This is a record-shattering Purdue team that can take a major step toward more National recognition this weekend.
To my knowledge a Big Ten team has never been named a National seed to the NCAA Tournament, thus given the preferential treatment of hosting until the College World Series in Omaha, at least in the 64-team tournament era. The National seeds were first awarded in 1999 when the field expanded to 64 teams and the Super Regional format (best two-out-of-three Sweet 16) was introduced. In those 13 tournaments, seven times the National champion was a national seed, and only Nebraska (2001 and 2005), and Louisville (2010) could be considered "Northern" schools by the loosest definition of the word have been national seeds.
Only Ohio State in 2003 has hosted a Super Regional as a big Ten team, and they did so out of a broken bracket scenario where they stunned most by winning the Auburn Regional and the Nationally fourth-seeded Tigers as a three seed (out of four) and Missouri State won the Nebraska regional also as a three seed.
This weekend Purdue can set not only program history, but Big Ten history when it travels to UCLA for a three game series. After this past weekend's 2-1 series win over Michigan State the Boilers have a magic number of four to clinch at least a tie for the Big Ten championship. That means four Purdue wins, four losses each by Indiana and Minnesota in second place. Or any combination that adds up to four (and both Indiana and Minnesota have nine conference games left, while Purdue has six), gets Purdue the title.
The RPI battle and possibility to be a national seed is what has caused this UCLA series to balloon in importance. In the latest RPI UCLA is rated at No. 4, and Purdue is at No. 10. A series win over the Bruins would possibly vault Purdue into the top five and barring an unexpected collapse in the final nine games all against teams rated below 200 (and Purdue is 8-0 in such games) it would likely mean Purdue would be a National seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Clearly, this is rarified air for a program with one NCAA Tournament appearance 25 years ago, no NCAA Tournament wins ever, and no conference championships in 103 years. Even if Purdue gets swept, which is the worst case scenario, it will get the RPI boost of playing a highly rated team on the road and still be a mortal lock to host unless it did something like go 4-5 or worse down the stretch.
As I have said all year, this team deserves all the support we can give it, because it is a once in a lifetime team that may never come around again. It combines solid hitting, great starting pitching, a bullpen duo of Blake Mascarello and Nick Wittgren that are lights out, and a boatload of experience. This weekend we should get an excellent idea of where we stand in terms of our chances to make it to Omaha because it will be a Super Regional-like atmosphere.
There are a few things you can do this week to get prepared for the series, and I will scour as hard as I can to see if the games are televised in some manner:
- If you are a Purdue Alum in Southern California, Go. To. The. Games. - I have reached out the Purdue Alumni Club of LA and OC to see if they can promote this as an official event. If we can get a sizable cheering section at Jackie Robinson Stadium (capacity 2500) even better. Tickets are just $7 and can be found here.If you get a group of 15 tickets are only $5 each, and Saturday is even a double header, so $5 gets you two games!
- Read up on the Bruins - The SB Nation Network has a great UCLA blog and Ryan Rosenblatt handles their expert baseball coverage. His Twitter handle is @RyeUCLAbaseball.
- Bask in the quality opponent - UCLA has three CWS appearances. While not as successful as archrival USC, the Bruins were in Omaha in 2010 and were national runner-up, so this is the strongest opponent we have played since Louisville made the 2007 CWS and we played them the next year.
- Keep an eye on the Big Ten this weekend - The rest of the conference is still playing each other. Penn State is at Minnesota and Indiana hosts Nebraska. If the Hoosiers and golden Gophers each lose just once Purdue can secure the Big Ten title at home next week with a sweep of last place Michigan. Two losses each by Minnesota and Indiana means Purdue only needs two wins over Michigan. I want to clinch the Big Ten title at home because it would be awesome to set fire to the 103 year drought at home.
- Wait for a regional hosting announcement - As I mentioned in Saturday's article, Purdue is working on a plan, one specific site is eager to host, and I was told an inspection was being made today. I'd put Purdue's hosting chances of at least a regional at about 70% right now, and about 30% for a Super Regional as a National Seed. Remember, Purdue would also host a Super Regional if it is not a National seed, but does not play its corresponding national seed in that round. I can't say where I was told where we would likely host, but there is indeed a frontrunner that "only senior administration (i.e. Morgan Burke) needs to sign off on".
So that's where we are, ladies and gents. I'm sure I will have more on the series later this week, and hopefully a Q&A with BruinsNation as well. The first pitch times are 1pm and 5pm Pacific on Saturday and 1pm Pacific time on Sunday.