Have you seen this nonconference schedule?
Tennessee. Nebraska. Arkansas. Clemson. West Virginia. Arizona State.
Arizona State twice. Home and away.
If I had to guess, UNLV baseball coach Tim Chambers isn’t all that worried about becoming bowl eligible.
Why can’t the Rebels’ football team play a schedule like this? Why can’t every Rebels team play a schedule like this?
These are rhetorical questions, but with the scheduling contracts he inherited having expired — and having won 37 games last season without an NCAA at-large bid to show for it — Chambers got on the phone and added some heft to UNLV’s 2014 workload.
A ton of heft. Ford Super Duty F-550 with dual rear wheels heft. Jessica Simpson-type heft, before she had the baby and the personal trainers were summoned.
In addition to the household names mentioned above, UNLV also will play Cal State Fullerton, ranked No. 1 in every preseason poll, and at Creighton. Which is one way to get to Omaha, Neb., home to Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, Warren Buffett, Bob Gibson and — last but not least to guys who hit cutoff men during February and March — the College World Series.
Those 37 victories the Rebels earned last season usually are enough to get a team started down the road to Omaha. But UNLV’s Rating Percentage Index was too low.
The Rebels played Tennessee last year, and they swept No. 9 Stanford at Stanford, which was huge and eventually led to UNLV being ranked as high as No. 21.
However, there were far too many games against teams with a direction in their name, or a CSU Bakersfield in their name, and so UNLV did not warrant serious consideration when the tournament committee began doling out at-large bids.
“I’m pumped about it,” Chambers said of the schedule upgrade for his fourth season. “I know the kids are fired up.”
Chambers guided the Rebels to a 33-25 record in his first year on the job and opened that season 17-4, the best start in UNLV history. Not all of those wins came against Valparaiso and Sacred Heart, but seven did.
“It gave us a false sense of security about how good we are,” Chambers said.
If the Rebels go 17-4 before conference play this year, they won’t need to plant one of those ADT Security signs in right field at Wilson Stadium to warn New Mexico and San Diego State. Any security they accrue will be legit.
Besides No. 1 Fullerton, Clemson and Arizona State also are ranked among the preseason top 25. Last year, Arkansas, another team UNLV will play in 2014, was ranked No. 1 during the preseason.
More important is that all of those traditional football powers the Rebels will play are members of solid conferences with high RPI potential.
The RPI can be more complicated than quantum physics and Joaquin Phoenix, but suffice it to say that teams who play good teams also benefit when those good teams play other good teams — which is what happens in the power conferences while UNLV is playing Air Force.
“Thirty-seven wins should be enough to get you in, which is what we had last year,” Chambers said Wednesday from his office overlooking right field at Wilson Stadium as his players continued preparing without him for the home opener against Central Michigan on Valentine’s Day.
Per NCAA rules, coaches aren’t allowed onto the field until Jan. 24. This seems like a dumb rule, but it’s the kind of rule that seems to happen when it’s snowing in the Big Ten cities.
Chambers said the best thing about this year’s schedule, other than its sheer awesomeness from a recognition standpoint, is that he believes the Rebels are talented enough to beat a lot of these teams.
UNLV hosted Fullerton during the fall, when the teams were supposed to play 14 innings the first day and 12 the next. But the Rebels cuffed the Titans around so severely that Fullerton coaches asked for the scoreboard to be shut off after nine innings. They left after 10, sending the CSF players back on the bus without dinner, and without stopping at Barstow Station for so much as a Snickers bar.
In his 27 years of coaching baseball, Chambers says he never has had a team as personally responsible for its actions between and outside the lines as this one. And that includes his national championship team at College of Southern Nevada.
Once again, and unlike most UNLV teams, the baseball roster will feature a ton of homegrown talent. Fifteen of the 33 players listed on the preseason roster are locals.
“I might be wrong, we might get our (behinds) kicked, but I’m telling you right now this is the best team we’ve ever had,” Chambers said. “They think they’re going to Omaha.”
And not just to play Creighton on March 31.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.