A Test of Mettle

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With Wayne Graham, the deepest truths are revealed via his biting wit and knowing glances. Some answers are startlingly direct while others so subtly delivered that the inference takes a second to seep into the crevices of the brain. Then and only then is the point driven home.

The Owls will be national title contenders in 2010; that is an irrefutable fact. As Graham notes with a confident arch of his brow, the Owls return 11 of their top 12 position players, and while the pitching staff took a hit with the departures of ace Ryan Berry and closer Jordan Rogers, there's enough available talent for Graham to assemble another collection of formidable arms.

Taking that information into consideration, it should shock no one that Graham stacked his 2010 non-conference schedule with a number of quality national programs. At first blush the competition makes one, well, blush. Despite the strong showing Conference USA had in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, the league has not yet earned the national reputation that would benefit a member's ratings percentage index. Factor in the perceived role RPI played in the Owls being shipped to Baton Rouge to face eventual national champion LSU in the Baton Rouge Super Regional, and Graham took the logical step while constructing the '10 schedule.

"You can do what some of the other teams do. They're confident that their conference will take care of their RPI," Graham said with a thinly veiled poke at the SEC. "The other thing is I like to play competition. It's a lot of fun to play competition. Sometimes it can be nerve-wracking."

The Owls' nerves are officially on alert. The Owls will make two trips to the West Coast, opening the season with a three-game series at Stanford before returning four weeks later to face San Diego. They will host California, a rising Pac-10 program, for a four-game series and will also grapple with Elon (2009 RPI: 24) and Oklahoma State (RPI: 26), along with state rivals Texas (RPI: 2), Texas A&M (RPI: 18) and TCU (RPI: 8). Toss in Texas State (RPI: 34) and Dallas Baptist (RPI: 40), and the Owls have a schedule that will test their presumed might.

Opening with the Cardinal is the kicker. After dropping season-opening series at Long Beach State in 2008 and Cal Poly last season, the Owls will test their luck again in California. Include unsuccessful trips to Fullerton in 2007 and San Jose State in '05, and the Owls have an ignominious stretch of results going out west. Stanford, added in part to fill a void at the top of the schedule created by the uniform start date, could very easily extend that series losing skid.

"Rather than bring in a weak team and pay them a lot of money, we had an opportunity to get a home-and-home with Stanford and we decided to do it," Graham said. "That gives you a little bit of an imbalance (competition-wise), but it also gives you a very tough RPI schedule.

"I don't think it's a bad idea. Stanford is going to play good ball and they're going to have good pitching. We're going to be on the road so it should have a tendency to focus our guys on the fact that they'd better be ready if you're going to open up with that kind of team. This is not supposed to be a down year for Stanford; this is supposed to be an up year compared to some of the years they've had recently."

No matter the level of expectations emanating from Stanford, the Cardinal will certainly offer a far stiffer challenge for the Owls than Central Missouri State did when the Mules played the role of opening-weekend punching bag over a three-year stretch beginning in 2005. Those contests, which Rice won by an aggregate score of 19-2, enabled the Owls to ease into their seasons, two of which ended with their participating in the College World Series in Omaha.

But most everyone would agree that these intersectional battles are far sexier, and while the season is filled with twists and turns, how the Owls perform early against the heavyweights dotting their schedule could give an indication of exactly where they are headed come June. And given the Owls' recent history of brilliance, performing in June is the paramount goal.

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That's an eye opening schedule. They might as well face the best as often as they can since they'll have to beat the best to win the championship. I thought WG was against scheduling TCU. What changed?

Owl-88: I'm wondering the same thing. I'll make sure to ask the next time I chat with The OG. - MK

The TCU game is at the MM tourney so my guess is that it was somewhat out of Wayne's control.

Does "The OG" stand for "Original Gangsta", as in the Ice-T rap song? I have seen this used for a while now, but have to admit that I don't understand. Can you explain the origination and why this is Wayne's nickname? Thanks.

clutj: The origin of the nickname came during the self-aggrandizing reign of Todd Graham as the football coach on South Main. As to not confuse anyone with second references during blog posts for my previous employer, I took to calling Wayne Graham 'The OG,' which stood for 'The Original Graham.' When the fraudulent Graham slithered to Tulsa, 'The OG' stuck in part because, as you so artfully noted, he is an Original Gangsta. I use that with the utmost reverence. - MK

Thanks, MK. I am a very minimal football follower, so I'd already forgotten about that other guy named Graham. Looking forward to your excellent baseball analysis this year. Always enjoyed your stuff in the amazing-shrinking-newspaper, but you'll be able to give much more detail now.

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