Every Wednesday, our co-founder, Craig Amick, will give you a snapshot of who in the country is trending toward Omaha, who could surprise and who is quickly falling out of the race. This column has nothing to do with polls (you can find ours here) or standings, but instead takes a look at who, based on historical data and trends, would be the picks to have a place at T.D. Ameritrade Park when June rolls around.
We’re less than four weeks away from the start of the 2013 college baseball season, so it’s time for the predictions, prognostications and preseason accolades to roll in. It’s no different here at Chasing Omaha, thus, here’s our preseason Omaha Eight.
Last year’s field was a good mix of traditional powers, year-long locks and Cinderella stories. We, of course, can’t put the slipper on Cinderella’s foot before the season starts, so we won’t even try. Instead, we will take a look at whom the favorites are to land in Omaha five months from now, which teams are next in line and four teams that might get a lot of preseason attention that need to prove it to us first.
Just like last year, three conferences dominate the projections. The SEC, ACC and Pac 12 have all eight of the preseason favorites, with the SEC and Pac 12 leading the way with three. History tells us there will be more than three conferences represented in Omaha, which is where the upsets come into play, but all but three teams featured in this list are from those three conferences.
So, without further ado, here’s the first installment of The Omaha Eight for 2013:
1. North Carolina – The Tar Heels look like the early national favorite, returning the entire starting rotation and seven-of-nine position players from a team that will be motivated to get back to Omaha after a disappointing early exit from the NCAA Tournament last season.
2. Arkansas – The one major poll that has been released has the Razorbacks preseason No. 1, and with good reason. Arkansas returns most of a dominating pitching staff and six offensive starters, looking to make a return trip to the College World Series in 2013.
3. Oregon – George Horton has the Oregon program on solid ground, and this looks like the year the Ducks break through and make a run to Omaha. Last year’s heartbreaking loss in the Eugene Super Regional will loom large and help push the Ducks to their goal.
4. Vanderbilt – The Commodores were one of the most disappointing teams in the nation for the first half of 2012, but the young team made strides and made a run at the end of the season. Vandy returns a lot on offense and the majority of its starts and add a top-ranked recruiting class for 2013.
5. UCLA – Pitching is not in question at all for the Bruins, looking to make a return trip to Omaha. The entire starting rotation returns. If UCLA can replace the four offensive starters it lost, the Bruins will be back to the College World Series in June.
6. Stanford – The Cardinal got unexpected news this summer when No. 1 draft pick Mark Appel decided to return to school. That alone gives Stanford a chance, but add an offense that has a chance to be one of the best in the country, and there is hope in Palo Alto.
7. South Carolina – You didn’t think we’d leave the Gamecocks off this, did you? They don’t rebuild in Columbia anymore. This year will be no different. There are only five major holes to fill, and there’s little doubt the Gamecocks will be right back in the mix this year.
8. North Carolina State – Carlos Rodon leads a team that is full of talent and came extremely close to making a trip to the Midwest last season. This is the year Elliot Avent’s squad could make that leap into the elite programs in the country.
Waiting in the Wings:
1. LSU – Are they back? We’ll know after this year. The Tigers return an experienced pitching staff and plenty of offense, but the postseason exit at home against Stony Brook raises questions about whether LSU is ready to be back on the national stage.
2. Arizona – The defending national champions took a hit via the draft and have four starters to replace in an offense that they rode to the title. The staff is solid, and if they can fill those holes, the Wildcats may just be back in Omaha defending a title in June.
3. TCU – It’s going to go one way or the other for the Horned Frogs in their move to the Big 12. TCU will get battle tested on the weekends instead of during the week this year. Will that help or will it expose the program? There’s certainly plenty of talent.
4. Arizona State – The Sun Devils return to postseason eligibility in 2013 and will be ready to go offensively. The starting rotation will be a question mark early, though, as they will rely on a talented group of young guns to carry the load.
Lots to Prove:
1. Kentucky – If last season wasn’t a fluke, the Wildcats will be in the battle to get to Omaha this year. They return seven-of-nine starters and two-of-three from the weekend rotation. If Kentucky gets off to a quick start, it likely could be the start of a run to Omaha.
2. San Diego – Every year there’s a team out west that garners a lot of preseason attention that just doesn’t look the part. This year it’s San Diego. The Toreros were an easy out in the tournament in 2012, and until they prove it, it will be tough to believe.
3. Florida State – If Mike Martin can build an offense, the Seminoles could make a run at a return to Omaha. The pitching staff looks solid going in, but there are going to be a lot of new faces offensively.
4. Oklahoma – The Sooners could have one of the best pitching staffs in the nation, but they struggled to score runs in 2012 and will be even more inexperienced in 2013. If the young bats come alive, Oklahoma could make a run late in the season.