The 2012 Big Ten softball season is set to begin this week with 10 teams taking to the diamond on the opening weekend of play. Nebraska opens the season on Thursday, while Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State and Penn State begin on Friday, and Minnesota opens its season on Saturday. Wisconsin begins the new year on Feb. 17, and Purdue opens its season on Feb. 18.
Four conference teams received votes in one or both national preseason polls. Reigning Big Ten Champion Michigan appears at No. 15 in the NFCA poll and No. 16 in the USA Softball Rankings, while Nebraska comes in at No. 21 in the NFCA ranks and No. 20 in the USA Softball poll. Ohio State and Northwestern were among other squads also receiving votes in the NFCA poll.
2012 Big Ten Softball Preseason Storylines:
- The Big Ten returns four NFCA All-Americans and 12 All-Region performers.
- Six Big Ten players were named to the 2012 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Top 50 Watch List, one of four conferences with six or more players earning that distinction. Read blog.
- Big Ten softball teams return 27 All-Conference performers (including Nebraska) from a season ago, including Big Ten Player of the Year Amanda Chidester of Michigan. Each Big Ten team will return at least one All-Conference honoree from a year ago.
- Nine first-team performers, 10 second-team standouts and eight third-team honorees (Big Ten or Big 12) return to their respective squads this season.
- In the first six weeks of the 2012 season, Big Ten teams will make 119 appearances against teams that finished in the top 50 of the final 2011 RPI. Seven Big Ten programs are scheduled to face 10 or more teams that finished in the top 50 of the final 2011 RPI.
- In the first six weeks of the 2012 season, Big Ten teams will make 64 appearances against squads that are ranked in the top 25 of the preseason national rankings. Six teams are scheduled to face six or more teams with preseason top-25 rankings during the non-conference season.
- Prior to the start of the conference season, Big Ten programs will make 117 appearances against teams that were part of the NCAA Tournament field in 2011, an average of 9.75 per team.Of those 117 non-conference contests against 2011 NCAA Tournament teams, 24 will be against teams that advanced to the Women’s College World Series.
- Big Ten teams combine to compete in 50 different preseason tournaments during the first six weeks of the season. Only one such tournament will be hosted by a Big Ten school (Hoosier Classic, March 16-18).
- Each Big Ten team will play at least 24 games away from home to start the season, including five teams that will play 28 or more games away from home to begin the new year.