While losing both games in the College World Series was tough for the Arizona baseball team, they took an even bigger blow to the chest a few days later. It was announced on Thursday, June 24, that head coach Jay Johnson would be leaving Arizona to take the head coaching position at Louisiana State University, after longtime head coach Paul Mainieri announced his retirement earlier this year.
Johnson leaves behind a legacy that will be hard for the next coach to match. This year, Johnson led the Wildcats to their first postseason since 2017 and first College World Series since 2016. Arizona was also the sole PAC-12 champion, which has not happened since 1992. On top of all that, Arizona did not lose a home series all year and finished 8-2 in series against PAC-12 opponents.
I had a hard time accepting why the reigning PAC-12 coach of the year would want to leave Arizona. With all that Johnson’s team accomplished on the field from winning ball games to NCAA awards, who would want to leave? Nevertheless, LSU is a great program, and I have no doubt he will get what he is looking for. However, I do not believe it will come as easily as he thinks. LSU may have the flash, but do they have the talent to back it up? Here are some reasons why I believe Johnson’s journey at LSU will be challenging.
This is not the PAC-12 anymore
Anyone who knows anything about college sports knows the SEC is the most powerful conference to be a part of. In 2020, the SEC generated a massive revenue of $729 million. If that was not enough money, the SEC signed a 10-year, $3 billion deal with The Walt Disney Company to have exclusive rights to stream the SEC’s football games on ABC beginning in 2024. It just proves that no other conference can match up to the SEC. They have the best facilities, coaches, boosters, athletes and brand recognition. When it comes to college baseball, they are at the top of the list as well. Here is what the SEC accomplished at the college world series this year.
· Nine out of 14 SEC baseball programs made it to the postseason.
· Six out of 16 regional tournaments were hosted by SEC schools.
· Six SEC teams advanced to Super Regionals.
· Out of the eight Super Regionals, five of them had SEC teams participating in them.
· The two teams in the College World Series final, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, are both SEC teams.
What this means is when Johnson was coaching in the PAC-12, he did not have to face these teams until the postseason. Now that he will coach LSU, he will face all these teams during the regular season.
LSU has 12 SEC championships, which is the most out of all the SEC teams. That means that winning the conference is the expectation, but LSU has not won a conference championship since 2017. This past season the Tigers finished with a conference record of 13-17, good enough for eighth in the SEC. It was their worst conference record since the 2007 season. Arizona finished with a conference record of 21-9 and were the kings of the PAC-12, but Johnson chose to abdicate his throne and start over. With Vanderbilt and Mississippi State in the College World Series, winning an SEC title will be as difficult as winning a college world series.
Wildcats roar louder than Tigers on offense
When it comes to comparing the offenses of these two teams, LSU does not evenly match up against Arizona at all. The Wildcats ranked in the NCAA top-50 of many major offensive categories including batting average (fourth), hits (first), home runs (tied for 32), on base percentage (fourth), runs (first) and slugging percentage (seventh).
Compare that to LSU, who only finished in the NCAA top-50 in hits (15), home runs (fifth), runs (25) and slugging percentage (44).
Sure, LSU hits more home runs than Arizona, but every good coach knows that to live or die by the home run is not a smart strategy. Johnson will have a lot of work to do with the offense he has been given.
Pitching is not much better
If struggling on offense was not enough, LSU’s pitchers are an even bigger problem. The Tigers pitching does not rank in the NCAA top-50 in ERA, hits allowed, strikeouts per nine innings or WHIP. This was a clear weakness in the regional tournaments where LSU was outscored by their opponents 40-36. With a low power offense and a weak defense, Johnson is taking on what looks like to be a full rebuild. Unless there is a strong recruiting class coming to LSU next year, Johnson's first year looks dark.
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