20 Showdowns to Circle in 2020

The 2020 season is full of big time matchups for Big Ten schools, both within and outside of conference, contests that can make or break a berth in the NCAA Tournament and hosting opportunities. For the prospect junkie out there, there will be more than a few head-to-head pairings of top draft prospects.

In addition to knowing the 20 stroylines to follow this season, here’s a rundown on the 20 dates to circle this year. From Michigan taking on a pair of top three teams on back-to-back dates to start the season, to an end-of-season, cross-country tough test for Penn State, here’s 20 games, series and tournaments to watch in 2020.

Rankings reflect Baseball America’s preseason poll

#20 Minnesota vs. TCU, Feb. 22-24

A prominent opponent marks the Gophers return to US Bank Stadium. Only one year removed from a run for four consecutive trips to Omaha, This could be one of those resume anchoring weekends, as well as one that puts an on-the-cusp team into the top 25.

#19 Maryland @ TCU, March 13-14

A month later, Maryland will have their own opportunity to knock off TCU. However, their showdown will be in Fort Worth. Maryland has a ballyhooed freshmen class that will be put in a hostile environment for the first time.

#18 Northwestern vs. Kent State, March 13-14

A meeting of former Purdue recruiting coordinators, in Northwestern head coach Spencer Allen, and Kent State’s Jeff Duncan, Kent State is a mid-major power, always stocked with pitching, and they will be as good as any opponent the week before conference play.

#17 Penn State @ #22 Arizona, May 14-16

The Tucson-end of a home-and-home, this series comes on the final weekend of the season. Penn State will not have an opportunity to play their way into the tournament or hold their Big Ten standings position, but this series may do more to show what progress has been made.

#16 Purdue @ Campbell, Feb. 21

Purdue head coach Greg Goff will lead his team against a program he led for six years in Campbell. In 2014, Goff coached Campbell to their first NCAA Tournament in 24 years, and will hope a strong start to the season will have Purdue in position to do the same.

#15 Rutgers @ #5 Miami, Feb. 14-16

Some things change: Steve Owens is now leading the Scarlet Knights after Rutgers did not renew Joe Litterio’s contract. Other things do not change: Rutgers opening the season at Miami. Over the last few years, Rutgers has not put up much of a fight against Miami. However this year Rutgers returns a strong rotation. Can they start the Owens era with a very big weekend win?

#14 Michigan State vs. #11 Arkansas, April 21-22

Give credit where credit is due. A Southeastern Conference team is set to take the road and travel to a Big Ten school. It may not be a three-game set, but it is still significant that Arkansas would travel to East Lansing for two midweek games. The Spartans were ravished last year by injuries before playing better as the season wound down. Can this two-game set in the middle of the season get MSU back on the upswing?

#13 Purdue @ Iowa, April 3-5

The battle of the conference’s respective black and gold outfits is positioned to be intriguing. At the season’s mid-point and third weekend of conference play, identities should be forged with contenders starting to emerge. The Boilermakers and Hawkeyes are as big of an unknown as any in the conference, how they leave this weekend may go a long way in what type of season is in store.

#12 #24 Ohio State @ Indiana, March 27-29

The Buckeyes enter a season for the first time in quite some time expected to be among the top three teams. But the Hoosiers are still the team to beat. And as Ohio State tries to go through Indiana in 2020, they will need to reverse the fortunes of the prior decade, as IU held a 21-6 advantage in meetings in the 2010s, including a 10-game stretch between 2013-15. For Jeff Mercer’s Hoosiers, a win over the Bucks can go a long way in ensuring they continue to make in-roads in recruiting Ohio.

#11 Nebraska at Wichita State, March 13-15

Staying on the recruiting theme, Nebraska’s Will Bolt has done a great job of locking the state borders as he takes over the Husker program. One program that was a thorn in the side of Nebraska during the Darin Erstad Era was Wichita State. The Shockers plucked Alec Bohm out of Nebraska, the third overall pick in 2018. If the Huskers can have a weekend triumph it will give Bolt’s recruiting more of an edge and help keep Nebraska at the high that Erstad left it, as well as give a young team confidence with a solid road victory.

#10 Iowa & Nebraska vs. Tony Gwynn Legacy field, Feb. 21-23

One, there’s never a bad time to visit San Diego, but a late-February escape is pretty good one. Two, the Tony Gwynn Legacy field will present a good challenge for the Hawkeyes and Huskers. The Big Ten rivals will not play each other in San Diego, nor in the conference season, so the tournament will be a good barometer on where the Missouri River rivals are. Iowa and Nebraska will play the same weekend schedule, featuring #22 Arizona, San Diego and San Diego State.

#9 Minnesota @ Maryland, May 14-16

The ingredients are there for this to be a really good series. Maryland has a team full of talented underclassmen, while Minnesota has quite the junior class. Young or old, both have the potential to make a run at the conference crown. The series will pit Minnesota’s power pitching staff against Maryland’s potent bats. While Ohio State and Michigan may be the preseason favorites, this meeting on the final weekend could very well have a championship on the line.

#8 #24 Ohio State @ #21 Georgia Tech, Feb. 21-23

The Buckeyes will have their preseason ranking tested early with a trip to Atlanta. The Buckeyes have a weekend rotation in Seth Lonsway, Garrett Burhenn and Griffan Smith that could be a potent 1-2-3 in any conference. Taking on the ACC’s Georgia Tech is the type of series win needed to be in contention to host a regional.

#7 #8 Michigan @ #3 Arizona State, Feb. 15

A day after taking on the top team in the country, see below, Michigan travels across town for a date at #3 Arizona State. Whomever Michigan starts on the mound, be Ben Dragini or Steve Hajjar coming off injury, or promising underclassmen Isaiah Paige, they will be tested by an ASU lineup that features the #1, #32 and #48 prospects in the upcoming draft. Michigan can quickly show they’re are top 10 team.

#6 #8 Michigan @ Minnesota, May 8

This could be the opener of a series that decides the Big Ten championship, has NCAA Tournament implications and potentially regional hosting implications. But, speaking of top prospects, this particular game in the series will hopefully have Michigan’s Jeff Criswell squaring off against Minnesota’s Max Meyer, two right-handed pitchers that respectively rank #53 an #29 in Baseball America’s top 100 MLB draft prospects.

#5 Illinois vs. Frisco Classic Field, Feb. 28-March 1

In a season full of marquee tournaments involving Big Ten teams, the Frisco Classic may be the best. Joining Illinois in the robsust field will be: #10 UCLA, #16 Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. UCLA and Oklahoma State are coming off years where they hosted a regional, the Bruins doing so as the tournaments top overall seed, while Texas A&M, like Illinois, also appeared in a regional. Facing a top clubs from the Big XII, Pac 12 and Southeastern conferences, the Illini will have an early season measuring stick in what should be great baseball.

#4 Indiana @ #14 LSU, Feb. 14-16

While the Big Ten’s traditional powers, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State, have garnered plenty of offseason attention, the reigning Big Ten champion Hoosiers have quietly flown under the radar. Jeff Mercer’s blue collar program does need to retool a bit after having 10 draft picks last year, but a season-opening series against a college blueblood will quickly put them back under the spotlight. Indiana needs to replace their entire rotation in 2020, and if the new weekend rotation can handle the environment of Alex Box, a repeat isn’t far fetched.

#3 Big Ten – ACC Challenge

There isn’t an official name for it, but this season’s Big Ten –  X Conference Challenge pits Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue against Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State this year in Minneapolis, for a Big Ten – ACC showdown. Each of the three ACC teams are expected to be in a regional and enter the season with rankings, led by Duke at #15, with North Carolina and North Carolina State not too far behind at #17 and #18, respectively. Three Big Ten schools set to have three quality opponents, and not having to travel to their home diamond to boot, in a fun environment makes for a can’t miss weekend.

#2 #8 Michigan vs. #1 Vanderbilt, Feb. 14

Here’s a way to start the season. In the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament, in Scottsdale, Ariz., Michigan’s first opponent of the season is the same as their final opponent of last. As the two College World Series finalist tangle, It’ll be another meeting between mentor and pupil as Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin coaches opposite of Erik Bakich. Any extra motivation Michigan may need to return to Omaha will be there in plenty, especially the #1 ranking Vanderbilt enters the season with, just as it was their ranking was last year in their triumph over Michigan. Potentially being Michigan’s highest draft pick in nearly 20 years, it’ll be interesting to see how Michigan ace Jeff Criswell fares against Vanderbilt, against a backdrop of scouts on top of scouts.

#1 #24 Ohio State @ #8 Michigan, April 10-12

What could top a preseason opener that a College World Series rematch? What some would call the rivalry. One of the most surprising facts of Big Ten baseball in the 2010s was that neither Michigan nor Ohio State won a Big Ten championship. With 50 conference crowns between them, that was the first decade it ever happened. On paper, year one in the 2020s looks to change that. Both enter the season with a preseason ranking, but have multiple draft prospects expected to be among the first 200 picked. There’s anticipated showdowns of Lonsway vs. Franklin, Criswell vs. Dingler. While Michigan played on college baseball’s biggest stage last year, Ohio State took three of four contests. Finally, games against Ohio State represent five of the 12 most attended games in Michigan’s Wilpon Complex history. Let’s pray for great weather and a setting this series should merit.

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