2010 College World Series: Who's the Team to Beat in Omaha?
It's mid-June in Omaha, and college baseball fans know exactly what that means.
For 60 years, Omaha's early weeks of summer have been filled with the aluminum pings that resonate through the corn fields and the glow of flood lights from famed Rosenblatt Stadium.
Starting Saturday, the top amateur baseball players in the nation will converge on Nebraska's largest city to continue that tradition, vying to add their names to the volumes of Major League greats who have made it big on college baseball's grandest stage.
Eight teams will compete for a College World Series title over these next two weeks in a double-elimination tournament format, which will culminate in a best of three championship series beginning on Monday, June 28th.
The field will be as strong as ever, with seven of the eight boasting a number one seed, but that hasn't prevented a few favorites from emerging as this weekend's games approach.
Here's how the bracket stacks up:
Game 1 (Saturday): TCU vs. Florida State
Game 2 (Saturday): Florida vs. UCLA
Game 3 (Sunday): Oklahoma vs. South Carolina
Game 4 (Sunday): Arizona State vs. Clemson
No. 3 Arizona State (52-8)
How They Got Here: Beat Arkansas in Super Regional (7-6, 7-5)
Key Players: 1B Riccio Torrez (.399 avg, 10 HR, 53 RBI), OF Kole Calhoun (17 HR, 59 RBI), P Seth Blair (12-0, 3.35 ERA)
The clear favorite to most is Arizona State, the top overall seed heading into the NCAA tournament. The Sun Devils squeaked out a pair of 12-inning wins against Arkansas to reach Omaha, but they have all the components of a championship ball club and precious few weaknesses.
Head coach Tim Esmay took the reins of the program after the resignation of Pat Murphy and picked up where his legendary predecessor left off. Esmay's Sun Devils have lived at the top of the college rankings and took home the Pac-10 championship just a few weeks ago.
ASU hit nearly .340 as a team, thanks in large part to the right side of their infield, where first baseman Riccio Torrez and second baseman Zack MacPhee have hit better than .390 this season. Torrez, MacPhee, and Calhoun provide serious pop in the middle of the Sun Devils' order.
Dangerous at the plate, ASU also has little trouble retiring opposing hitters. Blair, Merrill Kelly and Jake Borup are as good a three-man rotation as you'll find and are a big reason the Sun Devils rank third nationally in ERA. Led by closer Jordan Swagerty and hurlers Brady Rodgers and Mitchell Lambson, the ASU bullpen has no problem finishing off opponents, either.
With power at the plate and precision on the mound, Arizona State looks as good bet as any to take home the sixth title in program history.
No. 8 UCLA (48-14)
How They Got Here: Beat Cal State Fullerton in Super Regional (3-4, 11-7, 8-1)
Key Players: P Rob Rasmussen (2.73 ERA, 117 K), P Trevor Bauer (3.02 ERA, 141 K), 1B Dean Espy (.353 avg, 48 RBI)
Tyler Rahmatulla smashed a two-run home run to keep UCLA alive in a second-game victory in its Super Regional against Cal State Fullerton, but the Bruins second baseman will not play in the College World Series after celebrating the Bruins' Game Three win.
UCLA's second baseman broke his wrist in an end-of-game dogpile, and the Bruins will be forced to go without their fourth-leading hitter in Omaha.
Despite the loss of Rahmatulla, UCLA has the arms to make a deep run against the nation's best.
Pitchers Trevor Bauer, Rob Rasmussen, and Gerrit Cole lead an imposing starting contingent that has kept UCLA's team ERA under 3.00, good for second-best in the country.
The Bruins' biggest hurdle to the title game may be its bracket, which is far stronger than the other four-team pairing by most estimations, with Florida, TCU, and Florida State standing between the Bruins and a title game bid.
No. 4 Florida (47-15)
How They Got Here: Beat Miami in Super Regional (7-2. 4-3)
Key Players: OF Matt den Dekker (.358 avg, 13 HR, 23 SB), C Austin Maddox (17 HR, 71 RBI), P Hudson Randall (8-3, 2.95 ERA)
Florida won't "wow" you in any one category, but the Gators simply find a way to win games. Florida heads to the College World Series having won 22 of their last 27 and are 10-3 in one-run games.
Kevin O'Sullivan's club doesn't have many weaknesses, either. The UF lineup can hit for both power and average, and the Florida pitching staff has the potential to fuel a deep run in Omaha.
Den Dekker is a senior who does it all for Florida, leading the team in average and stolen bases while ranking second in home runs and RBI. (He might also have the best Twitter name of any player in Omaha: UpperDekker.)
Both he and Maddox, along with first baseman Preston Tucker, will provide plenty of pop in the heart of the Gators' order.
On the mound, Randall and Alex Panteliodis give Florida two proven top of the rotation starters, while closer Kevin Chapman has 11 saves out of the bullpen for the Gators.
No. 11 TCU (51-12)
How They Got Here: Beat Texas in Super Regional (3-1, 1-14, 4-1)
Key Players: P Matt Purke (14-0, 133 K), P Steven Maxwell (11-2, 2.41 ERA), OF Jason Coats (.373 avg, 13 HR, 66 RBI)
The Horned Frogs enter their first ever College World Series with a very strong chance of taking home their first title.
Led by the do-it-all Coats, TCU boasts the top batting average in the field at .340 and shouldn't have many problems lighting up the scoreboard at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Catcher Bryan Holaday and first baseman Matt Curry have combined for 30 homers this season and should aid Coats in providing run support for TCU's pitching staff.
The Horned Frogs' trio of aces won't need much, though. Purke, a first-round pick by the Rangers a year ago, has fanned more than a batter per inning this season, and teams up with Maxwell and Kyle Winkler to form a potent rotation. The three went a combined 37-3 this season and will try to carry the Horned Frogs deep into the CWS.
No. 10 South Carolina (48-15)
How They Got Here: Beat Coastal Carolina in Super Regional (4-3, 10-9)
Key Players: P Blake Cooper (12-1, 2.81 ERA), OF Jackie Bradley, Jr. (.371 avg, 11 HR, 51 RBI), INF/OF Whit Merrfield (.327 avg, 12 HR)
The Gamecocks backed their way into the NCAA tournament, losing four of their last five prior games, but have won five straight to make it to Omaha for the first time since 2004.
Bolstering the Gamecocks' hopes for their first CWS title is senior right-hander Blake Cooper, who has lost just once this season while striking out 105 opponents. The Gamecocks don't have great depth behind Cooper, so they will need significant contributions from their bats.
Bradley Jr. and Merrifield lead a capable group of Gamecock hitters that are strong all the way through the lineup. Nine USC hitters have hit seven or more home runs this season, posing a threat for opposing pitchers in every slot of the order.
No. 16 Clemson (43-23)
How They Got Here: Beat Alabama in Super Regional (4-5, 19-5, 8-6)
Key Players: OF Kyle Parker (.353 avg, 20 HR, 64 RBI), SS Brad Miller (.369 avg., 48 RBI), 3B John Hinson (17 HR, 72 RBI, 23 SB)
The Clemson Tigers may be the dark horse of this College World Series.
With a 4.72 team ERA, the Tigers' pitching isn't going to shut many teams down. But if their bats get going, look out.
Clemson ranks fifth nationally in runs scored with perhaps the most potent lineup in Omaha. Parker, who also doubles as Clemson's starting quarterback in the fall, leads the way with 20 home runs but is just one of six Tigers with 45 or more RBI this season.
There's no question that outfielder Jeff Schaus, who ranks fifth nationally with 85 RBI, along with Hinson, Miller, and Parker should put up plenty of runs in Omaha. But Clemson will hope to get enough from its pitching staff to continue to progress to the title game.
No. 17 Florida State (47-18)
How They Got Here: Beat Vanderbilt in Super Regional (9-8, 2-6, 7-6)
Key Players: P/1B Mike McGee (15 HR, 68 RBI, 11 SV), OF Tyler Holt (.352 avg, 12 HR, 30 SB), P Sean Gilmartin (9-7, 107 K)
The ACC champion Seminoles pulled out a pair of one-run victories to top Vanderbilt in the Super Regional, and it's always tough to count out Mike Martin's squad.
The Seminoles have made the NCAA tournament in all 31 years of Martin's tenure, but FSU is still in search of the program's first national championship.
This year's Florida State team faces a tough first-round matchup with TCU, but the 'Noles certainly have the talent to advance. The ever-dangerous Holt is the catalyst in the FSU order, and he'll have to have a productive tournament for the 'Noles to make a splash in Omaha.
It's all about power for closer/first baseman Mike McGee, who has smashed a team-high 15 long balls while racking up 11 saves and 33 strikeouts in just more than 26 innings pitched.
No. 13 Oklahoma (49-16)
How They Got Here: Beat Virginia in Super Regional (2-3, 10-7, 11-0)
Key Players: 3B Garrett Buechele (.371 avg, 16 HR, 64 RBI), P Bobby Shore (10-4, 3.86 ERA), OF Chris Ellison (.335 avg, 23 SB)
The Sooners blew out the top-ranked Cavaliers in the final game of their Super Regional victory and are out to prove that their berth in Omaha is no fluke.
Buechele is one of the top all-around players in Omaha and leads a Sooner attack that has plenty of pop. Outfielder Cody Reine has hit five of his 10 home runs in the postseason, including a pair in the decisive third game against Virginia, while outfielder Max White and first basemen Cameron Seltzer each have 15 homers of their own.
Shore and fellow junior Zach Neal are solid if unspectacular on the mound for the Sooners, but Oklahoma will need its lineup to produce plenty of runs to advance in Omaha.