Legends On Deck

The Return of the College World Series

After the lost season of 2020, the College World Series is back!  You can almost smell the charcoal burning in the parking lots of Omaha.  If you are ever looking for a really good baseball book, I strongly recommend The Road to Omaha:  Hopes, Hits and History at the  College World Series.  While it was written over a decade ago (2009), it’s still an important book for understanding the background of the CWS and it’s origins in Omaha.  

The Omaha 8

This year’s CWS will not include #1 Arkansas, as the “Omahogs” were surprisingly defeated by North Carolina State in the Super Regionals.  The Wolfpack are joined by another surprise out of the ACC, the Virginia Cavaliers.  NC State and UVA are the only two teams in Omaha that are unranked.  The SEC will be well represented by #3 Tennessee, #4 Vanderbilt and #7 Mississippi State.  Both #5 Arizona and #9 Stanford will represent the PAC-12.  And Texas is the sole team from the Big 12.  

In College Baseball terms, only the “Power Four” conferences are represented.  The 2019 Michigan Wolverines were a rarity in recent years, making it all the way to the Finals.  The early season schedule in cold weather states can be brutal.  In fact, a Big Ten team has not won a National Championship since Ohio State in 1966.   This largely means that there is a geographical advantage for programs in the South and Southwest, based on climate.  

The one disappointment in this year’s CWS is the lack of representation from the Mid-Majors.  East Carolina, Dallas Baptist and South Florida were all knocked out in the Super Regionals, leaving no representative in Omaha.  Earlier on in the season, when I wrote Is 2021 the Year of the Mid-Major?, it looked like more Mid-Majors would be making noise into late June.  Unfortunately, we will have no 2016 Coastal Carolina scenario as a possibility in 2021.  

Smoky Mountain Showdown?

Nevertheless, this year’s CWS has plenty of interesting angles and talented teams to watch.  And there are sure to be some surprises.  There could be any number of intriguing Finals match-ups, but I will be rooting for Vanderbilt (defending Champs) vs Tennessee.  This would pit the two inner-state rivals against each other for the first time since Miami defeated Florida State in 1999.  It also offers up a contrast with Vandy’s star pitchers Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker up against the power hitting Volunteers lineup.  If not Tennessee, the SEC’s other power hitting squad from Starkville may be a worthy adversary for the Vandy Boys.  Having survived the slug-fest with Notre Dame last weekend, Mississippi State returns to Omaha for the third year in a row.  

If you’re looking for potential, future MLB stars, there’s plenty of them to keep an eye on.  The College World Series, however, offers much more than a feeder system for professional baseball.  It’s the schools, the crowds, the tailgates, the traditions and the raw enthusiasm that can often only be captured in college athletics is on display in Omaha.  They’ve called it the “Greatest Show on Dirt.”  I’ve called it the most underrated spectacle in all of sports.  Tune in this weekend and enjoy the game of baseball at it’s best. 

**Photo from NBC News**

Brian Koss
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