Halfway through the season, the Ole Miss Rebels sit at a mediocre 19-18 overall and 7-8 in conference play. But a combination of a strength of schedule that is tops in the nation and two series wins over top-ranked teams has the Rebels still in the thick of the NCAA Tournament hunt, according to latest projections from college baseball guru Kendall Rogers.
Last season at this point, the Rebels were No. 10 in the country, had a record of 28-8 (8-5 SEC) and were ranked fifth in the RPI rankings after beating Mississippi State in Starkville -- the lowest RPI that the team dipped to was 19th in Week 5. In order for this season's Diamondbearz to find the magic that Bianco's club did in 2014, they will need to continue to improve at the plate and get the lights out bullpen pitching they got in Nashville (the bullpen has gone 21.0 consecutive innings without allowing a run).
Despite bad RPI losses such as Southern Miss (84th), Arkansas (87th), Stetson (120th), William & Mary (158th) and losing a home series to Tennessee (5-10 SEC record), the Rebels are still projected as a two seed in the Tallahassee regional thanks to recent series wins over the Florida Gators and the Vanderbilt Commodores. Good news: you're in as a two seed despite being one game over .500 for the year. Bad news: you're paired with the No. 4 national seed Gators.
Granted, these are merely projections, but it shows the significant weight that strength of schedule, road wins and RPI can carry when selecting the field of 64 come June. Wins over Florida (6th), Louisville (10th), LSU (15th) and Vandy (21st) have laid the groundwork for a backdoor finish into a regional for Bianco's club.
Although the Rebels have already faced three No. 1 teams and other top 50 RPI clubs, the hardest part might just be ahead. The schedule is not that daunting, other than a home series in the final weekend against 34-3 (11-3 SEC), No. 1 ranked Texas A&M, but the hard part will be NOT slipping up as the Rebels have very little room for error.
With that being said, the Rebels could very well be favored in all but one of their remaining series if they continue to play as well as they did last weekend. But, as we all know, being favored and taking care of business are two very different things.