The Gophers baseball team opens its season with a three-game series at the University of Houston, starting with a 6:30 p.m. game Friday. The Cougars are ranked in the top 10 in all the major preseason polls, and as high as No. 3 by Baseball America.

"We're going to play the strongest schedule we've played in probably a while here, which is good," Gophers coach John Anderson said.

And the team's goal, as always, is to win a Big Ten championship.

"There's enough talent here that that's a realistic goal," Anderson said.

The strength of the team is its infield, with three veteran infielders, second baseman Connor Schaefbauer, shortstop Michael Handel and third baseman Tony Skjefte, and the pitching. The Gophers lost only two pitchers to graduation.

Other conference coaches, though, don't see Minnesota as a title contender.

Maryland was picked to win the Big Ten title in a conference coaches' preseason poll. Nebraska and Illinois were chosen to finish second and third. The Gophers were not among the top six teams. The bottom seven were not released.

Three players from each team were named as players to watch. The Gophers on that list were starting pitchers Ben Meyer and Dalton Sawyer and Schaefbauer. Meyer, who had a 2.39 ERA last season, will start the opener.


• The Gophers softball team moved up two spots — to No. 13 — in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll this week. Minnesota went 5-0 last weekend when it opened the season in a Las Vegas tournament. This weekend the Gophers will play four games in Florida, starting with a 3 p.m. doubleheader Friday vs. Stetson in DeLand. They will face Central Florida on Saturday and Missouri on Sunday; both of those games are in Clermont.