When you hear stats like 'best record since 1999' and '2nd largest attendance in history' it has to make you wonder if the slogan this team held at the beginning of the year is actually true: is Mississippi State baseball back?
When I say back I mean back. Not like the 2003-2007 Polk II teams that made Regionals but struggled to get to .500 in SEC play. Those teams produced some memories, most notably the 2005 SEC Tournament championship, being #1 in 2006 and the '07 College World Series. But you knew MSU baseball was not at the level it was in the previous two decades.
After Polk's disaster of a final season in 2008, John Cohen spent two rough years rebuilding MSU. In those three years State was 71-95, with only a 24-65 SEC record. Times were tough but the 2011 team got things back on the right track with a Super Regional appearance that nearly landed them in Omaha. 2012 was another success with the SEC Tourney championship.
So we're back to where we were in the Polk II era. Good, maybe even very good at times. But not great. Not with the excellence we saw from 1978-2001.
Over that stretch (Ron Polk's 3rd year to Pat McMahon's fourth and final) MSU only had 5 losing seasons in the SEC. There were 24 teams in that time period and 19 of them went to a Regional. There were 28 All-Americans, 3 SEC Championships, 5 SEC Tournament Championships, and 6 trips to the College World Series.
Maybe the biggest sign MSU's greatness in the 80s and 90s was hosting Regionals. We all know about the lore of Dudy Noble Field. But it loses some of it's luster if you can't play your biggest games there. Hosting Regionals used to be an almost yearly occurrence: 1979, 84, 85, 87, 88, 89, 90, 92, 97, 00.
The last time the Diamond Dawgs hosted a Regional was in 2003. North Carolina ended up taking it from us and advancing to the Super Regional after winning the final game 8-6 in 11 innings.
Since then there has been the Super Regional of '07 which was in Starkville, but only because we knocked off national seed Florida State and Clemson beat their Regional host, Coastal Carolina, allowing for the unique opportunity.
10 years. It's been 10 years since we last hosted a Regional. Only one in the last 12 years, and two in 20 years. Is this the year?
Current projections say that MSU will host based on what's transpired so far this season. A very strong RPI has helped that along as well as a strong push of late winning 7 of 9 to bring the conference record up to 10-8.
Typically the SEC has received four host locations. Right now the Dawgs are in a 3-way tie for 5th place overall with Ole Miss and Florida, but behind Vanderbilt, LSU, South Carolina and Arkansas. Vandy and LSU are so far ahead there's no doubt they'll host and probably be national seeds.
Arkansas is one game up on MSU, won the season series, and has a weak schedule the rest of the way with UGA, UK, UT and Auburn. There's almost no doubt they will finish a few games ahead, but the RPI is what may help State out. They are currently 60th to MSU's 10th and State's schedule is much tougher down the stretch.
South Carolina is obviously going to get any benefit of the doubt when it comes to hosting as they should. They won the 2010 and 2011 national championship and were runner up in 2012. They've got top five attendance every year so there's no room to argue there. They are neck-and-neck with State as far as RPI as they are 11th currently. But there is a series coming up with the Gamecocks May 16-18 in Starkville (last series of the year).
Same holds true for Ole Miss. They are 19th in RPI. MSU has already taken the Governor's Cup but May 10-12 in Oxford will be a big series for both schools. You'd have to think taking 3 of 4 from the Rebels would be tough for them to overcome as far as being a Regional host. Let's do it.
This weekend's series in Nashville against top 5 Vanderbilt will go a long way in our collective consciousness for determining if we are back or not. Win 2 out of 3 and we can start blaring Aerosmith. If not, hit the dirt and keep grindin....still much to prove.