When Darin Erstad took over the Nebraska Baseball program, the Huskers were on a clear downward trajectory. Now, Nebraska has made it to a NCAA Regional in three of the past four seasons. What should we expect from a team that won the Big Ten last season, but went out with a dud in the postseason, combining to go just 1-4?
Starting with the opening part of the season, expect a different approach. Husker hitters struck out 433 times, while homering just 25 times. Doing the math, the Huskers struck out 17.32 times for every home run hit. Take out the power of Scott Schreiber, the number moves to 21.61 times for every home run hit.
Opponents of Nebraska hit 28 home runs while striking out just 386 times, an average of 13.78 strikeouts per every home run hit.
Nebraska will change approaches this year, with hitters being free to hit away until they have two strikes. With two strikes the Huskers will focus on putting the ball in play, and focus less on power numbers.
With a change of approach, Nebraska gets an opportunity to show that the February struggles of the past two seasons are behind them. The Huskers have combined to go just 5-7 in the opening weekend of the year, with their best effort a 2-2 split to start the 2014 season.
Looking at the opening weekend, Nebraska should be aiming to start at worst with a winning record. The Huskers have a real opportunity to sweep the weekend with a solid bullpen and a depth of starting pitching options.
For the first three weeks of the season, the Huskers will hit the road. After Washington State and Riverside, the Huskers will travel back to Arizona to take on predicted Pac-12 conference winner Oregon State and predicted last place Utah. Nebraska then finishes an 11 game stretch away from Hawks Field against Wichita State.
Nebraska then gets a nine game non-conference homestand with Cal Poly, Northern Colorado, and Northwestern State. A pair of games at Oral Roberts prepares the Huskers to start Big Ten play near the end of March.
Nebraska has a home slate of Minnesota, Iowa, Maryland, and Indiana in conference play. Nebraska will travel to Ohio State, Rutgers, Illinois, and Michigan State. Nebraska will miss Purdue, Michigan, Northwestern, and Penn State. Nebraska also squeezes in a weekend series with Nevada during their Big Ten bye week. Midweek games with Creighton, Nebraska-Omaha, and Kansas State round out the Huskers schedule.
Looking at the schedule, Nebraska should make hay while the sun shines in the first month of the season. Riverside, Washington State, Wichita State, Utah, and Northwestern State are predicted to finish at the bottom of their conferences this season. Oregon State, and Oral Roberts are the two best teams the Huskers will see over the first half of the schedule. Before facing Minnesota to open league play, Nebraska plays 22 contests. If the Huskers got to 16-6, you would like their chances of being not only a NCAA team, but potentially hosting a regional.
As for the Big Ten part of the schedule, Nebraska gets Indiana, Maryland, and Iowa all at home. The Huskers have to travel to Rutgers, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Illinois. Nebraska should look good on the road, as all four of these teams are projected to be fighting each other for the final spot(s) in the Big Ten Tournament.
Indiana, Maryland, Iowa, and Minnesota all at home should be a good contest for the Huskers. Nebraska would be happy to probably take 2 out of 3 from each of these clubs. Indiana is ranked to begin the year and is the favorite in the Big Ten. Maryland returns a large chunk of players from the team that eliminate Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament last season. Iowa is a pain, and just seems to keep getting better. Minnesota is pesky, but loses a lot on the mound, so catching them early may benefit Nebraska.
Overall, if Nebraska repeated their 16-7-1 mark in Big Ten, I think they would be happy. However, I think Nebraska has a chance to beat it by sweeping teams like Rutgers, Illinois, and Michigan State. If the Huskers got to 18-6 in league play, Nebraska would take that any day of the week.
Factoring in for a continued demolition of Creighton, UNO, and Kansas State gives the Huskers another six wins. A weekend sweep of predicted last place Nevada of the Mountain west adds another three wins for the Huskers.
With Nebraska taking care of midweek business, getting off to a fast start in non-conference action, and owning the road in the Big Ten the Huskers predictably finish the season with a 43-13 record. A Big Ten title, paired with wins of Indiana, Maryland, Iowa, etc and the Huskers could be looking at bringing a regional back to Haymarket Park for the first time since 2008.