With a wild start to the NCAA baseball regionals, I am becoming convinced that the winner of this year's College World Series is going to come from one of the more unheralded squads in the field.
Time will tell if this proves to be the case, but I want to jump headlong into this hunch and identify the three best teams with a chance to upset the powers of the college baseball landscape with a deep run in this tournament.
You won't be able to find any of the three following teams in the USA Today Coaches Poll Top 25, but they all appear to be peaking at the right time.
*All stats via NCAA.com.
Liberty faces the daunting task of having to beat regional host South Carolina twice in a row to advance.
The odds are not in Liberty's favor, but they've never been. This team advanced to the tournament by taking the Big South Conference as the conference tournament's No. 5 seed. This was their first conference crown since 2001.
It's easy to see how this team was capable of going on that kind of run. Liberty hit .300 for the year with a slugging percentage of .434. They also carry an ERA of 3.04.
Liberty staved off elimination on Saturday by beating Clemson, and they displayed the kind of big-play offense that could continue to carry them. They struck out 11 times; however, they also had five extra-base hits.
They also showed up for that game, players and coaches alike, with fresh mohawks cut into their hair. Now, this obviously isn't going to have any tangible connection to results on the field. It does, however, reflect a team that has come together and is ready to have some fun while playing loose.
These are two key ingredients to any potential Cinderella team.
Troy was on the brink of being bounced from tournament play as Alabama (35-28) plated three runs in the seventh and one in the eighth to lead by four runs going into the ninth.
However, Troy didn't flinch, and when Brandon Brown earned a bases-loaded walk in the ninth, they emerged victorious with a 9-8 win.
Now they have to beat Florida State twice to advance to the super regionals—once on Sunday and again on Monday. This will be no easy task
Troy entered as the third seed in the Tallahassee Regional, and Florida State easily handled them earlier in this tournament, 11-0. However, I expect a different result from these cardiac kids.
As a team, the Trojans are hitting .273 and slugging .415 to go with an ERA of 4.97.
With juniors Nathan Hill and Joe Hernandez, this team has experienced starting pitching, and they just built a sense of destiny with their ninth-inning comeback. I expect them to carry that deep into this postseason.
On Saturday, Columbia authored one of the big surprises of this year's tournament when they eliminated offensive-powerhouse New Mexico.
Which of these teams will make the deepest run?
And just like Troy, they did so in dramatic fashion. Columbia trailed 5-0 going into the eighth. That's when they scored five runs, three coming with two outs, to tie the game and force extra innings. They eventually won 6-5 in the 13th.
In the process, Columbia became the first Ivy League team to win a tournament game since 2010. The Lions (28-20) now must face Arizona State in an elimination game on Sunday.
The similarities with Troy don't stop at their dramatic survival. This is another well-balanced squad that carries a team batting average of .277 and an ERA of 4.41.
They have four pitchers who started at least nine games, and feature solid experience throughout their roster.
The staff isn't just about the starters either. Joey Donino, who pitched just 9.1 innings during the season, went 6.2 innings of shutout relief against New Mexico.