The 2023 Arkansas baseball season is finally upon us. That means it’s once again time for Andrew Hutchinson, now the managing editor at Best of Arkansas Sports, to make his annual week-by-week predictions…
2023 Arkansas Baseball Predictions
Week 1 — vs. Texas (Feb. 17), vs. TCU (Feb. 18), vs. Oklahoma State (Feb. 19)
Much like it did two years ago, the Arkansas baseball team is opening the season away from Baum-Walker Stadium by playing in the College Baseball Showdown at Globe Life Field. That proved to be the start of a historic season, as the Razorbacks swept a trio of eventual regional hosts on their way to earning the No. 1 overall seed.
However, these early-season tournaments aren’t always an indication of what’s to come. Arkansas went 1-2 at events in Alabama and California in 2015 and 2018, respectively, but still made it to Omaha. In 2016, it won all three games at the Houston College Classic, but missed the postseason completely.
I bring all of that up to say: Don’t panic if the Razorbacks don’t come out of the gates red-hot like they did in 2021. A good chunk of the lineup will be playing their first games in an Arkansas uniform and the pitching staff, while extremely deep, is still trying to sort through everyone’s role.
Nothing would surprise me — from 3-0 to 0-3 — on the opening weekend of the season, but I’m going with a 1-2 record that will, despite my best efforts, send fans jumping off the bandwagon.
Week 2 — vs. Grambling (Feb. 21), vs. Eastern Illinois (Feb. 24-26)
The home opener isn’t until the following Tuesday, when Grambling comes to town for a single midweek matchup. The Razorbacks should rather easily get back to .500 — they have never lost to a team from the SWAC and it’s usually a blowout.
Eastern Illinois is the first of three OVC teams Arkansas is set to play. It’s a familiar foe, having visited Fayetteville for a weekend series five times from 2014-20. The Razorbacks won 14 of those 15 games and lead the all-time series 32-2, but the Panthers have played them tight several times.
Ryan Ignoffo is a force to be reckoned with at the plate, hitting .395 with 14 home runs and 58 RBIs last season and now back as a super senior, but I see the Razorbacks taking care of business with a sweep.
Week 3 — vs. Illinois State (March 1), vs. Wright State (March 3-5)
After handing Arkansas its first season-opening loss since 1994 last season, Illinois State returns to Fayetteville for a single midweek matchup in 2023. The Redbirds also gave the Razorbacks a scare in the next two games before struggling to a 20-31 record. They won’t sneak up on Arkansas this year.
It may not be a big-name school, but Wright State is a very good baseball program. The Raiders have reached the NCAA Tournament in five of the last seven seasons and are picked to win the Horizon League again this season. Fans may not recognize it as such, but a sweep this weekend will be the first sign that Arkansas is still a dominant team worthy of a top-10 ranking.
Week 4 — vs. Army (March 7), vs. Louisiana Tech (March 10-12)
Army won’t be a pushover, as it’s picked to win the six-team Patriot League and nearly its entire infield is on the preseason all-conference team, but it should be another quality win for the Razorbacks.
Louisiana Tech is another mid-major baseball power and will be looking for revenge for when Arkansas took two of three down in Ruston, La., a couple of years ago. It is the perfect final tuneup before SEC play. I could easily see this coming down to a tight rubber match on Sunday.
Arkansas Baseball Begins SEC Play
Week 5 — vs. UNLV (March 14-15), vs. Auburn (March 17-19)
After three straight weeks of single-game midweek matchups, UNLV will come to Fayetteville for a pair of games just before the start of conference play. The Hustlin’ Rebels won the regular-season MWC title last year and are picked to win the league again, led by three all-conference returners. If that’s not enough to tell you how good UNLV is, consider the fact that Dave Van Horn consistently brings it up as one of Arkansas’ toughest non-conference opponents on the schedule. With SEC play looming, I think the Razorbacks get caught looking ahead and split the two games.
Getting beat during the week might not be the worst thing in the world. It’ll refocus the team ahead of a brutal SEC slate and Auburn will feel the brunt of that. The Tigers have made it to Omaha twice in the past three NCAA Tournaments, but aren’t getting a ton of preseason respect. I could easily see them getting off to a hot start and climbing into the top 15, only to run into a buzzsaw at Baum-Walker Stadium — similar to Kentucky in the opening SEC series in 2018.
Record: 16-4 (3-0)
Week 6 — vs. SEMO (March 21), at LSU (March 24-26)
Yet another mid-major program picked to win its conference, Southeast Missouri State will be more of a challenge than some fans may expect, but fresh off a sweep of Auburn, the Razorbacks will be rolling. They could get caught looking ahead to LSU, but I believe it’ll be a quality non-conference win.
LSU is the unanimous preseason No. 1 team this season. The Tigers return potential No. 1 overall draft pick Dylan Crews and several other key players, plus added the top transfer portal class in the country, landing guys like Tommy White and Paul Skenes. Needless to say, they are loaded. Plus, even though the Razorbacks have won its last three series against LSU, they have traditionally struggled in the series. Arkansas might steal a game, but the Tigers’ typical voodoo will be too much to overcome in Baton Rouge.
Record: 18-6 (4-2)
Week 7 — vs. Omaha (March 28), vs. Alabama (March 31-April 2)
The Mavericks have a preseason All-American in Caleb Riedel, but Arkansas likely won’t see him because he’s a weekend starter and this is a single midweek game. They’re picked third in the seven-team Summit League — a conference traditionally dominated by Oral Roberts. This should be a relatively easy matchup compared to some of the others on Arkansas’ schedule.
Even though it doesn’t have a single player on either preseason All-SEC team, Alabama has been trending in a positive direction under sixth-year head coach Brad Bohannon. Last year, the Crimson Tide prevented the Razorbacks from winning the SEC West by beating them in the final two games of the regular season — including an 18-5 beatdown in the rubber match. Then Alabama beat them at the SEC Tournament. Arkansas gets its revenge by winning the series at Baum-Walker Stadium this year.
Record: 21-7 (6-3)
Week 8 — vs. Arkansas State (April 4), at Ole Miss (April 6-8)
In the first of three straight midweeks against in-state foes, Arkansas State comes to Fayetteville and returns to Jonesboro with a blowout loss. Simply put, the Red Wolves aren’t very good. They went 11-38 overall and 5-24 in the Sun Belt last season, which hurt the Razorbacks’ RPI.
Most attention is on the following weekend, but Week 8 should also be a heated and emotionally charged series. Arkansas and Ole Miss have developed a really good rivalry over the past few years, with numerous matchups in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. That includes the Razorbacks beating the Rebels in the 2019 Fayetteville Super Regional and the result flipping last year at the College World Series, which Ole Miss won for the first time ever. It will come down to the final few innings, but Ole Miss defends its home field and takes the series.
Record: 23-9 (7-5)
Week 9 — vs. Little Rock (April 11-12), vs. Tennessee (April 14-16)
When Arkansas finally started playing in-state programs a few years ago, Little Rock visited Baum-Walker Stadium and pulled off a surprising 17-7 upset. Since then, though, the Razorbacks have won all three matchups. That streak should reach five, as long as they don’t get caught looking ahead.
Ah yes, the series everyone is looking forward to. We were robbed of this matchup last season because of the way the schedules fell, but Arkansas and Tennessee played a heated series in Knoxville two years ago. The Razorbacks came out on top, but what everyone remembers was the postgame spat between Dave Van Horn and Tony Vitello. Attendance records will fall this weekend, assuming the weather is nice, and Arkansas will be fired up, so it at least takes two of three — but I honestly wouldn’t be stunned by a sweep.
Record: 27-10 (9-6)
Week 10 — vs. UCA (April 18), at Georgia (April 20-22)
UCA gave the Razorbacks quite the scare at Dickey-Stephens Park last season, as Arkansas needed extra innings to avoid the upset, but when the two teams have met in Fayetteville — like they will this year — an Arkansas player has hit for the cycle and the Razorbacks have won in blowout fashion. I’m not ready to predict a cycle, although Tavian Josenberger is fully capable of doing it, but Arkansas wins big.
For the first time since 2018, Arkansas will travel to Athens, Ga., for a series. That year, the Bulldogs won a pair of one-run games to prevent the Razorbacks from winning the SEC West title outright. Georgia should be good this year, but may not be the top-10 team it was that year. Considering who else it plays this season, this might be the Razorbacks’ best shot to win an SEC road series — and I think they get it done.
Record: 30-11 (11-7)
Week 11 — at Missouri State (April 25), vs. Texas A&M (April 27-29)
One of Arkansas’ top non-conference rivals, Missouri State has fallen on hard times of late, hovering around or below .500 since 2019. However, the Bears got hot down the stretch, won the MVC Tournament and came close to facing Arkansas in the Stillwater Regional final, but blew a 12-0 lead against Oklahoma State. They return several key players from that team, including three hitters with double-digit home runs. This could be a classic shootout, but Arkansas comes out on top.
That momentum will follow the Razorbacks back to Fayetteville, as they take care of business against a Texas A&M team that also reached the College World Series semifinals last season and was picked second in the SEC West.
Record: 33-12 (13-8)
Week 12 — vs. Lipscomb (May 2), at Mississippi State (May 5-7)
The annual game at Dickey-Stephens Park is against Lipscomb this year. On paper, this should be a win for the Razorbacks. However, they’d traditionally played really tight games down there, even against bad teams. Lipscomb is decent — picked fourth in the 14-team ASUN — so this one will go down to the wire, but Arkansas avoids the upset.
Having won three straight SEC series, the Razorbacks will head to Starkville as one of the hottest teams in the country. That will be important because Mississippi State, despite being picked last in the division, should bounce back from last year’s National Championship hangover. All three games will be close, but the Razorbacks will win two of them.
Record: 36-13 (15-9)
Week 13 — vs. South Carolina (May 12-14)
Baum-Walker Stadium should be buzzing ahead of Arkansas’ final regular-season home series. The Gamecocks are a top-25 team in some preseason polls, but they’ll run into a buzzsaw this weekend, as the Razorbacks put themselves in the middle of the SEC West race with a sweep.
Record: 39-13 (18-9)
Week 14 — at Vanderbilt (May 18-20)
With a chance to capture at least a share of the division title, Arkansas will stay hot in Game 1 against Vanderbilt and win big. However, the Commodores will bounce back with a pair of tight wins the next two days, preventing the Razorbacks from winning the West. It will be reminiscent of 2018, 2019 and 2022 — each of which ended in Omaha.
Record: 40-15 (19-11)
Arkansas Baseball Postseason Prediction
National Seed, Return to College World Series
Even if the Razorbacks lay an egg at the SEC Tournament, which is what they usually do, they will have already done enough in the regular season to earn a national seed — and likely a top-8 seed, which would allow them to host a regional and super regional.
Most years, an 18-12 SEC record is good enough to host a regional. That didn’t happen last year, though, because Arkansas had an incredibly weak non-conference schedule that hurt its RPI. Dave Van Horn took that to heart and constructed a schedule that puts the Razorbacks in position to have a really good RPI.
Not only will that help Arkansas get home field advantage throughout the postseason, but it will prepare them for what another deep run. Before Jaxon Wiggins needed Tommy John, I was prepared to make the bold prediction that the Razorbacks finally get over the hump and win a national title this season.
I am still a huge believer in this pitching staff and think they can still make it back to Omaha, but I’m not quite ready to say they win it all. Of course, once you get to the College World Series, anything can happen. Maybe this is the year, but I don’t want to predict that before a single pitch is thrown.
Hutch’s Previous Predictions
No. 2 seed in regional, super regional sleeper
No. 5 national seed, reached CWS
Regional host, but not top-8 seed, possible super regional
No. 1 national seed, lost in super regional
National seed, return to CWS
No. 2 seed in regional, reached CWS
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