College baseball midseason review: Surprises, teams that need to improve and storylines to watch

Charlie Condon is on track to hit 40 home runs this season Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire

The college baseball season is through the first half already. Some preseason top-ranked teams, like Wake Forest and LSU, find themselves in a slump, while sleeper picks look to pave their way to Omaha.

Our college baseball experts explain who to look out for in the second half of the season, teams that need some improvement and key storylines to watch for the rest of the season.

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First-half surprises | Impressive teams and players
Team improvements | Expectations
Sleeper picks

What has surprised you most in the first half of the season?

Chris Burke: The struggles of Wake Forest and LSU are hard to imagine. The top two teams in the preseason find themselves below .500 in conference play. Wake is 7-8 and LSU is 3-9, which puts both these teams in an uncomfortable position at this point in the season. It's not panic time, but it is getting late early for both of these preseason Omaha favorites.

Mike Rooney: Utter chaos in the Big 12 was not on my preseason menu. TCU entered 2024 as the Big 12 favorite and a top-five team in the preseason rankings. The Frogs backed that up with a 14-0 start. Fast-forward to Week 9 and they are the league's 12th-place team. Wait ... what? West Virginia played most of the first half of the season without All-America shortstop JJ Wetherholt, which sounded like a big problem. But the Mountaineers climbed into first place while they were waiting, and now Wetherholt is back. This league is wild. My advice: Stay tuned.

Kyle Peterson: Kentucky has been a great story to follow again this year. It hosted a regional last year and lost a super in Baton Rouge, so it maybe shouldn't fall squarely into the surprise category. Its RPI stands at No. 5 in Division I rankings today and the 11-1 start in the SEC is a loud beginning to the season.

Ryan McGee: How about them Ragin' Cajuns? Yes, Louisiana was in the tourney last year, but it lost a huge chunk of its core producers and I expected it to settle into rebuild mode. Nope. Louisiana has only one conference loss, is on a 16-game winning streak and has crashed its way back into everyone's top 25.

Kiley McDaniel: Florida State. OF James Tibbs, 3B Cameron Smith, OF Jaime Ferrer, LHP Jamie Arnold, and RHP Cam Leiter have taken big steps forward while a deep squad have all been performing well for Link Jarrett.

What teams and players have been impressing you the most?

Burke: Charlie Condon of Georgia has to be the midseason POY. Travis Bazzana of Oregon State and Braden Montgomery of Texas A&M are nipping on his heels, but Condon is truly putting on one of the greatest seasons in college baseball history. With a slash line of .468/.573/1.081 and 21 homers, he has a chance to be a 40-homer guy and win the triple crown. Still a lot of season left, but Condon is certainly off to a historic start.

Rooney: Condon (Georgia) leads the nation with 21 home runs. That is more home runs than 58 Division I college baseball teams. I repeat, Condon has out-homered 58 teams. Pitchers Chase Burns (Wake Forest) and Hagen Smith (Arkansas) are sporting strikeout rates of 50% and 52.2%, respectively. Half of the hitters they face are punching out. That is silly. Bazzana owns six leadoff home runs in 2024, and he has 18 overall. I believe we've gone next level with the phrase "offensive second baseman."

Peterson: Arkansas, Clemson and Texas A&M have been the most complete teams for me so far. I'd throw Oregon State on that list as well. Aside from a hiccup against a better USC team, Oregon State's only loss this season is 5-4 to Arkansas. The Hogs and Clemson have yet to lose a series and the Ags have looked dominant all year.

McGee: First, shoutout to Bowling Green. The Falcons stumbled their way into conference play, as many cold weather teams do. Heck, BGSU stumbled its way into this decade after nearly shuttering the program in 2019. But now it is 12-0 in the MAC. As for POY candidates, my eyes are pointed squarely at Bazzana. I mean, .466/18/45 on a team that's 26-4 and ranked in everyone's top five? Looks pretty POY-ish to me.

McDaniel: Condon and Bazzana are pacing the hitters (and seem like a lock for the top few picks) while Burns and Smith are also at the same level. Montgomery and Ryan Johnson (Dallas Baptist) are sleepers to keep eyes on the rest of the season.

What teams have some work to do?

Burke: I already mentioned Wake Forest and LSU struggling, but there are other teams that were highly thought of preseason that find themselves in a less than desirable position at the midway point. TCU started the season as the hottest team in the country winning its first 13 games against a formidable schedule. But since then, the Horned Frogs have gone 6-9 in their past 15 including 5-10 to start Big 12 conference play. Plenty of time for Kirk Saarloos' team to get hot again, as it did to finish last season, but it needs to kick it in gear.

Rooney: LSU and Florida entered the season as top-five teams. Both rosters are littered with pedigree and famous names from last season's MCWS Finals. Tommy White of LSU might be the best pure hitter in college baseball. Jac Caglianone could be the first pick overall in this July's MLB draft. However, LSU heads to Knoxville this weekend with a 3-9 league record. The Gators' season has included a streak of five straight midweek losses, plus a loss to FSU on Tuesday, and a recent sweep at the hands of a rebuilding Missouri club. It's getting late early.

Peterson: The year after winning it all has proven to be difficult lately. Mississippi State struggled two years ago as did Ole Miss last year. LSU has fallen victim to it this year. Its league schedule does get easier in the back half of league play, but 3-9 to start and an upcoming trip to Knoxville is a rare sight in Baton Rouge.

McGee: In February, we were all on board with Wake Forest as a team that could return to Omaha and take care of the business it couldn't one year ago (see: the greatest MCWS non-title game ever played). But spring has been rough in Winston-Salem. The Deacs are in a 4-8 ACC hole headed into a huge series at Virginia Tech. The team did just earn a big win over Coastal Carolina, so maybe it's turning the corner.

McDaniel: TCU was a preseason top five team for some and are sitting at 5-10 in Big 12 play. Only two regulars are hitting for an OPS over .800 and only two pitchers are performing at the statistical level where you'd need a half dozen or more to be a postseason threat.

What are you expecting in the second half of the season?

Burke: The theme of the early season has been the wild amount of home runs that are being hit. So with that in mind, I'm excited to see what some of the biggest stars will do in the second half as the weather really heats up around the country. I could see Condon, Montgomery, Bazanna, Jac Caglianone (Florida), Grant Knipp (Campbell), Dakota Jordan (Mississippi State) and maybe more getting to the 30-home run mark. The ball is flying this year!

Rooney: Kentucky is 11-1 through four conference weekends ... are the Wildcats the second best team (behind Arkansas) in the SEC? Wake Forest is getting healthy, and Nick Kurtz just hit five home runs in a series at plucky Virginia Tech ... are the Deacs ready to make their run? On that note, the ACC appears to be historically strong in 2024. Could this league match the SEC for seats at the table in Omaha? There are 10 Big 12 teams within three games of first place. I repeat, 10. Let's get ready to rumble.

Peterson: Wake continues to bounce back after a rough first four weeks in the ACC. It still has the pieces to compete for the national championship and is getting healthy. The Condon-Bazzana battle for national player of the year continues to be a storyline each week. Both enter the week with an OPS above 1.600 and have combined to hit 39 home runs. We will hear each of those names called early in this year's draft.

McGee: It feels like a "Can they finally close the deal?" kind of season, not unlike what we've seen in recent years with Ole Miss and Mississippi State finally winning titles, or even LSU finally ending its really long (for LSU, anyway) title drought. The top of the rankings are packed with proud programs that have either never won the MCWS or won their lone title decades ago. Arkansas, Clemson, Texas A&M, Duke, Florida State ... heck, Kentucky and East Carolina have never even made it to Omaha. Something's gotta give, right?

McDaniel: Can LSU right the ship and still host and/or make a deep postseason run to defend its title?

What sleeper team do you think has a shot to make a deep run in the MCWS?

Burke: My sleeper team to start the season was Florida State and I'm sticking with them. Link Jarrett has his club off to a 27-5 start, and other than two heartbreaking losses to Clemson, the Seminoles have been playing a steady brand of ball. Hitting .335 as a club, with a sub 4 ERA (3.66) and fielding at a .979 clip, this team seems to have the balance to continue on this pace. It would be quite a story considering the Noles finished dead last in the ACC last year.

Rooney: There appears to be a lack of "super teams" in college baseball this season. If that turns out to be true, an Omaha run for a Cinderella team (or teams) could be on the horizon. East Carolina, Dallas Baptist and Duke have combined for seven super regional appearances in the past five seasons. The UC Irvine position player group is a remarkable mix of skill and athleticism. And the Eaters' ace Nick Pinto leads the nation with 54 career starts and an elite mustache. Mike Glavine's Northeastern Huskies are regional regulars with a dynamic offense. Indiana State, Creighton and Nebraska have MCWS appearances in their past, and maybe their future.

Peterson: Give me Dallas Baptist and Duke as my sleepers, although each has a great chance to host a regional. Sleeper here is simply based on those that have not made it to Omaha in a while. It wouldn't surprise me to see one or both of them hanging out in Omaha in late June this year.

McGee: Did I mention that Kentucky has never been to Omaha? Well, to me that makes them a sleeper team. The school's recent commitment to baseball has been remarkable. Its facilities are amazing. Its coaching staff is sharp. But the Wildcats have never played in late June. Well, they are now 11-1 in the SEC after sweeping Bama and show no signs of slowing down.

McDaniel: I'm going to be a homer and throw out my alma mater UCF who are on a heater right now. From a prospects-focused standpoint, Wake Forest isn't a sleeper per se, but it started slow (lost series at UVA, swept at North Carolina) and fell out of the top 20. The Deacs are heating up at the right time and are looking more like the preseason No. 1.