FAYETTEVILLE – The bad news is there are not many thinking College World Series for this year’s Arkansas baseball team.

FAYETTEVILLE – The bad news is there are not many thinking College World Series for this year’s Arkansas baseball team.


The good news is there were probably fewer who were thinking Omaha, Nebraska, this time last season for the 2015 team, either, and that turned out to be dead wrong.


And in the Dave Van Horn era at Arkansas, it has largely been those teams with the former characteristics that make the most of their chances. The teams that may start slow, or seem to piddle here and there in middle of the SEC season, have often been the ones that turn hot come tournament time.


The 2016 Diamond Hogs have those traits in spades.


They’re largely unheralded. There are only three positions on the entire field where the starter is entrenched, guaranteed. There are only three experienced arms in the bullpen. There are only two seasons of starting experience, combined, among the three-player rotation.


Yet Arkansas is picked as a borderline top 25 team – the Razorbacks are ranked in some polls even now – and a solid "in" for the NCAA Tournament. Expectations are high, but not too high. Probably the perfect blend for a Dave Van Horn team.


"We don’t have to spend a lot of time talking about it," the Arkansas coach said. "It’s not like we’re harping on it, ‘we’ve got to get back to Omaha, we’ve got to do this.’ They don’t need that extra pressure."


That was the case last year. Pressure. A pair of February losses in Alabama was disappointing, but not troubling, then a six-game losing streak in March, including a sweep in the team’s SEC opener against Vanderbilt left the team 9-8. Arkansas would actually only get two wins in 12-game stretch in March, as losses to Southeast Missouri State and two to LSU sent the Razorbacks below .500 overall and just 1-5 in college baseball’s toughest conference.


Arkansas wouldn’t lose another SEC series the rest of the year. It would go to Stillwater and pull a pair of rallies. It would beat Missouri State in three games in a fluke home Super Regional. It was a dream comeback.


Thing is, this year’s team isn’t, on paper, as good last year’s. They may, however, work harder. That is what Van Horn is banking on.


"We’ve got to get some guys to figure it out a little and be more consistent," Van Horn said. "That’s the biggest issue for me right now is the consistency of our position players and then determining the roles of the pitchers."


The team announced the roles for the pitchers for opening weekend, anyway. Dominic Taccolini, one of those two returners, will start the season-opener Friday against Central Michigan. He’ll be followed by freshman Blaine Knight and sophomore Keaton McKinney. Taccolini and McKinney are both coming off injuries - Taccolini’s ribs and blood clot, and McKinney’s hip.


It isn’t the most experienced starting staff in the SEC, but it does have a strength behind it. James Teague will likely be the first one out the bullpen and has the second-best stuff on the roster. He’s only bested by Zach Jackson, the closer and potential No. 1 overall pick at the next MLB Amateur Draft.


The lineup is dotted with high-potential names and experienced players. Michael Bernal, Rick Nomura and Clark Eagan are mainstays. Eagan might float around the lineup - he can play first base, third base and all three outfield spots (he’s likely to begin in center field) - but his bat will almost always play. The potential comes from guys like Cullen Gassaway, Chad Spanberger, Carson Shaddy and Luke Bonfield.


The tricky part is development. Shaddy and Spanberger join Eagan with the ability to play multiple positions. Accordingly, if, a new face struggles somewhere, any of those three could slide over to take that role and it would create space for another player. This is, actually, the most likely case in the outfield in the early weeks.


Eventually, though, Van Horn wants his team settled. He figures if they can get settled, they can get going.


"I would love to get it settled in at least by conference time, which is South Carolina. But we’ll just kind of see how it goes," Van Horn said. "There are 5 or 6 guys trying to make that outfield, start in that outfield. We could platoon. We have left and right. But I would like to know each day when I show up at the ballpark that it’s pretty easy to write that lineup in and not worry about it."


Follow Eric on Twitter: @ericwbolin


Projected Lineup


1. Eric Cole - DH


2. Carson Shaddy - 3B


3. Clark Eagan - CF


4. Cullen Gassaway - 1B


5. Rick Nomura - 2B


6. Chad Spanberger - RF


7. Luke Bonfield - LF


8. Michael Bernal - SS


9. Tucker Pennell – C


Off the bench


OF – Jack Benninghoff


OF – Jake Arledge


MI – Cody Scroggins


3B – Scroggins


1B – Austin Catron


C – Grant Koch


Projected rotation


1. Keaton McKinney


2. Dominic Taccolini


3. Blaine Knight


Projected Bullpen


Closer: Zach Jackson


First reliever: James Teague


Second reliever: Josh Alberius


Third reliever: Doug Willey


Fourth reliever: Cannon Chadwick


Left-handed specialist: Weston Moore


Arkansas schedule


Central Michigan, February 19-21 (Home)


Mississippi Valley State, February 23-24 (Home)


Rice, February 26 (Road)


Houston, February 27 (Road)


Texas Tech , February 28 (Road)


Louisiana Tech, March 2 (Home)


Eastern Illinois, March 4-6 (Home)


Gonzaga, March 8-9 (Home)


Western Illinois, March 12-13 (Home)


Grambling State, March 15-16 (Home)


South Carolina, March 18-20 (Road/SEC)


Auburn, March 25-27 (Home/SEC)


Oklahoma State, March 29 (Road)


Missouri, April 1-3 (Home)


Memphis, April 6 (Road)


Ole Miss, April 8-10 (Road)


Louisiana Monroe, April 12 (Little Rock)


Florida, April 14-16 (Home)


Creighton, April 19 (Home)


Kentucky, April 21-23 (Road)


Oklahoma State, April 26 (Home)


Texas A&M, April 29-May 1 (Home)


Missouri State, May 3 (Road)


LSU, May 6-8 (Road)


Alabama, May 13-15 (Home)


Missouri State, May 17 (Home)


Mississippi State, May 19-21 (Road)


SEC Tournament, May 24-29


NCAA Regionals, June 3-6


NCAA Super Regionals, June 10-13


College World Series, June 17-29