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NCAA staff | June 17, 2021

2021 Men's College World Series: Preview and predictions for Omaha

Previewing the 2021 College World Series, 2 days ahead of first pitch

We’re breaking down the best topics and making predictions for the 2021 Men’s College World Series in Omaha with’s Kendall Rogers, Aaron Fitt and Eric Sorenson and’s Michella Chester, Wayne Cavadi and Anthony Chiusano.

1. We’re days away from the first men’s College World Series game in Omaha since Vanderbilt won the 2019 title. Let’s get to it! North Carolina State is in Omaha for the first time since 2013 after upsetting overall No. 1 seed Arkansas. Aaron, you wrote about this team at and the turnaround it made from a 1-8 start in the ACC. We’ll start with you and go around the table: How big was NC State’s upset, historically, and can the Wolfpack keep the magic going against Stanford?

Aaron Fitt, First of all, we should acknowledge that NC State looked like a bona fide Omaha contender heading into the year (when it ranked No. 13 in the preseason D1Baseball Top 25), and it looked like a real Omaha-caliber team heading into the postseason after digging out of that early-season hole. I think if the Wolfpack had faced a different super-regional matchup, a lot of us would have picked them to reach the College World Series, because they have an elite offense, an elite defense, and five rock-solid arms on the mound. But this was still a monumental upset because Arkansas was having a season for the ages. They were 16-0 in weekends this year, and they went a ridiculous 20-4 against teams that went on to be regional hosts, with 17 of those games coming away from home. That’s just nuts. On top of all that, NC State had to beat the best pitcher in the country in the final game. Just a remarkable accomplishment.

Wayne Cavadi, There are so many storylines behind NC State’s win. But as Aaron pointed out, what Arkansas did against regional hosts on the road was unbelievable. NC State played a team that played and beat the best college baseball had to offer all season long and walked away winners. I think they match up nicely against Stanford. Both of the Cardinal go-to starters — Brendan Beck and Alex Williams — are righties. This potent NC State lineup is loaded with lefties, including Jonny Butler, Tyler McDonough, Terrell Tatum and Austin Murr — the top four hitters in this offense. And when you have a defense like the Wolfpack, it makes it difficult for opponents to score runs.

Kendall Rogers, If anyone listened to our super regional preview podcast, you weren’t too surprised by this. NC State entered the season as a Top 15 team, and though the Pack didn’t play well all the way to the midseason mark, they’ve been as good as anyone in the country since that point. I thought they played very well in Charlotte at the ACC tourney, and they were terrific in Ruston at the regional there. I thought they showed a nice blend of power and consistent hitting, and I thought the pitching was strong for the most part, too. I thought Arkansas would need to play very well to win this series, and it simply did not outside of the series opener. Credit NC State for responding. NC State may not have the depth of some other teams on the mound, but it has some big-time arms and the offense is as potent as it gets. This is a scary club that absolutely could go on a deep run in Omaha.

WELCOME TO OMAHA: Live coverage of the 2021 College World Series 

Eric Sorenson, d1 This reminded me an awful lot of Michigan’s super regional upset of No. 1 UCLA in 2019. The Bruins had won every weekend of the season and were ranked at the top for 12 or 13 straight weeks. Just dominant. Then the Wolverines came to town and took ‘em down. Next thing you know, the Fighting Schembechlers went on a tear and won four straight games to get within 27 outs of the national title. The Wolfpack seem to be this year’s Wolverines, so beware of a title run. And to tell you the truth, I wasn’t so shocked at the Pack sending the Hogs packing. (Humble brag warning: In case you guys don’t recall, I was the *only* D1baseballer to pick NC State to win). First off, the Razorbacks struggled with Nebraska in the regionals. And after talking to Elliott Avent in April, I knew his boys were going to be a much tougher assignment for the Hogs. When I asked Avent about his defense leading the nation in fielding percentage, he told me, "This infield is the best I’ve had." When I asked about how athletic his outfield was, he said, "This is the best outfield I’ve had." When I asked him how potent that lineup is despite its middle-of-the-road batting average, he said, "Potentially, we can hit as good as anyone when we’re healthy." And when I asked him how strong his pitching had come along in the month of April, he said, "We’re pitching much better and are as good of a staff as I’ve had." I finally stopped him and said, "So what you're telling me is this is your best team, right?" He laughed and said it was.

Michella Chester, This NC State upset over No. 1 Arkansas was really impressive. I mean you are facing the SEC regular-season and tournament champions at their home field, a team that had been phenomenal all season. As Aaron said, 16-0 in weekends this year, and 20-4 against eventual regional hosts. And then on top of that, they face the Razorbacks in the first game of the series and lose 21-2 (!) and then come back the next two games to win the series? That shows so much resilience and you can’t deny that it is a historic win for this program. But that is baseball right? Arkansas’ lineup got cold and NC State got it done against Kevin Kopps, one of the best pitchers in the country. The Wolfpack, like the D1baseball crew duly noted, are a strong club and clearly got hot at the right time. Historically, (and if you look at the numbers), it is pretty similar to Oklahoma State in 2016. They too beat the SEC champions in South Carolina to advance to the CWS and had a similar conference and regular-season record. Stanford should be a very interesting first-round matchup for NC State. These are two offenses that are playing really well right now and have similar pitching staffs as well.

Anthony Chiusano, What a stunner that Fayetteville Super Regional was, especially following Arkansas' 21-2 blitz in Game 1. But as Aaron pointed out, NC State always had deep run potential. Historically, Arkansas' early exit continues an interesting trend of No. 1 national seeds falling short of having that final dogpile. This will be the 21st straight tournament where the top overall seed won't hoist the trophy and the eighth time under the current format that No. 1 failed to reach Omaha.

Back to NC State. It'll be a tough opening draw for the Wolfpack, (presumably) facing Stanford ace Brendan Beck to kick things off Saturday. Beck already has two strong postseason starts, his most recent outing lasting 7.1 innings with 13 strikeouts against super regional host Texas Tech. But this is the same NC State offense that just grinded its way to a do-or-die win against the top team in the country with arguably the best pitcher in the country on the mound. So I wouldn't count out the Wolfpack this opening weekend.

Watch the full finish of NC State's shocking upset over No. 1 Arkansas

2. In addition to NC State vs. Stanford, we’ve got Arizona vs. Vanderbilt, Texas vs. Mississippi State, and Tennessee vs. Virginia. What's the opening weekend matchup you most look forward to, and why?

Fitt: I think most of our panel is going to say Arizona’s offense vs. Kumar Rocker, so I’ll go a different direction. I can’t wait to see Tennessee’s explosive offense vs. Virginia ace Andrew Abbott, who is one of the very best pitchers in the country, a left hander with a 91-94 fastball, one of the best curveballs in America, and a quality changeup as well. That’s going to be a treat.

Cavadi: I don’t see all of the above as an option, but each matchup has a significant storyline. We couldn’t have gotten a better opening weekend in my opinion. Obviously, NC State is the cinderella team of Omaha, making it must-watch baseball. Texas, the highest national seed remaining, opened the season with an 8-3 loss to Mississippi State and now draw those same Diamond Dawgs to open the CWS. Tennessee, a team that hasn’t been to the CWS in nearly two decades, faces off against a Virginia team that isn’t far removed from back-to-back trips to the championship series. And then, Kumar Rocker faces off against Arizona’s best offense in college baseball, statistically speaking, having not allowed a run in the NCAA tournament thus far. I’m choosing the latter, and as much as I enjoy watching Rocker pitch, here’s why: Rocker blossomed into a superstar last time around in Omaha winning most outstanding player honors as a freshman. If Arizona wants to beat Vandy, its freshman duo of Daniel Susac and Jacob Berry will have to come of age on college baseball’s largest stage much like Rocker did in 2019.

Rogers:  I think the most obvious answer here is Kumar vs. that Arizona offense. The thing about Arizona’s offense is that people are obsessed with the power production the Wildcats have. But this is a versatile offense that actually matches up pretty well with TD Ameritrade Park with its ability to hit the ball into the club. Now, we’ll see what they can do against Vandy’s Kumar Rocker, who was terrific yet again in the super regional round. I’m also intrigued by Texas and Mississippi State. Texas put on an expert class in consistency the past two weekends and Ty Madden is as good as it gets on the mound. Prepare yourself for the matchup between he and State’s Tanner Allen.

Sorenson: Aaron’s right, the Arizona offense vs. Kumar is *THE* knee-jerk reaction to this question. That’ll be wicked fun. But I’ll also go with Ty Madden of Texas vs. the Mississippi State bats. The Bulldogs have Tanner Allen, Rowdey Jordan and Logan Tanner as mainstays from their 2019 CWS team. It will be a great showdown against what could be a top 10 draftee. Plus the whole idea of how the Bulldogs will do playing away from home. Don’t take your eyes away from your television, people.

BATTER UP: The 2021 Men's College World Series preview and schedule for Omaha

Chester: I can’t deny that my favorite is Vandy vs. Arizona. I just love the matchup and storyline of one of the top pitching staffs vs. one of the top offenses. To me, the youth on Arizona’s lineup is almost a plus. They have been swinging it all season long and I don’t think guys like Daniel Susac and Jacob Berry are going to have a lot of fear in the CWS. There is just less pressure. Think about Rocker in 2019 as a freshman. That is not to say that Rocker and Leiter won’t be able to quiet the Arizona bats, but it is a matchup I am looking forward to the most.

Chiusano: No doubt, I'm especially excited for Vandy-Arizona as well. But Mississippi State-Texas in primetime Sunday night is going to be fun with Ty Madden on the mound for the Longhorns against an experienced, Omaha-tested Bulldogs lineup. MSU is averaging almost 10 runs per game in this postseason; Texas pitchers have only surrendered 12 in five games. Strength meets strength.

3. We've talked a lot about Vandy aces Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, rightfully so. Is there another championship-caliber strength pitching staff that stands out in the rest of the field?

Fitt: Other than Vanderbilt, Texas has the best weekend rotation, with Ty Madden, Tristan Stevens and Pete Hansen. I like the Longhorns bullpen too, but it’s young. Mississippi State has the best bullpen in this field, led by Landon Sims. But Virginia’s bullpen isn’t far behind.

Rogers: Without a doubt, it would be Texas. People have spent much of the season talking about Ty Madden this, Ty Madden this. And I love Ty Madden. But Madden has been UT’s third-best pitcher at times down the stretch. Tristan Stevens is a media person’s best friend with his ability to pound the zone and work in quick fashion and left-hander Pete Hansen, who didn’t throw in the super regional round, is fresh has been terrific with his combo of a fastball up to 89 and a filthy breaking ball. It’s the best "trio" of starters in this eight-team field.

Sorenson: Can’t answer any more impressively than what Aaron and Kendall said on this subject. So I will defer my answer to him. #SpotOnBros.

Although, now that I think about it, this is a huge flashback to 1985 where Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro went up against another stout Longhorn pitching staff and had a 5-0 lead until MSU’s Gene Morgan was hit in the leg with a line drive. He stayed in the game but he lost his effectiveness and the Horns won 12-7. It’s 36 years of boiling revenge for the boys from StarkPatch. Texas has gone on to win two more national titles. The Bulldogs? Well, they’ve gone back to Omaha seven times since that game and they have still not won the big brass ring. We’ll see if that changes this time around.

Watch all of Jack Leiter's 10 strikeouts in Game 2 super regional win

Chester: I agree with everyone here that Texas has a championship-caliber pitching staff. The Longhorns have been looking pretty scary in the postseason and they honestly have a deeper staff than the Commodores.

Chiusano: Texas definitely has the depth and talent, as Kendall detailed with Hansen and Stevens backing up Madden — a projected early first-rounder in this July's MLB draft. As a staff, UT leads DI baseball in ERA (2.89), is third in WHIP (1.13) and third in hits allowed per nine innings (6.99). And the defense behind them can pick it too, which we saw in super regionals quite a few times against USF.

Cavadi:  I tried really hard to dig deep and not be the same as everyone else here. But there’s a reason everyone said Texas: their weekend rotation is deep and talented. The fact that Pete Hansen, who was recently named a freshman All American, didn’t have to throw in super regionals is almost an unfair advantage.

4. We talked earlier about North Carolina State knocking Arkansas out of the tournament. Who’s the favorite now that the Razorbacks are back home?

Fitt: The obvious answers are No. 2 national seed Texas or reigning national champion Vanderbilt — and let’s face it, the Kumar Rocker/Jack Leiter duo is downright scary, but so is Vandy’s offense, so the Commodores get the nod for me. But I think this thing is wide open.

Cavadi: Hard to disagree with Aaron and Eric here. The nation knows all about the Rocker/Leiter combo, but it feels like too many people forget about the offense because of the star power on the mound. This lineup had the eighth-best slugging percentage in the nation and scored 7.1 runs per game. That is more than enough for Rocker and Leiter.

Chester: With Arkansas out of the picture, I agree — Vandy is a clear favorite for me. A packed lineup to go with an absolutely terrifying one-two punch on the mound. They really have it all. But as we know, sometimes the numbers and stats and talent can only take you so far. NC State just showed that against No. 1 Arkansas. It is Omaha and I think depending on the day, the trophy can be anyone's.

WATCH: The best defensive plays from 2021 NCAA baseball super regionals

Rogers: I think I’m with Aaron that this thing is wide open, but Vandy with the Rocker and Leiter show is hard to turn down. If not the Commodores, I think the next team for me would be Texas with that weekend rotation, Witt/Nixon/Quintanilla on the back-end and an offense that is very opportunistic and versatile.

Chiusano: No difference in opinion here. With all due respect to No. 2 Texas, the defending champs are the favorite in my eyes. Rocker and Leiter get much of the well-deserved attention, but Enrique Bradfield Jr., Dominic Keegan and the rest of the Dores' lineup pack a punch as well. Vanderbilt is the only team in the CWS field to rank top 10 nationally in ERA and slugging.

Sorenson: Yep, it’s the Anchor Down boys. Tim Corbin ain’t no wilting daisy here, he’s wanting to win another national title. Two just ain’t enough. Not to go all 2014 on you here but the Commodores are the Terminators of college baseball. Once again in 2021, they can’t be reasoned with, they can’t be bargained with, they don’t feel pity or remorse or fear, they absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are done.

5. Like the Women’s College World Series earlier this month, TD Ameritrade Park will be open to 100 percent capacity for the Men’s College World Series. It’s a big-time event that brings in tens (hundreds?) of thousands of baseball fans to Omaha. For all the fans who’ll be there this week (or those who want to go soon), what’s your go-to TD Ameritrade Park concession stand food or the one you most look forward to trying?

Fitt: The tatchos (tater tot nachos) are always tempting, but I recommend resisting their siren song or you’ll fall into a food coma by the third inning. My go-to move is the street tacos down in the right-field corner.

Cavadi: Two years ago, Anthony and myself did some heavy-duty investigative reporting on our search for the limited Colossal Tot. We sampled two different varieties, were very happy… and full for two days.

Rogers: I’ve got to admit … I love the tachos. They’re incredible. What I don’t love is sitting in the press box and three hour laters when suddenly, the tachos hot. So my advice? Eat the tachos — but carry some Tums along for the road…. or wash it down with a frosty beverage.

Chester: This will be my very first time in person at the College World Series. It has always been a dream of mine and I am so excited to go with a full-capacity stadium. It is not my first time in Omaha, but first time inside TD Ameritrade. Whatever those Tactcho tater tot things are that Kendall and Aaron mentioned…. Those sound pretty good. I think I will give those a go. I am huge on hot pretzels as well. It is my absolute favorite food to eat at a baseball game, no matter how sweltering it is outside. So I am hoping to snag one of those as well and indulge in all of the Omaha go-tos.

Chiusano: I don't know about Wayne, but I'd say one Colossal Tot was enough for one lifetime. So I'll go a bit simpler with the Rosemary & Apple Pork Burger, from Burger Burger. It's sweet, savory and came in a pretzel brioche bun.

DON'T MISS: How the College World Series works

Sorenson: Well, being the only one here who grew up in Omaha eating things like Frosted Malts, Dippin’ Dots and Runzas till my stomach was distended, that was always my go-to in my Rosenblatt days. But now that I’m an adult, I find most of the food at the stadium completely reprehensible. Luckily, TD Ameritrade offers beer and wine now. So I’ll go with the pause that refreshes; a good cold brew.

6. OK, time for predictions. Tell us who wins the 2021 Men’s College World series and why.

Fitt: I can’t shake the feeling that Arizona’s offense is really built for TD Ameritrade Park, which plays similarly to Hi Corbett Field in Tucson — they’re both big yards with spacious gaps, so Arizona is accustomed to driving the gaps and racking up doubles and triples. No other program has a better winning percentage at TDAP than Arizona, which won it all in 2012 and reached the CWS Finals in 2016. I think that formula could work again this year. It’s been a very offensive postseason, and I think that trend will continue in Omaha — but I’m putting my money on a team that has proven elite offensively without leaning too much on the long ball.

Arizona beats Ole Miss 16-3 to advance to the College World Series

Cavadi: The Vandy Boys become the first repeat champs since South Carolina. I would pick Texas, but I think the ‘Dores lineup has a few more pieces — I still don’t think Isaiah Thomas gets the credit he deserves — that gives them an edge. I just think in both cases the pitching is too dangerous for a short tournament and that gives Vandy and Texas an edge. Ultimately, Vanderbilt walks away winners.

Rogers: Since I already picked Vanderbilt as my favorite coming into the tournament, I’m going to pick someone else to actually win the tournament. And that someone else? Let me go with the "third time is a charm" approach — Mississippi State. The Bulldogs passed a big test over the weekend with a series win over Notre Dame and they have a knack for getting clutch hit after clutch hit. Getting past Ty Madden and Texas won’t be easy, but do that, and I think they’re looking good.

Sorenson: Alright gimme Texas. Yeah I know, you probably think I misspelled "Vanderbilt" here. But no, I’m totally drinking the Ranch Water man. When we get to this point something always happens out of the norm — Fresno State, Coastal Carolina, almost Michigan — so I’m going a little off the beaten path and picking the Burnt Orange. Madden and Hansen will be leaning posts, the bullpen corps is deep and as for the offense? Well, it’s not a bunch of boney-armed singles hitters like we’re used to. These Longhorns can go long, they’ve got some pop this time around.

Chester: I am going with Arizona. This might be because I just got back from the Women’s College World Series (and I know it is different in a lot of ways), but I just saw the most powerful offense in college softball win the championship. And it didn’t matter how strong the pitching staff was. This, of course, is different. There are not as many home runs in baseball and in TD Ameritrade the homers will be limited anyways. But like Aaron said, this Wildcats offense doesn’t rely too heavily on the long ball, but they do hit for a lot of extra bases.

Chiusano: Vanderbilt over Virginia, in a CWS finals grudge match six years in the making. I don't think we need to say too much more about Vandy, with Tim Corbin at the helm, two stud starters and its balanced lineup. As for UVA, why not go with a Cinderella? It's really tempting to pick Texas and its stable of dependable arms in that side of the bracket, but UVA has its own solid pitching staff, led by lefty Andrew Abbott. And I'd be remiss not to mention Stephen Schoch helping shut things down in the bullpen, head punches and all.

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Division I
Baseball Championship
June 16 - 26, 2023
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