Arkansas 1 of 10 teams to watch in college baseball this year

Arkansas players celebrate their win over North Carolina following an NCAA college super regional baseball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, June 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

LSU is the consensus No. 1 in the preseason polls and one of Associated Press sports writer Eric Olson’s top 10 teams to watch in college baseball. Other teams capable of making runs to the College World Series are defending national champion Mississippi, Arkansas, Maryland, Oklahoma State, Tennessee, TCU, Stanford, UCLA and Wake Forest. The NCAA Tournament starts June 2 and winds up at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, beginning June 16.

Here are Olson’s ten teams to watch this season, listed in alphabetical order with their 2022 records:

Arkansas (46-21)

Dave Van Horn has led the Razorbacks to the College World Series in seven of his 20 seasons and is still looking for the program’s first national championship. Arkansas made it to its CWS bracket final last season and is the only team in the country with at least 45 wins in each of the last five seasons, excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020.

LSU (40-22)

The consensus No. 1 team in the preseason rankings won the offseason with second-year coach Jay Johnson upgrading his pitching staff through recruiting and the transfer portal and adding one of the top power hitters in the country in Tommy White from North Carolina State. Dylan Crews remains the star and is on track to be the top overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft.

Maryland (48-14)

Defending Big Ten champion Terrapins set program records with 48 wins and 137 homers and hosted a regional for the first time. They bring back their batting leader in Luke Schliger and Jason Savacool, an eight-game winner who went at least six innings in 15 of 16 starts. Big additions are Northeast Conference player of the year Matt Woods (Bryant) and Elijah Lambros (South Carolina).

Ole Miss (42-23)

The Rebels rebounded from a midseason funk to win their first national championship as the last at-large team selected for the NCAA Tournament. SS Jacob Gonzalez is a projected top-10 draft pick and fully healthy after injuring a knee last fall. Five of the starting nine players are back in addition to pitchers who threw half of the innings at the College World Series.

Oklahoma State (42-22)

Six everyday players return, and transfer Juaron Watts-Brown is conference preseason newcomer and pitcher of the year. Watts-Brown threw the first complete game no-hitter in Long Beach State history, and his 13.62 strikeouts per nine innings were a program record and fifth nationally. Nolan McLean hit a team-leading 19 homers.

Tennessee (57-9)

The Volunteers set a program record for wins and won SEC regular-season and tournament titles for the first time since 1995, but losing a three-game super regional to Notre Dame still smarts after Tennessee spent most of the season atop the polls. The foundation is set with the core of a pitching staff that led the nation in ERA and held opponents to a .199 batting average.

TCU (38-22)

The Horned Frogs’ expectations are high even though they lost their entire weekend rotation. Cam Parker split time between starting and relieving and likely will be the Friday night starter. Big 12 preseason player of the year Brayden Taylor had 28 extra-base hits and 50 RBIs.

Stanford (47-18)

The Cardinal looks to rebound after going two-games-and-out at the CWS for the first time in 18 appearances. Carter Graham led the Pac-12 with 22 homers and Tommy Troy batted .500 with five homers in postseason. Quinn Matthews went from starter to closer and was only pitcher in country with nine wins and nine saves.

UCLA (40-24)

Like many years, the Bruins’ biggest question mark is offense. They hit only 47 homers and were in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in homers, slugging and scoring. The pitching seems to replenish itself each season. One of the intriguing arms is Alonzo Treadwell, a 6-foot-8, 230-pounder who goes from closer to weekend starter.

Wake Forest (41-19-1)

The Demon Deacons made the biggest one-year improvement in program history after going 20-27 in 2021, and the ceiling is extremely high with the return of ACC pitcher of the year Rhett Lowder and the rest of the weekend rotation. Run support won’t be an issue. Wake batted .319 and averaged 9.2 runs per game. Brock Wilken, who had 23 homers and 77 RBIs, is one of the top offensive players in the country.