May 29, 2013
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
It's time for the Road to Omaha as the college baseball regionals are set to begin, with 64 teams gunning for a berth in the College World Series and a chance at a national championship.
Will top seeds like North Carolina, Vanderbilt, LSU and Cal State Fullerton dominate the field?
Will an upstart like last year's Stony Brook crash the party?
Which regions are the most stacked or toughest to call?
Let's break down the entire NCAA field.
Chapel Hill Regional
It's hard to see top overall seed North Carolina losing even a game in this regional. Boasting both the ACC Player of the Year (Colin Moran) and ACC Pitcher of the Year (Kent Emanuel), North Carolina won both the ACC regular-season and conference-tournament titles this year.
In a word, the Tar Heels are stacked.
Crazier things have happened, but it would be shocking if Canisius, Towson or Florida Atlantic pull off the upset and advance from this group.
South Carolina has reached the national title game in three straight seasons, winning the title in 2010 and 2011. This unit is again strong, led by sluggers LB Dantzler and Joey Pankake and pitchers Nolan Belcher and Tyler Webb.
Clemson is not a team to be taken lightly, however, with a strong pitching staff and a dangerous group of players that generate a lot of runs by stealing a ton of bases (102 in the regular season).
Liberty and St. Louis may pull off an upset here, but I see the Gamecocks moving on.
NC State comes into this game as one of the hottest teams in the country, having won 28 of its last 33 games.
The Wolfpack drew a tough No. 2 in Ole Miss, however, a team led by a legitimate ace in Bobby Wahl and one that fared well against top competition this year, winning series against LSU, Mississippi State and Arkansas.
I like the Rebels to advance out of this group.
Oregon is a very balanced team, with a deep pitching staff and a group of steady fielders. This isn't a team that will beat itself, though it won't slug past many opponents.
Rice boasts an excellent pitching staff and won both the Conference USA regular-season and conference-tournament titles this year, though San Francisco won't roll over either.
Still, expect Rice to advance here.
Thomas Eshelman, Justin Garza and Grahamm Wiest form one of the best pitching rotations in the entire country for Cal State Fullerton, which also has a very balanced lineup that can beat opponents with power and speed.
I don't see Arizona State, New Mexico—which does have the best player in this regional, slugger DJ Peterson—or Columbia advancing out of this group.
Los Angeles Regional
UCLA doesn't have the best bats in this tournament, but this team can really, really pitch. Cal Poly has an excellent staff as well. San Diego has the best player in this regional, future top-five pick Kris Bryant. San Diego State is in trouble.
Virginia Tech is red hot, having won 16 of 19 and advancing to the ACC title game, and the Hokies are more than capable of slugging into the super regional round.
However, Oklahoma has arguably the nation's top pitcher in Jonathan Gray and an excellent No. 2 in Dillon Overton.
Oklahoma should advance out of this group.
Baton Rouge Regional
I feel bad for the other teams in this regional. LSU is one of the nation's most talented teams and shouldn't be challenged in this round. It really is that simple, I'm afraid.
Vanderbilt has lost just nine games all season and only five in the stacked SEC (including the conference tournament, where the team lost to LSU in extra innings in the championship game). This team doesn't have a weakness, and it would be a huge shock if it didn't advance.
The Cardinals stole a whopping 142 bases this season. That's insane. While they don't boast a ton of power, they hit .293 on the season and pitched very well.
Miami is a dangerous team as well, but I like Oklahoma State to surprise folks and advance out of this group as the No. 3 seed. The Cowboys hit well (.285), move runners (78 stolen bases) and have a solid staff (2.93 ERA).
I know this team has lost four in a row, but I think the Cowboys will prove they are dangerous and move on.
I was so tempted to advance Florida out of this group, but this just isn't a vintage Gators team, but rather one that has lost nine of its last 13 games. They aren't moving on.
But Austin Peay will. This team can flat-out rake and is well-rounded offensively, hitting an absurd .315 with 51 home runs and 88 stolen bases on the season. The pitching hasn't been as strong, but the Governors will mash their way to the super regionals.
Indiana is the more balanced team, yes, but the Austin Peay bats will win the day.
Alabama and Troy are talented squads and could easily win this region. But Florida State has fantastic pitching and was 40-1 in the regular season when leading after six innings. Yes, it's lost four games in a row, but that was against tough ACC competition.
The Seminoles will turn things around and move on.
Take away three losses to Virginia Tech this year and Virginia lost just seven games this season, including a series win over this tournament's top seed, North Carolina.
The Cavaliers lost just two season series all year long and led the ACC during the regular season with a .317 average, so it's really hard to see them failing to advance here.
Mississippi State has one of the best players in the country in Hunter Renfroe (.362, 48 runs, 15 home runs, 51 RBI, nine stolen bases) and doesn't really have any major weaknesses.
But both South Alabama and Mercer can each really hit, and while neither has great pitching, I like Mercer to pull off the upset and move on behind its bats.
I'm a little surprised Kansas State was the top seed in this region, to be honest.
Arkansas was ranked higher in the USA Today Coaches Poll, has one of the best pitching staffs in the nation (1.90 regular-season ERA)—led by studs Ryne Stanek, Barrett Astin and Randall Fant—and has a solid 12-9 record against teams that were ranked when they played them.
As you may have guessed by now, I like the Razorbacks to advance.
We've saved the toughest regional to predict for last.
Oregon State finished the season No. 5 in the Coaches Poll and has an excellent pitching staff. Texas A&M can be inconsistent but is also capable of beating anyone it faces, with wins over LSU, Arkansas, Rice, Vanderbilt and Cal State Fullerton this season.
And then there is UC Santa Barbara, a balanced squad that finished 17-10 in the competitive Big West and could make some noise in this group.
It's a region that could be rife with upsets, but I think Oregon State will sneak through.
Super Regional and College World Series Predictions
South Carolina's streak of three straight title games will come to a close, as the Gamecocks won't get past a superior North Carolina squad. Rice's excellent pitching will be too much for Oregon State, Cal State Fullerton will sweep UCLA and LSU is too strong to lose to Oklahoma.
On the other side of the bracket, Vanderbilt won't be beaten by an upstart Oklahoma State squad, while Austin Peay will knock off another No. 1 seed, Florida State. Virginia will outhit Mercer, while the Arkansas pitching will overwhelm Oregon State in the upset.
On the top half of the bracket, I like LSU. Few teams combine top-of-the-line pitching with such a fearsome lineup. North Carolina won't go down easy, but I give the Tigers the slightest of advantages.
In the bottom half, I'm going with Virginia. While Austin Peay, Vanderbilt and Arkansas are all capable of advancing, I like the Cavaliers' balance and the fact that they closed the regular season by taking two of three from North Carolina.
In the national championship series, I'm sticking with LSU. This Tigers team is truly scary.
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