Remember the last time Nebraska traveled to Michigan? Well it was not pretty, a three game sweep in which the Wolverines dominated made people believe that Nebraska had begun another tailspin. But after taking a road series against Rutgers, Nebraska is in position to make a run.
Currently, Nebraska is 69th in RPI, has a 3-7 record against top 50 RPI teams, and a 14-11 record against RPI top 100 teams. According to Boydsworld.com, Nebraska could finish in the top 32 of RPI by winning all of their remaining games, or they could finish in the top 45 by winning a combination outlined here.
Nebraska has four opponents left to play, first a weekend series to Michigan State, followed by home series against Penn State. Nebraska then plays a midweek contest against Creighton, and then finishes by hosting an Indiana team fighting for first place in the conference.
To make a run, it is crucial for Nebraska to win the series this weekend in East Lansing against Michigan State. Nebraska will see Cam Vieaux, Ethan Landon, and Joe Mockbee this weekend on the hill. Vieaux and Mockbee are both left handers who will give the Huskers trouble. Nebraska did collect five doubles off of Vieaux in the BIG Tournament in 2014.
One has to feel better this weekend with the full Husker rotation of Derek Burkamper, Matt Waldron, and Jake Meyers looking fully healthy. The Huskers also should feel comfortable coming off of finals, and coming into East Lansing where they swept the Spartans in 2014.
The Husker pitching staff should feel confident in that Michigan State does not have a lot of home run power. Nebraska has done an excellent job limiting extra base hits this season, as they have allowed 79 total, an average of 1.8 per game.
If the Huskers can win two of three at Michigan State, Nebraska will return home to close out the BIG Schedule. Nebraska will face Penn State and then host Indiana in two series that could determine BIG Tournament seeding, and NCAA Tournament hopes.
Looking at Penn State, they struggle mightily on defense. They have allowed 54 unearned runs, compared to 25 for Nebraska this season. On offense, you have a pair of .300 hitters and then a bunch of below average players. To note, Penn State does play Texas Christian this weekend, a series that could drive up their RPI into the top 100 range, something that would be very beneficial for Nebraska.
Penn State does have solid starting pitching, so Nebraska will need to be careful. Still, if Nebraska can generate momentum against Michigan State, look for a packed Hawks Field to intimidate the Nittany Lions, a team who has eight road wins, 3 of which came against Purdue.
After Penn State, Nebraska gets to make up a game against Creighton at TD Ameritrade Park. Darin Erstad and Nebraska were brilliant to keep this game on the calendar at all costs. Creighton is a top 25 RPI team, and a road win would be huge for Nebraska, creating momentum for the weekend series against Indiana.
Nebraska should throw Max Knutson out again after his two best outings in the past two weeks of midweek contests. If Knutson could give them a good start, the Huskers could give themselves some breathing room. A loss would not kill Nebraska, but would be disappointing and put more pressure on the Huskers headed into the last weekend of the regular season.
This brings us to the last weekend of the season, a showdown with Indiana. Nebraska last played a weekend series with Indiana in 2013, losing two of three. Indiana has lost a lot on offense in recent years, but they have outstanding starting pitching. Indiana is somewhat similar to Creighton, but with a worse RPI.
Indiana will throw Kyle Hart, Evan Bell, and Caleb Baragar against the Huskers. Hart is a power lefty who could give the Huskers problems, while Baragar is a pitcher who had throw 21 innings early this season without allowing a run.
While Indiana looks tough on the mound, they have not faced a murderers row of teams. The non conference strength of schedule for the Hoosiers is 204th in the nation. When faced with tough competition, the Hoosiers did manage to take a series from Michigan State. Indiana has only faced one top 50 RPI team, California State Fullerton, who swept the Hoosiers earlier this season.
For the Huskers, a series win against Indiana would be beneficial, but if Nebraska could take five of their six remaining home games, Nebraska would set itself up nicely not only for a potential NCAA Tournament spot, but for the BIG Tournament in Omaha.
To make the NCAA Tournament, I want to be optimistic and say that Nebraska could go .500 on the road, and take five of six at home to finish the season by winning 9 of their last 12 regular season contests. To be safe, Nebraska should try to win the series this weekend, and take the midweek against Creighton. A team winning 10 of their past 12 when coupled with two wins against Rutgers would be hard to keep out.
For the BIG Tournament, seeding does matter. Nebraska would currently be in the tournament as the fifth seed taking on the Michigan Wolverines who are the four seed. Nebraska would be in the nightcap on Wednesday, but this is likely to change. Assuming Nebraska makes it in the tournament, two wins would make the Huskers feel good about their NCAA chances.
A Nebraska team who would finish with between 38 and 40 wins depending on the end of the regular season would be hard to keep out. If Nebraska could add a win over either Michigan or Minnesota in the BIG Tournament, the Huskers would be a lock.