Conference previews: Atlantic Sun and Horizon

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Another fantastic season is around the corner and we take an inside look at the Atlantic Sun Conference and Horizon League in our latest conference previews.

Florida Gulf Coast is postseason eligible at the Division I level for the first time ever this season and is the favorite to win the Atlantic Sun title. Jacksonville, though, hopes to find a way to give the Eagles a run for their money.

In the Horizon League, the story will be much the same with Wright State and Illinois-Chicago once again leading the charge. But Milwaukee is one team that has the personnel to shake up the race with a little luck this season.

ATLANTIC SUN CONFERENCE

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Florida Gulf Coast
2. Jacksonville
3. Stetson
4. Kennesaw State
5. North Florida
6. Lipscomb
7. Mercer
8. Belmont
9. East Tennessee State
10. Campbell
11. South Carolina-Upstate
ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
C Nick Rickles, Stetson
1B Zach Maxfield, Florida Gulf Coast
2B Chuck Opachich, Jacksonville
SS Steve Wickens, Florida Gulf Coast
3B Tim Roberson, Florida Gulf Coast
OF Dylan Craig, Belmont
OF Preston Hale, North Florida
OF Chris Bangi, Campbell
DH Paul Hoilman, ETSU
SP Chris Sale, Florida Gulf Coast
SP Matt Loosen, Jacksonville
SP Josh Smith, Lipscomb
RP Chris Kaminski, Jacksonville
BEST PITCHER
LHP Chris Sale, Florida Gulf Coast
BEST HITTER
1B Zach Maxfield, Florida Gulf Coast

The Atlantic Sun enters a new dimension this season.

Florida Gulf Coast made relatively easy work of many teams in the conference the past two seasons. It captured a pair of regular season titles but was unable to compete in an NCAA regional because of transition rules.

Now, this season, the Eagles finally are eligible to compete in the NCAA postseason.

Though the Eagles are the clear favorites to win the conference crown, Jacksonville once again will be solid with ace pitcher Matt Loosen leading the way. Also, Stetson expects to be much improved with the return of several key players.

North Florida and Mercer are prime candidates to take steps forward as both teams welcome back plenty of players with potential for big campaigns.

FGCU is our pick to win the Atlantic Sun crown.

AT A GLANCE
Regular-season winner last season: Florida Gulf Coast
Tournament winner last season: Jacksonville

New coaches: None
Coach on the rise: Dave Tollett, Florida Gulf Coast
Rising stock: Florida Gulf Coast
Falling stock: Stetson
Regional contenders: Florida Gulf Coast
Injuries to note: Phillip Brannon (coming off rehab), South Carolina-Upstate, Bobby Jackson (coming off rehab), South Carolina-Upstate

HORIZON LEAGUE

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Wright State
2. Illinois-Chicago
3. Milwaukee
4. Youngstown State
5. Valparaiso
6. Cleveland State
7. Butler
ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
C Nate Orf, Illinois-Chicago
1B Jeremy Banks, Youngstown State
2B Aaron Fields, Wright States
SS R.J. Gundolff, Wright State
3B Quentin Cate, Wright State
OF Casey McGrew, Wright State
OF Tim Patzman, Milwaukee
OF Doug Dekoning, Milwaukee
DH Jason Ganek, Illinois-Chicago
SP Alex Kaminsky, Wright State
SP Chris Kovacevich, Illinois-Chicago
SP Phil Klein, Youngstown State
RP Michael Schum, Wright State
BEST PITCHER
RHP Michael Schum, Wright State
BEST HITTER
3B Quentin Cate, Wright State
Change won’t hit the Horizon League this season.

It still will be a two-team show between Illinois-Chicago and Wright State.

The Flames won the conference regular season title in impressive fashion last season. But the Raiders bounced back in the conference tournament and made another trip to the NCAA postseason by winning the automatic berth.

Now, the Flames hope to return the favor this season with the Raiders the favorites to win the conference regular season crown.

WSU and UIC are the frontrunners in the Horizon, but Milwaukee also is expected to have a solid club with the return of talented hitters Tim Patzman and Doug Dekoning.

Also keep an eye on Youngstown State and Valparaiso, as both teams have a chance to be much improved this season.

The Horizon League title race won’t have too much suspense. Wright State is our pick.

AT A GLANCE
Regular-season winner last season: Illinois-Chicago
Tournament winner last season: Wright State

New coaches: None
Coach on the rise: Rob Cooper, Wright State
Rising stock: Wright State
Falling stock: Cleveland State
Regional contenders: Wright State
Injuries to note: Brett Bivens (career ending), Valparaiso

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Feb 8, 2010