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The State of Texas Baseball - 2015 Edition

Texas baseball is back for another exciting season. We are excited to be joined this season by BON All-Star Michael Pelech with Texas baseball coverage. We'll preview the team in glorious detail in a bit, but first the duo once described by an Aggy as "a pair of long-winded tea-sips" sat down for our annual State of Texas Baseball conversation.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff: Alright Abram. I think this is the third or fourth year we've kicked off our coverage with just the two of us chatting. And each year we've begun with you finishing this sentence. The state of Texas baseball is __________________?

Abram: Ascendant. After a run of disappointing seasons significant enough to have Augie Garrido on the hot seat, his squad put together the most fun postseason run I've ever seen that didn't end in a national title. Expectations are back where they belong, with what should be a strong team to try and return to Omaha or at least have a good shot at doing so when the regular season ends. Of course, as every Texas coach in a major sport knows, high expectations can be a double edged sword. The kind of finish we would have been perfectly fine with in 2014 would be a disappointment in 2015. So as long as we're starting from a big picture perspective: how do you see this season playing out and ultimately ending?

Jeff: I think last year your answer to the question was just a frownie face emoticon so this is a huge upgrade. My assumption is that it ends with your son learning what a real dogpile looks like. What could go wrong, right? The team certainly has the talent and the offense should be even better than last year's mediocrity. More realistically, I guess I'm just hoping for a similar Omaha run this year. Postseason baseball is stressful and whatnot, but most of all it's fun and I like fun.

I guess the main emotion I feel regarding the 2015 baseball team is worry. Last year was such a roller coaster that ended with such a pleasant surprise. Actually, I have four worries:

What if last year's Omaha run was just a fluke?

What if all the loss of so many talented pitchers is overwhelming?

What if the new hitters don't make a difference?

What if the Horns can't overcome the tough non-conference and conference schedules?

I know we'll hit on each of these topics in individual previews, but which of those issues worry you the most?

Abram: Well hell, Jeff. Now that you laid them all out, each one of them worries me. The first and last of your questions are global concerns that, to me, can both be rephrased as "what if Texas just isn't that good?" That's always a worry in the preseason, but it's not a specific enough worry for it to be my main concern. If your other two concerns come true--i.e., we can't hit and we can't pitch--then those global questions get obvious negative answers as well. I think my biggest concern of the four, then, is the third: what if the new hitters don't make a difference? And the reason for that is history: we've seen this coaching staff reload on the mound time and time again, replacing talented departed hurlers with yet more dominant arms. But we've also seen, time and time again, talented hitters come through the program and see their production disappoint. So I'm worried that this crop of young batsmen will be a new verse in the same song of Texas getting very little offensive production where there's potential for more.

But your fourth question makes me wonder: do you think the Big 12 will be as improved as everyone seems to think? TCU looks awfully strong and the Longhorns should be very good again, plus Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are getting some preseason love. Does the league rise to its increased expectations or disappoint?

Jeff: Good, so we're both terrified. Strangely, I feel more confident that the hitters will develop and slightly more scared that the pitchers will be slower to come around. There's a precedence for all this: 2008. That was the year Texas had an ERA above 7.00 and hit over 200 homers (may be an exaggeration). The pitchers were talented but young and inexperienced and it showed for much of the season.

Now, on to your question. Since it's the Big 12 it will almost certainly disappoint, right? TCU lost the conference's best pitcher and Okie St and Texas Tech don't have the strongest history of sustained success. I guess the worst case scenario for the Big 12 is that the four "elite" teams (Texas, TCU, Tech & OSU) are merely good. The rest of the conference should be solid though and there really isn't a single series you look at and think "easy sweep". Just in conference play the Horns travel to Stillwater, Fort Worth, Waco and Lawrence (where Texas has strangely struggled in recent years).

Beyond just the conference schedule, take a look at the schedule as a whole. It's brutal. I count 11 real tough road non-conference games. Compare that to Oklahoma State who hosts Illinois, Western Illinois, Alcorn State and Grand Canyon in non-conference play.

And then there's the region as a whole. Let's say Texas performs up to snuff and hosts a regional and super regional. There they might see any number of really quality teams that could be paired with due to geographical convenience. A&M should be improved, Houston is really good, Rice is good, and there any number of smaller regional schools who could be this year's Sam Houston State.

Let's shut things down with some predictions before we get too long-winded. Go on record: where does Texas finish in the Big 12 and what's their postseason fate?

Abram: Well, I think you're right that the league will be pretty balanced. As a result I would be surprised if any team ran away with the regular season title. Given that we travel to both TCU and Okie State, and only get Tech among the preseason ranked squads at home, I can't predict a conference championship for Texas. I do think they finish second, and that the Big 12 Tournament performance will determine whether they contend for a national seed.

Of course, that also depends on the non-conference performance. The Longhorns have eight games against preseason top-15 teams, all on the road: four to start the season at Rice, and four to wrap up pre-conference play at Stanford. I think the keys for non-conference play are: split those Rice/Stanford road games 4-4; go 5-2  or better in home series against Minnesota and San Diego; and avoid getting swept in their road series at Nebraska. Accomplish that, and I do think second place in an improved Big 12 could get them into the top eight nationally.

Either way, I see Texas hosting a regional. Your point about the state of Texas having several strong teams works against the postseason fortunes, though, as Houston, the Aggies, Rice, Tech, Baylor -- not to mention surrounding teams like LSU, Arkansas, and Oklahoma State -- will all have the firepower to come into Austin and end Texas' season. That said, the postseason is obviously pretty random due to #smallsamplesize, so what the hell: I'll say Texas returns to Omaha after some white-knuckle shenanigans in the regional and super regional, and probably finishes third just like last year. How about you?

Jeff: You know the Simpsons episode where Homer becomes a boxer? One of my favorite parts of that episode is when Moe tells Homer he has to envision himself beating Drederick Tatum if he's ever going to actually do it and then it cuts to the announcer in Homer's dream saying "a congenital heart defect has apparently felled Tatum moments before he could step into the ring." Can Texas win a Big 12 title by congenital heart defect?

I don't see the Horns winning the Big 12 simply because they haven't been good enough in recent years and I think the conference has gotten better. But last year proved that Texas doesn't really need to win the conference to hit its real goals. A strong second place finish in a strong conference would be fine by me and would be good enough to at least host a regional. I'm going to agree with you on all accounts (which means we will be way off). I see a second or third place Big 12 finish, regional host victory, super regional upset and two or three wins in Omaha. Great season, maybe not great enough for a title.