No many TCU fans have a lot of connection to the Big Ten, especially when it comes to baseball. Can you tell us a little bit about what B1G baseball is all about - what are the crowds like, what kind of baseball is played, who the big dogs in the conference are?
Despite some who would like to split hairs on this point, the Big Ten is generally accepted as one of the top football and basketball conferences. It is decidedly not one of the best baseball conferences. No sport is more susceptible to the whims of weather than baseball, and it is simply very difficult to create sustained success at schools where you cannot play a home game for the entire first month of the season. Wisconsin has not even had a baseball team since 1991. Without sustained success, it can be difficult for some teams to maintain decent fan support. As far as the big dogs in the Big Ten, Indiana has been the most consistent performers in recent years. Meanwhile, Minnesota has vaulted to the top of the conference seemingly out of nowhere.With TCU stepping outside of conference play this weekend to face an unfamiliar foe, we thought it best to sit down with the people that know Penn State best - the esteemed writers of Black Shoe Diaries. Dan Smith of the site was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the Nittany Lions.
This series is taking place on graduation weekend, so there will be larger than usual crowds in State College. That always brings in some extra foot traffic. Add in the pleasant surprise of Penn State being above .500 and I imagine you will see a larger than usual crowd for this game. But I cannot say that it has anything in particular to do with TCU. As it is probably for you guys as well, Penn State fans are only really familiar with TCU through its football program. It's certainly not a negative feeling, though (I would say the Texas school most resented by Penn State fans right now would be Baylor, but that is a discussion for another day). (*** editor's note: that day can be any day actually)
I'm going to answer both of these questions at once, because they sort of go back to the same point: Penn State's strength is its pitching, and its weakness is its lineup. The Nittany Lions have a young, stable rotation and a couple very good relievers. If they can build a lead, they will be confident that closer Jack Anderson and reliever Dakota Forsyth can hold it down.But building that lead will be the bigger challenge. When the offense arrives, it's been good, but when it doesn't, the team is susceptible to being shutout. Still, the top of the order is pretty solid: shortstop Jim Haley and outfielder Greg Guers and Nick Riotto are probably the three key guys, and the right side of the infield with Connor Klemann and Willie Burger have been coming along as well.
Penn State's pitchers don't throw particularly hard, so this matchup favors the Horned Frogs. The only unusual thing you will see is that the closer Anderson is a submarine pitcher.
State College has a longtime tradition of overcast and rainy days, so I cannot promise that more people won't get wet.
TCU is the ranked team, and Penn State is having a nice season but is not by any means elite. So the threat of a sweep is there. But I will say Penn State takes one game in this series, because I'm a bet hedger from way back.
I will take the over, I have a hard time imagining things going smoothly for the Jets and that likely means Hackenberg playing before they want him to. And while I am terrified of what Chan Gailey will do to Hackenberg, I am still an unrepentant homer who believes he has the ability to become a good pro. His downfield accuracy goes in and out, but his short throw issues are the product of the current Penn State coaching staff fouling up his footwork and calling a terrible offense. There has been significant turnover for Penn State football's offensive coaching staff this offseason, and the failures of the last two years have a lot to do with how they failed Christian Hackenberg. He may never turn into anything, but I don't take the last two years as evidence that he can't play. This was way more than a bad offensive line, it was a failure on nearly all levels of coaching.