Another season, another prediction to win the Mountain West conference.
The University of New Mexico baseball team picked up three of the seven votes from coaches across the conference, and racked up 31 points overall, to be the favorite to win the 2018 Mountain West title, according to a release from the conference on Tuesday.
Of the seven votes, coaches are not allowed to choose their own teams. Instead, they must cast a vote for one of the other six schools.
“We’re the ones with a target on our back,” UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said, when asked about the competition in conference play, during the team’s media day last Friday. “Everybody brings their A-game for us. I think Fresno (State) is going to be really really good. I think San Diego State — one more time — is going to be really, really good. I think Nevada is going to be better. I think UNLV is going to be better.
People shouldn't expect the Lobos to be looking past anyone. Birmingham seemed to have all the competition scouted pretty well already and talked about one potential up-and-comer in the Mountain West.
“I think the one to watch for is Air Force," the head coach said. "Air Force is getting better all the time. They got some pitching, but ooh they got some offense.”
In addition to being the preseason pick to win the conference, three UNM players were also voted onto the Preseason All-Mountain West Team.
Senior Danny Collier and juniors Jared Mang and Christian Tripp were among the 13 players selected to the team.
Last season, Mang led the Lobos in both batting average (.373) and hits (90) during the team’s 2017 campaign. He also had nine home runs, 62 RBI, 62 runs and 17 doubles. Those statistics garnered Mang a nod as an All-Mountain West player following the conclusion of the season.
Collier, on the other hand, had a .328 batting average a season ago, including three home runs, 50 runs, and 51 RBI. He was even better in Mountain West play, hitting .396 with 27 runs scored and added 29 RBI to his name.
Meanwhile, Tripp was one of the best closing pitchers in the Mountain West in the 2017 season. He had six saves overall and posted a 5.14 ERA, while also recording 26 strikeouts in 28 innings. He tied for the conference best in saves with four, while also tying for second in games played (11).
Aside from the Lobos, San Diego State received some recognition as well — placing second in voting with 29 points and two first-place votes.
San Jose State was projected to finish in last place, picking up just nine points and no first-place votes.
Last season, the Lobos took home the regular season title, finishing atop the conference before the Mountain West tournament. After winning the regular season with a 19-9-1 record in conference play in 2017, the Lobos earned the right to host the tournament at Santa Ana Star field.
But things did not go according to plan. New Mexico lost two games in the tournament, ultimately erasing their chances at reaching Omaha.
UNM will open the 2018 season against No. 2 Oregon State on Friday, Feb. 16 in Surprise, Arizona as part of a four-game opening slate for the team. New Mexico will also compete against Cal Poly on Saturday and Gonzaga on Sunday, before concluding the Surprise Tournament with a second matchup against the Beavers on Monday.
The Lobos’ first home game, however, will come on Thursday, Feb. 22 when they host Central Michigan in a four game series that will run through that Sunday.
Matthew Narvaiz is a senior sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @matt_narvaiz.