While LSU enters this season as the consensus No. 1 overall team in the country, its Southeastern Conference schedule won’t be easy.
There are nine SEC teams in the Top 25, according to D1Baseball’s rankings: LSU (1), Tennessee (2), Ole Miss (4), Texas A&M (5), Florida (7), Arkansas (8), Vanderbilt (10), Alabama (20) and South Carolina (23).
LSU will play seven of those Top 25, and teams such as Mississippi State probably won’t be pushovers, either.
Tennessee entered last year with similar anticipation as LSU does this year. The Volunteers were the bad guys of the SEC for much of the season before falling to Notre Dame in the Knoxville super regional.
This year, Tennessee remains the biggest threat to LSU with projected first-round MLB draft pick right-hander Chase Dollander, but how will its lineup recover without the key bats of Drew Gilbert and Trey Lipscomb?
In the SEC West, LSU will face its biggest challenge in its conference-opening series at Texas A&M, which returns most of its talent that got it to Omaha, Nebraska, last season. And while Mississippi State wasn’t strong last year, its offseason included an overhaul of the pitching staff that could have a lot of breakout stars.
The second-ranked Vols lost 10 players to the MLB draft last year, but they return Dollander and add the No. 2 transfer portal class in the country.
The Gators return SEC home run leader Wyatt Langford (OF) while also welcoming Southern Miss transfer right-hander Hurston Waldrep. Both the lineup and starting rotation lost key players after last season.
The Commodores enter the season with strong pitching but an underwhelming lineup. Vanderbilt lost three infield starters to the draft, and while Parker Noland (2B) and Jonathan Vastine (SS) have experience, neither has hit well.
The Gamecocks have strong, experienced pitchers — including junior right-hander Will Sanders — who will vie for weekend spots. The lineup also added five transfers from Baseball America’s Top 100, so the Gamecocks could make some noise.
The Bulldogs have the first piece of a successful roster: a Friday night starter, left-hander Jaden Woods, who spent the summer at Cape Cod and Team USA trials. Georgia added nine freshmen and nine transfers, so there are many unknowns.
The Wildcats welcomed eight transfers, but they lost their top two infielders and pitcher to the draft. While the Wildcats competed well last season, including two victories against Tennessee, they don’t have the superstars of other teams.
The Tigers lost key starters in their lineup last year and will need a drastic improvement in pitching to contend, after posting the 12th-worst ERA in the league last year at 5.58.
The consensus preseason No. 1 Tigers had both the No. 1 freshman and No. 1 transfer portal classes in the offseason. Expect much improvement in the starting rotation and a lineup of power hitters.
The Aggies return most of their lineup that went to Omaha, which ranked top 5 in most SEC offensive categories, but will need to play better defense. Right-hander Nathan Dettmer returns, and he’s 48th on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 players.
The reigning national champions lost four of their best hitters, but they also brought in five transfers who can contribute. Two new transfer pitchers and the No. 2 recruiting class also will help, but the weekend rotation is unproven behind left-hander Hunter Elliott.
Arkansas has a strong bullpen, including closer Brady Tygart — a freshman first-team All-American. The lineup adds four transfers, but it’ll be hard to follow defensive stalwarts shortstop Jalen Battles and second baseman Robert Moore, who have moved on to professional careers.
The Tide brought in the No. 25 transfer class with hopes to boost its lineup. Ranked second-to-last in the SEC in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored and RBIs last season, the Tide could use a boost.
The Bulldogs will see much improvement this year with their No. 3 transfer class, which includes seven pitchers and three position players. There’s plenty of talent for the Bulldogs to sneak into the Top 25.
The Cinderella team of last year lost its star hitter, Sonny DiChiara, but reeled in the No. 10 recruiting class. The Tigers will be young this year both in the lineup and from the pitching standpoint.
Top 3 Hitters:
Dylan Crews, CF, LSU
The reigning SEC co-Player of the Year returns after another summer with the U.S. collegiate national team. Crews made top-10 appearances in multiple offensive categories, hitting .349 with a .691 slugging percentage, including 24 home runs.
Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Ole Miss
The junior shortstop received first-team all-SEC honors last year and played his second summer with the collegiate national team. His 3-for-4 performance in the final four of the College World Series against Oklahoma included a solo home run and two RBIs.
Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida
Langford’s 26 home runs topped the SEC even though the Gators were eliminated in the regional. The mark also tied the school record. He was second in the SEC in slugging percentage (.719).
Top 3 Pitchers:
Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee
Believed to be the No. 1 MLB pitching prospect, Dollander was the 2022 SEC Pitcher of the Year with a 2.39 ERA through 79 innings pitched, striking out 108 batters and walking 13.
Will Sanders, RHP, South Carolina
The junior starter recorded a 3.43 ERA last year through 89⅓ innings. Sanders is experienced, starting in 10 of his 22 appearances during his freshman season, then starting all 15 appearances last year.
Paul Skenes, RHP, LSU
Considered a potential first-round draft pick this summer, Skenes is a two-way player and will start on Fridays for LSU. He posted a 2.73 ERA last season through 85⅔ innings with Air Force before transferring to Baton Rouge.