The College World Series gets underway Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska.
Top-seeded Arkansas got knocked off in its super regional, opening up the possibilities for the eight-team national championship event. The field includes a Vanderbilt team with MLB-level starting pitchers, big bashers like Arizona and Tennessee, an unexpected party-crasher in Virginia and sturdy contenders like Texas and Stanford.
The USA TODAY Network tasked some of its writers with predicting the outcome of all the first-round games and which team will win the best-of-three series and claim the NCAA championship.
North Carolina State vs. Stanford
Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman: North Carolina State. The Wolfpack will be the Cinderella at Omaha, but the shoe won’t fit because the Cardinal will bring N.C. State back to reality with its high-powered offense after sweeping Texas Tech in the super regional. The Pack’s epic upset of Arkansas will be their summer highlight.
Aria Gerson, The Tennessean: Stanford. Underrated all year thanks to playing only West Coast teams, the Cardinal looked like one of the best teams in the country in the regional and super regional rounds.
Adam Sparks, The Tennessean: Stanford. The Cardinal obliterated Texas Tech in the super regional with two wins by a combined score of 24-3. And North Carolina State’s pinnacle was upsetting No. 1 seed Arkansas in the super regional.
Nick Suss, The Clarion Ledger: Stanford. Both of these teams proved something about themselves in the early rounds, but Stanford’s pitching staff proves to be a little too deep for the Wolfpack.
Mike Wilson, Knoxville News Sentinel: Stanford. The Cardinal can score and score a lot.
Arizona vs. Vanderbilt
Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman: Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt is the defending champion from 2019, when Kumar Rocker exploded onto the scene. The Commodores cool the red-hot Wildcats as Rocker and tag-team pitching mate Jack Leiter will show why they’ll be two of the top five picks in this summer’s draft.
Aria Gerson, The Tennessean: Vanderbilt. Arizona will bring the Commodores’ biggest challenge of the NCAA tournament so far, but it’s hard to bet against Kumar Rocker in the postseason.
Adam Sparks, The Tennessean: Vanderbilt. This is a toss-up because Arizona is not only a great hitting team, but it also doesn’t rely on home runs. That means TD Ameritrade Park’s dimensions won’t be a hindrance. If anyone else were on the mound for Vanderbilt, Arizona might be the pick here.
Nick Suss, The Clarion Ledger: Arizona. The massive outfield dimensions in Omaha aren’t a problem for Arizona coming from a massive home ballpark of its own. The best offense in the field shows enough strength to get around whichever ace Vanderbilt throws at it.
Mike Wilson, Knoxville News Sentinel: Vanderbilt. Elite offense meets elite pitching in the postseason. It doesn’t get better than that. It also doesn’t get better than Kumar Rocker in Omaha.
Virginia vs. Tennessee
Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman: Tennessee. Virginia may be the crowd favorite after coming back to win two playoff rounds following an opening loss. But the Volunteers have the bats and a strong one-two pitching punch with Blade Tidwell and Chad Dallas.
Aria Gerson, The Tennessean: Tennessee. The Volunteers are too good to let go of their dream season this early.
Adam Sparks, The Tennessean: Tennessee. The Vols are riding a lot of momentum. They have the bats, and their pitching is underrated.
Nick Suss, The Clarion Ledger: Tennessee. Something feels different about these Volunteers. Nothing has fazed them this postseason, and that won’t be any different against a Virginia team that’s started slow in each of its postseason series.
Mike Wilson, Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee. The Vols are rolling through the postseason. That doesn’t change Sunday.
Mississippi State vs. Texas
Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman: Texas. Assuming TD Ameritrade Park doesn’t look like Dudy Noble Field North, the Longhorns ride their momentum from a 5-0 postseason performance and keep cruising behind likely MLB top-10 pick Ty Madden.
Aria Gerson, The Tennessean: Texas. The highest-seeded team remaining will take care of a Mississippi State team that’s been up and down the past few weeks.
Adam Sparks, The Tennessean: Texas. The Longhorns are the highest remaining seed for good reasons. And Mississippi State has highs and lows.
Nick Suss, The Clarion Ledger: Texas. Mississippi State took down the Longhorns in February, but this Texas team is too improved since Opening Day for a repeat of that 8-3 loss in Arlington.
Mike Wilson, Knoxville News Sentinel: Texas. Mississippi State got by a nice Notre Dame team, but Texas is stout.
College World Series champion:
Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman: Texas. The Longhorns, playing in their eye-popping 37th CWS, have their most balanced team in more than a decade and can beat an opponent in a variety of ways with their deep pitching, flawless defense and speed and pop in the batting order. But no one has repeated in Omaha in 10 years. Texas takes down Vandy in three games.
Aria Gerson, The Tennessean: Texas. This team has somehow flown under the radar despite being ranked No. 2 in the country, and the Longhorns make everyone realize it by spoiling the party for the Tennessee teams.
Adam Sparks, The Tennessean: Vanderbilt. If Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter go a combined 4-0, the Commodores win the national title. If either loses once, that’s likely not the case. The pick here is based on both pitching well and getting enough run support.
Nick Suss, The Clarion Ledger: Tennessee. What’s the best way to silence rumors that Tony Vitello could leave Knoxville for a bigger program? How about by making Tennessee the biggest program of them all? An offense that can’t be denied gets the Vols their first championship.
Mike Wilson, Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee. Arkansas was the previous pick to win it all after topping the Vols three times in four meetings this season. The Razorbacks are out of the way and Tennessee is hot. UT goes full baseball school and wins the whole thing.