Forget March Madness and the pathetic excuse for an objective playoff system called the CFP. It's time for the real most exciting tournament in college sports; the College World Series. The double elimination round robin style creates some epic winner-take-all atmospheres, and unfiltered college athletes on national television creates some dramatic moments. Be prepared for the most amount of "Let's Go!" slow-motion shots you've ever seen in your life. This is Omaha.
John - The biggest surprise to make it this far has to be Notre Dame, right? This is not a knock on their talent level, the Fighting Irish are experienced and deep, but the road they had to face just to get to this point has been rivaled by none. Not only did they not get a regional, but they had to go through one of the best college baseball teams of all time on the road in front of what can only be described as a raucous environment? No matter what happens to ND in this tournament, their fans should be incredibly proud of what this group has accomplished.
Michael - The obvious answers are Ole Miss as the 64th team, ATM’s after their resurgence, or Notre Dame for upsetting Tennessee, but for Auburn to make it back to Omaha after missing the tournament a season ago and limping into the tournament is the biggest shocker to me. After being questionably selected as a regional host, Auburn proved their worthiness by running UCLA and Florida State off the field, and then beating a very good Oregon State squad with both excellent pitching and timely offense.
Biggest Disappointment Not Named Tennessee
Michael - Miami. As the rain refused to let up in Coral Gables, the heartbreak of baseball was on full display. In a loser-goes-home matchup against Arizona in the regional, Miami had the game, up one with one out to get, and a routine groundball was thrown away by the shortstop. Arizona would proceed to get two runs in the ninth, and then close the door on Miami’s season. One play never defines any outcome in baseball, but that loss will not sit will for the Hurricanes this offseason. A young team with no seniors listed on the roster, Miami can build on a good regular season, but for a program that was once an Omaha cornerstone, losing in the regional year after year is becoming more inexcusable. Miami also was a no-show in the ACC tournament, and while Gino DiMare has managed three good regular seasons in his three years leading the Hurricanes, next season carries much greater expectations in South Beach.
John - Obviously Tennessee is the correct answer here, but everyone knows that. The other answer would have to be East Carolina. Getting to host a regional and super regional is a great achievement, and being able to do it in a place like The Jungle is downright electric. After going up on Texas 1-0 in the Super Regional, East Carolina looked well on their way to Omaha, especially after building a 7-2 lead in the 7th inning of Game Two.
That was the last lead that ECU had all season. The Jungle was waiting to erupt for a decisive Game Three, and then had to wait... and wait... and wait... and wait some more. After a 3 PM scheduled start time was delayed for inclement weather, the game didn’t start until 10:15 PM local time, well after even the rowdiest of fans checked out. That’s not to say that the ECU faithful let down the team in Game Three, they most certainly did not, especially for a weather delay of such epic proportions, but it had to be demoralizing for a squad so eager to make up for the previous days’ shortcomings. All in all, the Pirates not being able to close out Texas and subverting their first ever CWS appearance has to be one of the biggest disappointments in recent memory.
John - Ole Miss has been absolutely scorching since entering the big dance, outscoring their opponents 56-11, for a +45 run differential (!). Tim Elko leads the charge for this squad that plays with an infectious fire and passion, and can hit tanks with the best of 'em. The only question here is they haven't really been tested yet, with the aforementioned run differential and not losing a game yet, and Omaha has a way of exposing who is prepared for the big moments. However, one could say that this team has had their backs against the wall since laying a complete egg in the SEC tournament and have been playing clutch baseball the entire time since. They get the more favorable draw from the two pools, and if they can get past Auburn in game one, all bets are off.
Michael - Texas A&M. Despite being the second-highest ranked team to advance to Omaha, the Aggies are still considered a longshot to win the title. Their underdog story from last place with a new coach to return back to Omaha is not going to end easily at the hands of their old Big 12 and new SEC foes. A&M has about five pitchers: Dallas, Dettmer, Palisch, Menefee, and Rudis the closer, that they will ride as much as they can. In the most wide open field in years, I would not be the least bit shocked if A&M ends up lifting the trophy.
Players To Watch
John - Do you like watching baseballs fly a long distance? Then oh boy, does this tournament have a treat for you. Ivan Melendez possesses the best nickname in sports right now, The Hispanic Titanic, solely for the reason that he hits baseballs of Titanic-level epicness. Carter Graham and Brock Jones of Stanford each have 20 home runs or more on the season. But the best of them all is Sonny DiChiara, 1B, Auburn:
Michael - Ivan Melendez (Texas) leads all players in D1 with 32 home runs (most in the BBCOR era), posting an absurd 1.404 OPS this season. He is at the core of the best offense in Omaha in runs scored, home runs, and slugging. Recognizable as a former quarterback, Connor Noland (Arkansas) has put together two great starts in the tournament thus far and should get the ball in game one against Stanford. Ole Miss 1B Tim Elko is one of the most accomplished players in the country, and the unquestioned leader of the Rebels gets his first experience in Omaha.
Michael - On one side of the bracket, I like Oklahoma and Texas both to advance; OU because A&M is due for a loss after two one-run wins against Louisville in the supers, and Texas to outhit Notre Dame. I doubt anyone saves their ace, but a Bennett vs. Hansen matchup would be something, and may be in the cards if both teams advance to the semifinals. Unlike the regionals, a few days off are worked into the double elimination portion, so if needed, pitchers could come back on short rest. This setup allows for a method like Michigan used in 2019, using three pitchers to win three games if all works out. I think Notre Dame’s luck (pun intended) runs out, more or less because they won way too many close games, which could catch up to them in a more drawn-out week. I said Texas A&M is due for one loss, but I still would pick them to win at least one game and maybe force a winner-take-all. Texas does have the most pitching depth, and they know they count on one game to explode for double digit runs. Oklahoma has been the hottest team in the country over the past month, which also should carry them for at least a game. For what it’s worth, Texas took 2 of 3 in the regular season from the Sooners, but Oklahoma beat them in the Big 12 tournament, so the season series is 2-2. It will take seven games to settle that score, and after losing to the eventual champs last year, Texas establishes its “back”-ness in one sport by defeating their archrivals to play for a natty.
On the other side of the bracket, with 75% of the region from the SEC, all three of those teams are underdogs in the region, up against a Stanford team that has consistently been a regional host, and isn't new to the College World Series, making their second straight appearance. Despite being the #2 team entering the tournament, the Cardinal have needed to win five elimination games to make it this far. Ole Miss and Auburn both lost in the play-in round of the SEC tournament but have recovered and been dominant both on offense and defense. Matched up in the first game, one of them is headed to the loser’s bracket, where they will be a heavy underdog against whoever loses the Arkansas/Stanford game. Arkansas and Stanford were two of my favorites pre-tournament, and I stand by the winner of that matchup winning the pool.
The way Arkansas had to gut out the regional win against Oklahoma State was impressive, and the sweep of North Carolina in Chapel Hill was much closer than the word “sweep” would suggest, and the way they walked off the Tar Heels after a rain delay and getting punched in the mouth holds a lot of value. After a massive postseason disappointment last year, losing to NC State in the supers as the #1 overall team (sound familiar?), Arkansas just needs to peak at the right time, and the trend with the Florida, Oregon State, Vandy, and Mississippi State teams that have won is that the year after all the expectations, the focus is less on regular season dominance and more on winning the last games. I do think the winner of Arkansas/Stanford goes on to win it all, but for a program that has been so close (National runner up 2018, CWS appearances in 2012, 2015, and 2019), 2022 is the breakout year for the Hogs. Give me Arkansas over Texas.
John - I think Texas & Arkansas come out on top in their respective brackets. Texas’ pitching is just good enough to keep teams from scoring more runs than their prolific offense led by the Hispanic Titanic does. They will have to sweat for it, I think Notre Dame & OU are extremely dangerous at the moment considering how well they have played lately, but I think ultimately that Texas’ talent wins out. While Arkansas didn’t get a regional and comes into this tournament unranked (outside the top 16), opponents will be wise not to underestimate just how good this team really is. I think Peyton Stovall & co. are simply too much to overcome.
A Texas vs Arkansas CWS would be an extremely fun matchup featuring tons of pro-level talent on the biggest stage in college baseball. While I ultimately think that this Arkansas team has a good amount of MLB level talent, this Texas team is incredibly hard to keep contained for long stretches. Give me Texas in three.