Big 12 Softball: 2023 Opening Weekend Preview
Big 12 softball fans, rejoice. The 2023 season has finally arrived as the top softball conference in the nation returns to the diamond once again.
As was the case in 2022, we arrive at the start of the season with the teams from the Panhandle State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, leading the charge as two of the top squads in the nation. The Sooners, who were selected unanimously as the top team in softball by every major poll, are the team to beat once again.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has reloaded and is ranked No. 2 or No. 3 in nearly every national poll this preseason. The Texas Longhorns also return some key pieces from their WCWS run to the national championship series and hope to get back to Oklahoma City again in 2023.
With that in mind, here is what each team in the Big 12 has for its first slate of games as the action gets underway this week at invitational tournaments across the nation.
#1 OKLAHOMA; 0-0
Oklahoma will kick off its season with games against three ranked opponents in the Mark Campbell Invitational this weekend. Its first opponent of the year, No. 16 Duke, is coming off a 44-11 season in 2022 and was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by UCLA. The Sooners will also take on Stanford, who eliminated Alabama from the Tuscaloosa Regional last May before being eliminated by Oregon State in the Super Regional. Washington, who was the No. 13 seed in last year’s tournament, will be a stiff test for the Sooners as well. Games against Liberty and San Jose State could be tricky as well, but if OU is what we expect them to be in 2023, they’ll come out of this weekend unscathed.
|(16) Duke||Feb. 9||6:00 p.m.||Irvine, CA||FloSoftball|
|(RV) Liberty||Feb. 9||9:00 p.m.||Irvine, CA||FloSoftball|
|(17) Stanford||Feb. 10||9:30 p.m.||Irvine, CA||FloSoftball|
|(14) Washington||Feb. 11||9:00 p.m.||Irvine, CA||FloSoftball|
|San Jose State||Feb. 12||2:00 p.m.||Irvine, CA||FloSoftball|
#3 OKLAHOMA STATE; 0-0
Oklahoma State will hope to get off to a better in 2023 than it did last year, with four of its 18 losses of the year coming in its first ten games. However, this team has veteran players and an influx of young talent that, when combined, make this year’s team dangerous out of the gate. Opening up the season in Mexico against No. 24 Oregon is a good test for the Cowgirls while playing UNC, Maryland, and Ole Miss will bring an interesting twist to OSU’s opening weekend at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge. None of these matchups will blow you away on paper, but it will give Kenny Gajewski some time to get his team on the same page as they begin another race to the WCWS.
|(24) Oregon||Feb. 10||6:00 p.m.||Puerto Vallarta, Mexico||FloSoftball|
|North Carolina||Feb. 11||8:30 p.m.||Puerto Vallarta, Mexico||FloSoftball|
|Maryland||Feb. 12||11:00 p.m.||Puerto Vallarta, Mexico||FloSoftball|
|(RV) Ole Miss||Feb. 12||4:00 p.m.||Puerto Vallarta, Mexico||FloSoftball|
#6 TEXAS; 0-0
The award for the toughest opening weekend in the Big 12 goes to Texas, and it’s not much of an argument otherwise. The first game of the season comes again 23rd-ranked Missouri, followed by a game against No. 8 Northwestern the same evening. Then, on Saturday, the Longhorns will face Illinois, followed by an evening game against No. 12 Tennessee. Finally, Texas will face No. 17 Kentucky on Sunday afternoon, finishing out their first weekend with games against four ranked opponents. Mike White’s squad was the national runner-up last season, and won’t be sneaking up on anyone this weekend. If Texas can come out of this slate without a loss, it will be a very promising early sign for the 6th-ranked team in the country.
|(23) Missouri||Feb. 10||4:00 p.m.||Clearwater, FL||N/A|
|(8) Northwestern||Feb. 10||6:30 p.m.||Clearwater, FL||N/A|
|Illinois||Feb. 11||4:00 p.m.||Clearwater, FL||N/A|
|(12) Tennessee||Feb. 11||6:30 p.m.||Clearwater, FL||N/A|
|(17) Kentucky||Feb. 12||12:30 p.m.||Clearwater, FL||N/A|
Baylor is hoping to build off of its National Invitational Softball Championship run last postseason but punching a ticket to the NCAA Softball Tournament in 2023. The opening weekend sets up nicely for the Bears as they will get a chance to get up to speed with two games against Southern Utah sandwiched around a matchup with Weber State. Then, Baylor plays UNLV, the team they defeated in the NISC Championship game last season. After that, the Bears will face their biggest test of the weekend with No. 7 Arkansas on Sunday. This is a terrific early test for Glenn Moore’s squad and a competitive showing, or maybe even a win, would be massive for their confidence going into the 2023 season.
|Southern Utah||Feb. 10||11:00 a.m.||Las Vegas, NV||N/A|
|Weber State||Feb. 10||1:30 p.m.||Las Vegas, NV||N/A|
|Southern Utah||Feb. 11||4:00 p.m.||Las Vegas, NV||N/A|
|UNLV||Feb. 11||9:00 p.m.||Las Vegas, NV||N/A|
|(7) Arkansas||Feb. 12||11:00 a.m.||Las Vegas, NV||N/A|
IOWA STATE; 0-0
This might look like a cakewalk opening weekend for the Cyclones, but this slate will provide a great challenge for Iowa State on the opening weekend. Iowa State started their season off with a 10-2 victory over Omaha in 2022 and I expect much of the same this time around. However, the games that follow could be tricky. Iowa State was 1-1 in contests against Drake and 1-1 in games against Northern Iowa in 2022, including a 12-4 (5 inn.) loss to NIU last April. Getting out of the weekend with a 5-0 record is attainable and would be big for Iowa State. Now, it’s just a matter of can they be more consistent in 2023.
|Omaha||Feb. 10||12:00 p.m.||Cedar Falls, IA||N/A|
|Drake||Feb. 10||5:00 p.m.||Cedar Falls, IA||N/A|
|Drake||Feb. 11||3:00 p.m.||Cedar Falls, IA||N/A|
|Northern Iowa||Feb. 11||5:30 p.m.||Cedar Falls, IA||N/A|
|Northern Iowa||Feb. 12||3:30 p.m.||Cedar Falls, IA||N/A|
TEXAS TECH; 0-0
The UT Arlington Invitational is a great way to break in a new-look team under first-year head coach Craig Snider. Three of their first five games of the season are against Tulsa, a team Texas Tech went 2-0 against a season ago. UT Arlington will likely be a bit stiffer of a test, as the Mavericks were 2-2 against the Big 12 last season including a 3-1 victory over OSU and a 12-3 (5 inn.) victory against Baylor. This is a perfect measuring stick for the Red Raiders, who are hoping to get things started off on the right foot in 2023.
|Tulsa||Feb. 10||12:00 p.m.||Arlington, TX||N/A|
|UT Arlington||Feb. 10||3:00 p.m.||Arlington, TX||WAC International|
|Tulsa||Feb. 11||12:00 p.m.||Arlington, TX||N/A|
|UT Arlington||Feb. 11||6:00 p.m.||Arlington, TX||WAC International|
|Tulsa||Feb. 12||10:00 a.m.||Arlington, TX||N/A|
Kansas will start their 2023 season with a pretty tough slate in the Candrea Classic, named after legendary Arizona head coach Mike Candrea, who is the NCAA softball leader in wins (1,674). Two games against Long Beach State and NC State flank a game against the 12th-ranked Wildcats in Tucson and give the Jayhawks a lot to look at in their first weekend. Kansas is capable of winning out this weekend, but it will be a tall task with a 2022 WCWS contender in the mix.
|Long Beach State||Feb. 9||4:00 p.m.||Tucson, AZ||FloSoftball|
|NC State||Feb. 10||11:00 a.m||Tucson, AZ||FloSoftball|
|(12) Arizona||Feb. 10||5:00 p.m.||Tucson, AZ||Pac-12 Network|
|Long Beach State||Feb. 11||10:30 a.m.||Tucson, AZ||FloSoftball|
|NC State||Feb. 11||1:00 p.m.||Tucson, AZ||FloSoftball|