The SEC has been far away the best conference top to bottom in college baseball for the past few years now, and in the second half of the season, LSU will feel the brunt of that.
@ Auburn (1-3)
Ok, well maybe not right away. After the dismissal of Sunny Golloway, Butch Thompson takes over a team that squeezed into their first regional appearance since 2015, ending with a record of 36-26. I think Auburn isn't a sleeping giant, but under the right leadership the program can start to flourish and become something like Arkansas is now. The facilities are there and so is the fanbase, and it will be interesting how much Thompson takes advantage of that in his first year. Also, as an aside, Plainsman Park is absolutely beautiful but I hate the dimensions of it. I don't mind the green monster out in left so much as I do the complete disregard for foul territory past the corner bases.
The Baton Rouge Derby is renewed again in Alex Box a year after Southern gave LSU all it could handle for 9 innings before the Tigers pulled away from the Jaguars in the 10th for their 50th win in the series to Southern's two. Rodger Cador, by all accounts one of the nicest guys in college baseball, looks to improve his Jags after a disappointing 20-23 season in 2015.
#3 Vanderbilt (7-9)
Likely to be the most important home series in terms of national importance, Vanderbilt comes calling on a Thursday night for a possible top five showdown. LSU avoided Vandy altogether during their 51-21 season which featured a postseason run all the way to the College World Series final. I love almost everything about Tim Corbin, even if he's a small ball guy and I don't mind their recent renaissance, even if it directly hurts LSU. Vandy has always played LSU close, with LSU holding a 55-40 all time record against the Dores, but Vandy has won the last six series and is 14-4 in those series. So in a rare twist of fate, it's LSU looking to extract revenge and snap a losing streak.
LSU comes back Tuesday and plays Grambling in one of the newer yearly matchups, with LSU beating Grambling in all five meetings dating back to 2009. The other Tigers have not been great historically, and last year James Cooper's club went 11-39. The situations at Grambling have been well documented and there's a slight chance this could be the last matchup between the two schools in baseball.
@ Missouri (15-16)
After playing the Grambling Tigers, the LSU Tigers go to Columbia to play the Missouri Tigers. Fun with small sample sizes: Missouri has never beaten LSU, going 0-8 against the Bayou Bengals in a series that goes back to 1986. Last year Mizzou was a tournament bubble team that just missed the cut following a 1-2 showing in Hoover, finishing 30-28 overall. Missouri is a young team that is just coming to grips with the SEC, and they're not far off from getting to NCAA tournament caliber.
Southeastern Louisiana (20)
Despite going 41-17 last year, the Lions from Hammond, America were shunned from postseason play and I was visibly upset about it. LSU fans have a reason to worry about SLU, because even if it's a midweek game, SLU will be desperate for any feathers to stick in a cap for the postseason committee to see this year should they not win the Southland, even if it's a midweek game where LSU rests all of their usual starters. LSU sits at 66-17 all time against Southeastern.
#15 Mississippi State (22-24)
The man you love to hate, John Cohen, comes calling to Baton Rouge to get booed incessantly. Vanderbilt and Florida may draw more electric atmospheres, but as far as pure vitriol goes, this will be the series to show the fangs for. Last year LSU won the series in Starkville in a year where Mississippi State was notably missing from Hoover, as the Bulldog's season ended early when Tennessee swept them in the regular season finale, dropping them to 24-30 and just below the mark needed to go to the SEC Tournament. The Saturday game will be on ESPNU and the series finale Sunday gets the ESPN2 treatment.
@ Tulane (26)
The return leg of the Battle For The Tiger Rag, LSU goes to Turchin looking for their 14th win over the Green Wave in 18 games during the Paul Mainieri era. Last year we were robbed of a Regional matchup with the Green Wave at the Box, as UNC-Wilmington defeated Tulane twice, dropping Tulane to 35-25 on the year. Just a heads up, this game is going to broadcast on CBS Sports Network, so if you don't have that, make your plans to go out to a sports bar to watch. LSU leads Tulane 180-126-3 all time in the rivalry.
@ Ole Miss (28-30)
After playing two rivals in a row, LSU moves to another, playing former LSU player Mike Bianco's Ole Miss team in Swayze for a Thursday-Saturday series. Last year LSU beat Ole Miss 6-4 on Friday before the Rebels got the best of LSU 5-3 in a 14 inning contest before the Tigers came out on Championship Gold Sunday and dropped the hammer on Ole Miss 18-6. I was opposed to Ole Miss getting into the tournament last year based on record alone, and I was proved right when they bombed out of the Los Angeles regional, dropping them to 30-26 on the year. In a rivalry that dates back to 1906, LSU leads Ole Miss 172-146 and has won 13 of the last 17 series with the Rebs, with all the losses coming in Oxford.
#25 Arkansas (6-8)
After taking the midweek off for finals, LSU hosts Arkansas and Dave van Horn, who is only second to Cohen on the LSU fans most hated list. After dropping a 5-1 game to start the series in 2015, LSU bounced back to outscore the Razorbacks 23-7 to take the series. LSU cleaned up the Hogs in Hoover 10-5 to improve to 64-30 all time over Arkansas. Last year Arkansas clipped the 40 win mark exactly, going 40-25, with the last two losses coming from a two and Q in Omaha.
@ Notre Dame (10-11)
LSU goes up North for a midweek series, which is incredibly rare for the Tigers. Paul Mainieri visits the spot where he coached at prior to coming to LSU, and the place hasn't really been the same since he's left. Last year was the Fighting Irish's first NCAA appearance since Mainieri left in 2006, where they were eliminated after a 1-2 showing in the Champaign Regional, bringing them to 37-23 on the year. Hopefully the Irish wear their green jerseys for one of their games.
@ Tennessee (13-15)
LSU will probably go straight to Knoxville for their matchup with the Volunteers, their first trip to Knoxville since 2010 when they swept the Vols. LSU last faced Tennessee in 2013, taking the series at the Box. After sweeping Mississippi State to punch their ticket to Hoover, Tennessee was knocked out by Arkansas in the play-in game, dropping them to 24-26. LSU leads the series all time 52-21.
Northwestern State (17)
Northwestern State drops by for the final midweek matchup of the season. LSU holds a commanding 55-11 series record over the Demons, and Paul Mainieri has only lost once to Northwestern, back in the disaster that was the 2011 season. The Demons were able to scrap together a respectable 2015, going 31-23 and missing on the postseason after faltering with a 1-2 performance in the Southland tournament. However, I'll forever be indebted to Northwestern State for giving us this gif:
#1 Florida (19-21)
LSU ends the regular season with a Thursday-Saturday homestand against the preseason #1 team, Florida. Kevin O'Sullivan has had good Gator teams in the past, but this one is poised to be his best yet. If both teams live up to the hype, LSU fans may finally experience an exciting regular season finale, because while this series likely will have no bearing on either team's status on making the trek to Hoover, it will serve an important role in the jockeying for position among the super regional hosts. Again that's five months and a lot of baseball away, but there is plenty reason to look forward to this matchup. Last season the Gators reached and eclipsed the 50 win mark in Omaha, getting eliminated by the eventual champions Virginia by the thinnest of margins, 5-4. LSU leads the series all time 57-43-1.