The 2011 college baseball season kicks off Friday afternoon with plenty of good weekend matchups. In the Mountain West Conference, the Air Force Falcons, the New Mexico Lobos, the TCU Horned Frogs and the Utah Utes highlight the weekend's schedule.
Air Force Falcons (2011 record: 13-42)
The Falcons will participate in the Texas State Tournament from Feb. 18-20 in San Marcos, Texas. They face the Missouri State Tigers on Friday at 12:00 p.m., the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday at 12:00 p.m. and the Washington Huskies and the Texas State Bobcats in a double-header on Sunday.
Senior outfielder Nathan Carter, brother of major leaguer Chris, was recently named the Falcons' captain for the 2011 season. He is a career .290/.408/.554 with 26 triples, 20 home runs and 47 stolen bases. Evan Abrecht, moving full-time into the rotation, and Sean Carley will be the top pitchers this season.
Maj. Mike Kazlausky, a graduate of the academy, will make his coaching debut for the Falcons.
New Mexico Lobos (38-22)
The Lobos play a four-game series against the Arizona State Sun Devils in Tempe. Arizona State has one of the best offenses in the nation, but they have been banned from postseason play for violations under former head coach Pat Murphy. This will be a good test for New Mexico to start the season.
The Lobos will feature a very young team this season as most of their upperclassmen departed after the 2010 season. On media day, head coach Ray Birmingham recently called sophomore catcher Mitchell Garver a player who could make the big leagues. A part-time player in 2010, Garver will assume a much larger role this season.
TCU Horned Frogs (54-14)
The Horned Frogs host the Kansas Jayhawks, whom the Big 12 coaches voted to finish ninth in the league. Being ranked No. 3 by Baseball America, No. 2 in the Coaches poll and first in two other polls, TCU is head and shoulders above the rest of the Mountain West and the majority of the college baseball world.
Lefty ace Matt Purke will receive the most attention, but fellow starters Kyle Winkler (Jr.) and Steven Maxwell (Sr.), the MWC 2010 Pitcher of the Year, give TCU one of the top weekend rotations. Outfielder Jason Coats leads the team's offense as the top all-around talent among the position players.
All three games will be televised on The Mtn.
Utah Utes (23-28)
Reigning MWC Player of the Year C.J. Cron leads the Utes to Berkeley, Calif., to start the season. Cron belted 20 home runs in 2010 and should be good for at least 20 more this season. He will likely start at catcher, but he also is expected to play first base as well. Rick Anton will take over as the Friday starter.
Cal is ranked No. 17 by Baseball America, but this will be the program's last season. Cal announced previously that the school would cut the baseball program with a number of other programs, and while several programs were saved, baseball was not one of them.
Right-handed pitchers Erik Johnson and Dixon Anderson and left-handed pitcher Justin Jones will be a tough challenge for Cron and the Utes.
Rest of the MWC
Maine at UNLV
Winthrop at San Diego State
BYU at Northwestern State