WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - With the season-opening weekend only three weeks away, Purdue baseball began official preseason practice Friday evening with a variety of drills and a scrimmage indoors in the Mollenkopf Athletic Center.
The Boilermakers will be one of 10 Big Ten Conference teams to begin their season at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge in the Clearwater-St. Petersburg area of Florida's Gulf Coast. Every Big Ten team except Nebraska is participating this year.
Thanks to college baseball's uniform opening day of Feb. 17, southern schools may be able to practice outdoors, sooner but cannot play an official game until their northern counterparts have the same opportunity. Purdue will once again travel south for each of its first five weekends of competition during the nonconference portion of the schedule. Big Ten play begins the weekend of March 23-25, with the Boilers visiting Columbus for their first series with Ohio State since 2009.
At this time a year ago, Purdue was preparing for its new season with a roster that featured only three seniors. The Boilermakers went on to tie the school record with 37 wins, finishing third in the Big Ten standings, one game shy of first place. And with an entire lineup worth of 2011 starters back this season, Purdue has been projected by many college baseball publications and websites as one of the favorites in the Big Ten.
The Boilermakers enter 2012 as the only Big Ten team to qualify for the conference tournament each of the last four seasons. So Purdue has annually been in heart of the hotly-contested Big Ten race. But with a roster loaded with accomplished and experienced upperclassmen, on paper this season sets up as the team's best opportunity in recent history to claim that elusive regular-season Big Ten crown.
The Boilermakers have 14 seniors striving to close out their college careers as conference champions. There's also the strong possibility the program could lose juniors Cameron Perkins, Kevin Plawecki and Nick Wittgren to the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in June. While there was very little roster turnover between 2011 and 2012, that won't be the case again in 2013.
Fourteenth-year head coach Doug Schreiber had his experienced roster in mind when he put together the 2012 schedule. Highlighted by weekend series at UCLA and Wichita State, Purdue is scheduled to play nine nonconference opponents that finished the 2011 campaign ranked among the Top 100 in the NCAA's RPI. Including the Big Ten series against Nebraska and Michigan State, also Top 100 RPI teams a season ago, the Boilers have 20 regular-season games versus the nation's elite last year.
While the 2012 pre-Big Ten schedule may be more difficult than last season's, it is not stacked with only true road games. Purdue may have to travel south early and often like many of its Big Ten rivals and Midwestern counterparts, but seven of the first nine games of the year are neutral-site affairs. Weekend-opening dates against East Carolina and Auburn, opponents among the RPI Top 50 a year ago, are the only true road games over the first three weekends of the season. The Boilermakers are participating in four-team tournaments at both ECU (Feb. 24-26) and Auburn (March 2-4).
On Feb. 14, the Big Ten Conference office will release the top six teams in the preseason coaches poll as well as three players to watch from all 11 squads.
The Boilermakers are scheduled to take on Cincinnati, Connecticut and Notre Dame at Big Ten/Big East Challenge. Wins against UConn and Pittsburgh at the 2011 Challenge were an early indication of the successful season to follow.