Is a national seed on the line when No. 17 South Carolina faces No. 18 Vanderbilt tonight in the first game of the final SEC series of the year?
Yes and no.
No, in that the winner isn't guaranteed a national seed, though it will be a difficult argument for the winner not to get one. Forget the rankings of these two teams, what's more important is each team's RPI - South Carolina is No. 12, Vanderbilt is No. 6. Should USC secure a road series win over the Commodores, the Gamecocks look very strong to be in the top eight after that, and if it came down to a discussion between one or the other, the winner has the unquestioned advantage.
Yes, a national seed is on the line in that the loser can forget it. Should the Gamecocks drop the series or, worse, get swept, there's just not enough left to do beyond winning out in the SEC Tournament (unlikely) and some other top teams falling on their faces.
Though the major poll, Baseball America, has both relegated to the low teens, it's safe to say the winner jumps mightily after this weekend. It also helps that several teams ahead of them at the top of the poll - Washington, Cal Poly, LSU, TCU, Oklahoma State, and Louisville come to mind - are just or significantly below the Gamecocks in the RPI. Translation - their win totals are flashy, the quality of their wins is not.
It's likely that the SEC gets three teams in the top eight. Florida is one of those teams, Ole Miss is probably the other should they hold on and win the West. Both have winnable SEC finales (at Tennessee for Florida, at Texas A&M for the Rebels), so both should feel fairly comfortable. With Mississippi's RPI at No. 11, however, it's reasonable to speculate that this weekend's USC-Vanderbilt result also could come affect them, RPI-wise.
It's also reasonable to acknowledge the likely importance of the SEC Tournament to the five teams - Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Mississippi St., LSU and South Carolina - competing for the presumed three SEC national seeds.
The bottom line is, as coach Chad Holbrook said Tuesday, that no matter where USC plays from, it can still get to Omaha, which is true. It's also true that it's significantly easier to do it from Columbia. What also is true is that losing the Georgia series didn't help. One more win there and things may look differently right now.
Regardless of history, the present moment is what matters now, and more than a national seed, more than the SEC standings, the Gamecocks want to play their best baseball right now. With a 4-0 week last week and 1-0 start to this one, it appears USC is doing just that and getting some folks healthy (Max Schrock and Connor Bright) at just the right time.
Whether or not USC can host a Super Regional, it will know come Saturday evening whether it deserves one outright by taking a road series against a top-6 RPI team or has more work to do.
I know I, for one, can't wait.
Here's the RPI according to Boydsworld, for those interested:
7. Oregon St.
12. South Carolina
14. Texas Tech
16. Cal Poly
17. Indiana State
22. Oklahoma St.
25. UC Irvine