Southern Miss is coming off a school-record breaking 50- win season and a regular season Conference USA title as well as hosting the school’s second ever Regional.
The No.25 Golden Eagles, according to Collegiate Baseball, now looks to duplicate the results and hopefully carry it to a potential second ever trip to the College World Series.
Southern Miss’ schedule faces an early daunting task of opening the season against in-state rival No. 13 Mississippi State, who last season defeated Southern Miss in the Hattiesburg regional.
However, excluding Miss. St., Southern Miss only faces three other teams that made the NCAA tournament last season which are No. 17 South Alabama, Southeastern and conference opponent Rice. Winning that early matchup against Miss. St. will be pivotal in establishing Southern Miss’ RPI (rating percentage index).
Although the schedule lacks teams that made post season play, several non-conference teams will pose admirable challenges and hopefully make up for the Stony Brook change which hurt the strength of their schedule as the team now faces three Division II schools.
The most notable non- conference matchups for the Golden Eagles come from the Sun Belt Conference as Southern Miss hosts Georgia Southern who finished last season with a 38-21 record and having a midweek series against South Alabama. Another tough Sun Belt team is No. 18 University Louisiana-Lafayette, who won the weekend series against Southern Miss last season. Even though the Rajin’ Cajuns missed the postseason, they still posted 35 wins and had made the NCAA tournament four times in a row along with two appearances in the Super Regionals.
In conference, Southern Miss faces several major matchups with Old Dominion and Rice. Old Dominion was the only series in conference that the Golden Eagles lost and Rice defeated Southern Miss in the C-USA tournament’s championship game.
Potentially, the Golden Eagles could face a respectable schedule as the team still encounters reputable challenges but they will need to win to maintain a high RPI in order to make up for the lack of conference prestige. This will be pivotal if the Golden Eagles hope to host another Regional and potentially a national seed.
Southern Miss returns many of their key hitters that helped orchestrate a team batting average of.307 that led the team to fourth in the nation in both runs per game and hitting home runs (90).
Another successful season is possible if the Golden Eagles can reestablish their pitching staff and replace Kirk McCartey, who was drafted in the sixth round by the Cleveland Indians, and Taylor Braley, who was drafted in the seventh round by the Miami Marlins.
Coupled with a strong offense and a seasoned bullpen led by All- American Nick Sandlin, this will assist the new weekend starters in reasserting themselves as the best pitching staff in conference.