College baseball season officially begins this Friday, the 22nd. For Nebraska, February 22nd means starting on the road with a four-game series against the Stanford Cardinal, followed up by a four-game home series against the UC-Riverside Highlanders.
Other non-conference games include a two-game series against Arkansas at home, Wichita State, a series with Louisiana-Lafayette and in-state rival Creighton. Let's take a look at our marquee non-conference foes before we get into the Big 12.
Note: Records include Division I opponents only.
2007 Record: 28-28 RPI: 80
Coach: Mark Marquess, 32nd season, career record 1,257-621-5
2007 marked the first season in 14 years that they didn't reach the NCAA tourney. In 2003, Stanford was the runner-up in the CWS, but in 2007 the Cardinal finished with an un-Stanford-like 9-15 record in the Pac-10. The Pac-10 looks to be outstanding in 2008, with Arizona State, UCLA, Arizona and Oregon State all with a legitimate shot at the title. Stanford is picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10.
Stanford has seven position starters returning, along with three of four starters in the pitching rotation. 13 of 14 total pitchers return. We'll cover Stanford more later this week.
UC Riverside Highlanders
2007 Record: 38-21 RPI: 49
Coach: Doug Smith, fourth season
Ranked 35th in the Collegiate Baseball pre-season poll (Nebraska 38th). The Highlanders were Big West Conference champs in 2007, making the NCAA tourney where they were knocked out behind a complete game by Johnny Dorn with the Cornhuskers winning 11-1 in the Tempe regional. They're picked to finish fifth in the Big West this season, behind Long Beach State, Cal-State Fullerton, Cal Poly, and UC Irvine.
Like Nebraska, six pitchers were drafted from the 2007 team, they're looking for a pitching rotation with a lot of newcomers. NBWA pre-season All-American Reliever Joe Kelly, RHP Stephen Penny and RHP Matt Montgomery return. OF Joey Gonzales was named to the 2008 Brooks Wallace Watch list, returning with a .356 average last season.
February 29th in Nebraska? Kudos to Mike Anderson for pulling that one off. Let's hope the series actually gets played and isn't hampered by bad weather.
2007 Record: 43-21 RPI: 18
Coach: Dave Van Horn, sixth season with Arkansas, 18-year career record 743-329
Obviously, this is a special series for Husker fans. Athletic Director Bill Byrne built Haymarket Park and Dave Van Horn took Nebraska baseball from being mired in mediocrity for years to a place where Husker fans expect them to be a NCAA tourney bid on a yearly basis (no matter how silly that is). Van Horn left Nebraska to return to his alma mater, allowing Mike Anderson to take over the head coaching position.
2007 saw Arkansas get to the NCAA tourney as a regional host where they were ousted by Oklahoma State, the second year in a row in which they failed to win their own regional.
In 2008, Arkansas will be looking to find pitchers after losing several last season to the MLB draft. Sean Seibert has 22 career starts, Dallas Keuchel has nine, but sophomores Stephen Richards and Scott Limbocker have only a single start apiece. Adding to the mix is that Seibert is not fully recovered yet from Tommy John surgery.
Returners third baseman Logan Forsythe (.347) and outfielder Casey Coon (.312) lead the offense, with fellow veterans second baseman Ben Tschepikow, shortstop Tim Smalling, catcher Jeff Nutt, and outfielders Sean Jones and Wayne Hrozek.
Arkansas comes into Lincoln for a two-game mid-week series on March 18th and 19th, after the Huskers have started Big 12 play. Might we see a rookie pitching dual?
Wichita State Shockers
2007 Record: 52-22 RPI: 22
Coach: Gene Stephenson, 31st season, career record 1,605-533-3
2007 saw the Shockers advance to host a Super Regional where they lost to UC Irvine (after the Anteaters had knocked off Texas in the Austin regional).
In 2008, Wichita State is picked to win the Missouri Valley Conference ahead of Creighton. Their weekend starting pitchers are be set with Aaron Shafer, Rob Musgrave, and Anthony Capra. Between them they hold a 25-5 record. All three have ERA's under 3.0 with Capra at 1.76, Shafer at 2.23, and Musgrave at 2.59. Relief pitcher Andy Womack also returns with 14 appearances and a 2.54 ERA.
2nd team pre-seasion All-American third baseman Conor Gillaspie (.325) and center fielder Andy Dirks (.320) lead the offensive charge. Besides Gillapise and Dirks, the Shockers return Rawlings Gold Glove winner Tyler Webber at catcher, returner Derek Schermerhorn at first base, shortstop Dusty Coleman, and outfielder Tyler Hill.
The Cornhuskers travel to Wichita to face the Shockers in a single game on Wednesday, April 11th. The good news is that since it's a mid-week game, we'll probably face someone from the bullpen. Of course, they'll face someone from our bullpen as well. Should be fun, and I wish we played more games against the Shockers. They always have a great team with one of the best coaches in the history of college baseball.
2007 Record: 45-17 RPI: 14
Coach: Tony Robichaux, 14th season, should pick up his 500th win this season with career record 482-301
2007 saw the Ragin' Cajuns win the Sun Belt conference, then lost twice to regional host Texas A&M to finish 45-17. In 2008 they are picked to win the Sun Belt conference again
Five of seven pitchers return, including all three weekend pitchers. Hunter Moody, Buddy Glass, Brent Solich and Dann Farquhar accounted for 26 of 45 wins last season, giving the Ragin' Cajuns one of the best pitching staffs in the nation.
Five positions starters return, including all three of the starting outfielders. In the infield, third baseman Matt Hicks returns, while second baseman Grant Derouen returns after missing 2007 due to injury. All-American Scott Hawkins (.344) serves as designated hitter, doubling at first base when not serving in that duty. William Long and Justin Robichaux return after playing at shortstop and first base.
The Ragin' Cajuns come to Lincoln the first weekend in May. By that time, Nebraska should have worked out their starting rotation and the Ragin' Cajuns will provide us with a great out of conference measuring stick.
Creighton Blue Jays
2007 Record: 45-16 RPI: 35
Coach: Ed Servais, fifth season
2007 saw in-state rival Creighton go 45-26, win their first ever Missouri Valley Conference tourney and make the NCAA tourney. They lost in the Arkansas regional to Oklahoma State, then got knocked out by Arkansas. Creighton won the series against Nebraska last season, splitting games at Rosenblatt, then taking the game at Hawks Field in Lincoln.
In 2008, the Jays are picked to finish second in the Missouri Valley Conference, behind the Wichita State Shockers. The most well-known Jaw is ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte, who has been named to the Rivals, NCBWA, Collegiate Baseball and Ping! Baseball pre-season All-American teams. Venditte had a 8-2 record and a 1.88 ERA. Along with Venditte, MVC Pitcher of the Year Ben Mancuso returns, weekend starter Zak Moore, and MVC Player of the Year infielder Darin Ruf who recorded 498 putouts last season.
Five regular starters and four pitchers return from last season, including Saturday starter Zak Moore, third basman Steve Winkelmann, second baseman Michael Lam, center fielder Robbie Knight and utility man Brett Mieras.
Northern Colorado - Nebraska plays Northern Colorado on a perennial basis, a decent break against an already tough schedule. A good chance to get some youth into games early in the season, but 2007 they had a RPI of 264, so it doesn't help the strength of schedule no matter what happens.
Iowa - 2007 saw Iowa finish 30-23 with a RPI of 100. Projected by Rivals to finish 4th, Collegiate Baseball to finish 5th in the Big 10. Brian DeCaussin provides a full preview of Iowa at Big Ten Hardball.
Western Illinois - another team like Northern Colorado.