Thursday, October 25, 2007

Kroll's Top 25 - Fall Edition

Deep breath in.


Another deep breath in.


Forgive me. I'm trying to calm down. I was doing rather well until I came across CSTV's Doug Kroll's fall Top 25. Kroll does admirable work and I figured this off-season list would give me an idea where the national media perceived Michigan stood a few months removed from a Super Regional appearance.

I started to look for where Kroll had Michigan ranked. I zipped past the top five. Then, the top ten. Fifteen came and went and still no sight of a team that beat number one overall seed Vanderbilt to capture a regional title.

The top twenty disappeared before I finally stumbled upon Rich Maloney's troops at number twenty-two. Twenty-two? Twenty-freakin'-two?!?!?!? A team that returns nearly all of its players from a regular season conference title, a regional tournament crown and a super regional appearance can't get a ranking above twenty-two?

Now, this alone might have me cranky. However, the topper for me was Kroll's summary of the Wolverines:

22. Michigan (42-19, Lost In Corvallis Super Regional)
Winning the
Big Ten is always the goal for the Wolverines, so knocking off No. 1 seeded Vanderbilt in the Regionals last season was icing on the cake. Two-way star Zach Putnam is back for his junior season to lead Big Blue.

Breath, Brian, breath.

Yes, winning the conference is a goal for Michigan. It's also a goal for Ohio State, Minnesota, Illinois, Penn State and the other five teams in the Big Ten. Of course, I'm thinking that winning their conference crown is also a goal for Texas, Louisiana State, Stanford, USC, North Carolina, Oregon State and any other elite baseball program in the land.

Suggesting that Michigan or any other Big Ten program only has eyes on a conference title sounds more like football talk from the Seventies than current baseball thinking around the Big Ten. (The conference office notwithstanding.) This just in: This ain't football, Bo and Woody aren't coaching anymore and the Seventies are thirty years in the rear view mirror.

I'm not sure how many times I've heard Coach Maloney speak, but he rarely goes on for very long without mentioning Omaha. The college baseball media may believe it's folly, but the goal for Michigan is to play in the College World Series. That's not just the prevailing thought in Ann Arbor, either.

Does anyone think that Ohio State and Penn State have spent all that money building state-of-the-art ballparks just to host a Big Ten conference tournament? I've talked to people at both programs and they can't wait for the chance to host a regional. (In the Buckeyes case, another regional.) Does that sound like anybody's ultimate goal is the conference crown?

What of the other programs? Well, let's see, Michigan State, Purdue and Indiana are either renovating, building new or have plans to build new parks. Illinois is currently remodeling and hoping to lure a Frontier League team to partner with them, so they can upgrade even more. Minnesota, a program with plenty of CWS history, recently announced the outline for a new Siebert Field, as well. This increased financial commitment to facilities speaks to a goal that exceeds just a Big Ten banner.

It's not only shortsighted to believe that Big Ten programs have smaller goals than the schools in college baseball's power conferences, but it was unfair to the Michigan players and coaches to dismiss their regional victories over Vanderbilt as "icing on the cake". One would have hoped that Michigan would have garnered some respect after dispelling all the media's preconceived notions prior to the Nashville Regional.

By placing a veteran Michigan team so low in the Top 25, it only affirms that most of the college baseball media still view the Wolverines regional triumph as little more than a fluke. Never mind those regular season wins over programs like Mississippi State and Oklahoma. Forget the one-hit, one-run loss in the Super Regional opener at Corvallis against defending national champion Oregon State. (As if anyone played OSU better, let alone in their building.) No, that Nashville performance had to be luck.

I'm probably more upset about this than normal because Kroll is usually more balanced in his assessment about northern programs than most of his media brethren. (Sans fellow CSTVer Eric Sorenson, of course.) To see his general underwhelming preview makes me pessimistic about what the rest of the college baseball media is going to say about the Big Ten and Michigan heading into 2008.

2008 Illinois Schedule

The University of Illinois has released their 2008 baseball schedule. The Illini open the '08 season in Edinburg, Texas at the Al Ogletree Classic. The tournament will be held from February 22 - 24. None of Illinois' three opponents are known as of yet.

Coach Hartleb's side then does a little two-step over to Waco for that Quala-T Imprints Baylor Classic. (Hey, at least, they got a sponsor, right?) That series opens on February 29 with a game against the host, Baylor. The next day is Stephen F. Austin and the finale features the Blue and Orange versus Illinois-Chicago. (UI goes all the way to Waco to play UIC. Gotta love it.)

The next weekend features a rare four game road test against Texas Tech at Lubbock. (Hopefully, the team will visit the college baseball hall of fame.) The last series in the Lone Star State concludes on March 9.

After the Texas, the Fightin' Illini head for Florida and their Spring Break Trip. Beginning on March 14, the Illini will play Eastern Kentucky, Miami (OH), Akron, UMBC, Kansas, Northern Iowa and Central Connecticut State. The only day off will be March 17.

The Illini head north to play Indiana State in Terre Haute on March 25 before launching the Big Ten season on the road at Michigan State. The weekend in East Lansing begins on March 28. The other road opposition, in-conference is Indiana, Minnesota and Ohio State.

While the home opener is April 2 against Saint Louis, the first Big Ten home date in April 11 when Michigan comes calling. Penn State, Northwestern and Purdue are all visiting Champaign-Urbana in 2008, as well.

Per usual, I'm leaving out a few midweek, non-conference tilts, but I did leave you a link to the entire schedule after all. Besides, we'll have plenty of time down the road to discuss the quality of everyone's non-conference slate.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Big Ten Schedule

I have pieced together the 2008 Big Ten baseball schedule. It wasn't a terribly difficult process, as six of the ten teams have their schedules posted already and, as I mentioned in a prior post, all the schedule makers did was turn the 2007 schedule upside down (so you start '08 where you finished '07) and flipped all the home dates for road dates (and vice versa).

If you are totally confused, not to worry. Here is what the '08 conference schedule should look like:

March 28 - 30
Indiana @ Minnesota
Iowa @ Michigan
Northwestern @ Purdue
Penn State @ Ohio State
Illinois @ Michigan State (*)

April 4 - 6
Illinois @ Indiana
Purdue @ Iowa
Michigan State @ Northwestern
Michigan @ Penn State
Minnesota @ Ohio State (*)

April 11 - 13
Iowa @ Indiana
Minnesota @ Northwestern
Penn State @ Purdue
Michigan @ Illinois (*)
Ohio State @ Michigan State (*)

April 18 - 20
Indiana @ Penn State
Northwestern @ Iowa
Purdue @ Ohio State
Michigan vs. Michigan State
Illinois @ Minnesota (*)

April 25 - 27
Michigan @ Indiana
Iowa @ Michigan State
Ohio State @ Northwestern
Penn State @ Illinois
Minnesota @ Purdue

May 2 - 4
Purdue @ Indiana
Minnesota @ Iowa
Northwestern @ Illinois
Michigan State @ Penn State
Ohio State @ Michigan

May 9 - 11
Indiana @ Northwestern
Iowa @ Penn State
Michigan State @ Purdue
Michigan @ Minnesota
Illinois @ Ohio State (*)

May 15 - 17
Indiana @ Michigan State
Ohio State @ Iowa
Northwestern @ Michigan
Penn State @ Minnesota
Purdue @ Illinois

The (*) indicates that it's a meeting of two teams that don't have their schedules released. Basically, I can't confirm those games as neither party has made an official announcement, but as we have the other schedules and we know the formula for this year's pairings, I think it's safe to call even the asterisk games a sure thing.

As usual, I could have screwed something up in the process here. If I have, I'm confident one of you will let me know.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rivals Fall Power Rankings

Kendall Rogers of has issued his autumn power rankings. These are not team rankings, but for individual players. The rankings include the following positions: Pitcher, catcher, firstbase, middle infield, thirdbase, outfield and head coach. Rogers lists the top 15 players in each category.

I have to admit, Mr. Rogers' poll surprised me. First, I suspected there would be no more than one Big Ten player. By my count, three made the field. Three?!?!?! That's almost enough to make you would think I wrote the list.

The one player I suspected might merit inclusion was Michigan's Zach Putnam. Near as I can tell, I was wrong about that, as well. No sign of Michigan's All-America P/DH. I'm not sure quite what to make of that, but if Putnam's not in the top 90 players in college baseball, I'm the Batman.

In fairness to Mr. Rogers, he may have had a positional problem with Putnam. He might not view Michigan's Friday starter (you know, the guy that one hit national champ Oregon State in their house) as a top 15 hurler. And as there wasn't a utility position, perhaps, Rogers didn't have a place to put Putnam. (Putnam was the Wolverines DH most of last year.) I'll spot him that, but if Putnam's not on a bunch of first team All-America lists in the pre-season, we will be left to assume that the college baseball media is not subjected to drug testing.

Who did make the list? Two Big Ten representatives managed to make the loaded firstbase position. Purdue's Ryan White checked in at number fourteen. The Boilermakers top hitter was followed by Michigan's Nate Recknagel. Again, I'm floored.

A pro-southern beat writer selects two Big Ten players in his Top 15 at a loaded position? Nope, I didn't see that coming. Kudos to Mr. Rogers for thinking outside the box. Or waking up and smelling the coffee, depending on your perspective in life. (I'll take the former, as I'm not always that cranky.)

The other Big Ten player to sneak into the fall power rankings is Michigan SS Jason Christian. Rogers not only selected Christian as the 11th best middle infielder in the land, but called him "One of the rising stars in college baseball". I'm nearly speechless. He combines the shortstop and secondbase slots and a Big Ten guy still makes the top15? What a difference a year makes.

Hopefully, this kind of very early, very positive media attention will open the door to more recognition for the players in the north in 2008. I also hope it might indicate a willingness on the media's part to give these players some All-America consideration at year's end.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Illinois Goes To Turf

Field Turf is now being installed at the University of Illinois. I'm not crazy about plastic, rubber or any other kind of artificial surface, but I understand why so many opt for it.

As an aside, isn't this the same stuff Oregon State plays baseball on? I remember watching the Super Regional from Corvallis last spring and all the grounders kicking up sprays of old tires. It was very odd to view on television.

Hat tip: Tom at The Baseball Zealot via Illinois' official site. (Note: Tom at TBZ also covered the Blue and Orange series.)

Penn State Releases '08 Schedule

Penn State University has officially released their baseball schedule for next season. The Nittany Lions will begin the 2008 season with a three game set against High Point in North Carolina on February 22. From there, PSU ventures south to Dothan, Alabama for a three game series. The Lions will play Troy, Kennesaw State and Wake Forest on consecutive days beginning on February 29.

Penn State's pre-conference schedule road trip heads even further south with their participation in the Papa John's Palm Beach Classic. PSU will be in action from March 9 - March 15 in West Palm Beach versus competition yet to be determined.

Friday, March 21st marks the first date of 2008. Lehigh will open Medlar Field will a three game series. The following weekend is the opener of Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions will head to Columbus to take on Ohio State. The remaining road trips in conference are against Purdue, Illinois and the season finale at Minnesota.

The first home Big Ten series features a visit from Michigan, April 4 - 6. Other Big Ten teams visiting the Lions' shiny new park are Indiana, Michigan State and Iowa.

Per usual, I'm skipping past the non-conference midweek affairs, but you can check those out by clicking on one of the link above.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Michigan's 2008 Schedule

While the University of Michigan still hasn't posted their 2008 schedule on their website, copies were available at Sunday's intra-squad game. I'm going to presume the schedule distributed is correct with the caveat that this is college baseball, thus changes are almost inevitable. Keeping that in mind, let's review what we know.

As previously discussed, Michigan's season will begin with three games in Port St. Lucie, Florida against Villanova. The opening series is February 22-24. After the Wildcats, Michigan will play a game against the New York Mets. Most readers will recall that Mets' owner Fred Wilpon is a Michigan grad and made a significant donation towards the renovation of the baseball and softball complex.

After the exhibition game in Florida, the Wolverines travel west to play in a tournament hosted by Arizona State. Regular readers will recall I posted the link to Hawaii's schedule which indicated the field included ASU, Michigan, Portland and UH. Michigan will play each team once beginning on February 29. Nothing new here.

What we didn't know was that Michigan and the Sun Devils will also play a single contest on Thursday, February 28. That means the Wolverines will get to play ASU -- who should be highly ranked in the pre-season polls -- twice. (Will somebody please broadcast these games? Big Ten Network? CSTV? Anybody?)

As was rumored weeks ago, the East Carolina tournament and Coastal Carolina stop are on the schedule. ECU hosts a tournament with Georgia Southern and Pittsburgh rounding out the field. Michigan will play GA. Southern, ECU and Pitt in that order. That series begins March 7.

The Coastal Carolina tournament includes games against Presbyterian, Ball State and two-in-a-row versus the hosts, Coastal Carolina. The first CCU encounter is the back half of a Saturday doubleheader that opens with Ball State. That tournament runs March 14-16.

Michigan, as has been the case for several years, opens the home portion of the schedule with three games against Oakland starting March 21. (Just don't ask me who I'm rooting for, OK?)

The Big Ten schedule isn't all that difficult to figure out, especially if you know last year's slate. The conference took the 2007 schedule and swapped home games for road dates and flipped the schedule upside down in '08. Example 1: Last year Michigan opened with Northwestern in Evanston. This year, NU will end the year at Michigan. Example 2: Michigan ended last year at Iowa. In 2008, Iowa will be the first Big Ten team at Ray Fisher Stadium. Got it?

In addition to Iowa and NU, Ohio State will visit Ann Arbor next season. Penn State, Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota will be road series for Michigan. Of course, Michigan State will be a home-and-home-and home series with the Saturday doubleheader in East Lansing.

The annual contest versus Notre Dame will be on May 13 in Grand Rapids. I've got to make that game one of these years. There are a few other non-conference games on the docket that I'll save to review as we get closer to the season.