After having the best season in program history in 2012 the 2013 Purdue baseball season featured the opening of the brand new Alexander Field. That was just about the only highlight as Purdue struggled to a 17-34 record and a dismal 6-18 record in Big Ten play. Even worse, Purdue's inaugural season at Alexander Field saw the Boilers go 1-11 against conference foes.
If Purdue is to return to the NCAA Tournament in 2014 there will be plenty of strength on the schedule, which was released today. Unlike two seasons ago, teams who win true road games now receive a bonus in the RPI. This went into effect last season, as a true road victory counts as 1.3 in the RPI formula when figuring wins. A neutral site win counts as 1, and a home win counts as 0.7.
This measure is meant to even the playing field for northern teams like Purdue, who often must play a month of the season on the road before coming home. That weather factor is huge as the 2014 schedule features only 17 home games. There are three dates each on the Big Ten schedule against Penn State (April 4-6), Michigan (April 18-20), Ohio State (April 25-27), and Iowa (May 15-17). The remaining home dates are weeknight games against IPFW (March 26), Louisville (April 8), Illinois -Chicago (April 23), and Indiana State (May 13). The home opener is scheduled for March 19, but the opponent is yet to be determined. I would bet it could be against Valparaiso, who made the last two NCAA Tournaments and eliminated Florida last season in Bloomington.
The road schedule is very, very difficult in the early going. The season begins February 14-16 in Knoxville, Tennessee where Purdue plays the host Volunteers and Nebraska-Omaha twice each. As a member of the SEC, Tennessee is always a tough matchup and a good team to play. The following weekend Purdue plays three games at Rice, who won the Eugene, Oregon Regional last season and nearly made the CWS. They are also the 2003 College World Series Champions.
After the weekend at Rice Purdue has a three-game series at Missouri State, who made the 2012 NCAA Tournament. The following weekend Purdue visits Louisiana State for three games. The Tigers were in last year's College World Series and is one of the premier programs in college baseball with six national championships, the most recent in 2009.
After heading to LSU Purdue goes out to San Diego State for four games the following weekend over spring break. The Aztecs are coached by baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and they played in last season's NCAA Tournament. They pushed eventual national champ UCLA in game 1 before losing 5-3.
Purdue finally comes home for the opener on March 19, before going to Southern Illinois for a three-game series. Purdue swept SIU last year in West Lafayette during their Big Ten bye weekend. After that, Big Ten play begins with a three-game road trip to Illinois (March 28-30), Michigan State (April 11-13), Indiana (May 2-4), and Minnesota (May 9-11). Illinois made last season's NCAA Tournament as an at large team and won a game over Georgia Tech. Indiana became the first Big Ten team in 30 years to reach the College World Series.
There are midweek road games at Illinois-Chicago (April 2), Butler (April 16), Indiana State (April 22), and Illinois State (April 29) to close out the schedule.
Overall, this could not be a more difficult schedule. It features seven games against three teams from last year's College World Series (LSU, Indiana, and Louisville) and only one of them at home. It also has three games against Rice (a regional winner), three against Illinois, and four against San Diego State as teams that were in last year's NCAA Tournament. Michigan State (three games), Missouri State (three games), and Indiana State (two games) made the tournament in 2012, while Ohio State was in contention to make the tournament last year before a brutal closing stretch.
This may be the toughest schedule for a Big Ten team this coming season, and any return to the NCAA Tournament will be well earned. The good news is that the RPI will be as high as it can be before conference play begins, and even the Big Ten is not the drag on the schedule it once was with five teams contending for NCAA berths last season.