Nebraska's college baseball season starts this weekend as the Huskers travel to Peoria, Arizona for a three-game series against the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The Huskers will start the season with ten road games before playing their first home game against former Big 12 foe Kansas State on March 6th.The road games will feature the opening series against Gonzaga, the Kleberg Bank College Classic tournament in Corpus Christi, Texas, and the Dairy Queen Classic in Minneapolis.
13 of Nebraska's 2012 foes were 2011 NCAA tournament qualifiers.
Hardball is nearly upon us, and it's time to take a look at the Huskers 2012 non-conference schedule!
Note: I use the ISR from Boyd's World rather than RPI's.
2011 Record: 32-19-1, 15-6 West Coast Conference
2011 ISR: 70
2012 Projected ISR: 52
Coach: Mark Machtolf, 8th year head coach, 232-198-1/8
The Bulldogs finished second in the West Coast Conference last season, and have been picked to finish second again this season behind San Diego by the league's coaches.
Gonzaga returns six position starters, along with two starting pitchers, including LHP/Inf. Marco Gonzales. Gonzales was last year's West Coast Conference co-player of the year Gonzales started 46 games last season, 15 as a pitcher. He lead the conference in wins with 11 with 90 K's, and batted .291. At first base, he had a fielding percentage of .997.
2011 Record: 29-21, 16-7 Mountain West
2011 ISR: 103
2012 Projected ISR: 26
Coach: Bill Kinneberg, 207-225 (8 yrs at Utah), 452-408 (16 yrs head coach)
The first year in the Pac-12 will be interesting for the Utes. They're in the Pac-12 now, a conference that features some of the best hitters in the nation. They return seven position starters, and nearly all of their entire pitching staff from 2011. Weekend starting pitchers Joe Pond and Brock Duke (what a name!) will be joined by RHP Zach Adams who started five games last season before ending his season due to injury.
The Huskers will play two games against Utah at the Kleberg Bank College Classic.
Texas A&M - Corpus Christi Islanders
2011 Record: 37-24, 19-14 Southland Conference
2011 ISR: 87
2012 Projected ISR: 86
Coach: Scott Malone, sixth season
The Islanders had a record season in 2011, finishing with 37 wins and a third-place finish in the Southland Conference. They had wins over Texas, Texas Tech and Oregon State, along with a 12-1 run towards the end of the season.
Good pitching returns with Todd Simko and Justin Meza back on the weekends, they had difficulty with issuing walks. Unfortunately, they've lost four of their top five hitters, although Inf Jaramie Marek returns after hitting .328. Baseball America projects them to finish fourth in the Southland.
2011 Record: 28-27, 14-13 Big East
2011 ISR: 168
2012 Projected ISR: 155
Coach: Greg Van Zant, 18 years, 505 wins
What a weird turn of events. Nebraska leaves the Big 12 while next year West Virginia joins it. Who'da thunk?
The Mountaineers are picked to finished 10th in the Big East this season, and after not having a great amount of success in the Big East, have a lot of work cut out for them heading into the Big 12. They've lost their two best hitters, but they return five position starters along with their weekend starting pitchers.
The Huskers meet West Virginia in the Dairy Queen Classic in Minneapolis.
New Mexico State Aggies
2011 Record: 34-24, 9-15 WAC
2011 ISR: 121
2012 Projected ISR: 80
Coach: Rocky Ward, 16 seasons at NMS, 13 as head coach, 368 wins
The Aggies had the distinction of having the nation's top batting average last season at .337. The top five hitters return, including C Zac Fisher (.398), 2B Parker Hipp (.396), OF Tanner Waite (.389), SS Tyler Forney (.356) and Bryan Karraker (.350). Fisher was recently selected as the Western Athletic Conference 2012 preseason player of the year.
The Aggies return a good pitching staff, with Scott Coffman being selected to the 2012 WAC preseason team after having a 1.88 ERA last season. Two weekend starters return, LHP Ryan Beck and RHP Tyler Mack.
The Huskers the Aggies in the Dairy Queen Classic in Minneapolis.
2011 Record: 38-23, 13-13 Pac-12
2011 ISR: 15
2012 Projected ISR: 6
Coach: David Esquer, 13 years, 354-313-2
Cal comes to Lincoln after being a 2011 College World Series qualifier; this after the program was nearly axed due to budget cuts.
Needless to say, this is the biggest non-conference series of the year for the Huskers. It will be a great early-season challenge for Nebraska. Why are the Golden Bears coming to Nebraska? Probably because Esquer, who was picked as the 2011 National Coach of the Year, has the same attitude as Nebraska - get as tough a schedule as you can and you'll be rewarded post-season. You have to like the attitude.
Cal lost a lot in the pitching department, returning only one weekend starter in LHP Justin Jones. LHP Kyle Porter should assume a starting weekend role. Their problem will be depth, as they basically missed out a year of recruiting since everyone thought the program would be cut.
Pac-10 Player of the Year Tony Renda returns after hitting .332 last season, along with seven starters.
Baseball America projects them to finish sixth in the tough Pac-12. Want more? Take a look at the 2012 season preview at SB Nation site California Golden Blogs. They'll be previewing the entire team this week.
Kansas State Wildcats
2011 Record: 36-25, 12-14 Big 12
2011 ISR: 49
2012 Projected ISR: 66
Coach: Brad Hill, ninth year, 260-190-3
Kansas State will play three mid-week games against the Huskers, with two in Lincoln and one in Manhattan. KSU is the only Big 12 team on Nebraska's schedule. Baseball America projects them to finish eighth in the Big 12.
The Wildcats return seven starters, but they will have to replace a fair amount of starting pitching.
2011 Record: 34-27, 12-12 WAC
2011 ISR: 110
2012 Projected ISR: 106
Coach: Will Simoneaux, 10 years, 230 wins
The Bulldogs had a decent season last year, finishing third in the Western Athletic Conference, and their first 30-win season since 2007. They'll have a hard time repeating that due to losing the majority of their offense as well as a lack of pitching depth. They only return four starters, but they do return two of their weekend starters in Jeb Stefan and Trevor Peterson.
Creighton Annoyances or Blue Jays, Whichever you prefer
2011 Record: 45-16, 15-6 MVC
2011 ISR: 28
2012 Projected ISR: 127
Coach: Some guy who probably just got out of prison or Ed Servais, nine years.
Take a minute and think about this - the Missouri Valley Conference finished seventh in RPI last season, compared to 16th for the Big Ten. If that doesn't say a lot about the current state of baseball in the Big Ten, what does?
There. If you're a Creighton fan, I've showed some respect.
The win total from 2011 looks pretty good, and it should be pretty good again this season given a schedule that features mostly twinkies. You'd think the Blue Jays would bring some better teams into TD Ameritrade Park, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
The Jays return seven starters, but lost two of their top pitchers and their best hitter. Top pitcher Ty Blach returns, having already garnered preason attention.
Creighton is picked to finish fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference in 2012. That's by Baseball America. Stitch head Eric Sorenson, whose site you should know, projects them to finish first, while the coaches picked them to finish second.
Cal State - Bakersfield Roadrunners
2011 Record: 33-22
2011 ISR: 41
2012 Projected ISR: 55
Coach: Bill Kernen, four years, 72-89
As year another sign of the bizarre nature of collegiate sports, while Cal was considering dropping their baseball program, CSU-Bakersfield only started baseball in 2009. Known as CSUB, the Roadrunners are currently independent.
2011 was a great year for the young program, with a series sweep over Fresno State, wins over South Carolina, UCLA, Arizona State and UC-Irvine.
Unfortunately, the Roadrunners have lost most of their pitching staff, along with two pitchers (LHP Jonathan Montoya and RHP Brandon Van Dam) who will be out for the year. They're going to have a hard time duplicating last year's win total.
The Low End
Oh, look, I could have put Creighton here, but I didn't. That's multiple signs of respect in a single article. Stop complaining.
Northern Colorado - Nebraska has been playing Northern Colorado for years. The Bears haven't seen much success since becoming a Division I team in 2004, although they've finished second in the Great West the past two seasons. They're not much help in the RPI department, finishing last season at 261. Their preseason ISR is 279.
One wonders if Nebraska can continue to afford to play them mid-week, or find a better opponent, say, like Missouri. That'd be nice.
South Dakota State - The Jackrabbits play in the Summit League, where Oral Roberts has won the conference tournament 15 years in a row (along with a bid to the NCAA tourney). The good news - ORU leaves the Summit next year for the Southland Conference. The bad news - SDSU's RPI, 157 last year, won't improve by their conference losing a decent team. This year's projected ISR - 254.
Like Northern Colorado, perhaps it's time Nebraska drop the Jackrabbits and look for a better replacement.