Never has it been more exciting to talk about Omaha, Nebraska.
Tomorrow is the first day of the 2021 College World Series, one of the best tournaments in sports, and an event 2020 robbed us of. After two years away, a packed TD Ameritrade Park will be a welcome sight for baseball fans. The eight teams making the trip come from all over the country and are a healthy mix of teams expected to be here, and fun surprises. Let's break down each of these teams to see what makes them special.
Game 1: Stanford vs NC State (2 pm EST on ESPN)
The Stanford Cardinal were by no means an underdog. They tore through a very good Pac-12 Conference and were rewarded with the No. 9 overall seed. This meant they had to go on the road for their Super Regional and face a Texas Tech team that has frequently made it to Omaha in recent years. How did Stanford respond? By bludgeoning the Red Raiders 15-3 and 9-0. They won't be sneaking up on anyone anymore.
Now on the subject of sneaking up, NC State sent shockwaves through the college baseball world with their upset of the top-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks. The Hogs dominated the SEC and the Wolfpack in the first game of the Super Regional. Did anyone expect NC State to win the series after losing 21-2? You can say you did but that would make you a liar. Now everyone knows they're never out of a series.
Game 2: Vanderbilt vs Arizona (7 pm EST on ESPN)
If you like pitching you are duty bound to watch the Vanderbilt Commodores. In most years Kumar Rocker would be a no-brainer to be considered the best pitcher in college baseball. The other guy vying for that title it Vandy's OTHER ace Jack Leiter. They held ECU to a single run over 18 innings in the Supers. If they make it to the championship series where they only need to win two out of three, it'll be a daunting task for whoever has the displeasure of facing the defending champs.
You need a powerful offense to succeed against this Vandy pitching, so Arizona probably isn't too nervous. The Wildcats finished first in a brutal Pac-12 and scored 28 total runs across three games against Ole Miss. The phrase "unstoppable force meets an immovable object" gets thrown around a lot, but this offense vs pitching matchup fits the bill.
Game 3: Tennessee vs Virginia (2 EST on ESPN2)
The Volunteers are making their first trip to Omaha in 16 years. You'll be able to tell the crowd is excited to be there. In just four years Tony Vitello has rocketed the program to the top of the sport, finishing with the No. 3 overall seed despite playing in the country's toughest conference filled to the brim with yearly contenders. The Vols' strategy to win is to hit the ball, then hit the ball farther, then hit it even farther. Much like the Wildcats, you may see some football scores from this squad.
Usually when a team that was a 3 seed in the Regional makes it all the way to the CWS, it's a small program that's getting its first taste of success. That's not the case here. Just six years removed from a title, the Cavaliers are always one of the biggest names in college baseball. Despite a down season by their standards, they fought through rain delays in both rounds of the postseason to make it all the way. Their 2015 title is the only baseball championship won by an ACC school in the past 66 years. So it would be pretty funny if they won it again huh?
Game 4: Texas vs Mississippi State (7 pm EST on ESPN2)
These two teams might as well own property in Omaha. The Longhorns have far and away the most trips to the College World Series with 36, and are tied for the second most times winning it all. They dominated the Big 12 en route to the No. 2 overall seed. Only a few years removed from the late Augie Garrido's retirement, the program is as consistent as ever.
The Bulldogs also know a thing or two about making regular trips to Omaha, but still have yet to take home the trophy. They needed every bit of their high-powered offense to out-slug Notre Dame in the Super Regional, and will now try their best to push the ball over the deep TD Ameritrade walls.
The 2021 CWS might feature more familiar faces and fewer Cinderellas than some prefer, but it's so good to be back I don't think anyone minds. Never leave us again, College World Series.