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Posts Tagged ‘Rice Owls’

ElViento:

-My friend lent me a movie that I’m reasonably excited to watch.

-I got to meet a loyal reader of the blog.

-I rocked out to the Black Keys in my car on the way to and from the stadium. (Seriously, do yourself a favor, go buy the “Brothers” album.)

By that standard, it wasn’t a bad evening. Unfortunately, there was a game on. In said game, the Houston Cougar baseball team lost to the Rice Owl baseball team, 24-3. At baseball.

Yes, that score happened with two teams playing baseball. Well, at least one team was playing baseball.

So after Friday’s meaningless contest against Southern Miss, the Cougar baseball season will be over, officially closing down the Cougar athletic year for the summer. After Thursday’s game, a three-month wait for football doesn’t sound so bad.

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ElViento: One of the bright spots in last year’s Cougar baseball season was the emergence of junior left-handed pitcher Donnie Joseph. The man they call DoJo put together a season that seemed to keep getting better as it went along. He ended up with a 2.16 ERA in 50 innings pitched, striking out 75 batters. Opponents hit just .186 against him. He had a rarely-seen presence on the mound. When you absolutely needed an out, you knew he would get it. I’m fairly certain I’ve told this story in this space before, but it’s worth repeating: in a win over (eventual College World Series participant) Rice that year, Joseph came on for the save in the ninth. He induced a fly out from the first hitter. With a 1-2 count on pinch hitter Daniel Gonzales-Luna, Joseph threw a beautiful pitch that froze the Rice hitter. It looked for all the world like strike three. Instead it was called ball two. The Cougar contingent loudly voiced its complaints at the home plate umpire. Joseph just took the throw from the catcher and marched back to the mound. He had that look. Sometimes baseball is incredibly predictable. I would have bet my life that he was going to strike Gonzales-Luna out on the next pitch. He did. He then struck out stud shortstop Rick Hague on three pitches. Ball game.

Another aspect that bears repeating: individuals don’t come much more high quality than Donnie. After every game, he would seek out fans and thank them for coming. When the team went through an extreme rough patch to begin the season, Joseph remained upbeat, refused to blame his teammates, and assured fans that things were going to get better. The season may not have ended where we all wanted it to, but things did get better, largely thanks to the clutch pitching of DoJo.

After the season, it became obvious that Joseph would be a hot commodity in the MLB draft. Cougar fans were faced with the awkward predicament of wanting to see Joseph do well for himself, while also kind of hoping he would get drafted low enough that he would choose to come back for his senior season. Heaven knows we could have used him this year. But the Cincinnati Reds drafted Joseph in the third round, and he understandably chose to sign.

Joseph’s professional career has thus far been a resounding success. He was placed in Rookie ball, where he got promoted after just 11.2 innings of work. That sometimes happens when you put up an ERA of under 1.00, with nearly twice as many strikeouts (11) as hits allowed (6). In 20+ innings of work at the A-ball level, Joseph’s ERA rose a bit, but he continued to show a remarkable ability to miss bats, with 31 strikeouts.

Then came the 2010 season, in which Joseph has put up kid-playing-a-video-game-on-a-level-that-is-too-easy-for-him numbers. In 11.1 innings, DoJo has allowed just one run on 5 hits, with 18 strikeouts against 2 walks. In his minor league career, Joseph still has not allowed a home run. A friend of the blog recently e-mailed me to inform me that, for his efforts, Donnie has been named Dayton Dragon’s pitcher of the month, and inspired bloggers to get a little silly.

A Scott & Holman congratulations, and continued best of luck to DoJo.

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In women’s sports, the Cougar soccer team recently signed Kylie Cook, named the best player in the Houston area by the Houston Chronicle. Meanwhile, the softball team will benefit next year from the services of a pair of sisters, Diedre and Haley Outon whose incredible story can be read here. Be sure to get your tissues ready before you click on that link. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. (Thanks to CoogFans poster AustinCoog93 for the link.)

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The Houston Cougar men’s basketball program has recently announced its first two signees of the James Dickey era, a pair of forwards. First it was Midland JC transfer Jonathon Simmons, followed quickly by Mikhail McLean of Second Baptist High. Let’s see, a JuCo player, and a 6’7″ forward who only grabbed 4.4 rebounds per game in high school. Yeah, those don’t sound like the types of players Tom Penders was recruiting at all. But hey, at least they’re from the Houston area!

(*Electroshock collar activates*)

Aaah! I mean, look at McLean’s other offers! Boston College, Auburn and Arkansas! Simmons starred on one of the top JuCo teams in the country! Not bad at all.

Honestly, you can’t judge Dickey & Co. by what they put together with this recruiting class. They’re being forced to try and grab some impact players for next year at the last second. All sarcasm aside, Simmons and McLean could end up being good players for us. But it will be next year’s class that proves whether or not Dickey and assistants Daniyal Robinson, Ulric Maligi and Alvin Brooks have what it takes in the recruiting game.

Point Guard Desmond Wade is believed to be transferring, so let’s take a look at what the 2010-11 roster looks like so far:

Point Guard (2)

Zamal Nixon, Senior
Nick Haywood, Sophomore

Wing (4)

Adam Brown, Senior
Bryce Clark, Sophomore
Simmons, Junior
McLean, Freshman

Post (4)

Maurice McNeal, Senior
Kahmell Broughton, Senior
Kirk Van Slyke, Sophomore
Kendrick Washington, Sophomore

A few thoughts:

-Haywood was the Louisiana 5-A player of the year as a senior in high school, but he didn’t get much work as a freshman last year. Let’s hope Nixon is ready to play some big minutes at the point, and/or that Haywood is ready to step up.

-I think the big storyline so far has to be where the scoring will come from. With the loss of Aubrey Coleman, there isn’t a proven scorer on the roster. That will have to be addressed, one way or another.

-This could be a big team. Out of ten players listed, only three (Nixon, Haywood, Brown) would really qualify as guards. Everybody else is 6’5″ and above. “Big Team” sounds good, but the natural second part of that equation (“Slow Team”) may be a very real detriment. While Brown improved his defense last year, he’s not exactly a proven perimeter stopper. One wonders who’s going to guard the other team’s guards.

That’s about all for me for now. What say you, Cougar faithful? How are you feeling about next year’s team?

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ElViento: No sport lends itself to statistical analysis quite like baseball. In baseball, individual performance can be quantified independent of the performance of one’s teammates much more easily than in other sports.* A quarterback depends on his offensive line and wide receivers (and offensive coordinator, etc.) to put up big passing numbers, whereas a .300 hitter can hit .300 even if placed in a lineup with eight total scrubs.

*Which makes it so wacky that the stats that are teammate-dependant (Runs, Runs Batted In, Wins for pitchers) are among the most-cited stats when determining things like MVP and Cy Young awards. But I digress.

So-called sabermetrics haven’t gotten much of a foothold in the college game yet, which is probably why you see things like rampant sacrifice bunting in a league in which you are allowed to use a metal bat and a designated hitter. Sacrifice bunting is usually a dumb idea in lower-scoring, wood-bat, pitcher-hitting leagues, and if you don’t believe that, you’ve clearly never seen a run expectancy chart.

Anyway, I’m off-topic again. So before I start talking about something completely random, like how good Zombieland was (fucking amazing), let’s get down to brass tacks.

College baseball is harder than professional to analyze statistically, because a single season is such a small sample size (50-some games, as opposed to 162), and because players have careers which are so much shorter (max four years, as opposed to 10+ years). Still, I think there are a few concepts of sabermetrics which might be interesting to apply to the Cougars and Conference USA in order to determine what we can expect from the upcoming season. And some of the following won’t be sabermetrical at all, but will simply be another way of looking at numbers. Feeling nerdy? Let’s dive right in.

Idea #1 – BABIP

Yup, we’re getting math-y right away, with a statistic called BABIP, or Batting Average on Balls In Play. The concept possibly first devised by a dude named Voros McCracken (which practically has to be a pseudonym) is that pitchers can only control certain things, like the frequency with which they strike opposing hitters out, walk opposing hitters, and give up homeruns. Statistical analysis suggests that the numbers a pitcher puts up in these areas stay relatively steady from year to year, and true, lasting improvement has to come from improving upon these numbers. Conversely, if the opposing hitter puts a ball in play (doesn’t walk, doesn’t strike out, doesn’t hit it out of the park), a pitcher has very little control over what happens. Often times an MLB pitcher will have allow one of the highest BABIPs in the league one year, and one of the lowest the next, even though his controllable, peripheral statistics remain constant, perhaps just due to sheer, dumb luck. So if we can expect pitching staffs to allow a BABIP that is near the mean for the league, we can expect teams that allowed flukey low BABIPs to struggle a little more this year, and teams that allowed unluckily high BABIPs to benefit from a regression to the mean. The same concept applies to hitting. (For the following analysis, I will use the formula BABIP = (H-HR)/(AB-HR-K)

I accounted for all statistics accumulated by all C-USA schools, both hitting-wise and pitching-wise. For hitters, East Carolina was the “luckiest” team with a .385 BABIP, and Central Florida was the unluckiest at .325. Eliminating the two outliers, C-USA hitters put together a .344 BABIP. (For reference purposes, all of MLB put up a .303 BABIP in 2009.)

For pitchers, Tulane had the luckiest staff (.303 BABIP) and UCF was again the unluckiest (.390). If we eliminate the outliers, we get a C-USA .334 BABIP.

So aside from the extreme examples, C-USA hit and pitched BABIPs that are just .010 different, which is a difference of one hit every 100 at-bats. That difference is probably due to C-USA having slightly better defense, on average, than its opponents. (Defense is the X-factor here. Teams with better defenses will allow lower BABIPs, because their defensive players will get to more balls. Hence, a team like Rice will continue to have slightly “lucky” looking BABIP every year, because their defense is just awesome.)

What it means: The teams that seemed to be significantly lucky or unlucky in terms of BABIP in 2009 are as follows: ECU (lucky hitters), Rice (lucky hitters [.366 BABIP] and pitchers [.310 BABIP]), UCF (unlucky hitters and pitchers), Houston (unlucky pitchers [.359 BABIP]). So, one might expect the unlucky teams to fare better in 2010, and the lucky teams to do a bit worse.

Idea #2 – Pythagorean W/L

A slightly simpler concept than BABIP, Pythagorean W/L is predicated on the radical idea that teams which outscore their opponents over the course of the year will generally win more often than not. By way of example, if a team scores the same number of runs that it allows, but wins 60% of its games, chances are that said team got pretty lucky.

The simplest formula for determining a team’s Pythagorean (or expected) winning percentage is (RS^2)/(RS^2+RA^2). Taking on the league as a whole, C-USA played to a 286-245 overall record, outscoring opponents 3,672-3,361. That gives us an expected record of 289-242. Not bad. Surprisingly, no team in C-USA differed from its Pythagorean W-L by more than three games. Two teams over-performed by three games (Houston and UCF) nobody under-performed by more than two. So we’ll give UH and UCF lucky check marks, nobody an unlucky check mark, and move on.

Idea #3 – Experience Matters

Let’s move away from sabermetrics for a second now. While impact newcomers show up every year without fail, experienced players are still generally better than inexperienced ones. So let’s take a look at which teams return the most in terms of players from a year ago. We’ll take a look at the offense and the pitching staff. Offensively, we’ll look at what percentage of a team’s 2009 at-bats accumulated return, and for pitching we’ll use innings pitched. While this is a pretty crude method (it won’t take into account things like talented players who were injured coming back [Rob Segedin of Tulane] or injured players who are on their team’s roster, but will miss at least part of the season [Jared Ray of Houston, Mike Ojala of Rice]) it should give us at least a basic idea of who has experienced players heading into the season.

Using this metric, Conference USA as a whole returns 63.3% of both its hitting and pitching from a year ago. No joke. So taking that as the baseline, let’s look at which teams return the most and least from last year. (Taking returning hitting and pitching and averaging the two.)

  1. Rice: 80%
  2. Houston: 77%
  3. Memphis: 77%
  4. UAB: 69%
  5. Marshall: 67%
  6. ECU: 65%
  7. Southern Miss: 54%
  8. Central Florida: 40%
  9. Tulane: 40%

Taking the teams that are significantly away from the mean means Rice, UH and Memphis have noticeable advantages in terms of experience returning, and Southern Miss, UCF and Tulane have noticeable disadvantages.

So with these factors in mind, let’s take a look at last year’s team records (sorted by overall winning percentage), with the factors we’ve just looked at noted parenthetically:

Rice: 43-18, 71% (Good: Most experience. Bad: Possibly lucky at both hitting and pitching.)

ECU: 46-20, 70% (Bad: Possibly lucky at hitting)

Southern Miss: 40-26, 61% (Bad: Not much experience.)

Tulane: 34-25, 58% (Bad: Tied least experience)

UAB: 31-26, 54% (None)

Houston: 27-31, 47% (Good: Experienced, unlucky pitching. Bad: Slightly out-performed pythag.)

Marshall: 22-32, 41% (None)

Memphis: 21-32, 40% (Good: Experienced)

Central Florida: 22-35, 39% (Good: Unlucky hitting and pitching. Bad: Slightly out-performed pythag., tied most inexperienced)

Looking at this, what would you think by way of a power ranking for C-USA for the upcoming season? Probably keep Rice-ECU at 1-2, given how much better they were than everybody else. With Rice having the experience edge, you’d keep them at #1, even though ECU won the C-USA regular season title by a game last year. Southern Miss is inexperienced, but not fatally so. So with a 6-win advantage over anybody else, you probably keep them where they are. Tulane, UAB and Houston are all pretty close, and the Cougars have the biggest pluses, so you move them to #4. You probably have UAB leap-frog Tulane, given the Green Wave’s lack of experience. Memphis takes the small step over Marshall due to experience, and UCF stays in last with a lack of experience, despite the possibility of Lady Luck turning their way in 2010. That would give you a 1-9 power ranking that looks like this:

  1. Rice
  2. ECU
  3. Southern Miss
  4. Houston
  5. UAB
  6. Tulane
  7. Memphis
  8. Marshall
  9. UCF

Switch UAB for Tulane, and Memphis for Marshall, and you have the exact order I listed the teams in for my pre-season power rankings. (Before I had looked up or taken any of this into account.)  I’ll justify Tulane staying at the #5 spot due to the fact that Segedin is back (even though I didn’t mention that in my write-up…d’oh!) and did put up a .322/.414/.485 as a freshman in 2008. I wouldn’t argue with anybody moving the Blazers up to the 5-spot, however. I maintain Marshall at #7 over the Tigers, just because I like what returning talent they do have better than I like that of Memphis. So there.

The End.

If you actually read this entire convoluted mess of an article, show up to a Cougar baseball game, find me, and I will give you $20.

(Not really)

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ElViento: First things first: Congratulations to Courtney Taylor, who surpassed 1,000 career points in a 63-62 victory over UAB this weekend.

But with both men’s and women’s hoops mired in mediocrity, I think long-time reader SACoog said it best, “Baseball, softball, golf..please give me something to live for, this basketball is downright depressing.”

May I say, SACoog, loyal readers, if you start to get bummed out by Cougar basketball, keep in mind you have the following to look forward to:

-6 days until Jackson Jeffcoat announces his college choice.

-8 days until Zombieland comes out on DVD.

-18 days until Houston hosts Ohio State to kick off the college softball season.

-25 days until Houston hosts Texas State to kick off the college  baseball season.

Along those lines, I present to you the Coog Crew Dustin Pre-Season Conference USA Baseball Power Rankings. (Now With Added Capital Letters!)

1. Rice Owls (43-18 in 2009, 16-8 Conference USA)
Strengths: Brock Holt is the only significant loss from an offense that was already scary-good (.320 team avg, 71 HR) last year. This will be a team that hits for a high average, hits a lot of homeruns (five players return who hit 7+ last year), and can steal bases (six players return who stole 7+ bases last year). Mike Ojala and Taylor Wall are a formidable 1-2 at the front of the rotation.
Question Marks: Who else can pitch besides Ojala and Wall? With Ryan Berry off to the pros, the cupboard of proven college pitchers is pretty bare. Mark Haynes is the only other pitcher returning with 20+ IP and a sub-5.00 ERA. As usual, there is a huge crop of young talent coming in, but the Owls will essentially have to find a Sunday starter, a couple mid-week starters, and build an entire bullpen from scratch.

Best Pro Comparison: The left side of the infield as the left side of the New York Yankees infield. Rick Hague as Derek Jeter, and Anthony Rendon as Alex Rodriguez, the more talented player coming in later, and moving from his natural position of SS to 3B to accommodate the other guy.

Team Song: The Sonics – Have Love, Will Travel…The Owls have the cash and prestige to demand a lot of home games, but every year they put together a tough schedule with a lot of roadies. Keep in mind, Conference-USA is a power conference in baseball, so it’s not like a brutal non-conference schedule is required to get in the NCAA tournament. This year Rice was weekend road series against Stanford and San Diego, as well as mid-week contests at UT-Austin, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.

2. East Carolina Pirates (46-20, 17-7)

Strengths: Even with a couple of stud hitters gone, the Pirates return a frightening amount of offensive talent, including pre-season first team All-American Kyle Roller (.336, 16 HR). Roller, Trent Whitehead (.376, 7 HR, 10 SB) and Devin Harris (.344, 14 HR, 13 SB) are among the five returning .300+ hitters. Ace Brad Mincey (3.16 ERA, 10-5) is back as well.

Question Marks: Pitching depth, and play on the road. The Friday starter (Mincey) seems set, and closer Seth Simmons (3.69, 9 sv) is back, but after that, it’s unsure how things will shake out. Spot starter Kevin Brandt (3.64, 6 GS) will likely move into the weekend rotation, but there isn’t much proven pitching talent after that. ECU will also have to prove that they can win away from home. The Pirates have a team that is perfectly-suited to play in the bandbox that is Clark-LeClair Stadium, and a raucous home crowd. However, East Carolina was just 13-11 in road games in 2009. The Pirates are a legit College World Series contender in 2010, but they’re going to have to learn to win away from home.

Best Pro Comparison: Roller as Mo Vaughn. Similar size (Both 6’1”, Roller actually listed a little heavier, if you can believe that), similar numbers. Roller’s ’09 line: .336/.451/.578, HR every 16 AB. Vaughn’s best season (’96): .326/.420/.583, HR every 14.4 AB.

Team Song: Counting Crows – Hanginaround…The Pirates have been hangin’ around Greenville for way too long. They’re overdue for a trip to Omaha. Anything less this year will be considered a disappointment.

3. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (40-26, 12-12)

Strengths: A talented (if top-heavy) roster. USM used two regular starting pitchers, and a handful of spot starters in ‘09, and the top regular – Todd McInnis (3.73 ERA in 101.1 IP) – and  top spot starter – Jeff Stanley (4.23, 6 GS) – are back, as is closer Collin Cargill (3.55, 13 sv). Kameron Brunty (.336, 7 HR) and Joey Archer (.306, 10 HR) are back for the offense.

Question Marks: Overall team depth. Four of the team’s top five hitters are gone and an already-thin pitching staff takes a couple of hits due to graduation, as well. The Golden Eagles will score some runs, but they might struggle to even duplicate 2009’s mediocre 5.14 team ERA.

Best Pro Comparison: Travis Graves as Mike Matheny. The senior catcher is a thoroughly mediocre hitter (.254/.393/.352), but plays Gold Glove-caliber defense (threw out 20 of 49 would-be base stealers).

Team Song: Steely Dan – Do It Again…Golden Eagle fans got their first taste of Omaha in 2009, in former head coach Corky Palmer’s final season, despite a .500 conference record. Can they repeat the feat under the newly-promoted, long-time assistant Scott Berry? Color me skeptical.

Hope that helps tide you over, Cougar fans. Sorry, I couldn’t put UH in the top 3 in good conscience. They’ll appear early in the next batch of previews tomorrow, I promise.

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ElViento: The third weekend of baseball season is like Christmas, my birthday and Arbor Day (don’t ask) all rolled into one.

Houston, Rice, and four top college baseball programs all head to Minute Maid Park for the Houston College Classic every year. Nine games in three days. I call into work, I let my loved ones know they won’t be seeing any of me (unless they show up to the park), and I bask in the beauty of it all.

The field for 2010, besides the co-host Cougars and Owls, includes the Texas-Austin Longhorns, Missouri Tigers, Texas Tech Red Raiders, and TCU Horned Frogs. Of those, the Cougars will face Missouri, UT-Austin and Texas Tech (in that order, from March 5-7). Houston will host TCU for a weekend series later in the season.

The Cougars have competed in the event every year since its inception in 2001, and in that span, they have complied a 10-17 record at the event. Last year, Houston went 0-3 for the first time, breaking a 6-year streak of going exactly 1-2 every year. Last time UH had a winning record at the HCC was 2002, when they beat Baylor and Texas A&M.

Looking at their 2010 opponents, Houston has never faced Missouri at the HCC, the Coogs have gone 1-4 against UT-Austin (having lost the last four) and have a 3-1 record against Texas Tech at Minute Maid.

Let’s take a look at the 2010 field, starting with the hosts:

Houston Cougars (27-31 in 2009)
Strengths: Six hitters return who batted .280 or higher a year ago, led by Blake Kelso (.335) and Caleb Ramsey (.332). Michael Goodnight (4.43 ERA) is the likely Friday starter, and figures to have a big season.
Question Marks: This Cougar team has a lot of potential, but the question marks are many. Where is the rest of the starting pitching going to come from? Can Mo Wiley shake off a poor freshman campaign (in which he was recovering from injury)? Can freshman Eric Brooks (a two-time all-state selection in high school) make a smooth transition to pitching at the college level? With a much deeper lineup, will Rayner Noble have Chase Dempsay focus on pitching, and can Chase return to his 2008, Freshman All-American form as a closer? Can anyone besides Chris Wallace hit for power? (Freshman M.P. Cokinos, Ramsey, and senior William Kankel seem like the best bets.)

Rice Owls (43-18)
Strengths: Brock Holt is the only significant loss from an offense that was already scary-good (.320 team avg, 71 HR) last year. This will be a team that hits for a high average, hits a lot of home (five players return who hit 7+ last year) runs, and can steal bases (six players return who stole 7+ bases last year). Mike Ojala and Taylor Wall are a formidable 1-2 at the front of the rotation.
Question Marks: Who else can pitch besides Ojala and Wall? With Ryan Berry off to the pros, the cupboard of proven college pitchers is pretty bare. Travis Wright is the only other pitcher returning with a sub-4.00 ERA, and he only threw 14.2 innings. Mark Haynes is the only other pitcher returning with 20+ IP and a sub-5.00 ERA. As usual, there is a huge crop of young talent coming in, but the Owls will essentially have to find a Sunday starter, a couple mid-week starters, and build an entire bullpen from scratch.

Missouri Tigers (35-27)
Strengths: Outfielder Aaron Senne returns as one of the top hitters in the Big XII.
Question Marks: The entire pitching staff, and the rest of the lineup. Only one pitcher who started even semi-regularly last year returns, and that’s Nick Tepesch, who put up a 6.27 ERA in 2009. Basically every hitter besides Senne who hit for a decent average and/or any kind of power last year is gone. Losing nearly every significant contributor from last year’s team (which wasn’t exactly dominant in the first place) could spell a lot of trouble for the Tigers.

Texas-Austin Longhorns (50-16-1)
Strengths:The pitching staff is the best in the country, without a doubt. The Longhorns had a sparkling 2.95 team ERA a year ago, and lose only one significant contributor in closer Austin Wood, and Austin Dicharry figures to step right in to fill that role. Kevin Keyes, Cameron Rupp and Connor Rowe give Austin a trio of power threats in the lineup.
Question Marks:Will the Longhorns be able to consistently score runs? Three of the top four hitters are gone, and only one .300 hitter (Keyes) returns.

Texas Tech Red Raiders (25-32)
Strengths:Six of the top eight hitters from a team that hit .299 a year ago are back, including three guys who hit above .325, and slugger Jeremy Mayo (.313, 11 HR). Chad Bettis was Tech’s most effective pitcher last year, coming out of the bullpen and making a few spot starts, and he is back.
Question Marks:The rest of the pitching staff. Nobody else who pitched at least 10 innings managed to keep their ERA under 5.00 last year. None of the weekend rotation returns, but given how they performed last year, that might not be a bad thing. The Red Raiders are probably just going to have to outslug people.

Texas Christian Horned Frogs (40-18)
Strengths:If not for UT-Austin, TCU would have a legitimate claim to best pitching staff in the country. All three members of a very effective weekend rotation return, and the Horned Frogs add Matt Purke, one of the top high school pitchers in the nation a year ago, who was drafted 14th overall by the Texas Rangers, but surprisingly chose to come play for TCU. Closer Eric Marshall (1.48, 9 saves) is back, too. Slugger Bryan Holaday (.300, 10 HR) will lead the offense.
Question Marks
:Only three offensive contributors return for the Horned Frogs, so there are plenty of question marks in the lineup.

There ya have it, folks. So how about it? Are you going to be camping out at Minute Maid Park with me?

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ElViento: With all of the excitement around the Cougar football team, it may be hard to think about the upcoming seasons of other Cougar sports, but let’s take a minute to do just that. The Cougar baseball and women’s basketball teams recently released their full schedules, so let’s take a look.

The Cougar lady hoopsters return their top four scorers of a year ago, and 87% of the team’s total scoring is back. Newcomers include Ohio State transfer Lesslee Mason (the #4 power forward in the country coming out of high school), and a trio of freshman in guard Macy Morton (sister of Cougar junior guard Megan Morton), center Zalika Dyson, and guard Megan Workman. For all of their experience, the Cougar roster still features just two seniors, and the top six returning scorers are non-seniors.

Houston opens with a scrimmage against the Houston Jaguars on November 9th, and begins the season with six of its first seven games on the road. Still, the non-conference slate features home matchups again Oregon State, North Texas, Princeton, Kansas and TCU. Top non-conference road opponents include LSU and Miami. Conference-USA play begins on January 8th at Tulane, and concludes with three straight home games to end the regular season, culminating with a game against Rice at Hofheinz Pavilion on March 4th.

Despite a disappointing 27-31 campaign in 2009, the Houston Cougar baseball team did not shy away from a tough schedule for the upcoming season. In fact, the non-conference slate looks noticeably more difficult than last year’s.

UH will open the season inside the Houston city limits for the seventh consecutive year with a weekend series against Texas State, starting off a streak of ten straight games in Houston to open the season. That run of games includes a weekend series against Santa Clara, a Tuesday game at Rice, and games against Missouri, UT-Austin and Texas Tech at the Houston College Classic, in Minute Maid Park. After that, however, the Cougars hit the West Coast for a brutal eight-game stretch. It starts in San Luis Obispo, California against a Cal Poly team that won 37 games a year ago, posted a 24-7 mark at home, and beat Houston two of three at Cougar Field. The Cougars have back-to-back midweek games against San Francisco and California, before a three-game tilt in Tempe, Arizona against Arizona State. The Sun Devils have been a top-8 seed in the NCAA baseball tournament each of the last three years, making it to Omaha twice in that span.

Other highlights of the schedule include a weekend home series against TCU, and an 8-game home stretch from May 7th to May 18th that includes two C-USA weekend series (Tulane and Marshall) and Tuesday games against Texas A&M and Rice.

Houston ends the regular season at East Carolina. Having met some ECU baseball fans last year, I say thank God we don’t have to host the Pirates this year. The Cougars do host the C-USA tournament, from May 26th to May 30th.

Cougar Fans won’t have to travel far for the Conference tournament

With a daunting schedule ahead of them, the good news is that the Cougars have a lot of talent returning from last year’s squad. Houston returns 98.9% of its hits from a team that batted .282 as a squad. Where the Cougars need to show improvement is earning the extra-base hits. UH slugged just .388 as a team last year, earning 18 fewer XBH than their opponents. Cougar baserunning decisions need to improve as well, because while small ball can work, it doesn’t work when the other team steals 18 more bases than you in just 12 more tries. In addition to all the returning talent (and hopefully increased health for guys like Matt Murphy and David Murphy), there are a plethora of newcomers on the offensive side. San Jacinto JC transfer Ryan Still should contribute on the infield, and freshmen M.P. Cokinos and Alex Anastas have the talent to see the field right away. LSU-Eunice transfer Matt Creel could also see some action.

The Cougars need to see the most improvement out of their pitching staff. Houston got off to a very slow start in that department last year, but the arms slowly improved, and as they did, so did Houston’s record – the Cougars started the season 3-14, but finished 24-17, including a 13-11 mark in C-USA play. The pitching staff will be without Donnie Joseph and Wes Musick, both of whom were drafted and signed after their junior seasons in 2009. Joseph was utterly dominant out of the bullpen last year, ending the season with a 2.16 ERA, a 3-1 record, and 75 K in 50 IP. Joseph – one of the classiest athletes ever to pass through UH – was drafted in the third round by the Cincinnati Reds. Musick struggled again in 2009, and never seemed to have “it” back after a stellar freshman campaign in 2007. Best of luck to both Cougar pitchers in the pros.

The Cougar pitchers who will be back include sophomore Michael Goodnight (4.43, 5-5), junior Jared Ray (5.34, 4-4), sophomore Mo Wiley (6.55, 2-4) and junior Chase Dempsay (5.00, 4-0; also a .275 hitter). For all four, the talent is unquestioned. All have shown flashes – Dempsay was a freshman all-American relief pitcher in 2008 – but need to prove that they can put everything together for an entire season in 2010. If Goodnight, Ray, Wiley and Dempsay can pitch to their potential, and Noble & co. can find some serviceable newcomers to use around them, 2010 could be a very successful year for the Cougars.

Looking around the college football world on Houston’s off-week…

The big news of the weekend is Washington upsetting #3 USC. But is Southern Cal’s annual choke job against a weak Pac-10 opponent really still news? I mean, I guess so. But barely.

UT-Austin got by Texas Tech, 34-24. What we learned about Tech, in a nutshell: their defense is pretty good, their passing game is very good, their running game stinks. So, everything we already suspected was just kind of proven.

Looking around C-USA, it wasn’t a real successful weekend. It took a late rally for Southern Miss to scrape by hapless Virginia. ECU showed that last year’s world-beating tendencies haven’t returned, as they looked overmatched against North Carolina. Tulsa got slaughtered by Oklahoma, to the tune of 45-0. UAB fell to previously winless Troy. SMU choked away the game against the country’s worst BCS-conference team, Washington State.

Doing an adequate job were Rice (lost by “just” 17 to Oklahoma State) and Memphis (took care of business against Tennessee-Martin).

Outperforming expectations were Marshall, who defeated Bowling Green for its second win of the season; Central Florida, who earned C-USA revenge against Buffalo; and UTEP, who thoroughly dominated New Mexico State, for the first win of the season for the Miners.

Aside from the UH-Texas Tech game this coming weekend, I’ll be keeping an eye on the following games:

  • Southern Miss @ Kansas…The Golden Eagles, the trendy pre-season pick out of the east, have looked uninspiring in getting off to a 3-0 start. Playing at a ranked Kansas team will be their first true test of the season.
  • UCF @ East Carolina…This one looked like a laugher before the season started, but it suddenly looks like it’ll be competitive. And every game matters in a lousy C-USA East division.
  • UTEP @ Texas…Can the Miners make this one respectable?
  • UAB @ Texas A&M…A battle of two freakishly athletic QBs (Joe Webb and Jerrod Johnson) on otherwise sorry teams. The Ags are 2-0, but 8-point victories over the Utah States of the world don’t make it look like aTm is a whole lot better than last year’s 4-8 squad.
  • Vanderbilt @ Rice…The Owls haven’t really been in a game yet, but they can take some moral victories away from this weekend. They actually outgained Oklahoma State, for example. Expect a low-scoring affair against Vandy. Rice might have a chance in this one if they can keep it close and make some big plays late.

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RiceOwlsNew87.) Rice (written by ElViento)

’08 Record: 10-3 (7-1 CUSA)

Overview: I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but it looks like Rice lost three pretty good players from last year’s team. Have you heard about this? Yes? Okay, just checking.

In all seriousness, (contractually required reference to impressiveness of Chase Clement, Jarett Dillard and James Casey, and difficulty Rice will have in replacing them).

The last three years have been the most successful in Rice football since the early 1960s. After an appearance in the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl, Rice took a 45-year break from those troublesome post-season football games before a pair of appearances since 2006. Rice’s last bowl victory before 2008’s Texas Bowl drubbing of Western Michigan (accompanied by one of the funnier M.O.B. performances I’ve ever seen) was a 1954 Cotton Bowl victory (made famous by one of the funnier football plays I’ve ever seen).

Getting to back-to-back bowls for the first time since ’60-’61 is going to be an uphill battle for David Bailiff and Rice, given the departures of Clement, Dillard and Casey. (Did we mention that yet?) What Rice does have working in its favor is its top nine tacklers returning. Still, with the above-mentioned players gone, starting tailback C.J. Ugokwe graduating and leaving after his junior season, and Michigan-transfer Sam McGuffie not yet eligible, Rice might want to just focus on 2010, and work that whole “let’s go bowling in the even years” aspect.

Finally, the search for a QB is still a work in progress on South Main, with no clear winner having emerged between senior John Thomas Shepherd (8-15, 78 yards), sophomore Alabama-transfer Nick Fanuzzi, and redshirt freshman Ryan Lewis.

Reasons for Optimism: Rice’s defense, although still lousy in 2008, is trending in the right direction after an unspeakably bad 2007, and with so many returning players, can really only improve for a second straight season. The D-line, led by junior Scott Solomon (40 tackles, 4.5 sacks), has lots of starting experience, and only one senior. In fact, for all of RU’s returning defensive experience, only three seniors are projected starters on Bailiff’s post-Spring two-deep. There are some very talented players in the back seven, including senior LB Terrance Garmon (66 tackles, 7 TFL, 2.5 sacks) and senior S Andrew Sendejo (94 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 3 INT). The cupboard at receiver isn’t entirely bare, with Toren Dixon (50 rec, 598 yards, 5 TD) and Corbin Smiter (30 rec, 487 yards, 3 TD) returning. And, if nothing else, Rice can bank on that dominant 2008 win over UH to supply positive thoughts for the coming season.

Rice also projects four starting sophomores on the O-line, with one junior. All of these might be reasons for optimism for the 2010 season rather than the 2009 season, but reasons for optimism this year are few and far between. So, Rice fans, no matter what your record ends up being this year, keep heart. Your program is headed in the right direction under Bailiff, and 2010 looks like your year, with an experienced QB, McGuffie, and serious experience on the O-line, and defense.

Reasons for Pessimism: Even Rice’s defense, which will have to be the strength of the team, looked less than spectacular in Spring, battling some injuries up the middle. It’s also alarming how many of Rice’s leading tacklers of a year ago are playing in the secondary. Rice’s O-line is inexperienced, and whoever takes the snaps behind them, it won’t exactly be as if they won the job by blowing Bailiff’s socks off. Quoth the Owl coach after the Spring, “As soon as we thought we had someone take that step to be the guy, they had an inconsistent performance.” To make matters worse, Rice began hemorrhaging coaches in the off-season. Both the offensive coordinator and the strength & conditioning coach left for Iowa State, and Wide Receivers coach Dan Hammerschmidt took his awesome name with him to Wyoming. (Silver lining: New Rice OC goes by the name of Ed Zaunbrecher. Nice.)

Season Prediction: One of my biggest concerns with the 2009 Rice football team is the schedule. The Owls will be lucky to win one out-of-conference game (at Texas Tech, at Oklahoma State, vs. Vanderbilt, vs. Navy), they blow two conference home games against teams that are probably too talented for them to beat (Tulsa, UTEP) and they draw East Carolina, on the road, out of the east division. Rice’s four most winnable games are at UAB, vs. UCF, at SMU, and vs. Tulane. Even if the Owls can sweep those four (and none of those is a sure thing), they’d need to steal two more somewhere to achieve bowl eligibility. I don’t see it happening. I do see Rice repeating their 3-9 mark of 2007. Don’t worry, though, Owl fans. 2010 is your year.

Top Web Destination: The Parliament

temple owls86.) Temple (written by SarCoog)

’08 Record: 5-7 (4-4 MAC)

Overview: It’s been a long, uphill struggle for the  Temple Owl faithful that have stuck out the last decade plus of truly terrible football. The arrival of coach Al Golden three years ago and the move to the MAC for football have been important parts of a recent improvement in the team’s fortunes. There are a lot of programs that would not look at a 5-7 record as a positive, but it was the most wins by the team since 1990 and painfully close to a winning season. The Owls lost three games on the final play and in a season like last one, that probably stings the most. Offense has been the biggest issue for Temple recently and they lose an experienced (if not somewhat injury-prone) QB in Adam DiMichele.

Spring practices did not settle the QB battle and junior Vaughn Charlton will battle sophomore Chester Stewart (53-106, 524 yards, 4 TD, 7 INT) for the starting job. Charlton was redshirted last year, but has started 7 games in the previous seasons and is the better pocket passer of the two players. But the biggest issue of last year’s Owl team was a woeful rushing attack that was 109th in the nation with only 95 yards per game. Interestingly enough senior Lamar McPhereson, who’s spent most of his career as an outside LB, was moved to offense and is the #1 back coming out of spring practice. Also competing for carries was last year’s leading rusher, another former defensive player: sophomore Kee-ayre Griffin (394 rushing yards, 4.1 yards/carry, 5 TD). In the receiving corps, Bruce Francis graduates after leading the Owls in yards for 3 straight seasons and also leaves as the #2 all time receiver. Senior Jason Harper (33 receptions, 571 yards, 3 TD) leads all returners and has played both tailback and receiver in his collegiate career. Also it’s worth noting that senior TE Steve Maneri (14 receptions, 150 yards, 4 TD) is a massive 6’6″ 270 pound target who was named the Owls’ most improved offensive player in this year’s spring drills.

Up front the Owl offensive line has a decent amount of experience returning, but the group is still fairly young. Twin sophomore brothers: C Sean Boyle and OT Pat Boyle are starters coming out of spring ball and both saw a good amount of action last season as true freshmen (Pat started 4 games at left tackle). Sophomore OG Wayne Tribue also started 9 games as a freshman last Fall at the left guard spot. Junior OT Darius Morris redshirted last year, but has 4 career starts (all in ’07) and junior OG Colin Madison is the starter coming out of spring ball at right guard. Like most of the other units on this Owl offense, the line is fairly young and will go through some growing pains during the ’09 season.

For as much as the Temple offense struggled, I’m sure the former defensive coordinator Golden was more frustrated with his defense a lot of the time last season. Thankfully, the Owls return 9 starters and their 7 top tacklers from a year ago. The defensive line will miss DT Terrance Knighton, who was a 1st team All-MAC selection and a 3rd round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Senior DE Junior Galette (46 tackles, 10 TFL, 7.5 sacks) led the Owls in sacks last year, but after missing spring ball he was listed 2nd on the depth chart behind sophomore Morkeith Brown. Another guy worth mentioning is senior DT Andre Neblett (37 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 1 sack) who’s been a 2nd team All-MAC selection each of the past 2 seasons. The two most experienced linebackers are junior Elijah Joseph (54 tackles, 2.5 TFL) and senior Alex Joseph (87 tackles, 3.5 TFL). Although these two Josephs are not related, Elijah’s twin brother Elisha Joseph is a projected starter at DT. (Side note: How many other Division 1-FBS teams have TWO pairs of twins on their roster?)

As ElViento mentioned in his Rice preview it should be a cause of concern when defensive backs account for a large number of your team’s tackles… which is the case here with the Owls. Junior Jaiquawn Jarrett (88 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 3 INT) led the team in tackles from his free safety position and senior CB Jamal Schulters (71 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 3 INT) was third in tackles. Although the ’09 spring depth chart lists Schulters behind sophomore Jared Williams at the ‘field corner’ position. Senior SS Dominique Harris (66 tackles, 3 INT) was tied for the team-lead in interceptions and will likely conclude his Temple career as a four-year starter. If any group is going to help this Temple defense improve seriously, it’s going to be the secondary.

Reasons for Optimism: Really, how can you not be optimistic if you’re a Temple football fan right now? You have a coach in Golden that seems to get it and the team is not hopelessly overmatched against Big East competition or in a horrible limbo as an independent. The defense will be fairly experienced and clearly there’s enough talent on the roster so that seemingly established starters are still fighting for their jobs. On the offense, both Vaughn Charlton and Chester Stewart have enough in-game experience to take over under center. The  defense will almost certainly improve and hey the offense can’t get too much worse, can it?

Reasons for Pessimism: The offense just hasn’t really been that good at any point in the last four seasons. Granted it’s way better than it was before, but it’ll still be one of the least effective groups in the MAC. There’s a young offensive line and only a couple proven players at the skill positions. They may not regress, but I don’t see any serious improvement for the Owls. The defense needs to improve if this team is going to improve in the win column and there’s no guarantee that will happen either.

Season Prediction: As a sharp contrast to years full of games where the Owls had virtually no chance of beating their opposition, the ’09 schedule is fairly generous. There is a body bag game at Penn State and a tough road trip to Navy… but every other game is a winnable one for the Owls. Also in their MAC schedule they avoid the two best teams in the conference: Central Michigan and Western Michigan. All that being said, the Owls will not be the only improved team in the MAC and they’ll need to really improve on both sides of the ball to accomplish this. I see them improving by a single win for the 3rd year in a row to finish with a 6-6 record. I could also see this team reaching 7 wins and getting to a bowl game. Either way they’ll be a cool underdog to root for, kind of like Buffalo was this past season.

Top Web Destinations: Owls Daily or Owl Scoop

Kansas_State_Wildcats85.) Kansas State (written by SarCoog)

’08 Record: 5-7 (2-6 Big 12)

Overview: After the mostly disappointing Ron Prince era (that was rife with awesome dance moves), the Wildcats decided to go with an old favorite and (re)-hired former head coach Bill Snyder this off-season. Although there’s been no coach in KState history that’s had even a fraction of the success that Snyder has had I was still skeptical. I mean after all the program had back-to-back losing seasons before Snyder retired initially in 2005. He will need to catch up with the college football landscape and deal with the fact that neighboring Kansas is no longer a ‘patsy’ team.

The ‘Cats lose the schools all-time leading passer: Josh Freeman and probably the biggest task of this coaching staff is to find the right signal caller. Junior Carson Coffman (25-41, 282 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) was the #2 guy behind Freeman last year, but will have to hold off Juco transfer Daniel Thomas who may be a better fit for the Snyder offense (Thomas is in the same mold as former KSU QBs Michael Bishop and Ell Roberson). The running back position is also in somewhat of a flux, as the top two returning guys may not even be playing the position come this fall. Junior Lamark Brown (412 rushing yards, 3.5 yards/carry, 5 TD) moved back to receiver in spring drills and sophomore Logan Dold (333 rushing yards, 4.1 yards/carry, 3 TD) also practiced some at safety. Ultimately though I expect Dold will be starting at running back in the season opener against UMass. There’s a lot more experience in the receiving corps, where all-conference senior WR/KR/PR Brandon Banks (67 receptions, 1,049 yards, 9 TD) returns along with senior TE Jeron Mastrud (38 receptions, 435 yards, 2 TD) and senior WR Aubrey Quarles (34 receptions, 407 yards, 1 TD). The OLine lost some experienced guys from last year, but do return starters senior OG Brock Unruh and senior OT Nick Stringer.

The biggest issue of the Prince Era was defense and the ’08 season was probably the lowest of low points when it came to the Wildcat defense. They finished 117th in total defense (479.08 yards/game), 112th in rushing defense (217.67 yards/game) and 106th in pass defense (261.42 yards/game). Those numbers are painful to the faithful that were used to KSU having stifling defenses under Coach Snyder. There’s a good amount of experience coming back on defense and up front sophomore DE Brandon Harold (45 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 3 sacks) was a freshman All-American in ’08. Harold is a 6’6″ 264 pound athletic freak and should develop into one of the best Big 12 pass rushers. Senior DE Eric Childs (52 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks) also returns at opposite end of the line and will be joined by Virginia-transfer senior DT Jeffrey Fitzgerald who’s a former freshman All-American and a starter in 25 games for UVA. Senior John Houlik (29 tackles) and sophomore Alex Hrebec (68 tackles, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT) are the two most experienced returning linebackers and will like start at the stronside and middle positions respectively. The coaching staff switched (back) to a 4-2-5 defense in  the spring practice and that’ll feature a safety/linebacker ‘Rover’ position.

It’s kind of a bad sign when a defensive back is your leading tackler and it’s even worse when that player is a cornerback. But junior Joshua Moore (76 tackles, 5 TFL, 0.5 sack, 3 INT) led the ‘Cats in tackles last year and was an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection. They also return one of the other top tacklers from this past season: senior SS Courtney Herndon (61 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 INT). Last year, in his first year at a new position sophomore FS Tysyn Hartman (49 tackles) did relatively well and should improve with a years worth of experience under his belt. Overall this secondary and really this defensive unit as a whole can only improve under Snyder and a more competent coaching staff.

Reasons for Optimism: There’s really only been one coach in the modern era of KSU football that’s had any success: Bill Snyder. I’m not saying it’s impossible for anyone else to have success in the ‘Little Apple’, but nobody out there has a better track record than Snyder. It was clear that even only 3 years in, Ron Prince and his staff weren’t the right fit and a change desperately needed to be made. The experience and raw talent is there on the defensive side of the ball, but now there seems to be a coaching staff that can develop it. Finally in typical Snyder fashion there’s a pillowy soft non-conference that includes Division 1-FCS teams UMass and Tennessee Tech, along with a bad Louisiana team. But that’ll allow a young offense to gain some confidence and allow the ‘Cats to have a much prettier record by the end of this coming season.

Reasons for Pessimism: While Snyder and his staff have shown so far that they can adjust to the times with early recruiting and the like, I have to see how he fairs after three years out of the game. When he was first re-hired I though the decision was a desperate attempt to recapture a previous era of KSU football… instead of finding the right candidate for the future. One thing I’d be worried about if I was a Wildcat fan was the lack of experience all around on offense. Inexperience plus a new system and coaching staff does not typically equate to success when it comes to offense. Finally while the non-conference schedule may be soft, the ‘Cats have tough road trips to Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas Tech. Plus they’ll have to host rivals Kansas and Missouri, against which they’re a combined 0-6 in the past three seasons.

Season Prediction: I think the non-conference games against the FCS schools will be a nice buffer for the win total. This team has an outside chance of going 4-0 in the non-conference, but a trip to UCLA may prove difficult and I’d be surprised if ‘Cats won out on the West Coast. Things get rather difficult come time for Big 12 play and Iowa State is the only team they’re head and shoulders above in terms of talent. I think they could win at home against Texas A&M and Colorado, but there are no guarantees. My prediction is a another 5-7 record, with a shot at 6-6. Unlike last year, I don’t see the Wildcats looking awful on defense again and they’ll be significantly more competitive (especially against Missouri and Kansas).

Top Web Destinations: KStatefans or Go Power Cat

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