May 31, 2012- And the National Champion will be... C'mon you thought I was going to give you the answer in the lead? Like coaches always say, "it's a process." So let's break down this field of 64 before we crown our Omaha champion.
Let's start with the 16 NCAA Regionals...
3 Seeds to Watch
App State in the Charlottesville, VA Regional. I expect the Mountaineers to play in the championship round against Virginia instead of 2-seed Oklahoma. Appy won 2 of 3 at LSU early in the season, it's been a great run but they won't win the Regional. Also watch for 3 seed Louisville in the Tucson, AZ Regional and New Mexico in the Los Angeles (UCLA) Regional. Would not be surprised to seed the Cardinals and or the Lobos in the championships of those two Regionals but don't think they'll win it. The only 3 seed that I think CAN WIN their regional is Ole Miss at the College Station (Texas A&M) Regional but I'm not even sure they'll get to the championship nor am I sure the Aggies will. 2 seed TCU is a strong threat to win this regional as well. The Rebels certainly have the talent to take this Regional but have been incredibly inconsistent this season. It would be ironic if this Ole Miss team got to the Supers when so many that were more talented didn't, or did, and didn't win it. The Rebels have the ability but I just cant go out on a limb with this team the way they have played this season. Coastal Carolina is another 3-seed to watch but more on them below...
2 Seeds that Will Win
I like Vandy to win the Raleigh (NC State) Regional. Not because the Wolfpack aren't good but because the Commodores have put it all together and not by accident. Great coaching job by Corbin this season to keep this young team from collapsing after a bad season start against a tough schedule. Now that experience will payoff as the Dores hit the road in the Regionals. I like Kentucky to win the Purdue Regional. Wildcats got the shaft on a chance to host,how they harness that "chip on their shoulder" will determine how they do. But if you don't know it by now, UK is really good. Easily could have been the SEC's Regular Season Champs and their reward...go on the road to play at Purdue which might actually turn out to be a blessing because had they hosted, NCAA might have stuck Louisville in their Regional. I believe there's upset potential in the Baton Rouge Regional. Oregon State is a team that folks in the Southeast probably won't hold in great regard but I think the Beavers got a chance against the Tigers. LSU is strong and I'm not saying they'll lose this Regional but remember the last two Regionals on CSS have been won by 2-seed Alabama and 3-seed Miss State so the Tigers have that"whammy" to overcome.
Well that's easy as the NCAA have paired grudge, blood rivals Clemson and South Carolina...but Tigers before you go down that road you must first deal with a Coastal Carolina team that beat you a month ago at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Expect this Regional to go to Monday night and I give the edge to the Gamecocks . After all they are the two-time defending National Champions and they "know how to win" better than any team in the country. What great redemption it would be for Clemson to beat Carolina on their home field and while it would not cleanse their palate of their sour taste from the 2010 CWS it would relieve their torment at least a little. That said don't see it happening and that said I'm not even sure the Tigers reach the Championship Game...Coastal is that much of a threat. The other Regional that I think is really good is the aforementioned TAMU Regional because I think any one of the top 3 seeds can win that...1 Aggies, 2 TCU or 3 Ole Miss but right now sticking with the hosts.
Despite the way FSU finished the season (poorly) and MState (winning SEC Tour Championship won 16 of last 21 SEC games) I expect the Seminoles to win the Tallahassee Regional. FSU was great all season and I know this flies in the face of logic but I think this Regional will be done on Sunday. I think the Florida Regional will be done on Sunday. Great run by Georgia Tech at the ACC Tournament but seen both of these teams up close and personal...really no comparison from talent standpoint plus CofC could be trouble for Jackets in the opener. Other "by Sunday" winners include Miami, North Carolina, Virginia, Stanford, Oregon, UCLA and Baylor. The one Regional I haven't hit yet is Rice where Arkansas is the 2-seed. It would be easy to think the Razorbacks have upset potential there and they do but much like Ole Miss, too inconsistent to step out on the ledge with that team and predict them to win.
Again it would be easy to pick all 8 national seeds to make it to Omaha but that's just not realistic so I'll tell you the teams I see as the interlopers. I like Miami to get back to Omaha, especially if Oregon State upsets LSU and the Canes get to play the Supers at A-Rod Stadium. But even if that doesn't happen I think Miami can go to LSU and win. The Canes aren't great but they're a lot closer to being great now that they've got slugging catcher Peter O'Brien back in the line-up. Canes have a functional starting rotation and a bullpen that can match-up for any situation. Plus Miami hasn't gone 4 straight years without making it to Omaha since 1974...not making it this year would break that streak.
The other Top 8 seed I see falling in the Supers is UNC. I called Arizona earlier in the season and I really like Andy Lopez's team.I think the Wildcats are more than capable of going on the road and winning in Chapel Hill which is what they will have to do to get to the CWS. Going a gut feeling here that Arizona will be an Omaha interloper.
I'm not yet decided on whether Rice will beat Baylor in the Supers but the Owls certainly can.That ones a toss-up and wouldn't be surprised to see either in Omaha but based on the way things are going in Waco these days (with football, RG3 Heisman, both men's and women's basketball success) don't know that I would pick against the Bears.
For those hoping for a repeat of the National Championship Series...not going to happen...Florida and South Carolina are on a bracket collision course to meet in the first round with Oregon and either Baylor or Rice also in that bracket. On the other side it's UCLA and Miami plus Arizona and Florida State. I'm going with the Gators to win one side and although it would be great for me to be able to pick the Seminoles I'm going to stick with my dark horse run here and go with the Arizona Wildcats. That would put former Gators coach Andy Lopez (remember he won a national championship with Pepperdine) against his former team.
And the National Champion will be...
the Florida Gators. They are the best team in the country even though they have not always played that way and obviously I'm not the only person who feels that way since they are the overall 1 national seed. But this is a team that will be in Omaha for the third straight year. They've known all season long that they would be back. They played the toughest schedule in the nation while battling injuries that kept them from ever really being 100. But they are finally healthy. They've got great starting pitching (Randall Hudson, Brian Johnson, Jonathan Crawford & Karsten Whitson) a major league style bullpen (Steven Rodriguez, Austin Maddox, Greg Larson), clutch hitters in Mike Zunino and Preston Tucker. Their "second level stars" (behind Zunino and Tucker) Brian Johnson, Austin Maddox, Daniel Pigott and Nolan Fontana would be superstars on any other team. Their middle infielder of Fontana at SS and freshman 2B Casey Turgeon are the best that I've seen. Gators will hoist the trophy this season.