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February 2010 Archives

Hiatus

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I had every intention of posting a blog entry following the Owls-Cardinal series, and because everyone was at the Sunken Diamond for so long on Saturday (shivering throughout), Sunday morning was the targeted time for when I would compile thoughts on the Stanford sweep.

But then I got an alarming text from my wife on Sunday morning. She and I were expecting, initially given a due date of March 23 (which is why I booked the trip to Palo Alto) only to have that bumped back 13 days. No worries, right? Surely my first son wouldn't decide to make his appearance two-plus weeks early while I was watching quality baseball in Northern California?

Mizan Kekoa Bower had other plans. My wife started having contractions on Sunday morning, and my second child was delivered at 3:14 p.m. (Central). He was a bit premature so he's had some minor complications, but he seems to be improving rapidly. I couldn't be more thrilled.

I'm sharing this news to alert you all that The R will be quiet for a couple of weeks. I'm going to take some time to spend with my family, to help my wife finish preparing the nursery that remains incomplete, to help my son make the transition from the hospital to his home, and to help my daughter deal with the fact that she is no longer the focal point of her parents' full attention. My goal is to be back in the blogging saddle for the Rice-Sam Houston State game at Reckling Park on March 9, but this situation is fluid. The Miz has already proven to be a tad unpredictable, so we'll just play the next couple of weeks by ear. Maybe the Owls can get their act together while I am away on paternity leave. There is nothing wrong with hope, is there?

Regards,

MK

Rice-Stanford: Game 2

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Rice-Stanford: Game 1

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Hooray!!!

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Ten Questions To Ponder For 2010

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Because the season opener at Stanford is 53 hours away, and the excitement is killing you!

1. Will So. LHP Taylor Wall develop into the premiere southpaw ace in program history?

What do Matt Anderson, Kenny Baugh, Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend have in common? Yes, they are considered among the best pitchers in Rice annals, were first-round selections in their respective amateur drafts, and are righthanded. Aside from Norm Charlton, Joe Savery and Mario Ramos, Rice pitching has been largely defined by sensational righthanded starters. Wall enters his second season with the program as the staff ace, and that fact plus his lefthanded leanings put him in rare company. The talent and tenacity are there - ask Marshall and Kansas State - so perhaps opportunity is all Wall needs to thrive.

2. How long will Fr. 2B Michael Ratterree bat leadoff, especially if he flashes power potential?

The OG is committed to Ratterree atop the order because the gifted freshman has shown plate discipline. And just because he will open the season leading off doesn't mean Ratterree is expected to sacrifice opportunities to bash early in counts. Brock Holt smacked a dozen homers batting first in 2009, and given his ample strength and sturdy build, Ratterree possess similar slugging potential. If he goes on a power surge will Ratterree drop in the order as to maximize his run-producing potential, or will The OG stick with getting Ratterree more at-bats?

3. Can Sr. C Diego Seastrunk rediscover the batting stroke that made him lethal in 2008, improve his defensive skills behind the dish, or do both in his final season in a Rice uniform?

GDG hit .353/.393/.504 with 6 homers and 61 RBIs as a sophomore but slumped to .288/.397/.456 with 7 homers and 45 RBIs while making the transition from third base to catcher in 2009. He got a mulligan while tackling such a huge undertaking, but now that he is entering his second season as the starting backstop, the Owls need GDG to revisit his gap-peppering form. Will he be able to reclaim his offensive prowess while improving his technique as a defensive catcher, especially considering the exacting standards of The OG?

4. Which role best suits Jr. RHP Boogie Anagnostou - starter or stopper?

The Alvin College (by way of TCU) transfer certainly has the arsenal to excel as a starter - solid change, sharp breaking ball and a developing two-seam fastball, but he has plenty of experience out of the bullpen. As a potential closer Anagnostou could focus on utilizing two pitches, and his demeanor on the mound is ideal for a pitcher expected to finish tight games. So much of what happens with Anagnostou depends on what unfolds around him. If Sr. RHP Jared Rogers, RS Fr. RHP Anthony Fazio and Fr. RHP Tyler Duffey manage as starters, Anagnostou can stay in the bullpen and inflict damage. If not, he might move into the rotation.

5. Can Sr. RHP Mike Ojala pull a Bobby Bell two years later - triumphantly return from Tommy John surgery after the season starts, stabilize the bullpen, and help lead the way to Omaha?

Ojala is The Big Unknown. His rehab from midsummer surgery has gone as well as anyone could have anticipated, and no matter how hard The OG tries not to think about Ojala, it remains on the forefront of his mind when he considers the second half of this season. A healthy Ojala operating out of the bullpen would be a boon to the Owls' title hopes. If his breaking ball returns to form - Ojala features the best curve on the staff - Ojala could thrive as a closer, and if his arm strength builds as the season progresses, Ojala might return to the rotation in time for the postseason. A healthy Ojala for the Houston Regional? Dream big.

6. How many errors will the wizardry of Sr. 1B Jimmy Comerota save the left side of the Rice infield, and when will his defensive contributions garner the admiration they so justly deserve?

It's too easy to get caught up in his nicknames and his hustle and his selflessness and his versatility. Comerota is an exceptional defensive first baseman, a fact validated by his return to the position in the final days of intrasquads and the Owls' sudden defensive improvement. Comerota scoops balls out of the dirt with aplomb - just ask So. 3B Anthony Rendon and Jr. SS Rick Hague - and smothers sharply-hit grounders with a deft touch. Instead of lauding how hastily Comerota dashes down the line after taking Ball 4, tip your cap to his stellar defense.

7. Will RS So. LF Michael Fuda parlay his considerable upside into a breakout season?

He is strong, fast, and has caught the eye of the scouting community as he prepares to enter his first draft-eligible season as a collegian. But Fuda is also prone to vicious cycles of self-flagellation, so it's difficult to determine how he will handle those inevitable slumps that ensnarl every player. His speed is blinding, particularly when he is darting around the bases or attempting to beat out a bunt, and those flashes of power are tantalizing. But Fuda is his own worst critic, so his collection of tools won't be fully revealed until he can shake off lost at-bats.

8. Which unproven pitcher will drastically exceed expectations and become a valuable asset?

There are plenty to pick from. Will it be Jr. LHP Tony Cingrani, a transfer who will open the season as the Sunday starter, or will Sr. RHP Jared Rogers rebound from the 6.15 ERA he posted while pitching through elbow discomfort last season? So. RHP Matthew Reckling will shoulder a heavier load as will Jr. LHP Doug Simmons, who might share closing duties with Anagnostou. RS Fr. RHP Anthony Fazio is back from Tommy John surgery, and a gaggle of freshmen RHPs - Tyler Duffey, Chase McDowell, Tyler Spurlin and J.T. Chargois - might be called upon to help Rice make its annual push to Omaha. Who will embrace the challenge?

9. Will So. 3B Anthony Rendon see enough pitches to stay on pace to become the Owls' most decorated position player since Lance Berkman helped establish the program in the late '90s?

It's easy to take pitches (a remarkable .461 on-base% in 2009) when only your coaches, teammates and immediate observers know how supremely talented you truly are. When national media pronounce you as the best position player eligible for the 2012 draft, expectations change. Pitchers will be far more delicate in handling El Martillo, who subsequently will need the patience of Job to deal with all the base on balls sure to come his way. Rendon plays the game with such infectious enthusiasm that he appears above outward frustration, but if he doesn't get the opportunity to match or best the fabulous numbers he produced as a freshman (.388 with 20 homers and 72 RBIs), how will Rendon handle the questions that will surely follow pondering whether or not he was just a one-season wonder?

10. A self-described leader by example, is Jr. SS Rick Hague prepared for the responsibility of leading this veteran team while managing the pressure of being in a draft-eligible season?

Hague is everything a coach could desire from someone serving as the face of a program. He has a profile fit for stardom, humility, and an exceptional set of skills (Hague is a first-round prospect). For two years Hague deferred to upperclassmen, but now the season he craved internally has finally arrived. He is the Owls' linchpin, and his ability to lead will be on display from the opening game throughout the season. Hague is expected to thrive on and off the field, and that's an awful lot to ask of anyone, even someone seemingly so perfect for the job.

Stanford Travel Squad

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If there were any lingering doubts as to the preparedness of Jr. LHP Matt Evers, they were summarily squashed when Evers struck out Jr. RF Chad Mozingo on a wicked breaking ball late Tuesday afternoon. And when Evers fanned Sr. CF Steven Sultzbaugh with a gorgeous change. And when Evers induced Jr. 1B Abe Gonzales to hit a soft liner to Jr. SS Rick Hague.

Evers ostensibly sealed his spot on the travel squad with his perfect inning of work. Without further ado, here are the 28 Owls set to travel for the season-opening series against Stanford:

1. Jr. RHP Boogie Anagnostou
2. So. RHP Andrew Benak
3. Jr. LHP Tony Cingrani
4. Sr. 1B Jimmy Comerota
5. Fr. RHP Tyler Duffey
6. Jr. LHP Matt Evers
7. RS Fr. RHP Anthony Fazio
8. RS So. LF Michael Fuda
9. So. OF Daniel Gonzales-Luna
10. Jr. IF/LHP Abel Gonzales
11. Jr. SS Rick Hague
12. Sr. RHP Mark Haynes
13. So. C Craig Manuel
14. Fr. OF/RHP Chase McDowell
15. Fr. LHP Holt McNair
16. Jr. RF Chad Mozingo
17. Sr. RHP Mike Ojala
18. Fr. C Geoff Perrott
19. So. OF Jeremy Rathjen
20. Fr. 2B Michael Ratterree
21. So. RHP Matthew Reckling
22. So. 3B Anthony Rendon
23. Sr. RHP Jared Rogers
24. Sr. C Diego Seastrunk
25. Jr. LHP Doug Simmons
26. Fr. RHP/IF Tyler Spurlin
27. Sr. CF Steven Sultzbaugh
28. So. LHP Taylor Wall

The OG: "We're leaving some guys behind that can help us later on if they keep working."

Notable: The OG will have to pare three additional names off this list when the Owls travel to San Diego in the middle of March. ... Fr. RHP/IF J.T. Chargois made his pitching debut and closed preseason intrasquads with a dandy breaking ball that retired Rendon. ... Stanford So. LHP Brett Mooneyham, the scheduled starter for the Cardinal in the series opener on Friday, has a touch of the flu and will instead start the finale on Sunday. So. RHP Jordan Pries and So. LHP Scott Snodgress will move up one day in the rotation to accommodate Mooneyham.

Inching Closer To The Opener

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So, one week after colliding with So. OF Daniel Gonzales-Luna while pursuing a fly ball in shallow right field and suffering a bruised left elbow plus a head gash that required multiple stitches to close, Fr. 2B Michael Ratterree went 3-for-4 with three RBIs in his first intrasquad appearance since. Suffice it to say that Ratterree will be available for the opener at Stanford.

"It's good to see Ratterree come back and obviously be ready to play," The OG said. "That (the arm injury) was a concern."

Following the Owls' penultimate intrasquad of the preseason on Monday, The OG revealed his opening weekend rotation as well as several of the players poised to make the trip to NoCal, but acknowledged that he won't complete his travel roster until Tuesday evening. The OG has decided on 26 of the 28 who will travel, with three Owls battling for the final two roster slots.

Here are the starters for the Owls-Cardinal non-conference series at Sunken Diamond:

Friday: So. LHP Taylor Wall (7-6, 3.72 ERA in 2009) vs. So. LHP Brett Mooneyham (6-3, 4.14)
Saturday: Sr. RHP Jared Rogers (4-1, 6.15) vs. So. RHP Jordan Pries (4-4, 4.62)
Sunday: Jr. LHP Tony Cingrani (5-4, 3.51 w/South Suburban College) vs. So. LHP Scott Snodgress (1-3, 5.85)

Rogers gets the nod over RS Fr. RHP Anthony Fazio for two reasons. On Sunday, Rogers allowed just two runs over five innings, but better still was his command of the sinking fastball. Rogers has built his velocity to 87-90, and by consistently pitching at the knees he earned an opportunity to prove that his finishing kick last season was no fluke. Second, Fazio has yet to make his Division I debut, so instead of choosing Stanford as the location for his initial start, The OG is leaning toward using Fazio in relief in advance of a midweek start against Texas State or Lamar. With Fazio "still hunting for command of his breaking ball," the call to allow him to get his feet wet on the road before notching his first career start makes perfect sense.

The OG pulled Jr. LHP Abel Gonzales and Sr. RHP Mark Haynes early on Monday because he anticipates both might help the staff this weekend. Others expected to see mound time against the Cardinal: Fr. RHP Chase McDowell, So. RHP Matthew Reckling, Jr. RHP Boogie Anagnostou, Jr. LHP Doug Simmons, Fazio and the aforementioned weekend rotation.

McDowell is almost sure to see action, for The OG feels the need for McDowell and Fazio to take their "maiden voyage" as Division I players. Additionally, McDowell, who homered off Gonzales on Monday, is likely the first lefthanded pinch hitter off the bench. If So. OF Jeremy Rathjen is in the starting lineup as the designated hitter, Fr. IF Tyler Spurlin could fill the role as the righthanded pinch hitter in the event the Owls actually need one against the Cardinal.

The OG did not broach this subject, but Anagnostou seems like a prime candidate to close. He has flashed a good curveball during intrasquads and hit 93 with his fastball on Sunday. A likely scenario involves his sharing the job with Simmons during the first weeks of the season.

A Reckless Stab At The Stanford Travel Roster

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While producing an earnest attempt to not tear my labrum while patting myself on the back, I must admit that I did a mighty fine job predicting the travel roster for the Fidgety Owls in advance of the football season opener at UAB. Since I live my life on the brink of catastrophe, I'll delve into the pool of prognostication once again and foretell the 28 players who will take that flight to NoCal. I've witnessed enough intrasquads to cobble together a (somewhat) educated guess, although I concede that determining the last three or four spots ultimately handcuffed me. These picks are, as is always the case, for entertainment purposes only.

IF (7): Sr. 1B Jimmy Comerota; Fr. 2B Michael Ratterree; Jr. SS Rick Hague; So. 3B Anthony Rendon; Sr. C Diego Seastrunk; So. C Craig Manuel; Fr. C Geoff Perrott.

Notable: Ratterree manned second base for the Gray on Sunday, and while he did not bat, Ratterree did complete a live session of batting practice prior to the intrasquad. He is scheduled for full participation on Monday, so he appears good to go. Now, exhale gently.

OF (5): RS So. LF Michael Fuda; Sr. CF Steven Sultzbaugh; Jr. RF Chad Mozingo; So. LF/CF Jeremy Rathjen; So. RF Ryan Lewis.

Notable: Sultzbaugh has looked like the second coming of Jim Edmonds defensively, and while Fuda filled in admirably for Ratterree at second, the return of Ratterree allows Fuda to slide back into left. He hit another homer Sunday, doing so for a second consecutive day. If he puts all those tools together, the Owls will have a welcome bopper at the bottom of the order.

UT (3): Jr. LHP/1B Abe Gonzales; Fr. RHP/OF Chase McDowell; Fr. RHP/1B Tyler Spulin.

Notable: Gonzales provided a steadier glove at first compared to Lewis, which should facilitate the shift of Lewis back to right field. Spurlin appears to be the third first baseman and behind McDowell in the bullpen pecking order. McDowell was hitting 91 on Saturday with a solid breaking ball. If he can throw strikes immediately upon entering the game, he'll be an asset.

RHP (6): RS Fr. Anthony Fazio; Sr. Mike Ojala; So. Matthew Reckling; Sr. Jared Rogers; Jr. Boogie Anagnostou; Fr. Tyler Duffey. 

LHP (4): Jr. Tony Cingrani; So Taylor Wall; Jr. Doug Simmons; Fr. Holt McNair.

Notable: Reckling looked sharp on Sunday, another performance that bolsters my belief in the bullpen. If a decision has been made to start Duffey against Texas State or Lamar, perhaps he remains in Houston if the Owls are positive that he won't be needed in long relief. McNair has pitched his way on to the travel roster, so he makes the trip regardless of his prior credentials.

Bubble (4): So. OF Daniel Gonzales-Luna; Jr. LHP Matt Evers; Sr. RHP Mark Haynes; So. RHP Andrew Benak.

Notable: Perhaps the lefty Lewis squeezes by DGL as the fifth outfielder, but who is to say The OG doesn't take six? If so, one of the three aforementioned pitchers stays behind, but given how well Haynes and Benak have pitched during spring intrasquads and the strong effort Evers delivered on Saturday, splitting hairs here is exceedingly difficult. Does The OG carry four southpaws in his bullpen? Would he leave an experienced senior like Haynes home? How can one not reward Benak for the progress he's made? Really, really tough call.

The Weekend Of Reckoning (Sort Of)

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If the weather cooperates and the Owls can maintain their intrasquad schedule, this weekend should tell the tale of who makes the trip to Stanford. The OG anticipates making his final decision on the travel squad on Monday, Tuesday at the latest, so whatever jobs are left to be won will be done so this weekend. Most of the frontline starters will pitch this weekend, with significant roles in the bullpen to be sorted to a greater extent by performances on Saturday and Sunday. The OG stated that he will leave between 3-5 of his healthy pitchers in Houston next weekend, so for those riding the bubble, the next few intrasquads mean an awful lot.

The OG aims to get the scrimmages started at 3:15. Here are the pitchers scheduled to work:

Saturday: So. LHP Taylor Wall; Jr. LHP Tony Cingrani; Fr. RHP Chase McDowell; Fr. LHP Holt McNair; Jr. LHP Matt Evers; Jr. LHP Doug Simmons; Fr. RHP Tyler Duffey.

Sunday: Sr. RHP Jared Rogers; RS Fr. RHP Anthony Fazio; So. RHP Matthew Reckling; Jr. RHP Boogie Anagnostou.

Wall and Cingrani will work five innings and/or 80 pitches, with McDowell and McNair set to pitch three innings and/or 70 pitches. Evers and Simmons will work two innings and also pitch Tuesday; Duffey will pitch on Monday, so expect him to work no more than an inning Saturday.

Rogers and Fazio will pitch between 4-5 innings on Sunday while Reckling and Anagnostou will log three innings apiece. The OG wants all four pitchers ready for action for the middle game of the season-opening series, but will closely monitor the outings of Reckling and Anagnostou this weekend in the event that he wants one or both to work the opener in relief.

Of note: The OG will take 28 players to Stanford, three over the normal travel roster size. Because the Owls won't take another road series until mid-March at San Diego, The OG wants to keep every option in play this weekend and through the first four weeks of the season. Injured Sr. RHP Mike Ojala will make the trip to Stanford, and The OG committed to his three two-way players - Jr. LHP/1B Abel Gonzales, Fr. RHP/IF Tyler Spurlin and McDowell - having roster spots. It's safe to assume that Wall, Cingrani, Rogers, Fazio, Duffey, Reckling, Anagnostou and Simmons are locks to get on that bird Thursday morning, so that makes 11 pitchers (discounting Ojala). Benak (who has shown marked improvement this spring), Haynes and McNair look safe too, so that's 14. Evers might be the 15th and final arm.

The OG hopes to know more about the status of Fr. 2B Michael Ratterree by Monday. Ratterree collided with So. RF Daniel Gonzales-Luna on Monday, and while his noggin is healing nicely, he did suffer a bruised left arm on the play. With his post-fall backup, Fr. J.T. Chargois, out for Stanford, the Owls would be in a mild quandary if Ratterree is unavailable.

Bailiff Announces Restructured Staff

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First, a glance at the newly remodeled football staff:

Head Coach - David Bailiff

Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks - David Beaty

Run game coordinator/tight ends/offensive tackles - John Reagan

Receivers - Larry Edmondson

Offensive line - Ronnie Vinklarek

Running backs/recruiting coordinator - Rick LaFavers

Co-defensive coordinator/safeties - Chuck Driesbach

Co-defensive coordinator/defensive line/special teams - Craig Naivar

Linebackers - Darrell Patterson

Cornerbacks - Jason Washington

Quality control - Chase Clement

Offensive GA - David Sloan

Defensive GA - Michael Slater


When former Owls defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Darin Eliot opted to leave South Main for Tallahassee, the move opened the door for Bailiff to revamp his offensive staff. The previous configuration was flawed, and with two staff positions vacated (Ed Zaunbrecher left to pursue other opportunities following his lone season as the Owls' offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach) Bailiff added Beaty, Reagan and Sloan. His shifting of responsibilities on defense started with the relocation of Patterson to linebackers and concluded with Driesbach and Naivar tackling new positions where they coached previously.

"When Coach Eliot left, that allowed me some flexibility to hire some guys offensively that I thought the program would really benefit from," Bailiff said. "To be able to hire David Beaty back and also John Reagan, who has been the run game coordinator at Kansas, I thought that would really accelerate us offensively to get back in the direction that I want to go where we were two years ago. That was something that I needed to do."

Bailiff on Reagan and Sloan: "Bringing John in and being able to get David Sloan - we've always had a graduate assistant that was an offensive line graduate assistant. Well this time we could go out and get a guy that wants to be a college football coach and that would volunteer a year, and get a guy like David Sloan. So that's what led to our GA no longer (being an offensive line coach); he's a tight end coach that's going to learn things that open the door for John Reagan to be a tackle/tight end coach. With John being the run game coordinator and the tackle/tight end, he's going to be the tight end coach in the run game; Dave is going to be the tight end coach working with the guys in the passing game. If you think back in the past at practice, what Ronnie would do - or (former Owls offensive line coach) Blake (Miller) - is always give the tackles to the graduate assistant. So it's really a lot of the same structure over there, except I think we've upgraded bringing in a run game coordinator from Kansas and bringing in David Sloan to help those guys."

Bailiff on the shuffling of responsibilities on defense: "Darrell ... was an NFL linebacker, a CFL linebacker - the majority of the time he had been a linebacker coach. I know that his passion was defensively. And making Craig, who had been the special teams coordinator at Sam Houston, with his personality with the special teams (made sense). So everybody I moved had coached those positions before. Craig had been the D-line coach at Sam Houston and the special teams coordinator there, and the D-line coach and special teams coordinator at Southern Illinois. Chuck was the safety coach at Ole Miss, so it's been in the same defense.

It gives these kids clean slates with coaches to where there is excitement. The slate is wiped clean on everybody. When I made that announcement to the team they were extremely excited. All the moves help us win football games."

Bailiff on selecting LaFavers as the recruiting coordinator: "When D.J. left, he was also our recruiting coordinator. To be a recruiting coordinator you have to be one of the most organized men on the planet to keep up with all the moving parts. That's why I moved Rick - it wasn't that I'm upset with him, it's that he is so organized that he helps us win in that capacity."

The Catchers

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The determination is unyielding and the instruction doesn't cease.

Example 1: Sr. C Diego Seastrunk deftly slid to his left to scoop a pitch in the dirt, making the move with such casual grace that a layman would not detect any flaws in his technique. But before Seastrunk could get the ball out of his glove and back to the pitcher, Owls assistant Pat Hallmark barked, 'Get over there!' Almost immediately thereafter The OG, sitting two rows directly behind home plate, suggested to the standing Hallmark that another session of drills for the catchers was in order. Hallmark agreed, affirming the course of action with a head nod.

Example 2: Fr. C Geoff Perrott made the mistake of allowing Fr. RHP Jeremy Fant to fire four consecutive pitches up in the zone. When Perrott received the next Fant offering, also high, Owls assistant David Pierce let him have it as the batter took his base: "That's five straight pitches up in the zone! Do something about it!" Added Owls assistant Mike Taylor, pacing alongside Pierce, "You make him get it down!" Two pitches later, after Perrott tapped his glove on the ground only to have Fant uncork another high, hard one - "That's six!" Pierce yelled - Fant delivered a wicked breaking ball that garnered the approval of the entire coaching staff.

The OG is tough on his catchers, a stance he validates by noting his allowing them to call their own games. If catchers relish the opportunity to dictate pitch sequence, they must deal with his set of exacting standards. That's the trade-off, and The OG makes that clear from the start.

The OG and Hallmark can't afford to be anything but diligent this preseason. With so many unproven pitchers being pressed into critical roles on the staff, the Owls' catchers must be up to snuff. First and foremost on the pitchers' minds should be the job of executing pitches; there can be no room for worry over whether or not the catcher calls the right pitch or is capable of blocking a breaking ball in the dirt. The catchers must have the unwavering trust of their pitchers so that the pitchers can perform to the full extent of their ability with nary a concern.

"I don't want to have to keep extrapolating what a pitcher could do if he got good catching," The OG said. "They (Seastrunk, Perrott and So. C Craig Manuel) have got to help them.

"We want these guys (Rice pitchers) to get all the help they need. For us to get to Omaha, we're going to have to have good pitching."

Seastrunk: His footwork, throwing accuracy and defensive alignment have all improved over last season, his first behind the plate. But there are times when it is clear that Seastrunk lacks natural instincts for blocking balls in the dirt. The staff has worked with him on when to get his body down, when to turn his glove, and when to slide his feet as opposed to backhanding the ball. These issues can be corrected with drills, so the staff has drilled Seastrunk repeatedly.

The motivation behind their efforts is obvious. As a pitcher, Seastrunk touched 93-94, and The OG is convinced that no catcher in America has a stronger arm behind the plate. Seastrunk has launched throws to second base this preseason that left mouths agape, a skill that, along with his earnest commitment and switch-hitting bat, make Seastrunk an all-America candidate.

Manuel: Yet another example of the recruiting prowess of Pierce, Manuel was an undiscovered gem from Satellite, Beach, Fla., poised to play for a junior college program before Pierce caught a glance of his defensive skills at a summer tournament in 2008. This coming summer Manuel will play for the Harwich Mariners in the Cap Code League after receiving an unsolicited invitation. It seems that his attributes - excellent makeup, strong leadership skills, a team-first attitude plus excellent receiving ability - have made the rounds.

Though not powerful, Manuel has an accurate arm. He is good at blocking balls, something he proved while catching Ryan Berry with aplomb as a freshman, and is a strong hitter. Like Seastrunk, he returned last fall in excellent physical condition, a testament to his commitment.

Perrott: Serendipity personified, Perrott was a late addition to the roster and has proven to be more advanced than even The OG anticipated. He possess plus catch-and-throw skills, a fantastic arm, and a frame fit for the position. Additionally, Perrott is attentive, soaking up instruction at every opportunity. He benefited from catching former Rice RHP Wade Townsend between fall ball and intrasquads, and Townsend himself was quite pleased with his work.

Because Perrott has proven to be a capable third backstop, The OG has the flexibility to play both Seastrunk and Manuel simultaneously should the need arise. His upside is tremendous.

Daily missteps aside, The OG remains confident in what his trio of catchers provide his team. He will remain vigilant with his instruction, but he's grateful for the depth he has at the position.

"I don't have any doubts. There is no question we're going to have good catching," The OG said. "All three guys have the tools to do it.

"The talent is fine. We've got to get more of a sense of immediacy."

Coaching, Talent - Or Both?

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Recently, PGCrosschecker.com released its Top 200 prospects for the 2012 amateur draft, and while there was only one Owl listed (Fr. 2B Michael Ratterree - No. 24), six Stanford Cardinal were recognized. Rice, of course, opens the 2010 season at Stanford Feb. 19-21.

This listing comes on the heels of a moderately heated debate following the release of the Owls' most recent class of recruits, a group that is sure to include several members of the Top 200 prospects for the 2013 draft (RHP Jameson Taillon, RHP/IF Connor Mason, RHP/OF Austin Kubitza, IF Dickie Thon, Jr.) should they not sign professional contracts next summer and enroll at Rice. The OG acknowledged that the Class of 2011 is by far his riskiest relative to the probability that some members, namely Taillon, might never don a Rice uniform. The OG, David Pierce, Mike Taylor and Pat Hallmark have earned their reputation as supreme cultivators of talent, an irrefutable fact supported by the program's current standing as one of the nation's best of the aughts and the eight first-round picks produced during that same span.

Whether or not the most recent signing class represents a slight change in philosophy, it appears as though Rice is aiming to close the perceived talent gap between itself and the programs it competes with for recruits. While the Rice staff has proven that it can develop modest prospects into All-Americans who sign seven-figure bonuses, it comes across as startling that Stanford, working with similar academic restrictions, could sign six times as many top prospects as Rice in a given year. No one would deny that Stanford has a greater national profile and stronger academic reputation, but Rice has been the superior program over the past decade. Sensational talent development has netted one national championship, but perhaps Rice needs an uptick in raw talent to pave the path to an elusive second national title.

Taillon, Mason, Kubitza and Thon represent that uptick. At last check, four is greater than one.

Pulled from the aforementioned list, here are the top prospects from the 2012 Draft the Owls will face in 2010:

1. Kenny Diekroeger, SS/3B, Stanford
4. Jacob Stewart, OF, Stanford
9. Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford
33. Tom Lemke, RHP, Nebraska
38. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Oklahoma State
46. Josh Urban, RHP, Texas
49. Michael Wacha, RHP, Texas A&M
62. Josh Elander, C/OF, TCU
67. Darnell Sweeney, SS, UCF
72. Justin Jones, LHP, California
86. Jonathan Walsh, C, Texas
95. Geoff Thomas, RHP, Southern Miss
96. Kyle McKenzie, RHP/SS, Tulane
106. Kyle Von Tungeln, OF, TCU
111. Kevin Chambers, 1B/LHP, Oklahoma State
113. Hoby Milner, LHP/OF, Texas
121. Chris Jenkins, RHP, Stanford
122. Dane Phillips, C, Oklahoma State
126. Garrett Cannizaro, SS, Tulane
134. Kurt Giller, RHP, Nebraska
139. Sam Wolff, RHP/SS, San Diego
147. Tyler Naquin, OF, Texas A&M
156. Keifer Nuncio, RHP, Texas
159. Stephen Piscotty, RHP/IF, Stanford
170. John Wooten, 3B, East Carolina
186. Tony Renda, 2B/3B, California
196. Garrett Hughes, LHP, Stanford

Examining Scholarship Distribution

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One of the more fascinating conversations I shared with David Bailiff last year centered on scholarship distribution. We'd discussed at length how three successive recruiting classes (Ken Hatfield, 2005; Todd Graham, 2006; Bailiff, 2007) hamstrung his plans to build a solid foundation, and when injuries arose, the lack of depth undermining program development was directly attributed to the number of borderline FBS players signed in 2005-07 due to general malaise (Hatfield), reckless self-promotion (Graham) or unavoidable haste (Bailiff).

During one discussion Bailiff pulled out a chart and outlined where his scholarships were distributed. At some positions he had too many scholarships allocated, and at others too few. His argument provided food for thought, for while some demanded that he signed players at certain positions, Bailiff was working two fronts. Not only was he attempting to fill immediate needs (defensive tackle!!!), he was seeking functional balance regarding his 85 scholarships.

With his signing of 16 recruits for the Class of 2010, Bailiff moved a significant step closer toward balancing his roster. Of the 14 seniors on scholarship for the 2010 season, only six are Graham holdovers from 2006: WRs Pierre Beasley, Patrick Randolph and Corbin Smiter; DBs Max Anyiam and Willie Garley; DS Brandon Long. Smiter might be the lone potential starter from that sextet, so Bailiff will not only field a team almost completely comprised of players he signed, he is just one season away from producing a roster that fits the same description.

I've taken the liberty of breaking down scholarship distribution at each position save the specialists. I am going to include the Class of 2010 and WR Klein Kubiak, who signed last February but was grayshirted, and will operate under the assumption that Jr. DB David Falgout and Jr. LB Justin Allen have not received scholarships until informed otherwise. Even with that manipulation the total stands at 87. Bailiff discussed the possibility of grayshirting a few members of his incoming class, so keep that in mind when pondering the plus-2 number.

QB (4): Sr. - 0; Jr. - Fanuzzi; So. - Cook; RS Fr. - McHargue; Fr. - Taylor.

Comment: With Ryan Lewis relinquishing his scholarship to focus exclusively on baseball, Fr. Jordan Taylor becomes the fourth scholarship quarterback on the roster when he arrives this summer. The battle for the starting job will be fierce come the spring. Get your popcorn ready!

RB (5): Sr. - 0; Jr. - T. Smith; So. - McGuffie, Ross, Turner; RS Fr. - 0; Fr. - Eddington.

Comment: No immediate or distant concerns here, at least for everyone besides OC David Beaty, who is charged with the chore of creating playing time for several capable tailbacks.

WR (16): Sr. - Beasley, Dupree, Randolph; Smiter; Jr. - Hotard, Kitchens, Maginot; So. - Clark, Patterson, Wells; RS Fr. - Gautreaux, Moore, Petersen; FR. - Erickson, Hull, Kubiak.

Comment: The distribution by classifications is sound, with three receivers apiece in the underclassmen groupings. Now if only someone would emerge as a legitimate deep threat ...

TE (3): Sr. - 0; Jr. - 0; So. - McDonald, Willson; RS Fr. - 0; Fr. - Gillette.

Comment: It's easy to see why all were willing to wait it out as Gillete pondered life in Norman. The Owls are young here, but another player at this position wouldn't hurt matters in the least.

OL (15): Sr. - Mitchell; Jr. - Allen, Carrington, Emmert, Hicks, Parish; So. - Ball, Hebert, Navar; RS Fr. - Hodde, Janisch, Shaw; Fr. - Carroll, Gray, Warren.

Comment: It's clear that Bailiff will go heavy on O-linemen next season, for he'll have five seniors at that position in 2011. Given the makeup of the sophomore, redshirt freshmen and freshmen classes, expect Bailiff to sign at least three O-linemen next February, possibly four.

DL (13): Sr. - Lucio, Ozougwu, Solomon; Jr. - Gioffre, M. Smith, Stacey; So. - Bauer, Lowry; RS Fr. - Shahin, Skinner; Fr. - Carlson, Klare, Patt.

Comment: If things go particularly well, Bailiff will sign at least four D-linemen next winter. Solomon and Ozougwu have been mainstays, and Bailiff needs a serious talent upgrade just in case their successors aren't ready for the responsibility of carrying the pass-rushing burden.

LB (10): Sr. - Hill, A. Williams; Jr. - Lillard, Nordstrom, Shuck; So. - Briggs, J. Williams; RS Fr. - Hammett; Fr. - Nwosu, Radcliffe.

Comment: OK, so I'm going against my earlier pledge by assuming that Nordstrom has been given a scholarship, and I am doing so because he earned it with his play last season. In the 4-2-5 the Owls don't need a ton of linebackers, but they'll sign at least two next year to replace the two they are losing. Hard not to get excited over the two freshmen coming in this summer.

CB (8): Sr. - 0; Jr. - Ben, Jammer, Leary; So. - Gaddis, Gaines; RS Fr. - Francis; Fr. - Callahan, Jackson.

Comment: I don't know about you, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Leary. If his hamstring issues are a problem of the past, he will provide the Owls a huge boost on the field. Gaddis and Gaines proved their value last season, but there was no reason to turn down a talented recruit like Bryce Callahan. He might not have to play early, but he certainly could.

S (10): Sr. - Anyiam, Garley, Jones; Jr. - Bradshaw, Webb; So. - Frazier; RS Fr. - Akinwumi, Brackens, Porras; Fr. - Baker.

Comment: Jones is a prime candidate for a senior rush coming off a disappointing junior campaign. Bradshaw will fill the leadership void left by the graduation of Andrew Sendejo, and Corey Frazier has vast potential. The three safeties who redshirted last season physically look the part, and you've seen tape of Gabe Baker. This remains the strongest unit on the team.

Q&A: John Reagan

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David Beaty was an effective assistant and a beloved figure under Todd Graham and David Bailiff, so his return to Rice following a two-year stint at Kansas was rightfully heralded. But taking the resumé of John Reagan, officially introduced as the run game coordinator/tight ends and offensive tackles coach on Wednesday, into account means drawing a conclusion that his presence could have a seismic impact on the program and an offense thirsting for direction.

Reagan spent five seasons thriving at State U, assisting Mark Mangino with his revitalization at Kansas. He spent two of those seasons working alongside Beaty, so a chemistry exists between those two that should aid the transition of staff responsibilities. And Reagan has also worked at Penn, Air Force and Army, so he is familiar with the challenges of recruiting to and coaching at Ivy League institutions and service academies. If Bailiff embraces the spirit of intercollegiate athletics at Rice, Reagan understands the commitment needed to thrive here.

Q: How much did your prior working relationship with David Beaty, who you spent two seasons with coaching at Kansas, play a role in your decision to join the Rice staff?

A: In this business nothing changes ... it's all about the people that you work with. It's a people business and so the opportunity to work first and foremost for David (Bailiff) - a guy that I've known for five or six years that I've really enjoyed to get to know, an unbelievable person of integrity and runs a program the right way - that was a huge part. Certainly the familiarity with Coach Beaty, who we talked to before he came up to work with us and I've talked to for two years and spent a lot of time with, that's a huge part of it. There's a comfort level, there's a trust level, and he's an extension of the kind of program Coach Bailiff has, and I'm proud to be a part of it with the integrity and the things that go on here.

Q: Rice is an institution wholly different from a state school like Kansas. What about the challenge of coaching on South Main did you find particular intriguing and difficult to resist?

A: I've been very familiar with Rice. When I was at Air Force they were a very similar offense and would come and visit and do some things with them. I'm familiar with the program and certainly familiar with the school from my time coaching at two different military academies and an Ivy League school. I'm very aware of some of the challenges that are a little bit different. Certainly the balance that Coach Bailiff has been able to bring here is probably better than any I've seen at any institution with this fine of an academic reputation.

Q: There is a ton of offensive talent on this roster in need of direction and effective coaching. How anxious are you to get your hands on those players and help steer them to success?

A: The first thing we're doing is trying to figure out each other as coaches so we can get that whole put together. I am excited. There is a lot of young talent, and you add this recruiting class - shoot, there were guys there when we were still at Kansas that we couldn't steal away that were committed early. There is a lot of excitement about it. I'm fired up and anxious to get going at it.

Q: Outwardly your official title is a mouthful. Do your myriad responsibilities represent a huge undertaking?

A: It doesn't matter what position in football you coach; it's a huge workload. Obviously I'm excited to run the run game, tackles and tight ends. The tackles are working with assistant coach (Ronnie) Vinklarek - you don't split the O-line up. You've got an O-line coach and I help out where I can help out and give another set of eyes. The workload is what it is, and it's exciting to have the talent where we can be successful.

One could argue that the Owls' greatest depth on offense is at tailback (Sam McGuffie, Charles Ross, Tyler Smith, Shane Turner) and tight end (Vance McDonald, Luke Willson), so the fact Bailiff entrusted Reagan with the chore of coordinating the run game and coaching the tight ends speaks volumes on how Bailiff feels about the ability of Reagan to handle the job.

Q&A: Chase Clement

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Perhaps it would have been fitting had Chase Clement entered The 'R' Room on Wednesday afternoon to music similar to that which greeted young Leonidas' return to Sparta in 300, but alas Clement strolled in looking as understated as when he first arrived at Rice back in 2004.

He wore charcoal slacks and a crisp, white business shirt. Clement didn't quite look the part of a college football coach, but that's exactly what he was, recently appointed by David Bailiff to the newly-created position of quality control coach. It seems that Clement spent so much time hanging around the football offices last season that Bailiff extended a staff position. Iowa State (and former Owls) offensive coordinator Tom Herman attempted to lure Clement to Ames this past December to fill the role as offensive graduate assistant, but for Clement, South Main proved to be the perfect fit. The more things change, the more they stay the same apparently.

Q: You held on to the hope that you would play professionally. Does this decision to initiate your coaching career signal an end to your dreams of playing quarterback in the NFL?

A: I think I'm done playing. The reason why I say that is when you're out (of football) for so long, your chances just diminish . When you're not in a system, whether it's Canada or Arena II, as long as you're playing and practicing that makes such a difference versus sitting out and just training. From that perspective it's tough, but I think my mindset has changed a little bit. With everything that happened with the NFL and Canada, I just decided that wasn't the path for me.

Q: When did you have the epiphany that being a college coach was a viable career option?

A: It wasn't immediate. Coach Bailiff had talked to me throughout the season (about coaching) and I never wanted to do it. I always had (reservations) about coaching - the time (commitment) and moving every two or three years were things in the profession that were reasons for keeping away from it. I talked to my wife (Lauren) about it and said this is what I'm passionate about. Football is a part of my life, so now is the time to try it out, coach, and take a leap of faith. If it works out obviously it was meant to be, and if not I'll get out and do something else.

Q: You and your wife were married less than a year ago. How does she feel about your entering the coaching profession, an occupation known for long hours away from home?

A: She's all for it. She says, 'Hey, this is what you're passionate about. You need to do it. As much as I'd love for you to be home, this is what you need to do if that's what gets you fired up every day when you get up.'

Q: Rice provided you an opportunity to continue your playing career beyond Alamo Heights High that few other programs offered. Did your relationship with Rice impact your decision?

A: The way it worked out, just being here in Houston with Lauren teaching and obviously she couldn't go anywhere, I could have gone to Iowa State with Herman. But Rice, working with Coach Bailiff and (David) Beaty coming back (to serve as Rice offensive coordinator), it was a perfect situation. Who better to work with than Coach Bailiff? That made the decision easy.

Being here in Houston where we're starting to put down roots, it's a good fit. The stars aligned.

Q: Your playing career recently ended, so the responsibilities of being a college quarterback remain vivid in your mind. How does your past experience translate into college coaching?

A: Knowing everything as a quarterback is important. You've got to have that knowledge; that's what makes quarterbacks successful is what's between the ears. Studying and knowing the game is what I strove to do as a player, and that's going to help as a coach because knowledge is power. If you've got a lot of knowledge you're going to help those kids with the game, and that's going to be huge. Of course it all depends on how you do that, too, because some guys have all the knowledge but don't know how to teach it. Certainly it's going to be learning things like that from Coach Beaty and Bailiff that's going to help make me successful down the road.

I'm certainly up for the challenge, and obviously very excited for what we have here to work with and the opportunity I have to get in with the right people and start my coaching career.

I also bent the ear of Owls run game coordinator/tight ends coach/offensive tackles coach John Reagan. I'll have that conversation posted in this space sometime on Thursday. 

Q&A: Ryan Lewis

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Max Lewis played college baseball at Louisiana Tech and his son, Max Jr., did the same at Southeastern Louisiana. So when his Max Jr., put a bat in his son's hands some 18 years ago, Ryan Lewis took his first steps toward continuing a tradition established by his paternal grandfather. Last Friday, Lewis eliminated the final obstacle standing between his complete devotion to the game that first captured his imagination when he informed Rice football coach David Bailiff that he would immediately bow out of the quarterback competition expected to grip spring practice. With that difficult decision, Lewis turned his full attention to baseball.

The choice inspired a measure of consternation. Football offers a camaraderie unlike any other sport, and the accompanying scholarship is particularly meaningful at an institution like Rice, where tuition is exorbitant. Lewis' family fully recognized that baseball tugged at his heartstrings with significant force, so when Lewis first shared with them his thoughts of focusing exclusively on baseball, they unequivocally supported his decision despite the financial hit they would take when Lewis commits to a sport that offers partial scholarships.

Q: When you signed with Rice, you had every intention of playing both football and baseball. Why did you make the decision to end your football career to focus your energy on baseball?

A: It came to a point where I really wanted to give baseball my best shot and see what I could do with it and see how far I can go with it. I felt like by giving up football, that would give me the best opportunity to do that.

Q: Was the task of juggling football, baseball and Rice academics more difficult than you imagined, and what role did that Herculean chore play in your decision to retire from football?

A: I didn't know what to expect coming in playing two sports. It was definitely difficult to manage my time and to get everything done that I needed to get done athletically as well as with academics, especially trying to play for a baseball program like this. Last year was really tough, and I learned from that what it took and kind of based my decision off of that.  

Q: You've played organized football since grade school. Despite your admittance that baseball was your first love, how difficult was it to walk away from a sport you've invested so much in?

A: It was difficult because I was there for a year redshirting and I had learned a little bit. I felt like if I had a couple more years of football I could have maybe been a little bit better player. This year was tough as far as football. I didn't really know the game as well as maybe an older player would, so I found it tough there. I just felt like it was more worth my while to just go the baseball route and give football up. It was a tough decision. I've played football all my life.

Q: David Bailiff told you that he saw this decision coming. How did that meeting unfold?

A: He understood where I was coming from. He said he saw the success that I had (with baseball) in a short time, so he could see the possibility of that. He said he obviously wasn't happy with the decision, but he said he did understand.

Q: You had a breakout weekend at East Carolina last season despite having precious little time to prepare for live pitching. Did that surprising success influence your decision?

A: That was definitely a big part. Just the possibility of maybe doing better than that if I put in more work and I was able to stay here year-round and work on my swing and not just show up halfway through the season and get thrown in there (was influential). It gave me confidence to know that I can compete at the college level, so I really wanted to give myself the best chance to do that just by playing solely baseball.

Q: You pondered this decision at the end of the 2009 football season, and have been with the baseball program on a full-time basis ever since. Has that commitment sharpened your skills?

A: Last year I was working out and running with the football team at this time. I was sore, I was tired, and I felt fatigued last year coming out here at this time. Just being able to work out with the baseball team and do what they're doing and get into baseball shape has made it a lot easier for me to get ready for these intrasquads. My timing is still not great, but these last few practices it has been getting better at the plate. In the fall not getting to see any live pitching from being with football was tough, but hopefully these next few practices I can keep getting better and better as far as getting my timing down and feeling more comfortable in the field and at the plate.

Q: Do you feel more optimistic about your immediate baseball future now that you can devote yourself to these pursuits without distraction?

A: Definitely. I'm not saying I'll be more successful, but I know I can definitely devote all my time in trying to prepare myself to be ready as well as I can be whenever I get the opportunity.

Lewis hit .289/.441/.400 and drove in nine runs in 22 games in 2009. He made 11 starts (four in right field, seven as the designated hitter) and led the club with 10 pinch-hit appearances. Lewis made his debut at East Carolina on April 10, 2009, finishing 1-for-3 with a run scored. He played in five games at quarterback in 2009, passing for 240 yards and one touchdown. His football scholarship expires at the close of the spring semester, at which time Lewis will speak with Owls baseball coach Wayne Graham on his scholarship probabilities for 2011.

Bailiff Completes His Staff ... Sort Of

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On Tuesday, David Bailiff made official what has been clandestinely discussed for some time when he named former Kansas assistant John Reagan to his football staff. Reagan will serve as the Owls' run game coordinator while also coaching the offensive tackles and tight ends. He fills a void left by Darin Eliot, who departed last month to join Jimbo Fisher at Florida State.

Of course Eliot served as the Owls' defensive line coach (and recruiting coordinator), so the Reagan appointment confirms what was already suspected - a current member of the offensive staff will move to defense. Bailiff will discuss staff responsibilities on Wednesday, but in naming Reagan his tight ends coach, Bailiff tipped his hand a bit. Rick LaFavers previously filled the role as tight ends/special teams coach, so his responsibilities will be altered. The same can be assumed of Darrell Patterson, the Owls' running backs coach for three seasons.

The addition of Reagan likely puts new offensive coordinator David Beaty in charge of the quarterbacks. Larry Edmondson will remain the steward of the receivers while Ronnie Vinklarek officially narrows his focus to the centers and guards on the offensive line. What happens defensively should be interesting, especially if Patterson takes over the linebackers and lightens the load for co-defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach. Patterson played the position at TCU and coached linebackers at Stanford, SMU, Baylor and Arkansas State.

LaFavers coached defensive tackles as a graduate assistant for his alma mater, TCU. He would seem an ideal replacement for Eliot, both as a position coach and recruiting coordinator, and with Patterson potentially overseeing the linebackers, Driesbach could devote more of his time to constructing sound game plans alongside co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Craig Naivar. The additions of Beaty and Reagan appear to give Bailiff additional staff flexibility, and with so much at stake in 2010, Bailiff needs all the advantages he can generate.

The R Preseason Top 21

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No, the No. 21 does not pay homage to one of my father's all-time favorites, The Human Highlight Film, the offensive LT, The Big Fundamental or Prime Time, but rather the number of teams that appeared in all five national preseason polls: Baseball America, Rivals.com, Collegiate Baseball, NCBWA, and USA Today/ESPN Coaches. Here is a composite poll, with the number in the parenthesis representing the sum of the program's rankings in the five polls:

1. Texas (5) - March 5, March 16, March 23.
2. LSU (12)
3. Virginia (14)
4. Cal State Fullerton (19)
5. Rice (33)
6. Florida State (34)
7. UC Irvine (35)
8. Georgia Tech (41)
9. Florida (43)
10. Arizona State (44)
11. TCU (68) - March 7.
12t. Miami (74)
12t. Clemson (74)
14. North Carolina (77)
15t. East Carolina (81) - April 23-25.
15t. Coastal Carolina (81)
17. Louisville (83)
18. Oregon State (84)
19. Arkansas (86)
20. Ole Miss (107)
21. San Diego (108) - March 19-21.

Both Ohio State (No. 14 Collegiate Baseball; No. 21 Coaches'; No. 22 Rivals; No. 23 NCBWA) and Southern Miss (No. 21 Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball; No. 22 NCBWA; No. 24 Coaches') appeared in four of five polls while South Carolina (No. 10 Baseball America; No. 13 Rivals; No. 21 NCBWA) and Oklahoma (No. 22 Coaches'; No. 25 in Collegiate Baseball and NCBWA) were ranked in three. Rice will host the Golden Eagles on May 14-16.

This composite poll reveals 10 teams considered superior to the rest of the pack, and barring any unforeseen circumstances developing during the season, expect six or seven of those teams to reach the College World Series. The polls are top-heavy will powerhouse programs, led by consensus No. 1 and pitching-rich Texas, defending national champion LSU, and Virginia, which returns practically the same roster that sparked the Cavaliers to their first CWS appearance. Interestingly, Fullerton is No. 4 in four polls and No. 3 in the fifth, identifying the Titans as the class of the West Coast. Should the Owls meet expectations, they'd finish clear of any dreadful super regional matchups, with Texas and LSU likely to host inferior programs.

It serves Rice well that No. 15 East Carolina and No. 23 Southern Miss have garnered a modicum of national respect. The Owls' RPI will be bolstered if the Pirates and Golden Eagles continue to ascend, a scenario that would enable Rice to clinch a national seed should it win the Conference USA regular-season title by a substantial margin, or finish second in the league standings and claim the tournament championship. While the SEC and ACC feature extraordinary depth, C-USA is inching closer to challenging the Big 12 for regional supremacy. The Owls dominated the Big 12 in the aughts, and the more success their league mates enjoy out of conference, the more legitimate an argument C-USA can make as a top-5 league. If the Big West and West Coast Conference can push the Pac-10, C-USA can do the same to the Big 12, which has just two teams (No. 1 UT; No. 25 OU) ranked in the composite top 25 poll.

Of course, it's just the preseason. It will be interesting to note which programs among Texas, LSU, Virginia, Fullerton, Rice, Florida State, Irvine and Georgia Tech fail to make it to Omaha.

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