A&M, Rice square off in top-10 match up

After an incredible super regional match up a year ago, another key game will be played tonight between No. 8 Texas A&M and No. 7 Rice, but this time, it's in College Station. Aggie Websider's Lanny Hayes takes a look at the biggest mid-week game at Olsen Field in some time.

When you're 30-6, it's easy to say that you can afford a loss here and there. When you're leading your conference, one of the best in the nation, it's easy to set aside the importance of a simple mid-week game that does nothing for your league title hopes.

For the Texas A&M baseball team, though, these arguments are logical fallacies. Though 30-6 and currently sitting atop the Big 12 standings is impressive, there's a larger goal at the end of the year - to return to that city in Nebraska for the first time in nine seasons.

The Aggie program has advanced to college baseball's sweet 16 twice in the past four seasons, but both times were relegated to road trips and could not secure a single victory. Combine this factor with A&M's 58-12 home record in '07 and '08, and it's no secret that the best path to the College World Series goes through College Station in the Super Regional round.

Short of getting an upset on the other side of the bracket, earning that right requires the Aggies to earn a national seed, an award from the selection committee bestowed on just eight squads. The committee will look at stats very similar to the much more famous basketball committee, including overall record, conference record and standing, RPI, record against RPI tiers, and performance down the stretch.

The Aggies have much to brag about in the overall and conference record categories, marks that are both Top-8 worthy at this exact moment. A&M's strength of schedule thus far, though, is what leaves their RPI hovering in the mid-20s range of which a national seed has never been awarded.

There's no need to panic about this RPI, though, as A&M's strength of schedule to end the season is among the toughest in college baseball. According to stats published by Boyd Nation (www.boydsworld.com), with all things being equal (which they will not be), A&M needs a 15-5 mark to finish in the RPI Top 8, or a 13-7 to end in the Top 16.

RPI Top 8 teams have a great chance to be given a national seed, while teams near the 16 mark are very rarely rewarded with such a privilege (but often get to play at home in the first round, like A&M in 2003, 2004, and 2007).

A&M can reach that number in a variety of ways, and beating Rice tonight isn't necessarily one that has to happen to earn the "on-paper" goal of a top 8 RPI. With 15 wins in need, for example, A&M can effectively go 8-4 in their 12 remaining league games combined with 7-1 in the non-conference slates and get the job done - a formula that can de-emphasize tonight's contest.

As simplisitc as it is to point at those numbers, they may not tell the final tale. These statistics do provide a solid guideline of what to expect given certain performance levels, but place the situation in a vacuum that the selection committee does not operate in. The committee will use the numbers to get from 300+ schools down to 10-12 potential national seeds, and from there the stats may rule the day.

Or they may not.

The regionalized nature of college baseball is important to consider, since A&M may find themselves competing for a national seed or a host spot with the same Rice Owls who visit Olsen Field tonight. Though stats may lean in a certain direction, the committee will inevitably have to go on decisions from the gut, and head-to-head match-ups contribute to both the statistical and instinct feel for the situation.

Should A&M and Rice find themselves tangled at for one of these rewards at the end of the year, and the committee decides that placing two regionals (or two national seeds, though geography is less likely to be an impact here) within 90 miles isn't an honor that both schools earned, the glances may all drift back to this game.

Throw in yet another RPI bump that a win over a Top 25 club would provide, plus the backdrop of two teams nationally ranked in the Top 10 facing off in a mid-week clash, and the stakes for this game may be the most significant regular season clash between the two clubs ever. The Top 10 matchup is the first at Olsen since a highly anticipated matchup with the Longhorns in 2003.

The Aggies will send Scott Migl, a seasoned sophomore who dominated Houston last week, to the hill against the Owls. The Aggie offense seems slightly superior to Rice's, though the Owls have firepower that is beginning to come around against the same CUSA competition that provides great confidence and momentum each year.

First pitch is slated for 6:30 PM.

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