The road to the College World Series is routed directly through the heart of the ACC, with conference teams hosting 5 of the 16 opening-round regionals this weekend.

It’s a highway, however, loaded with potholes, speed bumps and other obstacles, including a lower seed with a hot pitcher, that can easily take down a favorite.

This year’s matchups are particularly tricky for the ACC’s 8 tournament teams – North Carolina, Clemson, Florida State, NC State, Virginia, Duke, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Six of them will be playing in regionals that include an opponent from the SEC, which placed a record 11 teams in the NCAA bracket.

How many ACC teams will make it through this first leg on the journey to Omaha?

That’s a question best answered by a Magic 8 Ball, not logic, seedings or advanced analytics. But because all we have to go on is those numbers on the computer screen, let’s give it a shot anyway.

North Carolina

Regional seed: 1 (No. 4 overall)
Site: Boshamer Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC
Biggest threat: No. 2 LSU
Rest of the bracket: No. 3 Wofford, No. 4 Long Island University

ESPN analyst (and former Stanford star pitcher) Kyle Peterson called the Tar Heels “one of the most consistent teams top-to-bottom in the entire country.” They won 42 games and the ACC’s regular-season title with a pitching staff that has the league’s best ERA at 4.19 despite losing 2 starting pitchers to injury and an offense that ranks among the league leaders in batting average (.311) and home runs (105).

And yet, the folks in Vegas don’t seem to have a lot of faith in Scott Forbes’ team. ESPNBet sportsbook gives UNC only the 3rd-lowest odds (+1500) among ACC to get to the College World Series. Even though the Tar Heels are the top seed, they’re not even the betting favorite in its own region. LSU has that honor at +900.

The Tigers aren’t the same star-studded team that won the national championship last year. Paul Skenes already is dominating Major League hitters, for instance. But they still possess a potent offense anchored by Tommy “Tanks” White and his 24 homers. Much was made about the Tigers’ 13-17 SEC regular-season record, but they come to Chapel Hill hot after going 18-6 over their final 24 games.

Neither of the top 2 teams can afford to sleep on 3rd-seeded Wofford, the Southern Conference champions who rank 2nd nationally with 603 runs and 7th with 144 stolen bases.

Prediction: UNC has the bats to go toe-to-toe with LSU and its pitching staff will put it over the top and into the Super Regionals, where it will host the winner of the Arizona Regional.

Clemson

Regional seed: 1 (No. 6 overall)
Site: Doug Kingsmore Stadium, Clemson, SC
Biggest threat: No. 2 Vanderbilt
Rest of the bracket: No. 3 Coastal Carolina, No. 4 High Point

The Tigers (+1100 to get to the CWS) are hosting a regional for the 2nd time in as many seasons under coach Erik Bakich. But for the 2nd time in as many seasons, they’ve gotten no favors from the selection committee. After getting ousted by Tennessee a year ago, the ACC Atlantic champions will have to deal with another traditional SEC power, Vanderbilt.

The Commodores are no strangers to Clemson. They eliminated the Tigers in back-to-back regionals in 2017-18. There’s also a familiarity between the coaches. Bakich is a former assistant to Vandy’s Tim Corbin and he lost to Vanderbilt in the 2019 College World Series finals while still the coach at Michigan.

Like LSU, this year’s Commodores recovered from a slow start to finish strong and qualify for their 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Because both teams rely heavily on their pitching to carry inconsistent offensive attacks, this figures to be a low-scoring regional. That is unless 3-seed Coastal Carolina, a team with a history of postseason upsets (CWS champs in 2016, remember) and a lineup that averages 8.7 runs per game, crashes the party.

Prediction: History repeats itself as Clemson battles back through the loser’s bracket, but falls to Vandy in the final game.

Florida State

Regional seed: 1 (No. 8 overall)
Site: Dick Howser Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
Biggest threat: No. 2 Alabama
Rest of the bracket: No. 3 Central Florida, No. 4 Stetson

The Seminoles missed out on the ACC and NCAA Tournaments in 2023 during a forgettable debut season under coach Link Jarrett. But led by ACC Player of the Year James Tibbs III, another soon-to-be 1st-round MLB Draft pick Cam Smith and lights-out ace Jamie Arnold, they’ve bounced back in a big way to earn regional host status.

They also have the potential to get even stronger this weekend with the expected return from injury of right-hander Cam Leiter (5-1 with a 4.63 ERA), who hasn’t pitched since March 28.

Second-seeded Alabama figures to present the biggest challenge to FSU, whose odds to reach the CWS have been set at +1800. The Crimson Tide come into the regional with a team batting average of .305, 3rd-best in the SEC. But their pitching staff ran out of gas late and could be vulnerable to the Seminoles’ deep, powerful lineup.

That is assuming FSU gets past what could be a tricky opener against Stetson, a 40-win team that won the Atlantic Sun and beat the Seminoles 10-5 on May 14, and Alabama doesn’t slip up against an equally dangerous 3-seed UCF.

Prediction: The Seminoles will top the Hatters, roll the Tide and sweep their way into the supers, where they would host the winner of the Oklahoma Regional.

NC State

Regional seed: 1 (No. 10 overall)
Site: Doak Field at Dail Park, Raleigh, NC
Biggest threat: No. 2 South Carolina
Rest of the bracket: No. 3 James Madison, No. 4 Bryant

The Wolfpack (+3500 to get to the CWS) finished the regular season on a heater by winning 10 of their final 13 games before run-ruling Virginia Tech in their ACC Tournament opener to nail down their spot among the top 16 national seeds. It was a hot streak aided by the addition of a healthy Alex Sosa into an already balanced batting order and the emergence of some young bullpen arms. Starting pitching has been an issue, however.

State was eliminated in the South Carolina Regional last year. This time the roles are reversed and the Wolfpack are the better seed and host. The Gamecocks have had stretches in which they’ve been very good, as they were in reaching the semifinals of the SEC Tournament last week. But they’ve also had stretches, most notably a 6-game losing streak to end the regular season, in which they’ve struggled. They could also be without third baseman Gavin Casas and his 19 homers because of an injury.

Beyond the 2 favorites, JMU could potentially be a wild card. The Dukes were 1 of the last 4 teams in, but their strength of schedule was the 4th-toughest in all of college baseball.

Prediction: The Wolfpack’s starting pitching comes back to bite them and they’re eliminated by the Gamecocks for the second straight year.

Virginia

Regional seed: 1 (No. 12 overall)
Site: Davenport Field at Disharoon Park, Charlottesville, Va.
Biggest threat: No. 2 Mississippi State
Rest of the bracket: No. 3 St. John’s, No. 4 Penn

The Charlottesville Regional has the potential to be one of the most competitive and intriguing of the 16 pods. Especially if it comes down to the host Cavaliers (+3000) against 2nd-seeded Mississippi State, as expected.

UVa’s offense, fueled by record-setting slugger Harrison Didawick (23 HRs, 63 RBIs) and several holdovers from last year’s CWS run, is averaging better than 9 runs per game. The Cavs’ .321 batting average is the 2nd-highest in the nation. The Bulldogs, by contrast, feature a top-12 pitching staff that has limited opponents to just a .230 average. They’re led by Jurrangelo Cijntje, an ambidextrous pitcher who is 8-2 with a 3.55 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 88 2/3 innings.

Mississippi State wasn’t happy that it was passed over as a regional host and will be highly motivated coming to Charlottesville. But its offense has been slumbering of late. And before getting a shot at the Cavaliers, it will have to get through St. John’s, a team that has already beaten an SEC opponent, Florida, earlier in the season.

Prediction: UVa’s bats stay hot and help the Cavaliers advance to the Super Regionals, where they are matched up against the winner of the Arkansas Regional.

Duke

Oklahoma Regional seed: 2
Site: L. Dale Mitchell Park, Norman, Okla.
Biggest threat: No. 1 Oklahoma
Rest of the bracket: No. 3 UConn No. 4 Oral Roberts

The Blue Devils should have been rewarded with a home regional after winning the ACC Tournament last week. Instead, they’ve been sent to Oklahoma for a regional hosted by perhaps the hottest team in the country. The Sooners have won 20 of their past 25 games and, like Duke, average just over 8 runs per game.

Before they can start thinking about going head-to-head with Oklahoma, the Blue Devils must beat a UConn team that won the Big East regular-season title and is making its 10th consecutive NCAA appearance.

But Chris Pollard’s Blue Devils have been in this situation before. Duke has advanced to the Super Regionals in 3 of the 4 NCAA Tournament appearances since 2018, all on the road. And they have an ace in the hole, literally, with the return of top pitcher Jonathan Santucci from a rib injury to go with one of the nation’s best closers in Charlie Beilenson (12 saves, 1.98 ERA, 87 strikeouts in 59 innings).

Prediction: The Blue Devils’ hot bats and Santucci’s return help pull them through to an ACC Tournament rematch with projected winner Florida State in the Super Regionals in Tallahassee.

Wake Forest

ECU Regional seed: 2
Site: Clark-LeClair Stadium, Greenville, NC
Biggest threat: No. 1 East Carolina
Rest of the bracket: No. 3 VCU, No. 4 Evansville

Other than the folks in Greenville, no one in college baseball is happy about ECU being gifted the 16th and final regional host spot by the selection committee. The Pirates ranked No. 21 in the RPI and scuffled to the finish with a late 5-game losing streak and a semifinal elimination in the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

The Deacons, by contrast, have an RPI of 9, a home run-heavy offense led by first baseman Nick Kurtz and perhaps the most potent weapon in all of college baseball in ACC Pitcher of the Year Chase Burns. Both are projected top-10 picks in the upcoming MLB Draft.

But Burns can only pitch once unless he comes out of the bullpen to close out a later game. And the rest of Wake’s staff has been spotty. ECU is expecting its own ace, Trey Yesavage, to return from a collapsed lung. With VCU and Evansville both coming off conference tournament championships, this region isn’t the gimme for Wake that ESPNBet – which gives the Deacons the 2nd-best odds to get to the CWS at +1300) – is predicting.

Prediction: The Deacons will have to grind it out, but they’ll find a way to keep their quest for a 2nd straight trip to Omaha alive by pulling through and setting up a likely collision with No. 1 overall seed Tennessee in the Super Regionals.

Georgia Tech

Georgia Regional seed: 3
Site: Foley Field, Athens, Ga.
Biggest threat: No. 2 UNC Wilmington
Rest of the bracket: No. 1 Georgia, No. 4 Army

The Yellow Jackets were the only ACC bubble team to get into the field. And they did it without being 1 of the last 4 teams in, which was a surprise. Now that they are in, they’ll head to familiar territory in Athens where they lost 2 close games to arch-rival UGA earlier this season.

Should the Yellow Jackets meet the top-seeded Bulldogs again, it could turn into a home run derby between UGA’s Charlie Condon, who leads the nation with 35 homers and a .443 batting average, and Tech’s Drew Burress, whose 23 dingers are the 2nd-most among freshmen nationally.

In order to set up that duel, however, the Yellow Jackets must win a tough opener against Coastal Athletic Conference champion UNCW and its ace RJ Sales.

Prediction: The Yellow Jackets never get to see the Bulldogs, falling twice to UNCW in the opener and again in the loser’s bracket to end their season.