The Texas baseball team will play a 2013 schedule, starting with Sacramento State this weekend, that mixes some familiar foes with some new ones, and also includes a couple of conspicuous absences. Let's start with those.
First, and most obvious, is the absence of Texas A&M. The Aggies' departure for the SEC means this is the first season in a very long time the Longhorns will not play their oldest rivals on the diamond. It's a shame, but the bigger shame is that it also means the end of one of the Big 12's most fun, and quirkiest, traditions. In past years, Texas, A&M, and Baylor had an arrangement where each series featured a Friday game in one ballpark, then Saturday and Sunday games in the other. So for example, in a given year Texas might play Baylor in Waco Friday night, then in Austin the next two days. Later in the year, the Aggies would come to Austin for the Friday night game and then the last two games of the series would be in College Station. Baylor would play at A&M Friday night, then host them Saturday and Sunday. It was great, because fans of all three schools got to see at least one home game among the rivals each year. But it only worked as a three-team arrangement; no team ended up with a total number of home games that was too high or too low in any given year. For Texas and Baylor to continue the tradition without the Ags would mean one squad giving up a crucial conference home game every season; clearly the schools have chosen not to do that, as all three 2013 games are in Waco.
Another very disappointing omission from this year's schedule is traditional rival Rice. The Internet Machine has failed us in seeking an explanation, but for whatever reason we will not get our traditional home-and-home with the Owls this year. Texas did add a road game at Houston, so fans in that city can at least see Texas play locally. Oh, and no Mizzou--but, you know, who cares?
One exciting non-conference addition to the schedule is Nebraska, with whom the Longhorns had a great rivalry when the Big Red was in the Big 12. Nebraska baseball was once a really big deal, and hosting the College World Series in its state should make it so on an annual basis. The move to the Big Ten was obviously a football-driven decision, but we said at the time--and still believe--one of its side effects would be a serious downgrading of Cornhusker baseball. Nebraska must now depend largely on a strong non-conference schedule to propel it into national prominence before playing a mediocre-at-best conference slate. Think University of Memphis basketball. So, this year Texas is giving the Huskers some name recognition on the February schedule; count us as two fans excited to see our old friends return to the Disch.
Another familiar face on the non-conference schedule is Texas' now-annual faceoff against Stanford, this year at the famed Sunken Diamond in Palo Alto. The Cardinal is, once again, a consensus top-10 preseason pick. They also come from what we believe is going to be the second-best baseball conference in America this season. The Pac-12 has slowly crept up on the ACC and SEC in recent years, and the conference now has five or six preseason top-25 teams (depending on the poll). That still doesn't top the SEC, with five of Baseball America's top 10 (Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Mississippi State, South Carolina, LSU) and another three in the next 10, but the emergence of squads like UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, and Arizona in recent years has, in our opinion, propelled the conference past the ACC in top-to-bottom terms. By comparison, it bears mentioning that only TCU and Oklahoma represent the Big 12 in the Baseball America poll; hopefully that will change as the season wears on.
(Side note: because one of us (hint: the one writing this article) hails from Mississippi, we wanted to point out the potential golden age of Mississippi college baseball this season. For the first time we can remember, all three of the state's major schools--MSU (5), Ole Miss (13), and Southern Mississippi (23) appear in Baseball America's preseason poll. Keep up the good work, Magnolia State.)
The only major addition worth noting on the conference schedule is that the traditional end-of-season series against A&M has been replaced by TCU, this year in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs have developed into a perennial contender, and start the year favored to win their first Big 12 crown. We're confident this will quickly develop into an even bigger rivalry than it already is--lest we forget our back-to-back super regionals against the Frogs in 2009 and 2010 (Texas 1, TCU 1).
Finally, in the "um...what?" category, discerning fans might notice the Longhorns take a trip to Minneapolis for a three-game set against the Minnesota Golden Gophers toward the end of March. We have confirmed that Minnesota's Siebert Field is, in fact, an outdoor ballpark. Weather.com says the average high for March 22 is 44 degrees Fahrenheit--but, of course, the game starts at 6:35 PM so the high will no longer be a factor. The average high for March 23 and 24 is a balmy 45 degrees, so it should be great baseball weather.
Buckle in, sports fans. Another season of Augieball is upon us.