Let me start by admitting that I’m biased here. I was born and raised in Texas and until I moved away for graduate school just about a year ago, I lived there. But as far as I’m concerned, there is no better state for college baseball than the Lone Star State.
Each year it seems, there are a couple of teams with national championship aspirations, a few others that have hopes of hosting a regional, a handful more that you think of as safe regional teams, and even more that have the potential to get to the regionals. The scene is littered with historical powers, plucky mid-majors, and upstart programs.
The college baseball landscape in Texas was already pretty crowded. There is a feeding frenzy each recruiting season for talent from each of the major metropolitan areas in the state, and the gauntlet that teams from Texas have to go through each season just by playing each other, whether in conference or in the out-of-conference slate, is impressive.
And with the Texas Tech Red Raiders getting over the hump and into Omaha for the first time in program history, the landscape just got a lot more crowded.
Sure, the Raiders went 0-2 once they got to Omaha, but that shouldn’t overshadow the great accomplishments of this team. After not even making the NCAA tournament for the better part of a decade, head coach Tim Tadlock not only led his team to the NCAA tournament, but also to the program’s first super regional and then to the College World Series.
For so long, the Red Raiders had been the sleeping giant in Texas. The term “sleeping” might actually be an understatement. The University of Houston, who hadn’t been to the postseason since 2008, was sleeping. Texas Tech was in a coma.
On paper, they had a lot going for them. They play in a major conference, they have a history of success in the not so distant past, they have access to some fertile recruiting grounds, and their tuition is affordable (which is important with scholarship limitations being what they are for college baseball programs).
Sure, Lubbock isn’t the most exciting place to live and it’s somewhat remote, but it’s not too much worse than Huntsville or College Station, cities that boast programs better than Tech over the last decade.
But between 2005 and 2013, the program just went dormant. Every year, it seemed, the Red Raiders were at or near .500 for the season. They would occasionally show signs of being pretty good, but those signs were too often closely followed by disappointing stretches, usually in league play.
They were never really terrible, but truthfully being terrible might have been better for the welfare of the program. If they had bottomed out at any point, at least then it would have been obvious that something needed to change. But as it was, there was always just enough talent and hope to make people think there was a chance the team would break through.
I will admit that I wasn’t sure Tim Tadlock was the right coach to get Texas Tech pointed back in the right direction, but clearly I was wrong about that one. The results speak for themselves, the talent on the roster is already quite a bit better than it was just a few years ago, and their recruiting has been re-energized.
And that has to put a scare into coaches of programs all across Texas.
It’s not that there isn’t room for one more, because there certainly is in a state as big and baseball-crazed as this one, but it makes things tougher.
Texas and Rice are still the class of the state. Both are national championship-caliber programs. In any given year, they have the talent to get to Omaha and win it all. The fact that UT had a couple of down years in 2012 and 2013 doesn’t change that. Sure, Rice hasn’t been to Omaha since 2008, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had the talent to do so. And moving forward, I expect them to continue to be in the mix.
And now that TCU has gone to Omaha twice in the last five years, they now have to be in the conversation with those two prestigious programs when it comes to the best in the state.
The next level down features programs like Texas A&M and Baylor. Both are mainstays in the regionals and have been to Omaha in the not so distant past. What keeps them from being in that upper echelon, though, is the ability to consistently get to the College World Series when opportunities have been presented to do so.
They are certainly both upwardly mobile and have the potential to be elite programs, but it’s tough to fight the feeling that both are currently trending downward, albeit somewhat slowly.
I think Tech settles into a group just below those two programs along with the University of Houston. Both made it back to the postseason after long droughts. Both played very well once they got there, and both undoubtedly have the potential to be stalwarts in the regionals, rather than the less than occasional participants they have been recently. What keeps them from being in the group with the Aggies and Bears is just the lack of recent track record. But four or five years from now, I fully expect them to be on that level.
Then you have a couple of upstart programs coming up behind them in the likes of Dallas Baptist and Sam Houston State. Quietly, those two have been as consistent as almost anyone else in the state over the last several years. That’s even more impressive when you consider that neither enjoys the built-in advantages that go along with being in a major conference. DBU was in a super regional as recently as 2011 and SHSU is knocking on the door. You have to assume that if they continue to put themselves in a position to do so, the Bearkats will eventually break through into a super regional themselves.
That’s to say nothing of programs like Texas State, UT-San Antonio, and UT-Arlington, all teams that have made the postseason in the recent past.
For me, there’s no doubt. Texas is the best state in the country when it comes to college baseball programs and it just got even better.