Weekend Preview: Big 12 Riding Momentum To Best RPI

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SEE ALSO: Top 25

Coming off a year that saw three Big 12 Conference schools reach the College World Series, the league has carried that momentum into this spring. The conference has five teams ranked in the Top 25, tied for the most of any conference. It also ranks first in conference RPI, according to WarrenNolan.com, and leads all conferences in nonconference winning percentage (.718). It is still early in the season, but after five weeks, the Big 12 ranks first in conference RPI, according to WarrenNolan.com.

Six Big 12 teams began conference play last weekend, and the other three will join the fray this weekend. This weekend features two matchups of Top 25 teams, as No. 21 Oklahoma State visits No. 3 Texas Christian and No. 24 Oklahoma travels to No. 20 Baylor.

TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said he thinks the Big 12 is much improved this season and could be as deep as it was in 2014. In that year, five Big 12 teams reached to the NCAA tournament, the conference’s high-water mark since losing Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M to conference realignment from 2011-2012.

“I think every single team is better than last year,” Schlossnagle said. “You can go all the way up and down the league, and I think everybody is better.”

After back-to-back years of getting just three teams in the NCAA tournament, the Big 12 is primed for a stronger showing this spring. It made a statement earlier this month at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic, which adopted a Southeastern Conference/Big 12 challenge format this season. The three Big 12 schools in the field (Baylor, TCU and Tech) combined to go 7-2 against three SEC schools (Louisiana State, Mississippi and Texas A&M), all of which entered the weekend in the Top 25.

Baylor coach Steve Rodriguez said that performance showed the Big 12’s quality this season.

“Our conference is really good, we got three teams in Omaha last year,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of those teams have the majority of those guys back. I just know that we have to come ready to play on those weekends.”

This season’s turnaround has been especially pronounced at Baylor and Oklahoma. The Bears went 24-29 in Rodriguez’s first season in Waco, while the Sooners had a disappointing 30-27-1 season. Both teams have roared out of the gate this spring. Baylor (17-4) began the season 10-0 and earned its first ranking since the end of the 2010 season. Oklahoma (21-4) has the most wins in the country and is off to its best start since 2010.

Baylor began conference play last weekend against West Virginia. The Mountaineers won the first two games of the series, giving the Bears their first losing weekend of the season. Baylor bounced back to win the series finale and defeat Dallas Baptist on Tuesday. For Oklahoma, this weekend marks the start of Big 12 play. It has not had a losing weekend this season, but this will be by far its toughest test since hosting Long Beach State on opening weekend.

Oklahoma State will also be starting Big 12 play when it visits TCU. The Cowboys (15-6) lost a series at Grand Canyon on opening weekend, but have recovered well and have won eight straight games, including beating Oklahoma, 4-3, on Tuesday in this season’s first edition of the Bedlam series.

TCU (14-5) bounced back from a 1-3 record on its California trip to UC Irvine and Long Beach to win its Big 12 opening series against Kansas last weekend. The Horned Frogs have not beaten the Cowboys in a series since 2013, and Schlossnagle said they know they are in for a tough series this weekend.

“They’re going to be an incredibly well coached, that’s a great staff,” he said. “Regardless of how they start, they’ve made adjustments to get the right guys in lineup and on the mound. They’re back to being a super regional, Omaha type club.”

TCU is making some adjustments of its own. It adjusted its rotation last weekend, moving righthander Brian Howard (2-2, 7.04), who had struggled on Friday nights, to Sunday and moving up lefthander Nick Lodolo (2-1, 5.06) and righthander Jared Janczak (5-0, 2.36). Schlossnagle said Janczak is likely to move up again this week, taking over the Friday starter role.

“He’s pitched so well that we decided we want to get him to Friday, but we didn’t want to do that in one week,” Schlossnagle said. “I’d like to get him in the first game, especially because everybody in the league has a good Friday guy.”

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