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From an Omaha Native - The 2023 College World Series Preview


Nuts & Bolts

  • Dates: June 16-25/26

  • Venue: Charles Schwab Field, Omaha, NE

  • How to Watch: ESPN / ESPN2

  • Bracket: HERE

  • NCAA Baseball Rankings: HERE

  • Follow Along on Twitter

 

If you grow up as a sports fan in Omaha, there’s one event you look forward to every year.

As a kid growing up in the sleepy Midwestern city along the Missouri River, the College World Series was the annual event that put my town on the map. Although it’s not my town anymore, I still follow the event every year as if I still live there.


And lucky me…for the first time since 2014, I’m going to attend a College World Series game as a fan.


From the time I was a little kid, I remember going to CWS games.


In 2004, my family sat next to a raucous Cal State Fullerton fan during the national championship game. Turns out, she was the pitcher's mom and was in tears as her son secured the Titan’s fourth national title.


Four years later, my 11-year old eyes witnessed a completely naked man run onto the field at Rosenblatt Stadium during the LSU vs. North Carolina game. I attended that game with my orthodontist and my brother. A few days later, Fresno State became the first and only 4-seed to win the national championship (might Oral Roberts become the second?).


Two years after that, in 2010, I was moved to tears as the South Carolina Gamecocks closed out Rosenblatt Stadium on a walk off base hit by Whit Merrifield. The iconic ballpark never again hosted a College World Series game and today has been converted to a parking lot…

South Carolina's Whit Merrifield secured a national title on a walk-off hit against UCLA / Photo: SB Nation


In 2011, the CWS made the move to TD Ameritrade Park in downtown Omaha (now referred to as Charles Schwab Field, aka “The Chuck”).


The event lost a lot of its magic in the move to a new ballpark. The stadium has few unique qualities other than being too big that home runs are all too rare. There will never be another Rosenblatt.


In 2015 and 2016, I worked for ESPN at the College World Series as a Production Assistant. Working 16 hour days for two weeks, I got a behind-the-scenes look at my favorite event in sports, but it also meant I went back-to-back years without actually attending a game for the first time in my life.


I’ll be in the seats at The Chuck on June 25 for Game 2 of the championship series.


Depending on how the chips fall that day, I could be there to witness one of the following teams lift the national championship trophy.


In order of ranking/record, here’s a preview of the Omaha 8; who they are, how they got here and what their chances are to bring home a title.

 
  • Head Coach: Tom Walter (14th season, 417-337 record)

  • 2023 Record: 52-10 (22-7 in ACC)

  • Last 10: 8-2

  • AP Ranking: #1

  • NCAA Tournament Appearances: 15

  • Previous College World Series Appearances: 3

  • Last CWS Appearance: 1955

  • Player to Watch: Rhett Lowder - 4th in the nation in ERA (1.92)

  • One Stat to Know: Ranks #1 in team earned run average (2.84 - next best is 3.57)

  • CWS Opening Game: 6/17 vs. #8 Stanford @ 2:00 p.m.

Heading into the 2023 CWS, there is a clear favorite and it’s undeniably the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

The team from Winston Salem, NC has been dominant all season, losing just 10 times and outscoring opponents by 59 runs in the NCAA Tournament in just five games.


In the Regionals, they won 12-0, 21-6 and 15-1, respectively. In the Super Regional, against #15 Alabama, they outscored the Tide 27-9 across two games.


They can hit and they can pitch.


Head Coach Tom Walter is in his 14th season and has finally gotten his team to the CWS for the first time in 68 years after three prior trips to the NCAA Tournament, including a Super Regional appearance in 2017.


Offensively, the Deacons have eight hitters that bat over .300 and five who have hit 10+ home runs.


On the mound, Wake Forest is the best in the country. The team ERA stat of 2.84 is


head and shoulders above the rest of the CWS field and every other team nationally.


The Demon Deacons have dispatched every team faced in 2023, but the favorite heading into Omaha rarely brings home the trophy. This could be the team that changes that narrative and brings home its first national championship since 1955.

 
  • Head Coach: Kevin O’Sullivan (16th season, 677-317 record)

  • 2023 Record: 50-15 (20-10 in SEC)

  • Last 10: 8-2

  • AP Ranking: #2

  • NCAA Tournament Appearances: 38

  • College World Series Appearances: 13

  • Last CWS Appearance: 2018

  • Player to Watch: Jac Caglianone - #1 in the country in home runs (31)

  • One Stat to Know: national leader in home runs

  • CWS Opening Game: 6/16 vs. #11 Virginia @ 2:00 p.m.

Since the CWS moved from Rosenblatt to the new stadium downtown, Florida has been a frequent visitor.

This will be the seventh trip to Omaha for the Gators since the new stadium opened in 2011, all of those trips plus another in the final year at Rosenblatt make eight total trips for Kevin O’Sullivan as head coach.


The Gators rank #2 in the country and for good reason. They are one of four teams with 50 wins or more (all four made the CWS) and they did it in what is regarded as the best baseball conference, the SEC.


Florida had its back against the wall in the Gainesville Regional, needing to beat Texas Tech twice to advance to the Supers. Once there, the Gators dispatched South Carolina with back-to-back wins, advancing back to Omaha for the first time since 2018.


They’ve got the best long-ball hitter in the country in Jac Caglianone, who has hit 31 home runs in 2023. They also have a .373 hitter in Wyatt Langford, who has 24 doubles this season.


On the mound, the Gators have a stable of arms that come out of the bullpen, with steady hands in starting roles.


If the Gators get the lead, there’s no team set up better to maintain it. A dangerous team to fall behind against in the CWS, looking to bring home its first national championship since Pete Alonso and his Gator team did it in 2017.

 
  • Head Coach: David Esquer (6th season, 218-86 record)

  • 2023 Record: 44-18 (23-7 in PAC 12)

  • Last 10: 6-4

  • AP Ranking: #7

  • NCAA Tournament Appearances: 37

  • College World Series Appearances: 19

  • Last CWS Appearance: 2022

  • Player to Watch: Tommy Troy - .397 batter with 17 doubles and 17 home runs

  • One Stat to Know: Six players have hit 14+ home runs

  • CWS Opening Game: 6/17 vs. #1 Wake Forest @ 2:00 p.m.

An old mainstay in Omaha, Stanford was in the CWS five times in the 1980s, four times in the 1990s and five times from 2000-2008.


After missing out from 2009-2020, the Cardinal have quietly advanced to Omaha three years in a row and have become the power house program of the west coast once again.

The problem is that once they get to Omaha, Stanford has struggled to make noise.


Last year, Stanford was #2 in the nation and went 0-2 in the double elimination tournament. In 2021, the Cardinal went 1-2, knocking out Arizona before being eliminated by Vanderbilt.


Yes, this is the third appearance in a row, but Stanford is 1-4 in Omaha over the past two years despite bringing dominant teams to the Midwest.


However, this year's team is the best that Head Coach David Esquer has ever brought to Omaha.


The Cardinal are all about offense, scoring 529 runs this season, which is 10th in the country.


On the mound, there are no dominant arms, with only one pitcher who has an ERA below 4.00. This could spell trouble for Stanford, who have been dominant at times, but also have the worst ten game stretch of any team entering the CWS at 6-4.


Stanford got to Omaha after a Texas blunder cost them the game in the Super Regionals. A little more luck in Omaha, for once, could go a long way for this Stanford team.

 
  • Head Coach: Jay Johnson (2nd season, 86-37 record)

  • 2023 Record: 48-15 (19-10 in SEC)

  • Last 10: 7-3

  • AP Ranking: #8

  • NCAA Tournament Appearances: 35

  • College World Series Appearances: 19

  • Last CWS Appearance: 2017

  • Player to Watch: Paul Skenes - Lowest ERA of any starting pitcher in the country (1.77)

  • One Stat to Know: Most home runs of any team in CWS (133 - 2nd nationally)

  • CWS Opening Game: 6/17 vs. Tennessee @ 7:00 p.m.

For the first time since the legendary coach Paul Mainieri retired, LSU is back in the College World Series.


In just his second season at the helm, Head Coach Jay Johnson has an LSU team who is tremendous offensively, has the best all-around hitter in the country and a starting pitcher with the best ERA in the country.


This LSU team is dangerous and is my pick to take home the national championship in 2023.


Statistically, as a team, LSU ranks third in batting average and second in on-base-percentage. A big reason why is the play of Dylan Crewes, who’s batting .434 on the year with 17 home runs. His teammate, Tommy White, has more RBIs than anyone in the CWS with 97, which is third best in the country.


On the mound, it’s all about Paul Skenes. In 17 starts, the junior RHP is 12-2 with a 1.77 ERA, which is the best among all starting pitchers in the country. Beyond that, he has 188 strikeouts compared to just 18 walks, which is best among all pitchers in the CWS and third nationally.


Once it gets past Skenes, LSU has two bullpen guys in Garrett Edwards and Chase Shores who have ERA’s below 2.00.


Simply put, there is no team in Omaha that has a better 1-2-3 punch on the mound than LSU. In a do-or-die game, if the Tigers can use this trio of arms, I wouldn’t beat against them.


The Tigers didn’t lose in the NCAA Tournament on the way to Omaha, outscoring #12 Kentucky in the Super Regional 22-3.


LSU will have more fans than any other team in Omaha, and that support might just carry them to the school’s seventh national championship and first since 2009.

 
  • Head Coach: Brian O’Connor (20th season, 839-351-2 record)

  • 2023 Record: 50-13 (19-11 in ACC)

  • Last 10: 8-2

  • AP Ranking: #11

  • NCAA Tournament Appearances: 20

  • College World Series Appearances: 6

  • Last CWS Appearance: 2021

  • Player to Watch: Kyle Teel - .418 batting average with 25 steals

  • One Stat to Know: Ranks #1 in team batting average (.335)

  • CWS Opening Game: 6/16 vs. #2 Florida @ 7:00 p.m.

Head Coach Brian O’Connor has engineered the ultimate program build at Virginia.


Prior to his arrival in 2004, Virginia had never been to the CWS and had only made the NCAA Tournament three times.


Now, in his 20th season, the Cavaliers have made it to the NCAA Tournament 17 times and advanced to Omaha six times under his tenure, only missing the NCAA Tournament twice since his arrival on campus.

This Virginia team displayed resiliency in the Super Regionals, losing Game 1 in Charlottesville to Duke before coming back and winning back-to-back do-or-die games in dominant fashion, outscoring the Blue Devils 26-6 in the two elimination games.


To put it simply, the Cavaliers can flat out hit.


Virginia ranks #1 in the nation in team batting average at .335. They also lead the nation in doubles with 169, which is 16 more than anybody else.


They’ve got five players who are .350+ hitters and that doesn’t include Jake Gelof, who leads the team with 23 home runs this season.


On the mound, the Cavaliers are steady. Virginia has four starters who all have ERA’s below 4.00 and several bullpen guys with similar numbers.


Virginia allows roughly four runs per game, and averages scoring just over nine runs per game.


If they do that in Omaha, there’s a good chance they’ll lift their second national championship trophy in school history and be champions for the first time since 2015.

 
  • Head Coach: Tony Vitello (6th season, 234-97 record)

  • 2023 Record: 43-20 (16-14 in SEC)

  • Last 10: 7-3

  • AP Ranking: N/A

  • NCAA Tournament Appearances: 13

  • College World Series Appearances: 6

  • Last CWS Appearance: 2021

  • Player to Watch: Jared Dickey - .325 hitter with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs

  • One Stat to Know: Has two bullpen pitchers with ERA’s under 1.00

  • CWS Opening Game: 6/17 vs. #8 LSU @ 7:00 p.m.

Now we get to the fun part of the CWS field. The teams that aren’t supposed to be here.


We’ll start with Tennessee, a team that was undoubtedly supposed to be here last year and surprised us all with their trip to Omaha this year.

The Volunteers have now made it to Omaha two of the last three years and advanced to the Super Regional’s in 2022. In its history, Tennessee has made it Omaha nearly half the time they’ve made the NCAA Tournament (6/13).


Last year, Tennessee had its best team in school history, winning a school record 58 games. In heartbreaking fashion, they fell to Notre Dame in the Super Regionals, missing out on a golden opportunity to win a national championship.


Surprisingly, that’s the only Super Regional that Tennessee has ever lost in its history. In 2023, with expectations low, the Volunteers made the NCAA Tournament as a 2-seed in the Clemson Regional and advanced out of it to the Hattiesburg Super Regional to take on Southern Mississippi.


After losing Game 1, Tennessee roared back, outscoring Southern Miss 13-4 over the next two games to finally advance back to Omaha.


Offensively, the Vol's are nothing extraordinary. They’re a team that is hot and has hit in clutch moments, which is what this time of year is all about.


On the mound, the bullpen is where the story is. Tennessee has two pitchers in Hollis Fanning and AJ Russell who have 36 combined appearances and have 0.66 and 0.94 ERAs, respectively.


If they get a lead and can turn to Fanning and Russell, it’s lights out for basically any opponent, making for a very dangerous team for any favorite in Omaha.


First up, fellow SEC foe, LSU.

 
  • Head Coach: Kirk Saarloos (2nd season, 80-44 record)

  • 2023 Record: 42-22 (13-11 in Big 12)

  • Last 10: 10-0

  • AP Ranking: N/A

  • NCAA Tournament Appearances: 19

  • College World Series Appearances: 6

  • Last CWS Appearance: 2017

  • Player to Watch: Tre Richardson - .315 hitter with 24 stolen bases

  • One Stat to Know: Have won 11 games in a row entering the CWS

  • CWS Opening Game: 6/16 vs. Oral Roberts @ 2:00 p.m.

Think they're having fun on the campus of TCU? The football team came out of nowhere to make to the CFP Championship Game, the basketball team came out of nowhere to earn a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and now the baseball team has made it to Omaha for yet another College World Series.


Similarly to Virginia, TCU has become a frequent visitor to Omaha in recent years

The Horned Frogs had never been to Omaha before 2010. Now, they’re back for their sixth visit in 13 years.


However, they are quickly building a narrative that this is as far as they go. TCU has frequently disappointed at this stage, never advancing to even the championship series, let alone bringing home a national title.


Head Coach Kirk Saarloos has his team looking to change that.


I’d say TCU is the hottest team entering the CWS if Oral Roberts wasn’t here, but the Horned Frogs have turned it on when it’s mattered most.


They currently own the longest active winning streak in the country at 11 games, including winning 17 of its last 18.


To get here, TCU went through the gauntlet of Arizona and then #3 Arkansas, demolishing its opponents in the Fayetteville Regional. In three game, the Horned Frogs outscored Arizona and Arkansas 2x 44-13.


In a strange turn of events, because of prior commitments for Indiana State in Terre Haute, TCU got to host the Super Regional in Fort Worth, despite being the lower seed. They made home field advantage count, winning both games against ISU and making it back to Omaha for the first time since 2017.


The Horned Frogs like to run, stealing more bases than any team in the CWS with 139 on the year. The next most of anyone else in the Omaha 8 is Oral Roberts with 98.


When they get on base, they run, get players in scoring position, and hit them in. That style of play, coupled with a hot team, makes for a very dangerous opponent, not to mention that they’ve never won here.

TCU is hungry. Can they finally bring one home?

 
  • Head Coach: Ryan Folmar (11th season, 368-220 record)

  • 2023 Record: 51-12 (23-1 in Summit League)

  • Last 10: 9-1

  • AP Ranking: N/A

  • NCAA Tournament Appearances: 29

  • College World Series Appearances: 2

  • Last CWS Appearance: 1978

  • Player to Watch: Jonah Cox - Leads the nation in hits (110)

  • One Stat to Know: Had won 21 straight games before losing to Oregon in Game 1 of the Eugene Super Regional

  • CWS Opening Game: 6/16 vs. TCU @ 2:00 p.m.

What is sure to be the crowd favorite in Omaha, Oral Roberts is back in the College World Series for the first time since 1978, its only other visit.


The Golden Eagles have made history, becoming just the third 4-seed to advance to Omaha, following Fresno State in 2008 and Stony Brook in 2012.

Oral Roberts has a history of going on deep runs. The program represented the Summit League in the NCAA Tournament every year from 1998-2012, but has only made it out of the Regional round three times in 29 tries.


This team, however, is the best team in program history. Oral Roberts has won 51 games and owns what was the longest winning streak in the country for any team in 2023, winning 21 games in a row before losing Game 1 of the Super Regional to Oregon, despite leading 8-0.


To get here, Oral Roberts got out of the Stillwater Regional, defeating #11 Oklahoma State, Washington and Dallas Baptist, who had swept Oral Roberts earlier this year.


In the Super Regional, the Golden Eagles took on Oregon. After a heartbreaking loss in Game 1 where ORU blew a 8-0 lead and lost 9-8, they somehow came back to win Game 2 in dramatic fashion, 8-7.


In Game 3, they fell behind early before coming back and clinching an 11-6 victory to send this year’s Cinderella on to Omaha.


This team is all about offense. ORU is fourth nationally in team batting average (.323) and has the nation’s leader in hits. Jonah Cox has 110 base hits this year and is batting .420 with 16 doubles, 8 triples, 11 home runs, and 67 RBIs.


On the mound, Oral Roberts have several pitchers, particularly bullpen arms Cade Denton, who can impact a game.


There is something to be said for a team that just wins and that is all Oral Roberts has done the last several months. This team went 23-1 in the Summit League and has won 31 of its last 33 games.


In 2008, Fresno State became the first 4-seed ever to win the CWS, a mark that has still not been matched to this day.


Can Oral Roberts join Fresno State as the ultimate Cinderella and bring it home?


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