Indiana's has been no surprise to anyone in the Big Ten. After the Hoosiers' historic 2013 season, the rest of the nation is now aware of the powerful program coach Tracy Smith has built.They're ranked as high as No. 3 in the major preseason polls, the best showing by a Big Ten team since 1988, and return most of the key pieces from the conference's first College World Series team in 29 years.
Preseason All-America catcher Kyle Schwarber said he and his teammates are looking to take another step after two one-run losses followed a win against Louisville at the CWS in Omaha, Neb.
"It's Omaha and winning that national championship," Schwarber said. "We know what it takes to get there. We're going to push these young guys and show them what it takes."
The Hoosiers, who open this weekend with four games at Texas Tech, will measure themselves next week when they play Oregon State in Surprise, Ariz. Indiana lost 1-0 to the Beavers in a CWS elimination game, the only time the Hoosiers were shut out last season. Oregon State also is a preseason top-five team and favored to win the Pac-12.
The Hoosiers brought back players who hit 49 of their 53 home runs. Schwarber had 18 and is the top returning home-run hitter in the nation. The offense also has All-Americans in first baseman Sam Travis and third baseman Dustin DeMuth, who came back for his senior season despite being an eighth-round draft pick by the Minnesota Twins.
The top three starting pitchers are left-handers — 10-game winner Joey DeNato, Kyle Hart and Will Coursen-Carr. Closer Ryan Halstead is a candidate for National Stopper of the Year after setting a school record with 11 saves.
Here are five things to know about Big Ten baseball:
HUNGRY HUSKERS: Nebraska went to the College World Series three times in the past decade but hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 2008. The Huskers sense they're about to break through under third-year coach Darin Erstad. They came through the loser's bracket of the conference tournament to reach the championship game, losing to Indiana on a walk-off single. "It's almost indescribable how it feels when something you want so bad is ripped away from you," outfielder Michael Pritchard, who's among five returning everyday players, said. The entire weekend rotation returns, and the Huskers have one of the nation's top-rated freshmen in outfielder Ryan Boldt.
BUCKEYE COMES BACK: Ohio State should be bolstered by the return of pitcher-first baseman Josh Dezse, who missed last season with a back injury. Patrick Porter, who shared the team lead with 33 RBIs, is back along with preseason All-America reliever Trace Dempsey, who had 17 saves.
SPARTANS ON ROLL: Michigan State, which has won 30 or more games four consecutive years, is still smarting from being the first team left off the NCAA tournament bracket last season. Cam Gibson, son of Arizona Diamondbacks manager and ex-Spartan Kirk Gibson, is a rising star after batting .325 as a freshman.
GOPHERS ON GO: Minnesota played 21 of its first 26 games at home last season. The Gophers' advantage over other northern teams ended with the demolition of the Metrodome. They'll be on the road for their first 21 games, playing in six different states and four time zones.
NEW COACHES: Rick Heller takes over at Iowa after five years at Indiana State, and Rob Cooper is the new coach at Penn State after nine seasons at Wright State. Iowa, which has eight position players and eight pitchers returning, has an undistinguished baseball history. The Nittany Lions, who finished last in 2013, have been in the upper half of the Big Ten once since 2008.