With all due respect to TCU football, Horned Frogs baseball might be the best-equipped of all the school's teams to compete with the elite in the Big 12 Conference in its first season.
The Frogs were one of 16 teams in the nation still competing last weekend in the NCAA Super Regionals, and they were doing it with freshmen filling more than half the field.
But success will come much harder than in the Mountain West, where the Frogs have ruled the past seven years, winning the regular-season title outright every season until this year, when New Mexico shared the championship. In the Big 12, however, a conference title is not a prerequisite to earning an NCAA Tournament bid. Most years, this season included, four teams will earn a bid. Sometimes, out of respect for the league's high level of competition, five teams earn bids.
The big difference in the leagues is the overall quality of pitching. The Big 12 showcases some of the best arms in the country. In the MWC, TCU usually had the best pitching, with only San Diego State occasionally matching it on the mound.
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"The ultimate equalizer in baseball is whoever the guy is that stands on the mound," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "So, if your guy is as good or better than the guy on the other team, you always give yourself a chance."
Most of TCU's pitchers return next season, including starters Andrew Mitchell, Stefan Crichton, Preston Morrison and Brandon Finnegan. TCU has the arms, but the margin for error will shrink. Costly errors will burn them quicker against Big 12 offenses.
During Schlossnagle's nine-year tenure at TCU, the Frogs are 46-40 against the Big 12, including postseason games and departing teams Texas A&M and Missouri. Most of those were midweek games when the Frogs were trying to score some ratings percentage index points by beating a Big 12 fourth starter. But in the past few years, as TCU has had as much postseason success as any Big 12 team with a College World Series appearance and three Super Regionals in four years, some of those midweek games have become as important for the opponent as they were for TCU.
Now most of the focus is turned to the weekend series against the league. Attendance at Lupton Stadium, which was No. 1 nationally for private schools and second only to Texas among Big 12 members in 2012, will likely soar with fans journeying to Fort Worth for weekends. Conversely, the proximity of the opponents such as Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma should engender a hardier traveling fan base for the Frogs.
It's a double-edged sword for TCU. Good pitching is what gives the Frogs a chance immediately with the best teams in the league -- Texas, OU and Baylor -- but it also means the stakes are raised and margin for error tightens.
"If you're going to win the Big 12, you're going to have to pitch with the best teams," Schlossnagle said. "In the Big 12, there are schools with a lot of great tradition and commitment, and access to a lot of great players. So, everybody has a chance to have a great program and recruit good pitching."