A new year means a fresh start for the Nebraska baseball team. This year, things are somewhat different. Now a member of the Big Ten, the Huskers will have to adjust to life in a colder climate.
Arguably the “warm weather school” in the league, Nebraska is already poised to be a strong contender for the Big Ten title.
Winning the conference crown doesn’t sound too difficult to plenty of fans who study Big Ten baseball. Many have already discounted the league as a joke in comparison to the Big 12.
While it may appear to be an easier road for Nebraska, there is still plenty to be said about set of a fresh faces on the conference slate. The unpredictability has affected all Cornhusker sports thus far, and baseball will be no different.
Nebraska will start the season with ten road games. First up, and most notable, is Gonzaga. Having finished second in the West Coast Conference, Mark Machtolf’s Bulldogs will be a tough initial challenge for the Huskers. Nebraska may not come out of the series undefeated, but it will be a useful measuring stick.
After visiting Corpus Christi and tripping to Minneapolis to take on a variety of programs including fellow Big Ten member Minnesota, the Huskers welcome old Big 12 foe Kansas State to Haymarket Park on Tuesday, March 6. This matchup should swing in Nebraska’s favor, as the Wildcats are projected to finish eighth in their conference.
A 17-game home stand allows plenty of opportunities between now and March 27 to take in Big Red baseball. The Huskers play host to the California Golden Bears in that stretch.
This is easily the biggest non-conference series of the year. Cal boasts the 2011 National Coach of the Year and Pac-10 Player of the Year Tony Renda. The likelihood that Nebraska will sweep this series is low, but the series doesn’t hurt the Huskers’ RPI.
During the long home stint, the Huskers will also welcome Illinois, the reigning Big Ten champion, to Haymarket Park. The Fighting Illini gives Nebraska an opportunity to solidify itself as the strongest candidate to represent the conference as champion. Sweeping that series is both possible and necessary.
Big Ten play will begin March 30 against Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois. The Huskers should face no issues with the Wildcats before coming home to host Iowa. Playing Ohio State in Columbus could be tricky, but the Buckeyes shouldn’t offer much resistance.
While many believe the conference does not provide much of a challenge for Nebraska, it is going to be vital that head coach Darin Erstad instills a will to win in his team. Even if an opponent appears to be an easy win, the Huskers will need to play as if it were for a chance to visit Omaha. Nebraska had been known to lose to teams they shouldn’t during the Mike Anderson era.
Throughout the new faces, the Huskers will face some familiar ones in Northern Colorado and Creighton. The Bluejays always provide solid competition for Nebraska, and this season will be no different.
With two out of three games between the clubs at TD Ameritrade Park, Nebraska will be looking to establish authority on the visiting turf. If the Huskers plan to win in June, getting used to winning on the same field in advance can’t hurt.
If ever there were a good year to rebuild, Darin Erstad has found it, but don’t let the changes fool you. Despite challenges with a new staff, Nebraska is still poised to take the conference and get back to their regional-winning ways.
For the doubters, take a look at where the Huskers have been. A College World Series berth may not be on the horizon, but this schedule should get the Big Red Machine’s engine humming to get back to Omaha sooner than later.