Granted, it is still very early in the college baseball season, but there are a number of factors lining up in OU's favor that make it a good bet the Sooners will be the lone team standing three months from now.
The Sooners didn't make it through the weekend unscathed, suffering their first defeat of the season at the hand of the Pepperdine Wave on Saturday, but OU did capture two out of three in the series and ran its record to 11-1 to start the 2013 college baseball season.
Two weeks out from the start of conference play, coach Sunny Golloway's Sooners sit atop the Big 12 standings, which is where the conference coaches and many college baseball experts projected the Crimson and Cream to be at season's end.
With 27 conference games against a host of very good teams and more than 50 games overall yet to play, including a very difficult three-game gauntlet on the West Coast this weekend as the Sooners take on Southern Cal, UCLA and Notre Dame on successive days, it is far too early to project what the standings will look like at the end of May. The way the Sooners have started the season, however, there is every reason to believe they will be right there when the dust clears at the end, as well.
Here are nine good reasons why OU should win its first Big 12 regular-season championship in baseball in the 17-year history of the conference:
- Oklahoma was the choice of six of the nine conference head coaches to win the 2013 league title.
- With strong core leadership from seniors Max White, Jack Mayfield, Garrett Carey and junior Matt Oberste, the Sooners are solid offensively, with the talent to get on base and hit for a solid average as well as provide long-ball power.
- If the Sooners' hitting numbers in their first dozen games is any indicator, generating offense should not be a concern this year. OU has produced 10 or more hits in eight of its first 12 outings to begin the season and is averaging right at seven runs per game, best in the Big 12.
- Shortstop Jack Mayfield, outfielders Max White and Craig Aiken and designated-hitter Matt Oberste have accounted for 47 of Oklahoma's 83 total runs through 12 games.
- Head coaching. Sunny Golloway, in his eighth season as the Oklahoma head coach, owns a .669 career winning percentage (303 of those victories have been while he has been at OU), 15th best among all active Division I coaches, and he has led the Sooners to four consecutive 40-win seasons.
- The Sooners return two of the best weekend starters in the conference in left-hander Dillon Overton and right-hander Jonathan Gray. The pair won 14 games for OU and both had earned run averages just over three in 2012. Overton is off to a 4-0 start in 2013 after finishing second in the league last season in both strikeouts and innings pitched. In addition, Overton was rated as the 14th best major-league prospect by Baseball America.
- If preseason projections are accurate, the Sooners' chief challenger this season will be new conference member TCU. If that holds true, OU draws a break in the schedule, getting the Horned Frogs at home in the league opener for the Sooners the weekend of March 22-24. TCU is off to a slow start to begin the 2013 season, however, winning only three of its first 10 games.
- The Sooners have an equal number of seniors and juniors to the number of sophomores, redshirted sophomores and freshmen on their 2013 roster, which gives Golloway and his troops the leadership and talent to win now while developing a good nucleus of younger players for the future.
- OU players won three of the six weekly Big 12 individual honors conferred in the first two weeks of the season. The Sooners' Matt Oberste was twice named Player of the Week and Dillon Overton was honored as Pitcher of the Week in Week 1.
Three major challenges that could derail Oklahoma's 2013 title hopes
- Oklahoma does not play a conference home game after April 26. The Sooners finish out their Big 12 schedule with road trips in May to West Virginia, and Kansas State and a Bedlam series with Oklahoma State, all away from L. Dale Mitchell Park..
- The biggest chink in Oklahoma's armor on the baseball diamond this season appears early on to be less than stellar fielding numbers. The Sooners were ninth in the conference (out of nine) both in errors and double plays last season. So far this season, there appears to be a carryover effect in OU's fielding from the prior year. The Sooners have committed the most errors and have turned the second fewest double plays after three weeks of play in the 2013 season. Fortunately, OU's hitting and pitching strength should offset its fielding flaws.
- The Sooners also have to play at Baylor and Texas this season, two very difficult places to win. OU arguably has the most difficult road schedule in the Big 12 this season.
- Overall team health. Unexpected injuries to key players will disrupt the and potentially damage the title hopes of the best of teams. The Sooners cannot afford any serious injuries to key personnel and still finish at the top of the league standings, especially with its overweighted road schedule.
Follow Big 12 baseball, including team news and team and individual statistics, all spring at Big12Sports.com.