Karen Patel pitches as La Tech dugout looks on.

Karen Patel pitches as La Tech dugout looks on. Corina Garcia Young/The Paisano

Southern Miss (44-18, 23-6)

The Golden Eagles came into another season hoping to win the Conference USA (C-USA) championship for a third year straight. First basemen Hunter Slater, outfielder Matt Walner and second basemen Matthew Guidry were mentioned in the preseason awards. The Golden Eagles are projected to be repeat conference champions. Southern Miss has to replace All-American pitcher Nick Sandlin’s production on the mound if they want to contend for a three-peat.

Louisiana Tech (39-20, 21-9)

In his third year as coach, Lane Burroughs wants to break his record of 21 conference wins from last season. Tech returns eight starters in the field and all three starting pitchers from 2018. Repeating a record-breaking performance will not come easy, but they have the talent to knock off the reigning two-time champs.

Florida Atlantic (43-19-1, 19-8-1)

Florida Atlantic University (FAU) had one of their best postseason runs by making it to the C-USA tournament finals and winning their way into a NCAA regional final. Repeating their postseason success will be difficult as they need a young pitching staff to throw a lot of high leverage innings for the team and will determine whether the team builds on previous success or slides back into the middle of the conference.

Charlotte (34-24, 17-13)

Charlotte is a small program that exceeded their expectations in 2018. The 49ers want to build on the success of last season and replicate the success they had against baseball giant Arkansas. This season will determine if they can be a C-USA contender and will lean on pitcher Matt Brooks to give them opening weekend wins.

UTSA (32-24, 16-13)

The Roadrunners are losing multiple key pieces from their successful 2018 campaign. Senior leader Bryan Arias will bare the offensive load for UTSA and attempt to live up to his preseason award selection. Karan Patel and Bradley Griggs will headline the starting staff for the ‘Runners and need big performances from these players to compete with the conference powers. If young players like sophomore Dylan Rock can improve on last year’s season, then they will have an opportunity to compete for a regular season and tournament title.

FIU (26-28, 15-13)

Florida International University (FIU) has a hint of Michigan football on them with great recruiting classes but limited on field success. FIU has not had the success they had hoped for in the past, but with increased technical work and improvements on the field, the Panthers may have a shot at the crown next season.

Rice (26-31-2, 12-15-2)

A fall from grace occurred for Rice University as they missed the postseason for the first time in 24 years. The Owls are attempting to rebuild their program to its former status with their best hitter Braden Comeaux, returning after a .319 batting average and 36 RBIs. Finishing higher than seventh would be a success for Rice, but if their expectations are for a NCAA tournament berth, then 2019 may be a rude surprise for the Owls.

 

UTSA first baseman waits as Karen Patel pitches the ball.

UTSA first baseman waits as Karen Patel pitches the ball. Ricky Galindo/The Paisano

 

UAB (21-33, 13-17)

The rebuilding process is fully underway for the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Pitching is key for the dragons, and they will need Tanner Graham and Ryan Wesson to fill their starter roles. If both have career year, then UAB will have an opportunity to finish in the top half of the conference.

Middle Tennessee (27-27-1, 12-17-1)

A disappointing regular season led to a cinderella run in the conference tournament and finishing one game away from playing for a championship. Selected to finish in tenth in a preseason poll, MTSU has to rely on newcomers to push them higher in the regular standings.

WKU (21-31, 11-18)

“Short” is the optimal word to describe the 2018 season for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. WKU was a few games short from the conference tournament, which has given the Hilltoppers a desire to improve. Ohio State transfer Reece Calvert will anchor their starting rotation, and they will need big performances from the former Buckeye in order to make the conference tournament.

Marshall (19-31, 7-22)

The two memories that come to most minds when discussing Marshall is a movie and football. The Thundering Herd are not well known for their baseball abilities,w as shown in their 2018 season. If the cards are dealt right for Marshall, they could potentially climb from the bottom of the conference.

Old Dominion (15-37, 7-22)

Disappointment runs in the ODU blood. Sports success has eluded the Monarchs and more of the same is expected. Smart bettors will hammer the under on ODU as more defeats are in store.

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