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Analysis | Top Big Ten teams to challenge Penn State baseball in 2022

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Penn State Baseball vs Maryland, Spiegel (41)

Catcher Josh Spiegel (41) stand at first base during Penn State baseball's first game in their series against Maryland on Saturday, March 20, 2021 at Medlar Field in University Park, Pa. The Terrapins beat the Nittany Lions 19-10.

In a conference-only schedule last season, Penn State finished the year in ninth place in the Big Ten, following an impressive 10-5 start to a shortened 2020 season.

With the Nittany Lions returning most of their key offensive players, there’s potential to once again rise in the Big Ten standings.

However, the Nittany Lions’ pitching staff will go through significant change with six pitchers graduating, including MLB Draft picks Conor Larkin, Kyle Virbitsky and Bailey Dees. The pitching staff will need to quickly fill those holes with the Nittany Lions playing in a loaded Big Ten conference.

Here’s a look at three teams who may prove to be the biggest challenge for the blue and white in 2022.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

The reigning Big Ten champions didn’t lose much last season, as the Cornhuskers finished with a 34-14 record.

Three of those wins came against the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley, winning by five or more runs twice in the series.

The Cornhuskers lost a decent amount of talent through both graduation and the MLB Draft but have many players looking to take a big step forward this season.

Catcher Griffin Everitt finished his first year with Nebraska with a .287 batting average, good for fourth on the team, and he’ll be back with the Cornhuskers in 2022.

Reliever Jake Bunz finished the 2021 season as the team's leader in appearances and posted a 2.20 ERA. He also whiffed batters at a high clip, striking out 42 in 32 and two-thirds innings.

Despite losing big names on both sides of the ball, Nebraska returns a majority of last year’s Big Ten championship team, making it a tall task for the Nittany Lions to beat the Cornhuskers for the first time since May 2017.

Maryland Terrapins

Maryland finished last year right behind the Cornhuskers in second place of the Big Ten with a 28-16 record.

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Unlike Nebraska, though, Maryland was unable to sweep its three game series against the Nittany Lions, winning two of three. However, in its two victories, Maryland outscored Penn State 26-11.

Infielders Matthew Shaw and Maxwell Costes finished last season as two of the Terrapins’ best hitters and return for the 2022 campaign. Both players hit over .300 and combined for 12 home runs and 21 doubles last season.

The Terrapins were on a tear at the end of the regular season, winning six series in a row with half of them being sweeps. With the potential to put up runs quickly, a younger Nittany Lions pitching staff could face problems against this high-powered offense.

Indiana Hoosiers

Moving down in the standings, the Hoosiers were another team that managed to sweep the Nittany Lions last season.

In Bloomington, Indiana, the Hoosiers were able to win all four games and won by five runs in two of them. The Hoosiers finished tied for fourth place in the Big Ten last season with a 26-18 record.

Despite losing two of its best hitters in Grant Richardson and Cole Barr to the MLB Draft, Indiana has a good amount of young players ready to fill their shoes.

Sophomores Paul Toetz and Morgan Colopy both finished within the top five in batting average for the Hoosiers, as they both hit over .270 as freshmen. Senior Drew Ashley finished fifth on that list last season, giving the Hoosiers a better-than-average starting lineup.

The rotation may be one of the bigger weaknesses with three Hoosier starters being selected in the MLB Draft, but with most of the bullpen and offense still around, the Hooisers could improve on their six-game winning streak against the Nittany Lions that dates back to 2019.

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