Since the pandemic began, it’s been an interesting two years for baseball in the Big Ten Conference.
When opening day for the 2022 college baseball season arrives, it will have been 709 days since a Big Ten baseball team has faced a non-conference opponent in the regular season.
The conference suffered considerably in the 2021 season, only receiving three NCAA Tournament bids and zero of those teams moved on past the first weekend. After having a College World Series finalist from the conference in 2019 (Michigan), the conference had its fewest bids since 2016.
But, in 2022, the conference will have a chance to redeem itself. Michigan will be on the national stage opening weekend, as they are participating in the 2022 State Farm College Baseball Showdown, while Maryland and Illinois will be traveling to Big 12 schools for early three game sets.
After a unique year in 2021, the 2022 season leaves many possibilities for a new champion in the Big Ten. Who are the contenders?
The Cornhuskers are the lone Big Ten team ranked in College Baseball Nation’s Top 50 preseason rankings at No. 17. After a very successful first full season under head coach Will Bolt, Nebraska has a bit of roster turnover for the 2022 season.
Nebraska lost the Big Ten Player of the Year in Spencer Schwellenbach and two other All-Big Ten First Team members: outfielder Jaxon Hallmark and starting pitcher Cade Povich. But, even with much talent lost, the Cornhuskers return Max Anderson, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, who already is a leading candidate for 2022 Big Ten Player of the Year.
Although Nebraska lost multiple players due to the draft and graduation, along with Anderson atop of the lineup, Nebraska returns multiple upperclassmen who provide experience immediately. That includes Cam Chick, a candidate for a breakout season for the Cornhuskers, and Griffin Everett, who is slated to be Nebraska’s starting catcher in 2022.
The first non-conference test comes early for Nebraska, as they’re slated to take on TCU in Arlington, Texas Feb. 25-27.
Nebraska was the team to beat in 2021; expect that to continue in 2022. It’s an exciting time to be a fan in Lincoln.
After the Terrapins first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017 a year ago, head coach Rob Vaughnan looks to bring them back again in 2022.
Even with the departure of Benjamin Cowles, the Big Ten’s 2021 home run king, Maryland returns a large part of their offense, including seniors Maxwell Costes and Chris Alleyne. With one of the best sophomores in the country in Matt Shaw, the Terrapins are set up for long-term success with a young lineup.
A key piece for Maryland to be successful in 2022 is its pitching. Maryland was 5th in the conference in team ERA, but will return many of their major contributions, including Ryan Ramsey (1.67 ERA in 37.2 IP) and Nick Dean (2.87 ERA in 53.1 IP)
Nebraska is the preseason favorite, but don’t sleep on Maryland’s ability to be a sneaky team in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines struggled in big games in 2021. In a combined eight conference games between Maryland and Nebraska, Michigan went 3-5. When they reached NCAA regionals, they were two-and-out with losses against UConn and Central Michigan.
But, Michigan will have a chance to redeem themselves immediately, participating in the 2022 State Farm College Baseball Showdown in Texas opening weekend. Opening the season against Texas Tech, Kansas State, and Oklahoma is no small task, but it’s an opportunity for head coach Erik Bakich’s team to make an early statement.
The Wolverines return Ted Burton and Tito Flores to their offense, their two best hitters players from a year ago. On the hill, they return Cameron Weston who had a marvelous sophomore year, posting a 2.81 ERA in 83.1 innings of work and recorded two of Michigan’s three wins against Maryland/Nebraska.
For Michigan to succeed in 2022, they will need to make a statement early in the season. With their difficult non-conference schedule, they will have plenty of opportunities to do so.
To likely much surprise, Maryland appears to be vastly underrated entering the 2022 season. With their strong lineup, they’re the pick to finish the season atop the Big Ten.
Player Of The Year Candidates
Max Anderson (Nebraska): In his first season with the Cornhuskers, Anderson held a .332 average which led to him winning the Big Ten Freshman of the Year Award. It wouldn’t be too shocking to see him continue to dominate at the plate and win the most prestigious award in the conference as a sophomore, especially if he’s able to lead Nebraska back to another NCAA Tournament bid.
Cameron Weston (Michigan): Weston had a dominant 2021 season against the Big Ten, coming up big time after time for Michigan. In his junior season, Weston will want to show he can remain consistent and dominate the conference for a second straight year.