizona State (55-13) Oklahoma State
1980 Arizona (45-21-1) Hawaii
1979 Cal State Fullerton (60-14-1) Arkansas
1978 Southern California (54-9) Arizona State
1977 Arizona State (57-12) South Carolina
1976 Arizona (56-17) Eastern Michigan
1975 Texas (59-6) South Carolina
1974 Southern California (50-20) Miami (Fla.)
1973 Southern California (51-11) Arizona State
1972 Southern California (47-13-1) Arizona State
1971 Southern California (46-11) Southern Illinois
1970 Southern California (45-13) Florida State
1969 Arizona State (56-11) Tulsa
1968 Southern California (43-12-1) Southern Illinois
1967 Arizona State (53-12) Houston
1966 Ohio State (27-6-1) Oklahoma State
1965 Arizona State (54-8) Ohio State
1964 Minnesota (31-12) Missouri
1963 Southern California (35-10) Arizona
1962 Michigan (34-15) Santa Clara
1961 Southern California (36-7) Oklahoma State
1960 Minnesota (34-7-1) Southern California
1959 Oklahoma State (27-5) Arizona
1958 Southern California (29-3) Missouri
1957 California (35-10) Penn State
1956 Minnesota (37-9) Arizona
1955 Wake Forest (29-7) Western Michigan
1954 Missouri (22-4) Rollins
1953 Michigan (21-9) Texas
1952 Holy Cross (21-3) Missouri
1951 Oklahoma (19-9) Tennessee
1950 Texas (27-6) Washington State
1949 Texas (23-7) Wake Forest
1948 Southern California (26-4) Yale
1947 California (31-10) Yale

Soon enough, we’ll be adding another champ to this list (one hopes, anyway). In the meantime, enjoy the presumed baseball!





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