Football season might be over and March Madness isn't that far away, but the Mountain West's year in baseball shouldn't be overlooked because, if the projection at D1Baseball.com is any indication, the conference figures to be very competitive all season long.
With that in mind, we at Mountain West Connection want to provide you, the discerning baseball enthusiast, with a brief snapshot of the best non-conference series the MWC has to offer.
Air Force at Iowa, April 12 & 13: The Big Ten may not be the first conference you think of when it comes to college baseball, but the Hawkeyes project to be in the mix for an NCAA berth. A series split for the Falcons could be considered a victory in itself, especially if they have to face senior right-hander Calvin Mathews, who was 5-3 with a 2.43 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings.
Mathews, along with RHP/1B Tyler Peyton and SS Nick Roscetti, were recently named preseason all-B1G selections, as well.
Fresno State at Texas A&M, March 11-13: SEC power extends to the diamond, y'all, where the Aggies opened the season at #3 in Baseball America's preseason rankings. They'll be led by outfielder Nick Banks, a first-team Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American and conference player of the year candidate who slugged .364/.450/.536 in 2015, and third-team AA Mark Ecker, who held opponents to a .195 average, punched out 36 batters, and tallied eight saves in 33 innings.
St. John's vs. Nevada, March 18-20: The Red Storm appear to be the favorites to emerge from the Big East, so they should be a worthy test for the reloading Wolfpack. If Nevada can get a lead, they'll do themselves a favor and avoid star SJU reliever Thomas Hackimer, the conference's preseason pitcher of the year. Hackimer set a St. John's record with 15 saves last year, and he also racked up 55 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings of work.
Dallas Baptist vs. New Mexico, March 4-6: The class of the Missouri Valley Conference has its sights set once more on a College World Series berth, which means the Lobos should have an opportunity to pad their resume with a series win at home. DBU's attack is headlined by senior outfielder Justin Wall, who led the Patriots in hits, home runs and nearly every other offensive category in 2015.
San Diego State at Oregon State, March 28 & 29: The former national champions are Pac-12 favorites and, once again, in the mix for a trip to Omaha. While the Aztecs are no slouches themselves, upending a top-five squad will be a challenge. They boast one of the best closers in the nation in Mitch Hickey and impact bats in sophomore first baseman K.J. Harrison and freshman shortstop Nick Madrigal.
UC Irvine vs. San Jose State, February 19-21: The Spartans may have a rough go of it in 2016, but a four-game series against the Anteaters to open to year could tell us about their hardiness right away. They'll need to contain UCI outfielder Keston Hiura, who hit .330/.392/.520 as the Big West's freshman of the year in 2015 and has been a fixture on preseason lists this winter.
UNLV at Cal State Fullerton, April 22-24: A series win against the Big West's odds-on favorites, a Titans team with real aspirations of returning to Omaha, will be a tall order for the Rebels. Head coach Rick Vanderhook expects sophomore hurlers Josh Gavin and Connor Seabold to lead the way on the mound, while senior outfielder Josh Vargas is one to watch in the field.