Year in and year out, we see examples of teams who schedule so well in their non-conference that their RPI becomes unshakeable. Perhaps the best example of this from last season is Dallas Baptist. DBU finished the year with an impressive RPI of 30 despite only finishing 11-9-1 in the Missouri Valley and having 24 losses overall. Their RPI was 38 spots higher than their ELO, according to Warren Nolan.
What does this mean? Non-conference scheduling matters. 29 of DBU's 31 non-conference games were against teams with winning records (and 24 of those games were against teams who won more than 35 games!).
DBU isn't the only team to figure out the importance of non-conference games. Here are a few of the non-conference series and tournaments I'm most looking forward to this season.
College Baseball Showdown (February 17-19)
Gone are the days when teams ease into the season. The College Baseball Showdown features five likely regional teams and a few teams with Omaha aspirations. This is must-watch baseball to start the year.
Gabriel Hughes, who was drafted 10th in the 2022 MLB Draft, has moved on, but Gonzaga will still be one of the toughest teams out west. The Zags head to Lubbock for four games against a Texas Tech team that lost quite a bit to the draft as well. As the cliche goes, there are no rebuilding years for the Red Raiders, only retooling. Texas Tech will put that to test with an early challenge from Gonzaga.
The second week of the season brings an explosion of top-tier series. Arizona State travels to Starkville to take on 2021 national champions, Mississippi State. After a shocking fall from grace led to an abysmal 2022 season for the Bulldogs, the boys in maroon are looking for redemption. Speaking of redemption, Arizona State saw a relatively positive 2022 season crushed by a 5-10 finish to conference play in the last five weeks. The Sun Devils have added one of the best transfer classes in the country, but will they be ready for The Dude?
#12 Maryland at #5 Ole Miss (February 24-26)
Maryland hosted a regional in 2022 in one of the most successful season in program history. Ole Miss made an improbable run through the postseason on the road to a national championship. Both teams are eager for more success in 2023, but you only have to look just up the road to Starkville to know how fickle college baseball success can be.
#9 UCLA at #13 Vanderbilt (February 24-26)
Two of the most successful programs of the last decade go at it in Nashville. What's not to like about this week 2 matchup?
Link Jarrett in year one at Florida State will take on Kirk Saarloos in year two at TCU. This matchup of relatively new hires/promotions will be an interesting test for the both squads. Many expect Jarrett to continue the success he had at Notre Dame on day one in Tallahassee. Winning this series would jumpstart the season for Florida State. TCU fell in the College Station Regional final where Saarloos lost to his former boss, Jim Schlossnagle. Can TCU reassert itself as one of the best teams in Texas?
This multi-site series between two of the Carolinas' best teams promises to be one of the best non-conference series of the year. There is no love lost between the the Diamond Heels and the Pirates, and as the American has slumped in quality over the past couple of years, ECU will be eager for a marquee series win.
#41 Gonzaga at #2 Tennessee (March 3-5)
Gonzaga was not afraid to schedule road series this year. They go up against one of the best (if not the best) rotations in the country in Tennessee. After dominating the SEC regular season, Notre Dame burst Tennessee's national championship hopes with an upset win in game three of the Knoxville Super Regional. The Vols will be playing with a huge chip on their shoulder in 2023.
#14 Miami at #7 Florida (March 3-5)
Miami versus Florida. Enough said. This series promises to be one of the best series of the year as two hated foes play yet another rendition of their rivalry. The Canes are only 5-10 against the Gators in the past five years. In recent years, this series has felt more important for Miami than Florida in asserting its merit as a potential regional host.
Charlotte won 36 games a year ago but missed out on the tournament in large part because 18 of those games were against teams outside of the top 200 in RPI. This trip to Blacksburg will be crucial for the 49ers. Virginia Tech advanced to its first ever Super Regional a year ago and was one game away from Omaha before they were eliminated by Oklahoma. The ACC is deep as ever, so this series will be pivotal for maintaining that all-important RPI.
#49 DBU at #8 Southern Miss (March 3-5)
DBU continues their ambitious non-conference scheduling from a year ago with an early-March trip to Hattiesburg. Southern Miss has seen in-state rivals, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, win a national championship apiece over the past two season. Folks in Hattiesburg are asking, "why not us next?"
A season ago, Texas State earned the recognition of College Baseball Nation's most improved team. Will the Bobcats build on that in 2023? Their trip to fellow mid-major darling, Grand Canyon, will be a measuring stick series for both teams.
Shriners Children's College Classic (March 3-5)
Four Texas schools who don't very much like each other, a perennial Omaha resident, and a Michigan squad that made the College World Series final a few years ago? Yeah, I'll take that for a good tournament lineup. This tournament happens right before conference play really kicks off, so expect to see teams settling on their rotations and lineups by this point.
#3 Stanford at #39 Oklahoma (March 31 - April 2)
Coming off trips to the College World Series, Stanford and Oklahoma are both looking to recreate the magic of a season ago. We've been notoriously low on Oklahoma after the Sooners sent an enormous amount of talent to the next level over the summer. By this point in the season, we'll either be eating crow or Oklahoma will be looking for a marquee series win to secure a regional berth.