The California Golden Bears announced in September of 2010 that their baseball program would be cut because the school couldn’t afford it any longer. After a change of heart eight months later — mostly stemming from a huge influx of cash from supporters — the program was reinstated and became the darlings of the 2011 College World Series. The Bears even won a game in Omaha, saving the program.
Last year, little Stony Brook went into the toughest environment in the nation and beat LSU to earn a trip to Omaha. Kent State took two out of three at No. 5 Oregon in the Super Regionals to join the Seawolves as fan favorites in Omaha.
Over the last two seasons, 10 of the 16 College World Series participants were national, or top eight, seeds. Over the last five seasons, 24 of the 40 College World Series teams were national seeds. This means that five of the eight teams heading to New Rosenblatt Stadium this June will be national seeds.
But it also means three of the eight will be unexpected underdog upsets. In fact, two of the last three champions — Arizona a year ago and South Carolina in 2010 — were not national seeds.
So who is going to make that historic trip to Omaha for the College World Series in 2013? Here are our predictions:
North Carolina (1) over South Carolina
I wasn’t going to take the Tar Heels after they lost their last two ACC series of the regular season, however, North Carolina got the weakest regional draw of the tourney and should skate through to the Super Regionals. In-state rivals Clemson and South Carolina will battle in the Columbia Regional for a second straight season. The Cocks won this battle last year and the Tigers have lost five straight games, so South Carolina is poised to battle North Carolina in the Supers. Look for ACC Player and Pitcher of the Year Colin Moran and Kent Emanuel to lead the Tar Heels to the College World Series for the fifth time in eight years.
Vanderbilt (2) over Louisville
Both host teams will face intriguing tests as Vandy faces Golden Spikes candidate Kerry Doane on Friday night and a talented but slumping Georgia Tech team potentially on Saturday. However, the Dores are the best team in SEC history by record and should get to the second weekend with relative ease. Louisville has a much tougher path to the Super Regional as it will have to face both Miami and Oklahoma State in the first weekend. The Cardinals won 16 straight to end the regular season and their pitching should advance the Redbirds into a showdown with the Commodores. Tim Corbin’s deep lineup and nasty 1-2 punch atop the rotation — Kevin Ziomek and Tyler Beede — will get Vanderbilt to Omaha for the second time in three years.
Arkansas over Oregon State (3)
This is the best Beavers team since Pat Casey won back-to-back CWS championships in 2006 and '07. But having to host either Kansas State or Arkansas in the Supers is a tough draw for the No. 3 overall seed. The Razorbacks have elite pitching both in the rotation and the bullpen as ace Ryne Stanek leads the way. Dave Van Horn’s team made it to the College World Series last year by winning on the road twice against Rice and Baylor and I expect the SEC-tested and second-seeded Hogs to do it again this year. Arkansas upsets the Wildcats in Manhattan, Kan., and then takes down Oregon State in Corvallis to reach the CWS for the second consecutive season.
LSU (4) over Oklahoma
The second-seeded Sooners have to go through Virginia Tech in Blacksburg to get to the Bayou Bengals but ace Jonathan Gray should be up to the task. This team has won five straight and clinched the automatic berth by winning the Big 12 tournament last weekend. That said, the surging Sooners won’t pull a Stony Brook this year as their run will end in Alex Box Stadium. LSU is on a mission this year led by three Golden Spikes semifinalists — starter Aaron Nola, slugger Mason Katz and star freshman shortstop Alex Bregman — and won’t be denied a trip to Omaha.
Cal State Fullerton (5) over UCLA
No team in the nation lost fewer games than the Titans' eight this year, but CSF will be pressed by upstart New Mexico and fellow West Coast power Arizona State in the first weekend. Fullerton has been knocked out of the last two tournaments by Pac-12 teams Oregon (2012) and Stanford (2011) and will likely have to get through two in Arizona State and UCLA to get to Omaha for the first time since 2009. Head coach and alum Rick Vanderhook, who played on the 1984 national championship team, is looking to put his stamp on the historic program after both George Horton and Dave Serrano led the Titans to Omaha. This team might be the pick to win the whole thing if they can make it through the first two weekends.
Virginia (6) over South Alabama
The Wahoos have a nice draw in the first weekend and should be a lock to make it to the second weekend. South Alabama was the best team in an extremely underrated Sun Belt conference (four bids) and gets to play against a surprise host in Mississippi State. The Jaguars, who won 42 games this year, will shock the Bulldogs faithful at famed Dudy Noble in Starkville, Miss. However, look for the superior talent of the Cavaliers to overpower the lack of postseason experience for South Alabama as Brian O’Connor gets his squad to Omaha for the third time in five seasons.
Indiana over Alabama
The Big Ten regular-season and tournament champions could be this year’s surprise team in Omaha but they will have to earn their way into the finals. Austin Peay won 45 games and Florida is extremely talented so the first weekend could be tougher than the second for Indiana. Meanwhile in Tallahassee, Alabama might be the team to beat after giving Vanderbilt all it could handle in the final weekend of the regular season. Host Florida State is the most vulnerable national seed and a should a No. 2 seed end up making its way to Omaha, it seems most likely that it would come from this “pod” of action.
NC State over Oregon (8)
Ole Miss and NC State are both poised to make deep runs on the backs of aces Bobby Wahl and Carlos Rodon respectively. However, they’ll meet this weekend in Raleigh and only one can advance to the Super Regionals. Both are toying with starting Wahl and Rodon head-to-head on Saturday instead of Friday in the opener. It means a trip to Omaha could be on the line on the second day of the regional. Rodon has been downright nasty of late and has the stuff — 8-2, 3.48 ERA, 151 K, .199 BAA in 101 IP — to carry his team to New Rosenblatt Stadium.