Ohio State will carry torch for Big Ten

Follow Kendall Rogers on Twitter at @ysportsncaabb.

No Big Ten team has reached the College World Series since Michigan accomplished the feat in 1984.

Ohio State hopes to end that terrible trend this season.

The Buckeyes have plenty of questions to answer on the mound outside of ace pitcher Alex Wimmers. But their offense will be one of the nation’s best with the return of Dan Burkhart, Chris Kovanda and Michael Stephens.

Minnesota once again will have a solid team with pitchers Seth Rosin and Scott Matyas leading the way.

Michigan and Illinois also are expected to compete for regional at-large bids.

Penn State took a huge step back last season and must find a way to return to respectability. Northwestern, though, could be the Big Ten’s pleasant surprise with the return of some legitimate talent on the mound.

Ohio State is our pick to win the conference crown.

HOW THEY STACK UP

1. Ohio State – The Buckeyes welcome back a sensational offense. The pitching staff will determine their postseason fate.

2. Minnesota – The Golden Gophers definitely have some tough holes to fill, but welcome back enough key players to return to an NCAA regional.

3. Michigan – There is some uncertainty on the mound, but the Wolverines welcome back several key cogs at the plate.

4. Illinois – The Fighting Illini return five position starters and could contend for a regional if the pitching staff rises to the occasion.

5. Michigan State – Jake Boss will continue to help the Spartans make their upward climb this season. It starts with a solid weekend rotation.

6. Purdue – The Boilermakers have a good chance to finish the season with a winning record. They welcome back several key pitchers.

7. Northwestern – The Wildcats return some talent both on the mound and at the plate. They could take a step forward this season.

8. Indiana – The true test of the Hoosiers’ recruiting classes the past few seasons comes this season without several key cogs from last year’s club.

9. Penn State – The Nittany Lions must find a way to regain some swagger. That could be difficult with only the return of five position starters.

10. Iowa – The Hawkeyes have much work to do to return to respectability this season. They’re coming off a dismal campaign.

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

C Dan Burkhart, Ohio State

1B Jerrud Sabourin, Indiana

2B Cory Kovanda, Ohio State

SS AJ Pettersen, Minnesota

3B Jordan Steranka, Penn State

OF Michael Stephens, Ohio State

OF Alex Dickerson, Indiana

OF Ryan LaMarre, Michigan

DH Mike Dufek, Michigan

SP Alex Wimmers, Ohio State

SP Seth Rosin, Minnesota

SP Joe Muraski, Northwestern

RP Scott Matyas, Minnesota

RISING STOCK

Ohio State

Some around the country only might remember the Buckeyes by the dismal showing against Florida State in the Tallahassee Regional last season. But this also is the same team that eliminated Georgia from the postseason. The Buckeyes finished last season with a 42-19 record and are a legitimate Omaha contender if the pitching staff rises to the occasion. The eyes of everyone in the northern region are on the Buckeyes. This team could be Omaha bound.

FALLING STOCK

Penn State

The Nittany Lions appeared to be in great shape after finishing second in the Big Ten two seasons ago. However, they took a huge step back last season with a poor finish and once again are expected to finish near the bottom of the conference standings this season. The Lions have a fantastic facility. Now, they need a consistent Big Ten contending team.

BEST PITCHER

Alex Wimmers, Ohio State

Wimmers arrived on the national scene last season by throwing a no-hitter. Now the junior pitcher expects to have another All-American-type campaign. Wimmers is coming off a dominant sophomore campaign. He started 16 games last season and had a 9-2 record and a 3.27 ERA in 104 2/3 innings. He also struck out 136 and walked 55 and limited teams to a .211 batting average. Wimmers threw four complete games last season and is willing to go the distance in games again this season.

BEST HITTER

Dan Burkhart, Ohio State

The Buckeyes will have one of the nation’s best offensive lineups with Burkhart and others leading the way. The junior catcher has had a fantastic career at OSU, and once again expects to have a productive campaign this season. Burkhart batted .354 with 13 doubles, three triples, 10 homers and 62 RBIs last season. He also slugged .589 and had a .429 on-base percentage. Burkhart also walked 31 times and struck out on just 29 occasions.

REGIONAL CONTENDERS

Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois

The Big Ten earned three postseason bids last season and could accomplish that goal again this season. Ohio State is the only team with a chance at a national seed, but even that percentage is low because the Buckeyes are playing a relatively weak slate out of conference. Minnesota once again will make an NCAA regional, and Michigan is expected to be on the bubble come Selection Monday. Illinois has the longest shot to make a regional, but coach Dan Hartleb has made significant progress. It would be fitting for the Illini to finally make a regional. It’ll be interesting to see how much Ohio State’s potential surge factors into postseason bids for the Big Ten.

QUICK HITS

• Illinois is moving Willie Argo to a full-time role in the field. Argo will play center field after serving as the designated hitter last season. Argo batted .355 with 11 doubles, two triples, 12 homers and 47 RBIs last season. He also slugged .651 and had a .421 on-base percentage. Additionally, he was 10-for-13 in stolen bases.

• Indiana pitcher Matt Carr likely will be out until early April because of an elbow injury. Carr made 21 appearances last season and had a 5.62 ERA in 41 2/3 innings. He also struck out 36 and walked 21 and limited teams to a .266 batting average.

• Michigan has some tough holes to fill in its weekend rotation and moved relievers Matt Miller and Tyler Burgoon to starter roles. Miller made 23 appearances last season and had a 3.40 ERA in 42 1/3 innings. He also struck out 43 and walked 28 and limited teams to a .204 batting average. Burgoon, meanwhile, made 21 appearances and had a 4.86 ERA in 37 innings. Alan Oaks will round out the rotation after only making four starts last season.

• Ohio State will be without pitcher Andrew Armstrong for at least much of the season. Armstrong had surgery last summer and isn’t expected to pitch this season. However, the door is at least being kept open. Armstrong made 11 appearances last season and had an 11.51 ERA in 40 2/3 innings. Teams hit him at a .366 clip.

• Penn State will be without key hitter Blake Lynd this season. Lynd had offseason arm surgery and will redshirt this season. Last season, Lynd batted .350 with 16 RBIs. He also had a .356 slugging percentage and a .437 on-base percentage. He also was 22-for-31 in stolen bases. The Nittany Lions have plenty of question marks entering the season. Not having Lynd further complicates their situation.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Feb 12, 2010