Given the way the NCAA Tournament unraveled into chaos last weekend, predicting the outcomes in Omaha is probably a futile effort. Just three of the original eight national seeds -- Florida, Miami and Texas Tech -- are still playing, and half of the remaining field started this tournament as a regional two seed. Gone are title contenders Louisville, Mississippi State and LSU, all swept away by significant underdogs in the super regionals.
But what the hell, I'll give it a shot. Below are the eight teams taking the field for the College World Series this weekend, ranked in order of their shot to win the whole thing.
One common theme you'll notice: the deeper and talented a team's pitching staff is, the more of a chance I give them. TD Ameritrade's pitcher-friendly confines (408 feet to dead center and the wind blowing in) puts an emphasis on quality arms, and the format* necessitates reliable fourth and fifth starters and depth in the pen.
The eight teams are divided into two groups of four, each of which will play a double-elimination mini-tournament. The winner of each bracket group advances to a best-of-three national championship series. Before we get started, here's a quick look at each bracket group.
Group 1: Miami, Oklahoma State, Arizona, UC Santa Barbara
Group 2: Florida, Texas Tech, TCU, Coastal Carolina
No one is deeper or more talented on the mound than the No. 1 overall seed Gators. A.J. Puk, the No. 6 overall pick in the MLB Draft, is the third starter in the rotation behind Logan Shore and Alex Faedo. I'd like to say Florida needs Puk to be more consistent to make a title run, but the staff is so loaded that it may not matter. When Puk faltered in the fourth inning of the deciding game against Florida State in the Gainesville super, the Gators just swapped him out with another first-rounder, shutdown reliever Dane Dunning.
They have plenty of talent at the plate as well: Buddy Reed is a first-rounder, power-hitting Peter Alonso has mashed four homers in six games since returning from a broken hand and J.J. Schwarz, the reigning Freshman of the Year, will have his confidence up after his grand slam helped beat FSU on Monday.
The No. 3 overall seed certainly has an easier path to the finals than Florida: not only are the Canes the only national seed in their bracket group, they're the only team that hosted a regional (Arizona, Oklahoma State and UC Santa Barbara were all regional two seeds). Miami's been far from dominant in this tourney -- it won its three regional games by a combined four runs and stumbled against BC in Game 2 of its super -- but it has a dangerous lineup (look out for No. 10 overall draft pick Zack Collins) and reliable starters backed up by a solid bullpen and the best statistical defense in the country.
3. Oklahoma State
Ya know who has been dominant? The Cowboys. They're a perfect 5-0 in tournament play, with four of those wins coming against national seed Clemson and SEC power South Carolina. Their pitching staff, which is anchored by Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Thomas Hatch, has allowed just six runs total in those five games. The biggest hurdle in their bracket is Miami, which could potentially meet them in the winners bracket game. If Hatch can carry OSU past UC Santa Barbara in the opener, Tyler Buffett -- who threw one-run, seven-inning games against Clemson and South Carolina -- gives the Pokes a real chance to beat the Canes. A 2-0 start would put them in the drivers seat for a finals berth.
The Frogs stumbled a bit through the regular season but have been one of the hottest teams in the country in the postseason. They cruised through the Big 12 Tourney on the way to a championship, steamrolled their regional, then wrestled two of three from SEC champ Texas A&M in the supers. The theme has been shutdown pitching -- only Oklahoma State and Florida have tournament ERAs better than TCU's 1.83. In College Station, the Frogs held one of the most explosive offenses in the country to a combined three runs and eight hits in their two wins (A&M broke out for seven runs on nine hits in the middle game, still modest by Aggie standards).
5. Texas Tech
Tech swept OK State and took two of three from TCU during the regular season, so why do I have the No. 5 national seed below both of them? The Red Raiders have been a bit wobbly in the tournament, losing to Dallas Baptist in the regionals and East Carolina in the opener of the Lubbock super. More significantly, they don't have the top end pitching that their Big 12 partners have. If conference Player of the Year Eric Gutierrez can get hot (he broke out of an 0-for-16 slump with a game-winning hit in the first win over ECU), this lineup becomes a lot more dangerous.
6. Coastal Carolina
Watch out for this offense. Sure, the huge yard in Omaha will blunt the Chants' power advantage (they lead the country in homers), but this lineup can hurt you in a ton of different ways. Coastal ranks in the top eight nationally in walks drawn, sac bunts and stolen bases, meaning they can small ball you when they're not bashing it over the fence.
So why is Coastal this far down the list? It opens the CWS against Florida and may not have the starting pitching depth to fight its way out of the losers bracket in a group that also includes Texas Tech and TCU. An upset over the Gators isn't that far-fetched, though -- if there's any lineup that can get to Logan Shore, it's this one.
This lineup isn't going to slug its way through Omaha, which means the Wildcats will have to continue leaning heavily on their pitching staff. That's problematic considering Arizona 1) doesn't have any truly elite arms and 2) what arms it does have might be ready to fall off. Ace Nathan Bannister (a 28th-round pick in the draft) threw 198 pitches in four days during the regionals before laboring through another 86-pitch start last Saturday. Bobby Dalbec, a guy who was drafted as a position player and had never pitched past the sixth inning, threw a career-high 129 pitches in his near-complete game against Mississippi State last weekend. It doesn't help that whoever gets the ball on Saturday has to face Miami's dangerous lineup.
8. UC Santa Barbara
The Gauchos are a relatively average team across the board, from an offense hitting .262 on the season to a staff that lacks reliable starters behind ace Shane Beiber. But they also got a walk-off grand slam from a backup freshman catcher to sweep arguably the most talented team in the entire tournament (Louisville), so what the hell do I know.