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Anthony Chiusano and Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | February 5, 2020

2020 College World Series: Way-early predictions on 8 headed to Omaha

The 2020 college baseball season, previewed

The 2020 college baseball season is quickly approaching. Opening Day is Feb. 14 and it seems like the perfect time to make some fun predictions on which will be the final eight teams standing in Omaha at this year's College World Series. 

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We took a look at our early preseason rankings from last summer as well as fall reports and rosters to come up with our eight for Omaha. A lot can change by the time the first pitch is thrown June 13 at TD Ameritrade Park, but these are the teams we expect to be in the hunt, with a quick look at the next eight as well. 

Last season, three teams — Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Texas Tech — returned to Omaha from the year prior. This year, we see a chance for all four semifinal teams to have another crack at the national championship, with Vanderbilt a consensus choice for a chance to repeat.

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Below are our 2020 College World Series predictions, with a case for each team as to why they are early contenders. 

Wayne Cavadi Anthony Chiusano

Arizona State

Arizona State

Auburn

Florida

Georgia

Louisville

Louisville

Michigan

Miami (FL)

North Carolina

Michigan

Oklahoma State

Texas Tech

Stanford

Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt

*Bold teams represent our national champion prediction for the 2020 CWS

The case for Arizona State: The Sun Devils will be carried by a powerful offense in their quest to end a nine-year absence from the College World Series. Junior slugger Spencer Torkelson (.351, 23 homers) headlines a star-studded lineup that whacked 94 homers in 2019 (third-best in the country). The addition of southpaw Tyler Thorton and pitching coach Jason Kelly should make this a much-improved rotation. 

The case for Auburn: Jack Owen — drafted in the 21st round by the St. Louis Cardinals — decided to return to give the Tigers as formidable a 1-2 punch as any in the SEC atop the rotation. Auburn surprised some people reaching Omaha last year, but the bulk of that team — including five of the top six hitters in the lineup — return for another run to the CWS. 

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The case for Florida: The Gators' four-year CWS streak ended with a regionals exit last year. Florida could make its return to Omaha in 2020 with a healthy mix of tournament veterans and high-upside freshmen. The pitching staff went through some growing pains in 2019 (5.37 team ERA), but expect Jack Leftwich, Tommy Mace and company to show more consistency this season.

The case for Georgia: The Bulldogs lost a lot in the lineup, but the versatile Riley King (.295, eight home runs, 43 RBI) and Cam Shepherd (.231, eight home runs, 33 RBI) return with tournament experience. What gets the Dawgs to Omaha is Emerson Hancock and Cole Wilcox every Friday and Saturday with Ryan Webb a very intriguing rotation option. Hancock (8-3, 1.99 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 97-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio) should hear his name in player-of-the-year conversations. 

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The case for Louisville: The Cardinals return most of their starting lineup from a year ago to go along with a terrific starting staff headed by ace Reid Detmers, Bobby Miller and Luke Smith. That trio allowed just five runs in 18.1 CWS innings last year, leading Louisville to the national semifinals for the first time in program history. UL could take the next step this year.

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The case for Miami (FL):  The Hurricanes learned how to win again in 2019 under first-year head coach Gino DiMare and return just about the entire lineup and three of the four regular starting pitchers. Adrian Del Castillo (.331, 12 home runs, 72 RBI) will move behind the plate full-time this season, looking to build off a tremendous freshman All-American campaign as all of Miami's big power bats are back.

The case for Michigan: Flash back to this time last year, and not many expected the Wolverines to be in Omaha on the last day of the 2019 season. It's a fair assessment this season as well when you consider the star power they've lost, especially in the rotation. But they plenty return — including the exciting Jordan Nwogu — and Riley Bertram (.385, 1.053 OPS in a limited role) could be a breakout star in his sophomore season. Jeff Criswell should anchor the rotation after an impressive showing in Omaha last year. 

The case for North Carolina: The Tar Heels lost first-rounder Michael Busch in last year's MLB Draft but return two 2019 freshmen All-Americans in Aaron Sabato and Danny Serretti. They'll be the centerpieces in a new-look but still dangerous lineup. On the mound, talented righty Gianluca Dalatri returns after an injury-shortened 2019 season to lead a deep, veteran staff.

The case for Oklahoma State: OSU nearly made it to the 2019 CWS, but instead fell in a wild three-game Super Regional against Big 12 rival Texas Tech. The Cowboys enter 2020 without some of last year's top sluggers but still return plenty of firepower. Leading hitter Carson McCusker (.311/.383/.520) is back, as is fellow senior Alix Garcia (.294/.388/.485).

The case for Stanford: Pitching is not a question for the Cardinal entering the new season. Junior Brendan Beck (5-4, 3.63) and sophomore Alex Williams (8-1, 2.56) will make up a terrifying frontend of the rotation once again in 2020. Stanford will need to retool its offense however, after losing its five leading hitters from 2019.

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The case for Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose their top two power bats in Josh Jung and Cam Warren, so while there may not be as much pop, Texas Tech should be plenty productive. Dru Baker (.321, .840 OPS) and Dylan Neuse (.298, .902) will be the mainstays of the lineup, while Micah Dallas and Bryce Bonnin — who combined for 26 starts last season — also return to give the Red Raiders plenty of experience in the rotation. 

The case for Vanderbilt: There hasn't been a repeat champion since South Carolina opened the last decade with consecutive titles. While the Vandy Boys lose a ton of firepower, they also return two potential player-of-the-year candidates in Austin Martin (a team-best .392 average, 10 home runs, 87 runs scored, and 18 stolen bases) and ace Kumar Rocker who became a certified superstar on college baseball's largest stage. That rotation of Rocker, Mason Hickman and (likely) Tyler Brown can hang with anyone in the SEC. 

The next 8

Here are the teams we strongly considered and expect to be contenders for a spot in Super Regional play.

Wayne Cavadi: Arkansas, Coastal Carolina, Florida, Florida State, LSU, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, UCLA

Anthony Chiusano: Cal State Fullerton, Duke, Georgia, LSU, Miami (FL), Mississippi State, Texas Tech, UCLA

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