The biggest and most memorable moments in sports history have come during the playoffs. The most decimating shots, clutch performances and brilliant upsets have all come during the postseason fiasco we all know and love.
The best can fall and the worst can succeed. This is the playoffs; where the stakes are high and prize is beckoning to each and every squad.
This year's College World Series features one of the most diverse groups to every break into Omaha. With upset bids such as Kent State and Stony Brook mixing with classic programs like Florida State, Arizona and South Carolina, the NCAA Baseball Title is on the line for the the final eight teams standing.
With the double-elimination tournament beginning Friday, June 15th and finishing on Sunday, June 26th, the whole college baseball world is prepped and ready to find out who is the best in the business.
We take a look at the championship odds for each squad, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses heading into the final stretch of the postseason.
Season Record: 46-18, MAC Champion
CWS Appearances: None
A first-timer to the CWS, the Golden Flashes have done nothing short of miraculous this postseason. Entering the Gary Regional as a No. 3 seed, Kent State was able to down second-seeded Kentucky and advance to Eugene to face off against the overall fifth-seeded Oregon. One of the few lower seeds to move on to a Super Regional, no one gave this squad much thought.
The Ducks played horrible through three games, allowing KSU to move onto Omaha in stunning fashion. Strong pitching by senior David Starn (11-3), junior Ryan Bores (9-3) and sophomore Tyler Skulina (11-2) has pushed the Mid-American Conference Champion to the final round in Nebraska, but what are their chances really?
The Golden Flashes have some decent hitters in senior Jimmy Rider (.364) and junior George Roberts (.368), but most of those high stats come from "poor" league competition. Despite this trip to Nebraska being Kent State's first ever, don't expect the Golden Flashes to have any beginner's luck.
Championship Odds: "Good, but Not Good Enough"
Season Record: 47-14, Co-Pac-12 Champion
CWS Appearances: Three, No Titles
Two years ago, the Bruins fell in the CWS Championship to South Carolina. Ever since that moment, this program has been searching to find a route back to the title and this year could certainly be the one.
The overall No. 2 seed in the entire tournament, UCLA is built around their big-time pitching staff composed of sophomores Adam Plutko (11-3) and Nick Vander Tuig (10-3) along with freshman phenomenon David Berg (5-3). Junior reliever Scott Griggs (3-1) also deserves some credit for his impressive 15 saves over the course of the year.
However, while pitching will get one so far, the Bruins don't have the offensive capacity to stand up to squads such as Florida and Florida State on a consistent basis. The stars haven't aligned just perfectly enough for UCLA yet, but their time is coming. It's just not this season.
Championship Odds: "It's Just Not Your Year"
Season Record: 44-20
CWS Appearances: Six, No Titles
The final team to make its claim on a spot in the CWS, the Razorbacks are certainly one of the most unlikely to move onto take home the title. While the Hogs do boast a somewhat balanced squad, Arkansas just isn't the caliber squad one would expect to win the College World Series. However, I will give the Razorbacks credit for their clutch ability in games; if this team can keep it close, expect them to bring in the victory.
Led by the strong batting of junior Matt Reynolds (.344), senior Tim Carver (.305) and sophomore Dominic Ficociello (.306), Arkansas has the capacity to stay in high scoring games. Also, better than decent pitching by sophomores Colby Suggs (7-0) and Ryne Stanek (7-4) as well as junior DJ Baxendale (7-5) has kept big-time squads, such as Baylor, at bay long enough for this slow-start offense to secure a lead.
A team that should take up the nickname "Texas Killer" following their dismissal of both Rice and (4) Baylor, Arkansas does have one major flaw; inconsistency. Over the course of the Waco Super Regional, the Bears looked like the better team yet came up short due to fielding mistakes and lack of clutch ability. Will the Hogs be able to force more errors by top-notch squads? I don't think so.
Championship Odds: "How'd You Get Here Again?"
Season Record: 43-17, Co-Pac-12 Champion
CWS Appearances: 15, Three Titles (1976, 1980, 1986)
Over the past couple weeks, this Wildcat squad has come together to form one big-time competitor on the diamond. A program with a history of success in the CWS, this modern-day Arizona baseball team is looking to resurface as one of the best in the country.
Another well-balanced group of young men, UA is led by junior Kurt Heyer (12-2) and sophomore Konner Wade (9-3) in the pitching department. Sophomore Johnny Field (.383) and junior Seth Mejias-Brean (.366) both swing the bat well, giving the Wildcats that much needed boost when at the plate.
Overall, Arizona looks solid and plays clutch, but this team is emotionally charged. What does that mean? Simply put, the Wildcats will fall apart if they can't get going early in this tournament. Unfortunately for them, however, they drew a powerful opponent in Florida State to start the CWS off, effectively giving me the impression that UA will fall quickly once beaten.
Championship Odds: "Don't Expect too Much"
Season Record: 45-17
CWS Appearances: 10, Two Titles (2010, 2011)
Back-to-back championships over the past two seasons should make any program feel like a juggernaut on the diamond, but South Carolina seems to be holding their egos in check. The Gamecocks are, hands down, the most experienced team heading into the CWS, boasting multiple players from each of their two titles. With success, however, comes a big target on your back and that's exactly what USC has going into Omaha.
Of those few players, senior pitcher Michael Roth (7-1) is the most important, not to mention dominant. USC swings a good bat but it will be their pitching, not their offense that puts them over the top this season. Taking advantage of their experience will also be key to the Gamecocks emerging as the three-peat champions.
South Carolina, however, will have one of the toughest roads to the finals. With their initial opponent being Florida, a team that went 3-1 against them during the regular season, USC will have to evolve quickly to have any shot at pulling out the early victory.
Championship Odds: "We've Been Here Before"
Season Record: 52-13, America East Champion
CWS Appearances: None
As only the second regional fourth-seed to advance to the College World Series, the Seawolves are this year's wildcard. A first-timer to Omaha, Stony Brook shocked the college baseball world with a brilliant series victory over SEC Champion LSU in Baton Rogue. The clutch this team possesses is far beyond what most other squads can imagine.
As far as I'm concerned, SBU has just as good a shot at winning the whole enchilada as the top-ranked team in this tournament. The Seawolves are consistently solid on both offense and defense, present many unknown variables and will take advantage of opportunities. They're that squad that no other team will know what to do with.
Statistically speaking, Stony Brook is arguably the best group in this CWS. Leading all eight teams in overall batting percentage (.335) and on base percentage (.414), their offensive production is outstanding. The Seawolves also boast three of the top four hitters in the CWS with juniors Travis Jankowski (.422), William Carmona (.399) and Maxx Tissenbaum (.389).
Championship Odds: "The Upset Bid"
Season Record: 48-15, ACC Champion
CWS Appearances: 20, No Titles
As far as momentum goes, no other squad can match what Florida State has right now. Entering their 21st College World Series, FSU knows how to get there but not what it takes as they have never returned to Tallahassee title in hand. This time around, however, things could be different. This time, there is a static in the air that hasn't been there before.
While I'm sure every College World Series bound Seminole squad has heard that before, the 2012 version might actually hold some water. Florida State acts like they have a huge chip on their shoulder, blowing people away both offensively and defensively during these playoffs. In their Super Regional against Stanford, FSU outscored the Cardinal 35-8, literally crushing them with an unyielding passion.
If Florida State can continue to dominate on the diamond like they have so far in these playoffs, the championship will belong to them. However, if this FSU team finds room to choke or fall apart, things could get ugly in a hurry. Decades of frustration could rip this squad to pieces if given the chance.
Championship Odds: "They Have the Potential"
Season Record: 47-18
CWS Appearances: Seven, No Titles
When it all comes down to it, no one on the field is as solid as Florida. The top team in the country has consistently shown why they belong on the summit of the rankings, brilliantly executing on both offense and defense on an eerily consistent basis. A classic SEC program with a ton to prove, the Gators are poised to finally bring home a title of their own.
Led by a top-notch pitching staff composed of juniors Hudson Randall (9-2) and Brian Johnson (8-4) as well as senior Greg Larson (6-0), UF owns arguably the most experienced group in the CWS. The Gators' "big three" hitters, made up of seniors Daniel Pigott (.323) and Preston Tucker (.319) along with junior Mike Zunino (.322), are the most dangerous trio in the nation, combining for a massive 43 home runs on the year.
Following last year's championship loss to SEC East rival South Carolina, Florida is looking for revenge and a title to boot. Don't expect most anyone else in the CWS to be able to slow them down once the tournament starts, especially USC and their three-peat hopes.
Championship Odds: "The Favorite"