College World Series 2014: Teams Emerging as National Title Favorites in Omaha

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College World Series 2014: Teams Emerging as National Title Favorites in Omaha
USA TODAY Sports

Only four days of the 2014 College World Series have gone by, but the eight-team field in Omaha vying for the national championship is dwindling, and top teams are already making their case.

From walk-off victories to comeback wins, from multi-run innings to dominating pitching performances, there has been no shortage of excitement in Omaha. It's left some teams packing, as a few have already headed home. But a select few are making it known that they will be around in the latter rounds and contending for the title.

Let's break down the most impressive teams so far in Omaha that are now just a few steps away from winning the national title.

 

Vanderbilt

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The Vanderbilt Commodores have assumed their place among the college baseball elite for the last few seasons. This year, in their second-ever trip to Omaha, they look hungry to win it all.

If they do so, they will have to ride the arms of their aces.

Carson Fulmer got the first start for Vandy in Omaha, allowing six hits and two runs on 5.1 innings against Louisville. He left the game with a 4-2 lead, and Vandy went on to win, 5-3.

First-round draft picks are aces on most teams, but the Commodores aren't most teams. Tyler Beede started Vandy's second game. The 14th overall selection in this year's MLB draft struggled, giving up four runs before Walker Buehler came in to save the day.

Should Beede bounce back, Vandy will have three of the best pitchers in the nation—Fulmer, Beede and Buehler—to unleash on its opponents. With fresh arms at a premium in Omaha and its next opponent having less time off, that will be a huge advantage.

But pitching is only half the battle, and Vanderbilt is well-equipped at the plate as well. The Commodores were one of the SEC's best offenses during the regular season, and they've been able to hang enough runs on their opponents in Omaha to give the pitchers a cushion.

After disposing of its first two opponents, Vandy is set to face the winner of an elimination game, per Vandy247's Chris Smith:

That last part is key for the Commodores. After winning on Saturday and Monday, the four days off before Friday's game will allow them to rest their best arms and have them ready for the Longhorns or Anteaters.

 

Texas

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Despite only holding a 1-1 record in Omaha, the Texas Longhorns have led nearly the entire time they've been at the 2014 College World Series and are a force to be reckoned with should they get past UC Irvine on Wednesday.

Texas led UC Irvine from the second inning until the eighth before losing its opener, and it rallied back to dominate Louisville 4-1. In that game, the Longhorns jumped in front in the third and maintained the lead throughout.

Like most of the nation's best teams, strong pitching has been the constant in the Longhorns' success.

With a 2.31 team ERA, Texas finished second in the Big 12 in the category—only behind TCU, which joins the Longhorns as the only conference teams still alive in Omaha.

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Nathan Thornhill is the main reason why. The senior is Texas' main ace on the mound, and he was magnificent against UC Irvine in the Longhorns' Omaha opener before giving up two runs in the eighth to allow the Anteaters the victory.

But that's not their only standout pitcher. Parker French stole the show in an elimination game against Louisville, tossing 7.1 innings and only allowing four hits and one earned run.

Texas doesn't excel at the plate compared to some of the other top teams in Omaha—as shown by its opening loss to UC Irvine, Texas isn't built to come back late. But the Longhorns have proven they are more than capable of giving their pitching enough insurance to work with, and that's all that matters this time of year.

For the Longhorns to keep their season alive, they'll have to get past UC Irvine—the team that topped them in the opener. But after seeing how close they came to victory the first time around against the Anteaters, they should be a tough out in that one and beyond.

 

Virginia

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How could Virginia not be on a collision course with the championship series after the two games it's had in Omaha?

The Cavaliers have been the definition of resiliency thus far in the College World Series. They walked off to beat Ole Miss in their opener thanks to the bat of Mike Papi and ground out a 15th-inning victory over TCU in the next game in epic fashion to move one win shy of the championship series.

Unlike most of the teams that accompany them in Omaha, Virginia's biggest beef comes at the plate. With arguably the most talented lineup in all of college baseball, the Cavaliers boast two players selected before the second round of the draft in Mike Papi and Derek Fisher. They also go deep into the lineup with players capable of getting on base.

Of course, they have their aces, too. Nathan Kirby is their top arm and had a magnificent 2014 College World Series debut, allowing just one hit and one run in seven innings during Virginia's opener.

Brandon Waddell is more than capable of starting a championship game as well. Nick Howard, Whit Mayberry and Artie Lewicki combined to give up three hits in eight innings of relief in the TCU marathon, proving the Cavaliers bullpen can withstand any circumstance.

Virginia joined Vanderbilt as the two teams to open up 2-0 in Omaha, and they're both one victory away from going head-to-head for the national championship.

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