Rice has defeated cross-town rivals Houston in both football and men's basketball already this year, causing many of the Cougar faithful to wonder if rivers are about to start running backwards, too. So I guess it only makes sense that the Cougar baseball team, fresh of back-to-back losing seasons, has looked unstoppable through one week of play, while the traditional powerhouse at Rice has stumbled out of the gates.
The Owls are off to a 2-3 start, including a series loss at home to Stanford, and a 12-7 shellacking at the hands of Lamar, also at Reckling Park. The road doesn't get much easier, as Rice now hosts USC, who enters the weekend with a 3-1 record, including wins over Missouri and California-Riverside. Joe De Pinto leads the Trojans with nine hits in 14 at-bats, and six runs scored already.
The Owls will likely return to their winning ways when Michael Ratterree and Jeremy Rathjen inevitably start hitting again. The pair, both solid contributors in the past, are a combined 6-for-39 to start the year.
A little nearer to downtown, the Cougars will be playing host to Ole Miss, in a series that will be a good, early indication of whether Houston is a legitimate contender, or if their 4-0 record is a function of some low-quality opponents thus far. The Rebels take an unbeaten record of their own into the weekend series, having beaten Wright State three times, and Memphis and Arkansas State once apiece. This weekend will mark Ole Miss' first road games of the year.
The Cougars will utilize the same partial starting rotation as last weekend - and for as well as that worked, why not? Codey Morehouse, who threw seven innings of one-run ball, will get the Friday nod again, and JuCo transfer Jordan Lewis, untouched for a run in his seven innings of work, will go to the bump on Saturday, again. Once again, Houston will focus on the first two games, and possibly cobble together a bullpen game on Sunday, based on who is still available from a thin pitching staff.
Catcher John Cannon, third baseman Austin Gracey and shortstop Chase Jensen all look to continue their hot starts, as all are hitting at .500 or better so far.
Here's how the rest of Conference USA is looking heading into the weekend, power rankings-style:
1. Southern Miss (5-0, Last Week: #2)
The Golden Eagles haven't really played anybody yet, but inherit the spot by default, because I can't justify putting Rice here after their slow start. The pitching staff, a question mark this year, has given up just 13 runs in five games.
Next up: Weekend series at Troy, mid-week game at Alabama
2. East Carolina (3-0, Last Week: #3)
Ditto USM, the Pirates aren't wowing anybody by beating up on Youngstown State, but at least the 22-3 combined weekend score is what you're supposed to do against inferior competition. This weekend should be a good gauge for ECU.
Next up: Weekend series at Virginia, mid-week game vs Campbell
3. Rice (2-3, Last Week: #1)
Let's be honest, it's really only a question of when, not if the Owls return to their dominant ways. Don't forget that Rice started out last season 0-4, and still ended up winning the conference.
Next up: Weekend series vs USC, two mid-week games at Arizona
4. Houston (4-0, Last Week: #5)
Okay, it was only UT-Arlington and Stephen F. Austin, but it's hard to fight the feeling that the coaching change is going to have a bigger impact than anybody realized.
Next up: Weekend series vs Ole Miss, mid-week game at Texas-San Antonio
5. Tulane (2-2, Last Week: #4)
Where's the offense? Despite scoring just 8 runs, the Green Wave took two of three from Sam Houston State last weekend. That's not too troubling, the Bearkats have a solid team more often than not. The 13-1 mid-week loss to Southeastern Louisiana? That worries me.
Next up: Mid-week series vs George Washington, two mid-week games vs Northwestern State
6. Memphis (3-1, Last Week: #6)
After battering Evansville, the Tigers gave Ole Miss a tough game of it, but fell 4-2. Glad to see that it looks like Memphis has a respectable team again, after some lean years.
Next up: Weekend series at Kennesaw State
7. Central Florida (4-0, Last Week: #7)
Insistent on not being beaten in the weak schedule department, the Knights beat up on Siena and Bethune-Cookman to open the season. They play a fairly respectable tournament this weekend, then it's back to the cupcakes until they begin conference play with an absurdly inflated record... yet again.
Next up: vs South Alabama, Southeastern Louisiana and Alabama (in Mobile), mid-week game vs Maine
8. Marshall (2-1, Last Week: #8)
The one "sure thing" on the pitching staff in Arik Sikula got lit up for six runs in 4.2 innings, while the rest of the staff surrendered just seven earned runs in 23.1 combined innings. Go figure.
Next up: Weekend series at Lipscomb
9. Alabama-Birmingham (1-3, Last Week: #9)
The record doesn't look good, but two of those losses came to schools from power conference, including a 6-4 season-opening loss to a stacked Virginia team.
Next up: Weekend series vs Xavier, mid-week game vs Jacksonville State