For Burnt Orange Nation purposes, we'll call the two CWS brackets The Texas Bracket and The Bizarro Bracket. The Texas Bracket consists of Texas, UC Irvine, Louisville, and Vanderbilt. We'll look at that one tomorrow, but for today we review The Bizarro Bracket. This parallel-universe College World Series will play out simultaneous to the one in which Texas toils, but will only become relevant to the Longhorns if Texas can manage to escape its own side of the event. And even then, Texas will only play one of these teams. Still! Let's see about it.
The Bizarro Bracket begins Sunday at 2:00 with an all-Big 12 matchup between Texas Tech and TCU, followed by Ole MIss-Virginia. Should Texas end up playing one of them, we'll of course have stats-heavy information on the players. But for now, we'll go big picture.
46-19, SEC West
Won Oxford Regional, Def. Louisiana-Lafayette 2-1 in Lafayette Super Regional
This is not Mike Bianco's best team at Ole Miss. But it's his first to make it to Omaha, and the university's first appearance there since 1972. It is their fifth overall trip to the CWS, including one in 1969 featuring a baseball star who also played some football named Archie Manning. The Rebels had a chance to be a national seed, but faltered a bit down the stretch while division rival LSU surged, giving the final national seed to the Tigers. But Ole Miss looked sharp in their regional, going 3-0 including a pair of one-run wins over a very good Washington team out of the Pac 12. In the Super Regional, Louisiana Lafayette looked like they may simply bludgeon Ole Miss to death after pounding out nine runs to win Game One 9-5. But the Rebels toughened up against a Ragin' Cajun squad looking to hit 60 wins on the season, sweeping the final two games and punching their ticket to Omaha.
It's hard not to feel great for Bianco as this big weekend for his program approaches. He strode into Oxford in 2001 after having taken McNeese State to a regional the year before looking to turn Ole Miss into a powerhouse. Bianco had previously played and coached under the legendary Skip Bertman at LSU, and he explicitly made it his goal to bring Ole Miss to the level his mentor had reached a decade and a half earlier. He succeeded quickly in bringing excitement to the Ole Miss program which in and of itself was no mean feat considering baseball in Mississippi has traditionally been dominated by Mississippi State. Thirteen years after his arrival, and having suffered three heartbreaking home Super Regional losses--including one in 2005 at the hands of eventual national champion Texas--Bianco finally climbed the mountain. Having gotten over all those warm and fuzzies, though, he now has to get his team prepared to take on an exceedingly strong Virginia squad. For what it's worth (very little), Vegas has the Rebs at 6/1 odds of emerging as champions--tied with TCU for fourth most likely.
48-14, ACC Coastal
Won Charlottesville Regional, Def. Maryland 2-1 in Charlottesville Super Regional
Like Ole Miss, UVA came back from a 1-0 series deficit to take their Super Regional 2-1. Unlike the Rebels, Virginia was decidedly not the underdog in hosting their neighbors to the north, the upstart Maryland Terrapins. As the number 3 national seed, the Cavaliers/Wahoos/President Jefferson Started Our School, In Case You Didn't Know, and as Such We are Largely Insufferable as a Groups are the highest ranked team remaining. In fact, they are one of only two national seeds to make it to Omaha (along with TCU) which sets a record for the fewest national seeds still standing since national seeds became a thing.
Virginia has been a consistent factor in the postseason for the last several years, as coach Brian O'Connor has taken them to 11 straight Tournaments. In fact, O'Connor's Virginia career is interestingly parallel to Bianco's at Ole MIss. While the Rebs have just taken the elusive step of making it to Omaha, for the Cavs the last frontier is a national title. This is their third CWS appearance under O'Connor--and they have been joined by Texas in all three, as the previous two were in 2009 and 2011. Virginia is considered a 3/1 favorite to win the whole thing, according to Vegas, and it's a position the 'Hoos have been in before. They continue to bring national-title talent to bear on an almost yearly basis, yet haven't yet brought home the trophy. It's not a fair standard, but unlike anyone else in this tournament UVA will be disappointed with anything less than its first national championship. All seven other teams--including co-favorite Vanderbilt--can be pumped just to have gotten here if they fall short of the big prize. Not Virginia.
45-19, Big 12
Won Miami Regional, Def. College of Charleston 2-0 in Lubbock Super Regional
A familiar maybe-foe for Texas, the Raiders took perhaps the least likely route to Omaha. They went to Miami and went through the winner's bracket, lost to the host Hurricanes to set up a winner take all rematch, and then took a 4-0 victory to advance. Meanwhile, in Gainesville, the national-seed Gators watched as the College of Charleston walked out of there with the victory. Like Texas, that set up Tech in the rare position of traveling for the regional and hosting the Super Regional. They beat Charleston 2-0, both in games and runs; in the entire 18 innings of the Super, Tech scored only twice but Charleston couldn't get a single run across. A pair of 1-0 wins sent the Red Raiders to their first-ever College World Series.
Tech spent much of the early part of the season in the top ten, which is not a place the program is used to. With two conference tournament titles and two regular season conference titles, Tech has probably the least illustrious history in the eight-team field. But this is just Tim Tadlock's second season at the helm in Lubbock, and already he has taken the program to the highest level in its history. It's actually more than that: this was Tech's first Super Regional as well, so Tadlock--a former Red Raider shortstop--is responsible for his alma mater crossing two milestones in a single season. Kudos to the Raiders, whom Vegas sees as this week's underdog at 12/1. But they did take two of three from TCU in the regular season, so don't count them out.
47-16, Big 12
Won Fort Worth Regional, Def. Pepperdine 2-1 in Fort Worth Super Regional
TCU looked dead in the water heading into the ninth inning of its third game against the Pepperdine Waves. Pepperdine led 5-4 as TCU came to bat in the top of the frame. Pepperdine closer Eric Karch came in, with his 16 saves and .185 opponents' batting average. The Frogs had tied it up before there was an out in the inning, with a pair of singles and an RBI double. After a popout, longtime coach Jim Schlossnagle put on the suicide squeeze, which Kyle Bacak executed perfectly to give TCU the Super Regional title once the formality of the bottom of the ninth was over with. TCU gave the Big 12 its third team in Omaha, out of five in the Tournament. Not bad.
On the spectrum of program history, with Texas on one side and Tech on the other, TCU is sneakily more on the Texas side--if only slightly. While this is only the second CWS appearance for the Horned Frogs, they have spent much of their time since 2000 dominating a lesser conference; in fact, in the nine years before TCU joined the Big 12, they won nine regular season conference championships. That's one per year. And although their first season in the Big 12 was something of a disappointment, they rebounded this year to finish second by one game and win the conference tournament. TCU is balanced, unintimidated, and my pick to advance out of The Bizarro Bracket.