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Lamentable Schedule?

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As The OG confidently yet cautiously opined on the Owls' rousing start to the final month of the regular season, he struck a chord on a topic that has been central to this season: the Owls' 2010 schedule. As Rice (27-16, 11-4 C-USA) continues its breathless and hopeful RPI ascent (23 following the victory over Texas State on Tuesday), the Owls' rugged non-conference schedule grows in significance. Depending on where you stand, either it was too ambitious or just tough enough for a program that harbored preseason national title hopes.

Fittingly, The OG appears to be straddling the fence. Should the Owls continue to build off their staggering start against strong competition, that difficult schedule will get some credit for hardening the Owls. Should Rice fall just short of its stated goal of hosting the Houston Regional at The Reck because of a few non-conference losses, some will blame the schedule which, in conjunction with the annually stifling academic rigors, made for tough sledding early.

"Academics combined with our schedule this year has been a big load," The OG said. "We shouldn't have scheduled like we did. It's too tough here to do that. And you know, if it works out for us we'll say it was a great rite of passage, but it is a little too rough. We don't plan to schedule that rough anymore."

Finding a secure place to stand on this issue is tricky. The Owls' preseason non-conference schedule was ranked 10th nationally, audacious for sure but not overwhelming for a team with such a strong veteran clubhouse. In hindsight, one could argue that a team with suspect and inexperienced pitching bit off more than it could chew by scheduling four non-conference series against programs with ISRs currently ranked in the top 30 (I'm counting Texas in this instance because the Owls played the Longhorns thrice this season - at The Reck, at The Disch and Minute Maid Park) and home-&-home sets against four quality regional opponents:

@Stanford (ISR: 24)
Texas (ISR: 3)
California (ISR: 12)
@San Diego (ISR: 29)

Lamar (ISR: 139)
Houston (ISR: 80)
Texas State (ISR: 38)
Sam Houston State (ISR: 172)

The Owls finished a combined 4-9 in those four non-conference series and are 5-1 in the home-&-home series with one game at UH remaining. The fact that the Owls finished 1-6 on the road in those non-conference series is somewhat telling, but their annual swoon in California is what garnered attention and sparked debate. Only time will tell whether the Owls can recover from their slow start, but even the toughest of schedules shouldn't stall a program this powerful, even a schedule combined with a ridiculously challenging academic calendar. For a staff that has nurtured this program into an annual title threat, remorse isn't required.

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10 Comments

MK -- Please remind me -- is JT the pitcher who reminded you of CSC in the preseason? If yes, does he still? Also, will you be traveling to Charleston?

owl-1983: No, that's Duffey - real nice kid off the field, but a mean streak and strong competitive drive between the lines. Watching Chargois tonight, he kind of reminds me of Bryce Cox. - MK

What is a BRC glare delay?

owl-1983: The BioScience Research Collaborative building had a nasty glare a couple innings ago. It was mesmerizing and retina-singeing simultaneously. - MK

Tough schedules in the pre-conference slate have been OK in years past when our starting pitching has been more settled than it was this year. We just had so much uncertainty on the mound, coupled by a lot of guys tensed up due to their draft status and you get a lot of losses. Yes, we had a tough schedule, but that was by no means the only issue on the table.

I'm with you, MK - I think Wayne should have no regrets about the schedule. I'm firmly in the "beat the best to be the best" camp.

The crazy thing is, though, that the distinguishing feature of our schedule isn't how hard our opponents are, but how much time we spend the on the road. According to warrennolan.com, Rice has played 21 at home and 20 on the road. Certainly seems reasonable, but then if you look at the 23 teams ahead of us in his estimated RPI, they've played 625(!) at home and only 353 on the road.

That disparity is the hidden toughness in our schedule. The only two teams ahead of us in Nolan's RPI who've played a higher % on the road are Fullerton (20h, 20r) and UConn (16h, 23r).

But again, I think Wayne has nothing to apologize for. The schedule for Texas (the worst offender), on the other hand, is just crazy -- 33 at home and 10 on the road.

JOwl: I certainly should have emphasized that point with more veracity, because once the Owls close the season with a schedule heavy on home games, it will be easy to forget just how many they played on the road to open the season. - MK

MK, IMO, it was the impossible road schedule, far more than the SoS, that took it's toll in our OOC games. While we've always had the difficult SoS in OOC games, I cannot remember EVER having the road schedule we had this season. For a top program that is simply unheard of, and unnecessary.

Walt: Indeed, that is the greater point here. Two trips to Cali in one season, especially playing quality teams on both occasions, was a bit much. And we'll see how the team handles the weekend in Charleston, a trip back home, then a quick flight up to Stillwater on Tuesday. As you noted, the road hopping has been a challenge, but a process that has made the Owls determined away from home. - MK

Following up on last posting, in recent memory have we been able to get a quality team to come to us early in the season? I don't recall any reciprocity from any of the California teams. Perhaps Virginia or UNC would come to Houston early? Or do all top programs (other than us) avoid that kind of competition?

John C: Well, the Owls have hosted San Diego, Cal Poly, Long Beach State and Fullerton in recent years, so I would say those trips have been reciprocated. - MK

If you want to be the best' you have to play and beat the best. That is what we did this year, played the best, but did not make a good showing by losing 9 of those games. What I am seeing at this point of the season is a group starting to peak, and just at the right time. In the last 10 games, we have scored116 runs and the opponent 48. We have gone 8 and 2 during this time.
MK, what do you think about our "peaking" at this time and do you think our pitching will be able to carry us to the the regionals and on to the CWS.

James: I do think that the team has rounded into form, but I'm still concerned about the pitching depth. The Owls' staff will be put to the test this weekend here in Charleston, but it's going to take some juggling to get this staff to Omaha. - MK

I think the team's schedule was fine. Tough, but not impossibly so. If those early games had been against elite teams on the road, then it would have been too tough. But we were 2 dropped fly balls from going 3-3 in the California games instead of 1-5. And the point on our unsettled pitching early is also good.

Keep the schedules tough Coach! Unless more home games = more ticket revenue = MK keeps job. Then schedule some creampuff homes games...

I really feel like, at the end of the day, our schedule doesn't affect how many consistent pitchers are on the staff, and that continues to be the weakest point of the team.

Echoing a point in the last couple of posts, staff depth is definitely the weakness of this team. From here on out, we need Wall and Ojala to get deep into games and then we can piece it together from there. If those guys can give us around half the innings we pitch in a 3 gm series (12-14 IP...more would be great), we will be in great shape.

Last year, we managed our way through the loser's bracket a bit in the regional and still had enough to get it done. This year, we don't have the dpeth for that. We have to get those 1st 2 games and with Taylor and Mike going, I like our chances.

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