Tuesday, May 29, 2018

2018 College World Series Predictions

It is perhaps my favorite time of the year! The 64-team field for the college baseball postseason has been announced and once again I am ready to announce my predictions for what really is an unpredictable tournament!

Before the 2018 college baseball season began, I released predictions on ZKS on how many teams would make it and I was fortunate enough to correctly guess 34 of the 64 schools selected! Though I am somewhat restrained by my preseason projected College World Series participants, I still have some liberty to give my thoughts on who I think the remaining eight will be in Omaha due to some of my anticipated schools not even making the tourney. 

As expected with an article of this type, I must stress that baseball is HARD TO PREDICT and that I do these picks hoping for wacky upsets and great storylines all the way up through the College World Series. So without further adieu, here are the ZKS predictions for the 2018 NCAA Division 1 Baseball Tournament!


Gainesville Regional
No. 1 Florida (42-17)
Jacksonville (39-19)
Florida Atlantic (40-17)
Columbia (20-28)

Winner: No. 1 Florida over Florida Atlantic

Why: The Gators are no stranger to being the top seed in this tournament. Winning the regular season title in college baseball's toughest conference for the second straight year is a testament to how talented this team is from top to bottom. After finally securing the program's first national championship last season, any pressures of "choking" should not weigh on the minds of this Florida squad.

They Gators may have finished the regular season and conference tournament on a sour note, but this team has just been too good all season to lose in regional play. Having first rounders like Jonathan India, Brady Singer, and Jackson Kowar does not hurt either.

Raleigh Regional
No. 16 NC State (40-16)
Auburn (39-21)
Northeastern (36-19)
Army (35-22)

Winner: Auburn over No. 16 NC State

Why: The good news for Auburn is that they are not playing in the Tallahassee Regional. With the change in scenery, a dangerous lineup, and first rounder Casey Mize at their disposal, the Tigers should finally be able to defeat their ACC-host and advance to super regionals.

Athens Regional
No. 8 Georgia (36-19)
Duke (40-15)
Troy (41-19)
Campbell (35-24)

Winner: No. 8 Georgia over Duke

Why: Despite a poor showing in the SEC Tournament, the Dawgs won 6 SEC series and have done enough to earn their first national seed since the 2008 tournament (where they finished runner-up in the College World Series). Now a decade later, Georgia just might be primed to make another run, and none of the other three teams in this region will prevent that from happening.

Lubbock Regional
No. 9 Texas Tech (39-17)
Louisville (43-17)
Kent State (39-16)
New Mexico State (40-20)

Winner: No. 9 Texas Tech over Louisville

Why: I picked Texas Tech to finish as the CWS runner-ups at the beginning of the season, but them being in the same bracket as Florida has forced me to make some alterations. As a ball club that has appeared in two of the last four CWS, Tech's early round exit in their own regional last season was very underwhelming.

With Louisville being their biggest threat this postseason, Tech should be able to avenge their shortcomings from last postseason and get back on track towards Omaha.

Fayetteville Regional
No. 5 Arkansas (39-18)
Southern Miss (43-16)
Dallas Baptist (40-19)
Oral Roberts (38-18)

Winner: No. 5 Arkansas over Southern Miss

Why: Arky's offense is DEADLY. Among the NCAA they currently sit third in home runs (84), third in home runs per game (1.47) and ninth in slugging percentage (.484). With guys like Casey Martin, Heston Kjerstad, Carson Shaddy, and Eric Cole (who combined for 46 home runs), teams in this region will need to pitch carefully each time through this lineup. Akry should blast their way to their first super regional since 2015.

Greenville Regional
No. 12 East Carolina (43-16)
South Carolina (33-24)
Ohio State (36-22)
UNCW (37-21)

Winner: South Carolina over No. 12 East Carolina

Why: Do not let South Carolina's recent woes make you forget that at one point they won back-to-back national championships (2010 and 2011) and appeared in three straight CWS Finals. With new skipper Mark Kingston at the helm, the Gamecocks baseball program has been revitalized.

Relying on the gauntlet that has been their SEC schedule, South Carolina will advance to its first super regional since 2016. This will be the second upset of the tournament (Auburn over No. 16 NC State being the first).

Oxford Regional
No. 4 Ole Miss (46-15)
Tennessee Tech (48-9)
Missouri State (38-15)
Saint Louis (38-18)

Winner: No. 4 Ole Miss over Missouri State

Why: Ole Miss won the SEC Tournament, which alone speaks volumes. Having won all but three SEC series this season, the Rebels have been a force to be reckoned with all season. With a 28-4 record at home, the SEC Western Division Champs will not fold to their competition at Swayze Field.

Austin Regional
No. 13 Texas (37-20)
Indiana (38-17)
Texas A&M (39-20)
Texas Southern (27-26)

Winner: No. 13 Texas over Texas A&M

Why: It is good to see Texas baseball actually somewhat relevant again in the post-Augie Garrido era (RIP Augie). Hosting a regional for the first time since 2011, the Big 12 Regular Season Champions will most likely have to duke it out with former conference rival Texas A&M to earn their super regional berth. With a 27-7 record at home, however, the odds are definitely in the Longhorns' favor.

Corvallis Regional
No. 3 Oregon State (44-10-1)
LSU (37-25)
San Diego State (42-21)
Northwestern State (37-22)

Winner: LSU over No. 3 Oregon State

Why: I will not lie, part of my reasoning for this pick is because I attend LSU for law school. However, lest not forget that LSU did beat a loaded Oregon State team TWICE in Omaha last year to advance to the CWS Finals.

LSU has a tendency to get hot around the postseason (as evidenced by their improbable run to the SEC Championship Game), so it would not surprise me one bit if the Bayou Bengals messed around and actually won the Corvallis Regional in some incredible LSU-esque fashion.

Minneapolis Regional
No. 14 Minnesota (41-13)
UCLA (36-19)
Gonzaga (32-22)
Canisius (35-20)

Winner: UCLA over No. 14 Minnesota

Why: Minnesota may have won both the Big 10 regular season and tournament titles, but they have not gotten past regional play since 1977. Though UCLA has not been any spectacular since their national championship in 2013 (they lost as the dang No. 1 overall seed in 2015!), the Bruins were able to rip off a nifty eight-game winning streak at one point this season in addition to handing Oregon State a loss in Corvallis. I think finally the Bruins get back to a super regional.

Chapel Hill Regional
No. 6 North Carolina (38-18)
Purdue (37-19)
Houston (36-23)
NC A&T (32-23)

Winner: No. 6 North Carolina over Houston

Why: Perhaps my most unconfident pick of the tournament, the Tarheels have found a way in some shape or fashion to crumble in the postseason. As much as I could see Houston "shocking the world" and handing the Tarheels what would be another crushing loss for them in Chapel Hill, I am banking on UNC perhaps feeling less pressure as a lower national seed and playing looose. In turn, they might just go and win their first regional since 2013.

DeLand Regional
No. 11 Stetson (45-11)
South Florida (35-20-1)
Oklahoma State (29-24-1)
Hartford (26-29)

Winner: South Florida over No. 11 Stetson

Why: Never has USF ever advanced to a super regional. However, in both of the past two years the Bulls have had to deal with the Florida Gators in Gainesville. This is Stetson's first ever year hosting a regional, and USF comes in with much experience after appearing in two of the last three tournaments. 

Although the Hatters beat the Bulls in both their regular season meetings, there is no better time than the postseason for USF to enact their revenge and finally reach a super regional.

Tallahassee Regional
No. 7 Florida State (43-17)
Mississippi State (31-25)
Oklahoma (36-23)
Samford (36-24)

Winner: No. 7 Florida State over Mississippi State

Why: Florida State is a solid ball club and (per usual) got hot in the ACC Tournament on route to yet another tournament title. Despite Miss State being able to boast that they swept No. 1 Florida in Starkville, they in no way will be able to replicate that mojo on the Gators' rival as the Seminoles are 30-7 at Dick Howser Stadium. I expect the Seminoles to roll through their regional.

Clemson Regional
No. 10 Clemson (45-14)
Vanderbilt (31-25)
St. John's (39-15)
Morehead State (37-24)

Winner: No. 10 Clemson over Vanderbilt

Why: I always love going for Clemson in the tournament. I really do not know why (it could be the uniform combinations or that incredible video I saw on their locker room), but I put the Tigers in the CWS nearly every year and continually they fail to make it there.

Despite not making it to Omaha since 2010 or even getting out of regionals since then, Clemson again is my pick to win their regional.  Even though Vandy is in Clemson's regional again, I want to believe that the Tigers learned from that loss and will be better prepared for the Commodores this time around. 

Stanford Regional
No. 2 Stanford (44-10)
Baylor (36-19)
Cal State Fullerton (32-23)
Wright State (39-15)

Winner: Cal State Fullerton over No. 2 Stanford 

Why: Though Stanford has made three super regionals this decade, it is hard for me to pick against Cal State Fullerton. Time and time again this Big West school finds a way to make it to Omaha as they have appeared in two of the last three CWS. Given the latest track records of both schools, I am going to take the Titans in a three-game, win-or-go home slugfest over the Cardinal.

Conway Regional
No. 15 Coastal Carolina (42-17)
UConn (35-20-1)
Washington (30-23)
LIU Brooklyn (31-24)

Winner: No. 15 Coastal Carolina over UConn

Why: Even though Coastal defeated my Florida Gators in the 2016 CWS and my LSU Tigers in the preceding super regional, I have no ill will towards the Chanticleers. Hosting for just the second time in school history, the Chanticleers should not have much problem with the competition in their regional. The Chanticleers will seek to recapture the magic from their 2016 title run as they advance to the fourth super regional in school history. 

Super Regionals
So if somehow I went a perfect 16/16 on regional winners, let's check out how super regionals would shape up! Keep in mind that a team has to win two out of three games in supers to advance to the College World Series.

Gainesville Super Regional
No. 1 Florida vs Auburn

Winner: No. 1 Florida

Why: Florida won their series against Auburn in Gainesville during the regular season. The Gators are 14-7 all-time in super regional play and have only once ever lost in a super regional at home (2009 to Southern Miss). 

Whether or not the rain is going to cause absurd delays will be more of a concern for Florida and their fans than if Auburn is actually going to defeat the Gators to go to Omaha.

Athens Super Regional
No. 8 Georgia vs No. 9 Texas Tech

Winner: No. 9 Texas Tech

Why: Even though Tech has never played in a super regional not located in Lubbock, their experience from the last few postseasons should be enough to lift them over a Georgia team that might still be getting used to having success again in baseball.

Fayetteville Regional
No. 5 Arkansas vs South Carolina

Winner: No. 5 Arkansas

Why: Arkansas and South Carolina hooked up in the regular season with the Razorbacks taking the series. The fire may be back for the Gamecocks, but it will not be enough to stop a potent Arky lineup from raking all across the yard.

Oxford Super Regional
No. 4 Ole Miss vs No. 13 Texas

Winner: No. 4 Ole Miss

Why: In perhaps my favorite matchup of these projected super regionals, I think Ole Miss and Texas go all three games. In the end, the more-talented Rebels will take the series but the Longhorns will give them everything in the tank and leave a lot of people in Austin excited about the resurgence of Texas baseball.

Los Angeles Super Regional

Winner: LSU

Why: In what will be the most improbable super regional matchup of this tournament, the LSU Tigers will again find a way as they stun another Pac-12 team and somehow make it to the College World Series.

Chapel Hill Super Regional
No. 6 North Carolina vs South Florida

Winner: No. 6 North Carolina

Why: USF's euphoria of reaching super regionals will end abruptly as UNC quickly sweeps them to get back to the CWS for the first time since 2013.

Tallahassee Super Regional
No. 10 Clemson vs No. 7 Florida State

Winner: No. 10 Clemson

Why: Clemson took the regular season series over the 'Noles at home. It will be a tad more difficult to get those two golden victories on the road, but the Tigers will find a way to pull it out in a three-game affair.

Conway Super Regional
No. 15 Coastal Carolina vs Cal State Fullerton 

Winner: Cal State Fullerton

Why: In the second ever super regional to be hosted at Coastal Carolina, the Titans will rely on their experience as they gut out two tight victories over the Chanticleers to return to Omaha.

College World Series
We now arrive at the final eight in Omaha! Let's see who the 2018 National Champion will be! Keep in mind that two losses, similar to regionals and super regionals, will result in elimination. Let's get started!

College World Series First Round
No. 1 Florida vs No. 9 Texas Tech

Winner: No. 1 Florida

Why: Though Tech eliminated the Gators from Omaha in heartbreaking fashion back in 2016, it will be Florida who gets the laugh this time as they take the opener.

No. 4 Ole Miss vs No. 5 Arkansas

Winner: No. 5 Arkansas

Why: Arky lost the regular season series to the Rebels and as a result had to split the SEC West title. In the most important game of the season, the Razorbacks will out-slug Ole Miss to claim a first round victory.

No. 6 North Carolina vs LSU

Winner:  No. 6 North Carolina

Why: Facing an LSU team that has relied on a ton of the usual bayou mojo to get further than they should, the Tarheels will continue to overcome their choking past as they defeat the Tigers in the first round.

No. 10 Clemson vs Cal State Fullerton

Winner: No. 10 Clemson

Why: Back in the CWS finally and with no South Carolina in sight, the Tigers will have the benefit of playing a Cal State Fullerton team that has struggled to get out of the first round in recent appearances. Clemson will continue the trend and send the Titans to the loser's bracket.

Elimination Games
No. 9 Texas Tech vs No. 4 Ole Miss

Winner: No. 4 Ole Miss

Why: Hotty Toddy will not go down that easily. They will rally from the loss to Arky to send the Red Raiders home with yet again no hardware from Omaha.

LSU vs Cal State Fullerton

Winner: Cal State Fullerton

Why: Just to make it to Omaha will be what LSU takes away from this season as the Titans stave off elimination and end the Tigers' incredible run.

End Result: No. 9 Texas Tech & LSU ELIMINATED

Second Round
No. 1 Florida vs No. 5 Arkansas

Winner: No. 5 Arkansas

Why: Though Florida won the regular season series, Arkansas smacked the Gators in the SEC Tournament. The Arky bats will light up Gator pitching once more as the defending champs will find themselves with their backs up against the wall in the loser's bracket.

No. 6 North Carolina vs No. 10 Clemson

Winner:  No. 10 Clemson

Why: In the first meeting of the year between the the two best teams in the ACC, the Tigers will prevail as the pressure of the CWS starts to get to North Carolina.

Elimination Games
No. 1 Florida vs No. 4 Ole Miss

Winner: No. 1 Florida

Why: In the first meeting between these SEC foes, the Gators will avoid elimination as the regular season champs send the tournament champs home.

No. 6 North Carolina vs Cal State Fullerton

Winner: Cal State Fullerton

Why: The Tarheels will completely crack under the pressure as the Cal State Fullerton will again win with their season on the line.

End Result: No. 4 Ole Miss & No. 6 North Carolina ELIMINATED

CWS Semifinals
No. 1 Florida vs No. 5 Arkansas

Winner: No. 1 Florida

Why: Back at Arky needing two wins to reach the Finals, the Gators will pull what they did in Gainesville and rip off a pair of hard-fought victories over the Hogs to reach their fourth CWS Championship Series in school history.

Cal State Fullerton vs No. 10 Clemson

Winner: No. 10 Clemson

Why: With Cal State Fullerton exhausted after surviving two elimination games, a rested Clemson bunch will easily dispatch them to advance to their first ever CWS Championship Series.

End Result: No. 5 Arkansas & Cal State Fullerton ELIMINATED

CWS Finals
No. 1 Florida vs No. 10 Clemson

Winner: No. 1 Florida

Why: I predicted this matchup back in 2016 and although we did get an SEC-ACC National Championship, it was not Florida vs Clemson. Two years later, I am again banking on my alma mater to make it back to the title game and for Clemson to put years of shortcomings behind them to finally plow through to the final.

As for the series itself, the Gators will win in three games. Their lack of depth at pitching will be what makes it go the distance but ultimately Florida will take it to secure the repeat.

National Champion:

Florida Gators!

Final Takeaway
So there you have it, the Florida Gators will repeat as National Champions! Keep in mind that as a Gator fan I am terrified that I followed through on my preseason pick because the tournament where I did pick the Gators to wit it all (2016) did not end well for the Orange and Blue.

The Gators have been great all season, but Florida teams that usually exhibit dominance throughout the entire regular season are the most viable candidates to go two and out in Omaha. Don't believe me? Just look back at 2012 and 2016. Not to mention that only one No. 1 overall seed (1999 Miami) has ever won the National Championship.

Hopefully I am wrong about that though and the Gators make another special run at the title. In fact, if even one of my upsets or half of my predictions came to fruition I would be very happy. Which brings me to why I love baseball. On any given day any team can win in this sport. It is going to yet again be another great postseason for college baseball, and I cannot wait to watch all the action as it unfolds!