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Nebraska Baseball Non-Conference Preview

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Nebraska starts this weekend in Las Vegas. Let's take a quick team by team look at the weekend non-conference foes

Jon Johnston

With baseball season only a few days away, Nebraska has set its targets on being a top 16 team in the nation, and hosting a regional for the first time since 2006. Head coach Darin Erstad has set up a challenging, yet manageable schedule that includes 27 home games. The Huskers will have 15 games against tournament qualifiers from the 2014 season. A safe assumption is that to host a regional with Nebraska’s schedule is that they will need to win 45 games. The time to start the run to the postseason starts with the non-conference portion of the schedule. Without further ado, here is a brief scouting report on the teams Nebraska will see on the weekends in the non-conference schedule.

Nebraska starts the season at UNLV, playing the back end of a home and home series after UNLV came to Lincoln and won 2 of 3 last year. Gone are John Richy and Eric Feede who shut down the Nebraska offense in the first two games of the series last year. Brayden Torres returns to anchor the UNLV bullpen, and a new crop of starting pitching led by Kenny Oakley will keep UNLV competitive. Offensively, UNLV will be relying on a strong cast of new players, as four of their top five hitters have graduated, or were drafted. Leading the UNLV offense will be Joey Armstrong. Nebraska should be able to take 2 of the 3 games this weekend, while a sweep may not be out of the question.

After starting the new season in Vegas, Nebraska heads out to familiar territory in Peoria, Arizona to take on Brigham Young for a four game series. Brigham Young loses two weekend starters and their offensive catalyst Dillon Robinson to graduation. Last year Brigham Young went 1-14 against teams in the RPI top 100. Depending on how Nebraska’s pitching depth shakes out, Nebraska could be looking for a weekend sweep against a team that should struggle in 2015.

After a weekend in Arizona, Nebraska heads out to California to play Brigham Young’s conference foe, Loyola-Marymount. Loyola-Marymount will provide a steep challenge to Nebraska, with Friday night starter Colin Welmon coming off a 10-2 junior season in which he racked up 106 innings pitched. After Welmon, things don’t get much easier as junior Trevor Megill will be returning from injury. Megill was selected in the third round of the MLB draft, but choose to return to school. The offense is led by Freshmen All American’s David Fletcher and Austin Miller who combined for 150 hits, and 42 stolen bases last year. This series will test Nebraska and while show the true ceiling of this team. This would be a significant series for the RPI.

The Huskers then head south for a three game tournament down in Houston, Texas. On the weekend, the Huskers will face former conference foe Texas A&M Friday, Hawaii on Saturday, and Louisiana State on Sunday. With both A&M and LSU ranked in the top 25, this will be a challenging weekend for the Huskers. Look for Nebraska to face Grayson Long from A&M. Long works downhill and has a plus fastball. The A&M offense is about average, and no one player stands out, as they use an overall team hitting approach to wear down opposing pitchers. After A&M the Huskers then take on Hawaii. Hawaii is replacing two of their weekend starters, after ranking in the top 20 nationally in earned run average last year. Hawaii also only hit .250 as a team last year.

The Huskers end the weekend facing LSU, a team ranked in the top ten by various publications. The Tigers have the deepest lineup that Nebraska will see, with power and elite speed up and down the lineup. Alex Bregman leads a group of hitters that will challenge Nebraska. The weekend rotation and bullpen could be weaknesses however, as first round draft pick Aaron Nola is gone. The Huskers will be underdogs against both A&M and LSU, a win against either of these SEC teams would be a nice way to end the road portion of the non-conference schedule.

After playing their first 13 games on the road, the Huskers then come home to Hawks field for 16 straight games. After a midweek series against Northern Colorado, the Huskers welcome Florida Gulf Coast for a weekend series. FGCU is a projected regional team by D1Baseball.com. FGCU returns all conference pitcher Michael Murray who went 13-1 last year. They also have close Brady Anderson who will move into the Saturday starter spot, after locking down the backend of the bullpen last year. The eagles will still have a loaded bullpen, with junior college transfer Jordan Desguin the most lethal option. Offensively FGCU returns freshmen player of the year Jake Noll who led the offense batting .367. FGCU will provide Nebraska a challenging weekend series, as Nebraska prepares to roll into conference play the following weekend.

The Huskers last non-conference home series is after the start of conference play. The Huskers welcome the Texas Longhorns to Lincoln the weekend of March 27th-29th. The Longhorns are coming to Lincoln as the back end of a home and home series. Nebraska got swept in Texas in 2012, and will look for payback. Texas is led by Parker French Sr. on the mound. French was only 7-5 last season but had a 2.41 ERA. French is backed up by Chad Hollingsworth Jr. as the Saturday starter.

Beyond that the Texas bullpen and Sunday starter are up in the air. Texas has had thoughts of French moving to the bullpen, but that appears unlikely to happen. Offensively, Texas is solid up and down their lineup, but no one hitter sticks out. Ben Johnson led the Longhorns with six homers last year in addition to his 38 runs batted in. Texas will come in and play smart baseball, and will not beat themselves. Nebraska will have a huge home field advantage, and should take advantage of it. The Huskers should take the series.