A Look At Some Of The Best Non-Conference Slates…
It’s 2011, and we’re getting closer and closer to the start of a new college baseball season. The cold winds of winter have been blowing through not only the north and east, but also through traditional sun belt locales (if you watched any bowl games you know what I’m talking about).
College Baseball 360 has been steadily posting the some 300 Division I baseball schedules since July as schools have released them. We have also made a few new additions to our Schedule Page for this season. You can now access not only 2011 schedules for every DI baseball team, but also 2011 rosters, and team statistics pages for both 2010 and 2011. Links are also provided for every conference’s official baseball web site.
In any case, when it comes to schedules college baseball is obviously different from Major League Baseball. MLB teams basically have the same degree of difficulty in their year-to-year schedules. The biggest variations come with interleague play and whether or not you happen to reside in the AL East.
But it’s different in college. While conferences dictate league games, each college baseball team is free to set its own non-conference slate.
With that in mind, we thought we would take a look at the top 11 schools that set the bar high with their non-conference schedules in 2011. We also have an honorable mention list of teams that didn’t quite make the cut.
The list is obviously subjective. It is not meant to be a strict “strength of schedule” ranking. Factors like “going outside the comfort zone” and a program trying to challenge itself beyond recent or traditional success. IE-If a team hasn’t been a year-to-year NCAA team, but has several traditional NCAA teams on the schedule that carries extra weight, as does a “power” team going on the road for more than one game on another team’s home field.
Dave Serrano’s Titans made it to Omaha in 2009 and they were a win away from a return trip last year. With that in mind, Fullerton had no reason to ratchet-up the schedule this season, but that’s what they did. The Titans opening weekend includes three “non-conference” games against Big West rival Long Beach State (they play again in conference play) as well as a game against North Carolina. That appetite wetter is followed by a three-game series in Ft. Worth against pre-season #1 TCU (Collegiate Baseball Poll). After three games against USC, Serrano then takes his team to Baton Rouge for three games against LSU. Just to make sure they get their money’s worth before going home, the Titans stop in College Station to take on Texas A&M on March 15. Want more? Fullerton plays three games at Washington, followed by two home games against Arizona State and then heads to Hawaii for four games against the Warriors. A home game and a Super Regional rematch against UCLA awaits the Titans when they get home from the islands (Fullerton and UCLA will play again in Westwood later in the season). That’s 15 of 25 games to open the season against 2010 NCAA Tournament teams, with six of those contests against 2010 CWS squads. There’s also a home and home with another ’10 NCAA team, San Diego.
After ending a 48-year NCAA Tournament drought, head coach Ray Birmingham could have eased off the pedal when it comes to scheduling in 2011, but that’s not his style. The Lobos set the tone for their historic year by taking two of three from #1 Texas to start 2010. They will have the chance to make a statement right off the bat again this year when they play four games at Arizona State. The Lobos also have three games at Oklahoma State, two games at Arizona, three games at Gonzaga (NCAA ’09), a four-game home and home series with Texas Tech, and a four-game series in May at 2010 CWS team Oklahoma. All that plus a pair of three-game series against Mountain West Conference rival TCU. Hopefully it’s all as fun for the Lobos to play as it is for us to watch (and hopefully Birmingham gets some of those teams to Albuquerque in 2010)!
Before he even thinks about setting his non-conference schedule, OU head coach Sunny Golloway knows one thing: In any given year he could face nine other Big 12 squads that could be NCAA Tournament teams (all 10 Big 12 teams made the NCAA field at least twice in the last decade). Forgive Golloway for the nine season-opening games in Norman against the likes of William & Mary, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Oakland (MI), but trust me, it gets better from there. The 2010 CWS Sooners hit the road for five total games against San Diego, San Diego St. and Cal at the USD Tournament in early March. After three against Arkansas-Little Rock, OU heads to Tempe for two games against Arizona State. There are mid-week home and home series against both TCU and Arkansas on the schedule, and the aforementioned four-game set in May against New Mexico. That’s four games against 2010 CWS teams and a total of 11 non-conference games against 2010 NCAA squads.
After a 31-win season in 2010, Mark Marquess’ Cardinal enters 2011 with a #10 Collegiate Baseball national ranking. With that in mind, Stanford could easily sit at home in Palo Alto and schedule a bunch of home games against the likes of Sacramento State, Nevada and various repeat California foes. That’s not even close to the plan for Marquess and Stanford in 2011. The schedule starts with 10 of 11 non-conference games against 2010 NCAA teams, with nine of those games in different time zones and six of them against 2010 Super Regional squads. Here’s how it goes: Three games at Rice (Regional), a home game vs. rival Cal (Regional), three games at Vanderbilt (Super Regional) in Nashville, a home game vs. Santa Clara, and three games at Texas (Super Regional). All that is followed by a three-game home series against Michigan. Three home games against Long Beach State, another game against Cal (they also close the season and possibly the long rivalry with three games in Berkley), and a sneaky home and home against a rising Pacific team (coached by former Stanford and MLB player Ed Sprague) are among other non-conference games. While Michigan and LBSU have both been down the last couple years, they are both teams that could challenge for their conference crowns in any given year. It all adds up to a schedule that’s great for college baseball and tough for Stanford.
For now, Tim Esmay’s Sun Devils will not be participating in the 2011 NCAA Tournament (ASU is appealing the recent NCAA ban), but Arizona State has plenty of non-conference opponents on its schedule that made it last year and could be back again this year. The schedule starts with that four-game series with New Mexico. It cools a bit over the next couple weeks, but gets hot again March 11-23 with 10 straight non-conference games against 2010 NCAA participants. ASU starts the stretch with three games at Auburn, followed by two home games with Oklahoma, three home games against Oral Roberts, and then finishes the stretch with two games at Cal State Fullerton. The Sun Devils open Pac 10 play against arch rival Arizona after that stretch. They play two more games against the Wildcats in “non-conference” action.
The Dirt Bags have averaged just 24 wins over the last two seasons, but that won’t stop first-year head coach Troy Buckley’s squad from challenging itself early in 2011. LBSU opens with 18 of its first 23 non-conference games against 2010 NCAA Tourney teams. The campaign begins with the three “non-league” games against Cal State Fullerton (their official Big West series in in May) and continues with games against Arizona (3), Oregon (3), Hawaii, Rice, Cal, Oregon State (3), and Stanford (3). The degree of difficulty of the Dirt Bags’ schedule also bumps-up with a home and home series with UCLA and a three-game set at Arizona State in May.
Most SEC teams don’t schedule a high degree of difficulty in their non-conference games since they know they’ll cannibalize each other once conference play begins. A three-game series at Stetson to open the season doesn’t necessarily scream “must-see”, but give Dave Perno credit for starting on the road and outside his comfort zone. Things do get tougher though as the early portion of the season progresses with three-game home series vs. Baylor (Georgia played two games at Baylor last year) and Florida State. A “non-league” game against Alabama at Lawrenceville, GA’s Coolray Field also precedes a trip to L.A. for games against UCLA, USC and St. Mary’s. A mid-week game against Clemson and three games against intrastate rival Georgia Tech also dot the 2011 slate.
It’s tough for a smaller program that’s had a lot of success (13 straight conference titles) to get the big boys to play, but Rob Walton has his Golden Eagles playing a slew of tough teams on the 2011 docket. ORU has a three-game series with Baylor, a home and home with perennial midwest power Wichita State, three games at Arizona State, three at San Diego State, and single games at Texas and TCU. There’s also an early three-game home series against a Bethune-Cookman team that includes preseason All-American Pete O’Brien, who belted 20 HR last year.
The Scarlet Knights will not participate in the Big East/Big Ten Challenge this year. Instead, Fred Hill’s team from New Jersey will open the schedule with three games in Coral Gables against Miami. It’s a team Rutgers has traditionally faced over the years. Georgia Tech is another frequent stop for Rutgers, and they’ll visit Atlanta for three games again this year. RU also has three games against Michigan in Port St. Lucie, FL and three games at East Carolina. All four of those teams have been to at least a Super Regional over the last five seasons.
The Toreros open their 2011 season with 15 of their first 20 games against 2010 NCAA teams. Three of their first four games are against Vanderbilt. Other NCAA foes in that stretch include UConn (4), Oregon (4), Oklahoma, and Coastal Carolina (2). There are also home and home series with Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine as well as a four-game set at Fresno State.
Just a glance a the Shocker’s 2011 schedule doesn’t make anyone go “wow”, with early three-game home series against Niagara and North Dakota. However, there’s more appreciation after looking a little deeper. WSU follows their home-opening series against the Purple Eagles with a trip to Tulsa to face Oral Roberts. There is also good competition at the Dallas Baptist Tournament against the host Patriots as well as UT-Arlington and New Orleans, as well as another game against Arlington before returning home. Gene Stephenson then goes to Tulane for three games before welcoming Arizona to Wichita for a two-game set. The Shockers then play four games at Oregon, followed by four more at Hawaii. There are also home and home series against Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, as well as home games against Nebraska and Oral Roberts.
Bethune-Cookman: UC-Irvine, @ Auburn (2), @ Oral Roberts (3), @ Oklahoma State (2), Florida International, @ Miami, @ Florida
Cal Poly: Missouri, North Carolina, USC, UCLA (3), @ Oklahoma State (3), Minnesota (3)
Cal State Bakersfield: Washington State (3), Washington (3), Arizona St., Kansas, Fresno St. (3), @ South Carolina (3), Ohio State (3), Minnesota (2), UC-Irvine (3), @ Kansas St. (2), @ UCLA (3), Cal Poly (3)
Coastal Carolina: Virginia Tech, Tennessee Tech, Kansas State, Cal, Western Kentucky, North Carolina State, Kent State, @ San Diego (2), The Citadel (2), @ Clemson, @ North Carolina, @Virginia.
Connecticut: Minnesota, Oregon State, Cal, @ San Diego (4), @ UC Irvine, College of Charleston, Southern Mississippi
Dallas Baptist: @ Oklahoma State, TCU (home and home), Wichita State, @ Washington State (2), @ Washington (3), @ Rice, @ Texas, @ Oklahoma, @ Texas A&M (3), Baylor
Florida: Miami (3), Florida State (3), Bethune-Cookman
Fresno State: Oregon State (2), @ Nebraska (3), Washington State (3), San Diego (4), Ohio State (2)
Hawaii: Oregon (4), Texas (3), Cal State Fullerton (4), Wichita State (4)
Illinois-Chicago: @ Kentucky (3), @ Missouri (4), @ Vanderbilt (3)
Kent State: @ Georgia Tech (3), @ Louisville (3), @ Coastal Carolina, @ Houston (3)
Louisville: Michigan, Ohio State, Minnesota, Kent State (3), @ Pepperdine (3), @ USC (2), Western Kentucky (2), Kentucky, Vanderbilt
Oklahoma State: Cal Poly (3), Washington State, Minnesota, TCU (3), Wichita St. (2), @ Ohio State (2)
Rice: Stanford (3), USC (3), Kentucky, Baylor, Texas, @Arizona (2)
TCU: Kansas (3), Cal State Fullerton (3), @ Texas Tech (3), Oklahoma (2), @ Oklahoma State (3), @ Oral Roberts, @ Texas A&M, plays nearly every DI team from Texas except Texas and Rice
Texas Tech: TCU (3), New Mexico (4-home and home), @ Michigan (2)
Tulane: Southeastern Louisiana (2), @ Ole Miss (3), Wichita State (3), LSU (2), Florida International
UCLA: @ Nebraska (3), @ Cal Poly (3), Cal State Fullerton (2), UC-Irvine (2), Long Beach State (2), Georgia
USC: Missouri, North Carolina, Cal Poly, @ Rice (3), Cal State Fullerton (3), Louisville (2), Pacific (3), Georgia, UC-Irvine (2)