Since we’re just now starting conference play in a lot of leagues or are at least early on in most conferences, now is a good time to see who has played the toughest schedules so far this season. And bring shame to those who haven’t the guts.
So here are the top 10 slates played so far according to Boyd Nation – the inimitable Boyd Nation, that is.
1- Kent State, 6-11
2- Akron, 2-16
3- Xavier, 6-11
4- Rutgers, 6-10
5- Notre Dame, 12-5
6- San Francisco, 9-11
7- Boston College, 3-15
8- Washington, 4-15
9- Rhode Island, 7-11
10- BYU, 10-11
Though not shocking, it’s still odd to see that Notre Dame is the only team in the top 10 toughest schedules in the country to have a winning record. And note once again that all ten are cold-weather programs.
By the way, another team to keep your eyes on this year: Michigan State. Why? Because the Spartans join Notre Dame as the only other team in the top 25 of toughest schedules to have a winning record at 9-7. MSU’s schedule is the 14th toughest in the country so far.
In case you were wondering, here’s the strength of schedule for the top 25 teams so far this season:
1- North Carolina, 145
2- Vanderbilt, 56
3- LSU, 63
4- Oregon State, 61
5- Florida State, 225
6- South Carolina, 155
7- UCLA, 154
8- Ole Miss, 140
9- Kentucky, 165
10- Cal State Fullerton, 65
11- Georgia Tech, 86
12- Oregon, 51
13- Louisville, 153
14- Mississippi State, 147
15- Virginia, 247
16- Arkansas, 177
17- Stanford, 70
18- Oklahoma, 197
19- North Carolina State, 201
20- Oklahoma State, 282
21- Arizona State, 66
22- Notre Dame, 5
23- UC Irvine, 88
24- Rice, 163
25- Arizona, 221
26- Cal Poly, 123
27- Central Arkansas, 206
28- Houston, 172
29- Indiana, 118
30- Florida Gulf Coast, 199
TOP 10 PLACES TO BE THIS WEEKEND.
Forget your car payments. Sell that heap of junk. Go invest in a private jet and lets hit the stratosphere to check out these locales.
10- VIRGINIA TECH (17-5, 4-2) at MIAMI (17-7, 2-4)
Tech’s three-game sweep at Duke was a pretty impressive outing, given the Dukies winning a series at Miami the week before. Now, the Hokies and their unbeaten ace Devin Burke (5-0, 2.43) traipse down to the Coral Gables campus. They’ll take on a Canes offense that has been very weak hitting so far (just .274 as a team… Pat Burrell and Ryan Braun are rolling their eyes as we type). The U’s pitch staff is no slouch either, but I still like the Gobblers offense a tad better here.
9- No. 27 CENTRAL ARKANSAS (18-3) at ORAL ROBERTS (5-15)
Man, what does ORU got to do to catch a break? Their schedule has been arduous, including consecutive weekends vs. Dallas Baptist, Cal State Fullerton, two close-shave mid-weekers vs. Oklahoma, and now, the Railsplitters come to town. That’s a tough stretch. I still think the Eagles are a decent team, but they’ll be up against it with UCA’s knack for stealing bases and stretching hits to multiple bases. UCA is outscoring opponents 62-13 in the 1st-thru-3rd innings. But in the post-game TV interview with Sunny Galloway after the OU game on Wednesday night, the Sooner skipper said, “I’m calling it now, I think ORU will win the series vs. UCA.” Blasphemy!… But let’s see if he’s right.
8- TEXAS A&M (15-7, 3-0) at No. 8 OLE MISS (20-2, 2-1)
Okay Aggies, you’ve won only two weekends this season – one being a 2-to-1 squeaker over Illinois-Chicago – and now is the time to officially announce that you are going to be a factor in your inaugural voyage into the SEC. Two things going in their favor is Mikey Reynolds hitting .448 (leads the nation with 38 hits) and they also outscore opponents 29-10 in the 1st inning of games. They’ll need to do that here in Oxford because the Rebel pitch staff is wicked good… like ready for Triple-A wicked-good. And they’ve also got a better offense. That’s a big mountain to climb for the Aggies.
7- SAN DIEGO (14-6, 3-0) at GONZAGA (12-6-1, 2-1)
Too bad this series is so early in the season, but there will be some great pitching showing up in Spokane here. That Marco Gonzales (3-1, 2.13, .221OBA) vs. Dylan Haupt (.392), Kris Bryant (.386, 12HRs) and Connor Joe (.378) showdown should be outstanding (keep a nanny cam on this one). Coach Rich Hill also told me last year that “Gonzales is one of the best kept secrets in the country” and “highly underrated”. But despite having the better offense, I’m concerned about the USD defense, fielding at a .952 pace. My thinking here is that the mid-40 temps will affect the gloves all that more as the Toreros travel North. Damn you San Diego and your perfect weather.
6- No. 19 NORTH CAROLINA STATE (16-6, 3-3) at No. 15 VIRGINIA (19-2, 4-2)
Oi vey! This Wolfpack team is impossible to figure out. Just impossible. Carlos Rodon is currently 2-2 with a 5.04 ERA (raise your single eyebrow here). I just can’t pick the Pack to win this weekend here in Charlottesville because the Cavaliers are so much more consistent. And of course, the whole Trea Turner being out is a tough draw too. Oh, before I forget, I’m fired up to see that the ACC Monday night games on ESPNU will tip off with this one. So that’s cool.
5- No. 14 MISSISSIPPI STATE (20-4, 1-2) at No. 9 KENTUCKY (16-4, 2-1)
Speaking of teams who need to put a stamp of approval on their season – here’s MSU’s first road trip of the season. Well, first REAL road trip, since I don’t want to get a rash of shit from Dogs fans who will point out that they played Southern Miss away from Dudy-Noble. Let’s see how the Maroons handle Austin Cousino (.305) and the two initial bashers in J.T. Riddle (.378) and A.J. Reed (.364). Watching the Cats in the Saturday win at Florida was pretty impressive, as these guys appear to be able to flash bats at anyone. But this will be a huge test. The Bulldogs have a 2.27 team ERA and hold opponents to – this is not a typo – a .197 batting average. Then again, Mason Katz went nuts on this staff last week, so let’s see what happens here.
4- No. 25 ARIZONA (15-8, 0-3) at No. 12 OREGON (15-6, 2-1)
Like Mississippi State above, I’ve got huge questions about the Wildcats, especially since they’ve barely played any road games (going 1-1 at Long Beach) and are coming off a humbling home weekend where they were 0-for-3′d vs. Oregon State. And now they hit the road against another familiar conference foe. PK Park won’t be a picnic for these guys. The Ducks defense (.987) and pitch staff are pretty stout. Any early lead could be a big albatross for the Wildcats since Jimmie Sherfy is 1-0, 0.68 with six saves in his 13 appearances. In fact, UO has only allowed more than five runs in a game twice this season.
3- No. 16 ARKANSAS (14-7, 1-2) at No. 6 SOUTH CAROLINA (18-3, 2-1)
How about this one, huh? The struggling Razorbacks take their hard-luck tour to take on the national runner-ups in what will be a mad scene at Carolina Ballpark. As for the Hogs, five of their seven losses have been by a run or two, so don’t look for any blowouts here. The Gamecocks have had a fairly lilty-soft schedule so far (No. 155 SOS ISR as pointed out above), so this will be a significant step up in competition. Oddly, SoCar has given up nine hits or more in seven of their last eight games, so they are susceptible to having lots of baserunners. But Tyler Webb (0-0, 0.00, 8svs in 11apps) has been so good and the defense is so stellar (.979), early leads will be a huge factor here. Gimme the Cocks in this one.
2- No. 11 GEORGIA TECH (17-3, 5-1) at No. 5 FLORIDA STATE (20-1, 5-1)
As has been a reoccurring theme for many teams in the power conferences, these two programs will finally get a real test from tough competition. I think Georgia Tech hits something like .745 as a team – that’s sarcasm people – and will take their pyrotechnics show to Tallahassee and face an arms corps that has a 1.86 team ERA, good for 5th in the country. But keep in mind that they had all kind of trouble with Maryland this past weekend, winning twice by a single run. This Tech squad will be a significant step up from anything they’ve seen so far. If the Tech pitching can keep the Noles to a general roar, I like the Jackets’ offense to pull them through here.
1- No. 21 ARIZONA STATE (12-5-1, 1-2) at No. 4 OREGON STATE (19-1, 3-0)
Just like half the teams in the Top 25, we never seem to know which ASU team is going to show up. The one that swept preseason No. 1 Arkansas? Or the one that has lost three of its last four, including dropping a Pac 12 opening series at home to Washington State. And yes, it’s true, the Beavers have one bad-ass pitching staff. The Devils will have to fend off the No. 1 ranked arms corps in the country if they are to win a game or two in Corvallis. And while they’re at it, get Trevor Williams back on track after giving up 13 hits and nine runs in his 7.0 innings vs. the Coogs.
THE PITCHING MATCHUP OF THE WEEKEND:
Arizona State’s Trevor Williams vs. Oregon State’s Matt Boyd.
With numbers like this, you can pretty much figure out why I’m scrambling and squirming to want to go see this showdown:
3-1, 1.95 ERA, 2CGs, 30Ks, 5BBs, .209OBA. 8ERs in 37inns.
4-0, 1.59ERA, 31Ks, 6BBs, .214OBA, 5ERs in 34.1inns.
THE COULDA BEENS
It’s weird the way this season has transpired. Some studs have become duds and it has diminished the epic weekend this could’ve been. Here are some of the series we all were originally looking forward to but have now lost that loving feeling.
- Florida (10-12, 1-2) at No. 2 Vanderbilt (19-3, 3-0)
Everybody keeps wondering if Florida is going to become this year’s Vanderbilt. Well, here’s their chance to start that mid-season transformation. The talent is there, but is the will?
- No. 10 Cal State Fullerton (18-3) at Long Beach State (9-12)
I don’t like to see these two play a non-conference series against each other. I’d rather it count in the Big West standings. But either way, the Dirtbags need this.
- TCU (9-11, 1-2) at No. 18 Oklahoma (19-4, 0-0)
The Frogs have been a complete mystery and not in a good way. Oklahoma has been just the opposite, making big waves with a lot of new faces.
- Baylor (10-12) at No. 20 Oklahoma State (18-3)
You knew it’d be a transition year for BU, who has lost six of its last eight. The Bears limp into Big 12 play at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, a tough place to right the ship.
- No. 24 Rice (16-7) at Southern Miss (8-12)
The Eagles have now lost three straight weekends, including to that famously good UCA team. Owls have won eight of nine and could use a confidence builder here too.
- Texas State (7-13) at New Mexico State (12-10)
I felt really weird putting TSU way down at No. 6 in my WAC preview. Now, it’s looking accurate. But I had the Aggies pegged at No. 36 nationally, so there’s that.
While Mike Rooney and I have been thriving to make Central Arkansas change their baseball nickname to the Railsplitters, I did find a couple of *official* Railsplitters out there.
- Railsplitters, the band.
You love bluegrass? I love bluegrass. I can’t get enough Ricky Skaggs in my life. So here’s the bluegrass band from Boulder, Colorado called The Railsplitters. Here’s a video of theirs if you wanna check ‘em out:
You can also find out more about them at www.TheRailsplitters.com.
- Railsplitters, the team
Looks like Lincoln Memorial University has dibs on the name. But don’t worry Central Arkansas, it’s not like LMU put a trademark on it or anything. Here’s the URL to their baseball teams’ website:
THE GRAND OPENING OF KAUFMAN FIELD.
Found this little ditty about the new stadium for Indiana baseball from Alyssa Andrews. (Sorry Alyssa, don’t be pissed I lifted this to post here):
THE HOME OF THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONS (?)
While I’m on the subject, in case you missed it from the week before… I wanted to repost this pic again. It’s from when I made my trek up to see Indiana’s new baseball stadium. I snuck into the venerable Assembly Hall while I was on the IU campus and took this cool pic of the place.
By the way, I’ve never seen a grandstand THAT steep in my life. It’s remarkable. No railings either. But still, I loved how it was cooly-lit and gave it an eerie appearance. Well worth sneaking into. Bonus: No jail time.
Oh, and the reason I wrote “The Home of the National Champions (?)” is because I picked Indiana to cut down the nets in my NCAA bracket.
HANK AND THE HIPPIES
I thought about this during the Nebraska-Fullerton game on Tuesday night. Imagine if these two hippies who ran on the field after Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run to congratulate him… imagine if two freaks from the stands ran out on the field to do this nowadays? My guess is that either A- Some sniper would take them out from the roof of the stadium. Or B- Three minimum-wage security guards in yellow windbreakers would run after them and try to taze them.
Still, I think it’s really cool that these guys made their congratulatory pats on the back of Hammerin’ Hank then calmly ran back into the stands without any incident.
This time, this pricks aren’t even waiting for the Regionals to start floating a damn blimp advertisement to obstruct our view of Gametracker. Awesome.
MY Q&A WITH NEBRASKA’S DARIN ERSTAD.
As I promised, I’m posting the Q&A with the Cornhusker coach here since I couldn’t get to it the other night. So here’s some thoughts on the state of Nebraska baseball as discussed by head coach Darin Erstad when I caught up with him at Cal State Fullerton.
- On his message to the team after the extra inning loss on Tuesday:
“Missed opportunities. We had multiple opportunities and they tried to hand the game to us in the early going. We didn’t commit any errors but we made a boat-load of mistakes that might as well have been errors on the basepaths, not being able to bunt, can’t throw a strike when we have a 4-0 lead, we don’t cut a ball off on a throw from the outfield, a dropped ball in the outfield. A lot of little things. We’re not going to win baseball games if we’re going to continue to do things like that, I don’t care who we’re playing.”
- On his team’s approach at the plate, considering the seven runs and 14 hits:
“It was good. I thought we stayed in the middle of the field really nicely against some pretty good pitchers. We haven’t had that kind of production from our offense yet this year. But we also had two times where we hit line drives and got doubled off, and with no outs that shouldn’t happen. And again, when you’re playing a quality team like that and you do those little things you’re going to get exposed. That’s on me as a head coach to teach our guys not to do that.”
- On what he’s seen from his team from opening day at Fullerton to their return this week.
“Not much difference. I still don’t think we have that belief yet that we can beat a team like Fullerton. We get to the point in a game where we need to execute and we’re not making plays. It’s just one of those things where we’re going to expose our guys to quality opponents and we’re going to have to find a way to fight through that and it’s my job to get them to learn how to do that.”
- On the Huskers committing just two errors in their five games vs. UCI and Fullerton:
“We’re fielding very well. I’m not re-writing the rules to baseball, you pitch well and play good defense you’re going to have a chance to win and that’s the foundation of what the program under my watch will be. We’re going to be able to hit a little bit but at the end of the day if you’re going to want to go on the road and get wins you’re going to have to play defense and you’re going to have to pitch. We’re in the process of building that foundation.”
- On the frustration of coming close but not getting more than one win on this California trip to Irvine and Fullerton.
“Well we did that in the first weekend out here too. We had a lead going into the bottom of the 7th inning here against Fullerton. We got walked-off against USC. Again, those are times where we have to put our guys in situations on the road and we’re just not to the point yet where we’re confident that we’re gonna get it done.”
- On the early success of the Big 10 so far this season.
“I think there’s a number of quality teams. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if we get three teams into the Regionals this year. You can see it from Indiana going into Florida and winning two of three, Illinois going down to Baylor and sweeping them. If anybody thinks they’re just gonna roll through the Big 10 this year, they’re crazy. That’s part of the reason why we want to have our guys ready by playing quality opponents early in the season and it’s one of those things where we’re going to have to have our A-game every single weekend. We also know that they’re are some big time arms in the Big 10 this year too.”
Okay, that’s enough for now. Go out and see a game near you this weekend. C’mon, you can’t watch the NCAA basketball tournament 24-7.