SEC Corrects Mistake, Gives Fans What They Want + Other Takeaways from 2023 Baseball Schedule

Vitello, Vols Added to Hogs' Home Slate

Tony Vitello, Dave Van Horn, Arkansas baseball
photo credit: Tennessee Athletics / Arkansas Athletics

The mistake didn’t even make it to the weekend, giving Arkansas — and Tennessee — baseball fans something to celebrate in the middle of football season.

The SEC, just two days after revealing it, rescinded its 2023 conference slate because of “an error in the scheduling process,” the league announced last month. Two matchups not scheduled to take place until 2024 somehow made their way into the schedule, so a “revised” version will come “in the near future.”

At last, said future has arrived.

After being reported by D1Baseball’s Kendall Rogers back on Sept. 16, the SEC has now confirmed that Arkansas will, in fact, host Tennessee at Baum-Walker Stadium this coming season.

The highly anticipated matchup will likely be a top-10 showdown. It will definitely be one of the most entertaining series in all of college baseball in 2023. But more on that below.

To make room for the Volunteers, Missouri was dropped from the schedule and most of the series were switched around. Only three of the 10 SEC series remained on the same weekend as originally scheduled – road series at Georgia, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.

Now that everything has been ironed out, here are our biggest takeaways from the 2023 Arkansas baseball schedule…

1. SEC Fixes Egregious Error

When the first version of this story ran roughly 24 hours following the scheduling announcement, Best of Arkansas Sports’ sixth takeaway was that Tennessee got left off the schedule again. College baseball was deprived of what would have certainly been an epic showdown in 2022 and it seemed like the same would happen in 2023.

Thankfully, that won’t be the case, as Tennessee comes to Fayetteville for a three-game series beginning April 14. Mix the success of both programs with fan bases that don’t like each other and the storylines surrounding Dave Van Horn and Tony Vitello, and we can count on fireworks at Baum-Walker Stadium.

The Volunteers took the college baseball world by storm last season, not only dominating their opponents, but doing so with a style that rubbed some fans the wrong way. At the helm of it all is Vitello, the former Arkansas assistant who has rapidly turned Tennessee into a national power.

We got a taste of the budding rivalry in 2021 when the teams played a heated series in Knoxville, Tenn., that Arkansas won 2 games to 1. Vitello and Van Horn got into an argument following Game 3 and the two teams matched up again in the SEC Championship Game, which Arkansas won to capture its first SEC Tournament title.

That was part of a historic season for the Razorbacks, who were far and away the best team in the country, only to get knocked off in the Super Regional and watch Tennessee make it to Omaha. In 2022, the roles were reversed. The Volunteers quickly rose to No. 1 in the polls and were the team to beat until getting upset in the Super Regional while the Razorbacks made it to the College World Series.

When the revised schedule comes out, this is undoubtedly a series fans will circle.

2. Hit the Ground Running

Much like they did to start their historic 2021 season, the Razorbacks are jumping right into things by playing in the College Baseball Showdown at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas on the opening weekend of the season.

From Feb. 17-19, Arkansas will play a trio of Big 12 teams — Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU — in a yet-to-be-determined order. Each of those programs has a rich college baseball tradition and should be a stout test, even if all of them aren’t top-10 teams like two years earlier.

Then, Arkansas actually swept that event, beating No. 3 Texas Tech, No. 9 Texas and No. 10 TCU, giving fans an idea of what was to come, but these early-season tournaments don’t always mean much. In 2016, the Razorbacks went 3-0 at the Houston College Classic, but missed the postseason. Two years later, they went 2-2 with losses to Cal Poly and San Diego on a California trip and were an out away from winning a national title.

That said, the results here could loom large at the end of the season when it comes to RPI, NCAA Tournament seeding and potentially hosting a regional or super regional.

These games should also be fun for fans. Arkansas and Oklahoma State played some classic games in the 2022 Stillwater Regional, while Texas and TCU are old SWC rivals – with the Longhorns a soon-to-be SEC rival.

3. No Place Like Home

One of the first things you notice when glancing over the schedule graphic shared by the Arkansas baseball Twitter account is the lack “@“ symbols in the first chunk of the season.

After opening the year in Arlington, the Razorbacks return to Fayetteville for a 19-game homestand. Then, following a series at LSU, they’re back at Baum-Walker Stadium for another five straight games.

Arkansas will play 24 of its first 30 games inside the friendly confines of Baum-Walker Stadium. But there is a bit of a price to pay for that front-loaded schedule later, as the Razorbacks will be away from home quite a bit down the stretch. Only 12 of their final 26 games are in Fayetteville.

The tweaks made by the SEC actually evened out the schedule a little bit, as Arkansas was originally scheduled to play only 7 of its final 21 games at Baum-Walker Stadium. It will now not play any back-to-back series on the road or at home, as they alternate each weekend.

4. Non-Conference Slate is…Better.

Last season, one reason Arkansas baseball wasn’t chosen as a regional host – despite a 38-18 overall record and 18-12 conference record – was because of its poor RPI, which sat at No. 41 on selection day.

Normally a record like that, especially in the SEC, is good enough to at least earn a top-16 national seed, but the Razorbacks’ RPI was severely hindered by an atrocious non-conference slate. They played a whopping 17 games against teams with an RPI outside of the top 150 and the result was the 251st-ranked non-conference strength of schedule.

That was a lot worse than the previous four seasons, when Arkansas had an average non-conference strength of schedule of 100th and was chosen as a regional host.

Beyond the aforementioned opening weekend, the 2023 slate looks underwhelming again, but a closer look reveals that Dave Van Horn did make some adjustments to improve that aspect of the schedule.

First of all, the trio of Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas (average RPI of 21) is much better than the trio of Indiana, Louisiana-Lafayette and Stanford (average RPI of 54)

Secondly, Arkansas has pulled back on the in-state games, which Van Horn hinted at during the season. After scheduling two games against all four in-state DI schools (one of the Little Rock matchups was rained out), the Razorbacks are playing only one of them twice in 2023.

That team is Little Rock, which makes sense considering Van Horn’s ties to the Trojans’ head coach – Chris Curry is one of his former assistants – and the fact that, in terms of RPI, it was the best of the four in-state schools at No. 188. The Razorbacks will play Central Arkansas (RPI No. 207) and Arkansas State (RPI No. 247) once apiece and they didn’t schedule UAPB (RPI No. 299) at all.

On top of that, Arkansas is playing only one game against Grambling (RPI No. 277) opposed to two like last year. Instead of having four games against the SWAC on the schedule like 2022, it has only the one in 2023.

Outside of those, the Razorbacks have just two other games against teams that finished with RPIs outside of the top 150 last season – midweek matchups with Illinois State (RPI No. 187) and Omaha (RPI No. 214).

Finally, the non-conference weekend series look better, too, at least on paper. Louisiana Tech is a very good baseball program just two years removed from hosting a regional and had a No. 35 RPI last year, while Eastern Illinois and Wright State had RPIs in the 140s. The three had an average RPI of 106 last season.

The three teams Arkansas welcomed to Buam-Walker Stadium for weekend series last year – Illinois State, Southeastern Louisiana and Illinois-Chicago – had an average RPI of 166. Of course, part of that was bad luck on the Razorbacks’ part, as they were expected to be better than they were. In fact, they had an average RPI of 133 the year before and only SELA took the expected step forward.

The Razorbacks also have a pair of midweek games against teams that are no strangers to finishing in the top 100 of the RPI – hosting Southeast Missouri State (RPI No. 68) and traveling to Missouri State (RPI No. 89) – and a pair of two-game midweek series against Army (RPI No. 147) and UNLV (RPI No. 111).

It’s not the sexy non-conference slate it had in 2018, but from an RPI perspective, Arkansas baseball should be in a better spot than last year, when it was dragged down by 17 games against teams with RPIs outside of the top 150. If things play out similarly to last year, it could play only seven such games in 2023.

5. The Dickey-Stephens Park Game

One game not mentioned above is a non-conference matchup with Lipscomb on May 2. That’s because it is scheduled to be Arkansas’ annual trip to Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock.

A member of the ASUN, Lipscomb is coming off a solid season in which it went 35-23 and tied for the regular-season conference title with a 20-10 mark. That helped it finish at No. 143 in the RPI.

The Bison have been a pretty decent ballclub. They struggled in 2021, but were off to a really good start when the 2020 season was called off and they posted a No. 165 RPI ranking in 2019. Last year, they won a midweek matchup at Louisville.

Throw in the fact that Arkansas doesn’t always play its best in North Little Rock – it needed extra innings to beat UCA, a team it crushed 21-9 just three weeks earlier, last year – and it could be a very competitive game.

6. SEC Road Slate = Murderer’s Row

The SEC is never easy, but last year’s conference slate lined up in a way that seemed to benefit Arkansas baseball. Most of the perceived tough matchups were set to be played at Baum-Walker Stadium, while the easier games were on the road.

Naturally, that has completely flip-flopped for 2023. Traditional SEC West powers Ole Miss, LSU and Mississippi State will host the Razorbacks, as will Georgia and Vanderbilt from the East.

The Rebels just won their first national championship. The Bulldogs are coming off an unusual down year and finished dead last in the SEC, but they won it all the year before. The Tigers put together arguably the strongest class out of the transfer portal and should be even better. Georgia finished tied for second in the SEC East last year and Vanderbilt, despite being “down,” still had a top-10 RPI.

Even with SEC cellar dweller Missouri getting replaced by Tennessee and two other teams – Auburn and Texas A&M – that were national seeds and made it to Omaha last year also being on it, the Razorbacks’ home slate doesn’t seem quite as daunting.

That’s because the other two teams coming to Baum-Walker Stadium are Alabama and South Carolina. Even though the Crimson Tide took two of three in Tuscaloosa this past season, they typically finish near the bottom of the SEC West. The Gamecocks have a proud baseball traditional, but have struggled in recent years.

2023 Arkansas Baseball Schedule

Feb. 17vs. Oklahoma State -OR- TCU -OR- Texas^Arlington, Texas
Feb. 18vs. Oklahoma State -OR- TCU -OR- Texas^Arlington, Texas
Feb. 19vs. Oklahoma State -OR- TCU -OR- Texas^Arlington, Texas
Feb. 21GramblingFayetteville, Ark.
Feb. 24Eastern IllinoisFayetteville, Ark.
Feb. 25Eastern IllinoisFayetteville, Ark.
Feb. 26Eastern IllinoisFayetteville, Ark.
March 1Illinois StateFayetteville, Ark.
March 3Wright StateFayetteville, Ark.
March 4Wright StateFayetteville, Ark.
March 5Wright StateFayetteville, Ark.
March 7ArmyFayetteville, Ark.
March 8ArmyFayetteville, Ark.
March 10Louisiana TechFayetteville, Ark.
March 11Louisiana TechFayetteville, Ark.
March 12Louisiana TechFayetteville, Ark.
March 14UNLVFayetteville, Ark.
March 15UNLVFayetteville, Ark.
March 17Auburn*Fayetteville, Ark.
March 18Auburn*Fayetteville, Ark.
March 19Auburn*Fayetteville, Ark.
March 21Southeast Missouri StateFayetteville, Ark.
March 24at LSU*Oxford, Miss.
March 25at LSU*Oxford, Miss.
March 26at LSU*Oxford, Miss.
March 28OmahaFayetteville, Ark.
March 31Alabama*Fayetteville, Ark.
April 1Alabama*Fayetteville, Ark.
April 2Alabama*Fayetteville, Ark.
April 4Arkansas StateFayetteville, Ark.
April 6at Ole Miss*Fayetteville, Ark.
April 7at Ole Miss*Fayetteville, Ark.
April 8at Ole Miss*Fayetteville, Ark.
April 11Little RockFayetteville, Ark.
April 12Little RockFayetteville, Ark.
April 14Tennessee*Baton Rouge, La.
April 15Tennessee*Baton Rouge, La.
April 16Tennessee*Baton Rouge, La.
April 18Central ArkansasFayetteville, Ark.
April 21at Georgia*Athens, Ga.
April 22at Georgia*Athens, Ga.
April 23at Georgia*Athens, Ga.
April 25at Missouri StateSpringfield, Mo.
April 28Texas A&M*Fayetteville, Ark.
April 29Texas A&M*Fayetteville, Ark.
April 30Texas A&M*Fayetteville, Ark.
May 2vs. Lipscomb (&)North Little Rock, Ark.
May 5at Mississippi State*Starkville, Miss.
May 6at Mississippi State*Starkville, Miss.
May 7at Mississippi State*Starkville, Miss.
May 12South Carolina*Fayetteville, Ark.
May 13South Carolina*Fayetteville, Ark.
May 14South Carolina*Fayetteville, Ark.
May 18at Vanderbilt*Nashville, Tenn.
May 19at Vanderbilt*Nashville, Tenn.
May 20at Vanderbilt*Nashville, Tenn.
May 23-28SEC TournamentHoover, Ala.
*SEC game | ^College Baseball Showdown at Globe Life Field | (&) Dickey-Stephens Park


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