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From the Bird’s Nest: Look for an All-SEC Final in the College World Series

The College World Series begins Saturday in its new home, TD Ameritrade Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska.

I’m sure there will be some nostalgia about Rosenblatt Stadium and how things used to be.

But the new facility is state of the art, and fans will undoubtedly love it.

The field will play a little differently.  It will be somewhat more of a pitchers’ park.  Dimensions are a little deeper and the wind won’t blow out as much.

But it’s the new home for college baseball’s showcase.

And, this year, it should be quite a showcase.

Of the eight national seeds, six have made it to Omaha.  #5 Florida State was knocked out in their Super-Regional by Texas A&M.  Many, however, didn’t consider it to be much of an upset.  The Aggies were a top seed in their region and, narrowly, in the minds of many, missed out on being a national seed.  #8 Rice was knocked out in the regional round.  California won that region in an incredible comeback over Baylor and then dispatched Dallas Baptist in two games to earn their trip to college baseball’s promised land.

The other six are really, really good.  Here’s who I think will advance, and why.

Bracket One, which begins Saturday, is loaded.  #2 Florida, #3 North Carolina, #6 Vanderbilt, #7 Texas

Florida has been very impressive since the postseason began.  The Gators stormed through their regional and then showed their moxie by beating upstart Mississippi State in a great comeback in game three.  They, like everyone else in Omaha, can really pitch.  Their bullpen is solid.  So are their starters.  But the Gators have an offense among the best in college baseball.  Add to that their two-and-out performance last year and you have the makings of a team that will be on a business trip this time out.

Their opening game against Texas will not be a walk in the park.  The Longhorns have perhaps the best overall pitching staff in the College World Series.  Taylor Jungmann, although he’s lost his last two starts, is among college baseball’s best and he’ll give the Gators all they can handle in game one.  I don’t think Texas is going to give up a lot of runs.  They are solid defensively.  But the Longhorns struggle to score against good pitching and they’re going to face some awfully good pitching in this bracket.  This particular game is key to Florida’s success, I think.

The other opening game on Saturday features Vanderbilt and North Carolina.  The Commodores are at the CWS for the first time ever.  That’s hard to believe, considering some of the clubs they’ve had the last few years.  And, they steamrolled their opponents on the way to Omaha.  Vandy can pitch.  And, they’re a lot better offensively than folks give them credit for.  But, I keep going back to the fact that they’re in Omaha for the first time.  There was a lot of pressure on the Commodores to get there.  I don’t think the pressure is off.

North Carolina, meanwhile is in the College World Series for the fourth time in five years.  The Tar Heels are good again.  And, although they missed a trip a year ago, they’ve got experienced players used to the spotlight.

I keep looking at this bracket and I keep coming back to Florida.  I really think that this is a team on a mission.  I simply think they’re a better club than the other three.  And, I don’t think they’ll be intimidated.

 

On the other side of the bracket, beginning Sunday, you have Virginia taking on California and Texas A&M meeting defending champion South Carolina.  Virginia is the number one national seed.  That should make them the favorite, but since the Super-Regional era began in 1999, only Miami in that first season has won the title as #1.  Virginia can pitch with the best teams in Omaha.  But the Wahoos had to have a dramatic comeback with two out in the ninth inning of game three to get by UC-Irvine just to get to Omaha.  Their offense against good pitching simply didn’t impress me that much.

They’ll open against the best story in the College World Series.  California was a #3 seed in their region.  They’re the only team in the CWS that hasn’t played a postseason game at home.  They’re a club that, as recently as March, was destined for the glue factory, having been notified that their program would be disbanded at the end of the 2011 season because of a lack of funding.  Finally, in April, they got the reprieve after a group called “Save Cal Baseball” got nine million dollars raised.  They’re the team that many will root for just for that reason.  The Golden Bears have a solid pitching staff and they scored runs in both their regional and their Super, something that was a question mark.  Like Vandy, this is their first trip to Omaha in the modern era.  But after having their heads on a guillotine for the better part of a year, these guys will stay loose and have fun.  I really don’t think they’ll be intimidated.  Outmanned, maybe, but not intimidated.

As I said earlier, I’m not surprised that Texas A&M is still playing.  The Aggies were not selected as a national seed after losing their ace pitcher.  And, pitching depth is the question for the Aggies.  They’ve got two solid starters and a good pen.  But to have success in the College World Series, they’ve got to stay in the winner’s bracket so they can keep using their top two guys.  If they lose one of the first two, their stay might be a short one.  The Aggies offense is built around speed.  The top three in the lineup can all run and they can be a nightmare when they get on base.  The key for any opponent will be to stop those guys from running wild on the bases.  The best way to do that is not let them reach to begin with.

South Carolina won it all last year in dramatic fashion over UCLA.  And, they’ve stormed into Omaha despite not having their offensive catalyst, Jackie Bradley, Jr.  Bradley has been sidelined with a bad wrist.  There’s a chance he could see some action during this coming week.  The Gamecocks lost a lot of players from last year’s championship squad and prior to the season, not many thought they’d be back to defend their title.  But here they are, doing it the same way they did it previously.  A solid pitching staff, good in the front and good in the back, and an offense that can score runs.

I think the teams that advance will be the teams that are the best offensively.  In the day of the BBCORE bats and lower scoring games, the great pitching gets you to Omaha.

But here, when everyone has great pitching, it’s the teams that swing the bats that will wind up in the championship series.

For me, those two teams are both from the SEC.

I’m looking for Florida and South Carolina to survive.

Babes

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