It would be easy to portray this year’s College World Series as baseball’s version of the SEC/ACC Challenge.

It just wouldn’t be accurate.

Yes, the 8-team field is made up entirely of teams from the 2 conferences. With each sending a record-tying 4 entries.

But because they’re mostly separated into 2 groups on opposite sides of the bracket, most of their time in Omaha will be spent battling amongst themselves.

It’s a shame organizers couldn’t have reseeded the field to have 1 pool for the ACC quartet and another for the 4 teams representing the SEC, with the 2 survivors meeting in the best-of-3 championship series.

As it is, Pool A will feature the ACC-centric trio of North Carolina, Virginia and Florida State to go along with top overall seed Tennessee. That leaves NC State to uphold the ACC’s honor against Kentucky, Texas A&M and Florida in the SEC-heavy Pool B.

Handicapping the 2 pools should be easier because most of the teams have already faced one another this season. But at the CWS, nothing ever goes according to Hoyle.

Consider that it’s been since 1999 that the No. 1 seed has come home with the championship trophy. And that despite sending at least 1 team to Omaha in each of the past 17 years the CWS has been held, the ACC has won only 1 title – UVa in 2015. And only 2 in the 75-year history of the event.

So how will this year’s tournament shake out?

Chaos or chalk?

Let’s break down each half of the bracket and take a stab at predicting which of the final 8 will be the last team standing.

Pool ACC+1

Familiar foes UNC and UVa will get things started by facing off against one another in the tournament opener on Friday afternoon. This will be the 4th meeting this season between the ACC rivals, with the
Cavaliers having won 2 of the 3 previous games in Charlottesville in early April.

Freshman Henry Ford and DH Ethan Anderson were UVa’s top hitters in the series. Ford went 6-for-13 with a homer 6 runs driven in and 5 scored in the 3 games while Anderson went 6-for-14 with a homer, a double and 5 RBIs. UNC was led by Parks Harber (6-for-13, HR, 4 RBIs) and Luke Stevenson (5-for-14, HR, 6 RBIs.)

The head-to-head results aren’t the only advantage UVa might have. While this will be the Tar Heels’ 1st trip to Omaha since 2018, the Cavaliers are making their 3rd trip in the past 4 years. A majority of their top players – including leadoff man Griff O’Ferrell, leading home run hitter Harrison Dadawick and ace Evan Blanco – were part of the team that played at Charles Schwab Field last June.

Florida State didn’t play either UNC or UVa during the regular season. But the Seminoles did face the Cavaliers at the ACC Tournament. Conference Player of the Year James Tibbs III had a homer and 5 RBIs in the game while Alex Lodise and Drew Faurot contributed 3 hits each in a 12-7 win.

One thing the Cavaliers will have going for them is that they probably won’t have to face FSU ace Jamie Arnold, who pitched 6 strong innings in Charlotte. Chances are he’ll be on the mound for the Seminoles’ opener against Tennessee.

The Volunteers are the wild card in this bracket. They’re 55-12, have by far the most home runs in college baseball (173 in 67 games) to go along with the 3rd-best earned run average in the nation at 3.83. But they also have a history of coming up small in big spots, as they almost did against Evansville in the Super Regionals. And they’re playing in a ballpark that doesn’t give up a lot of homers.

Prediction: Getting into the winner’s bracket doesn’t guarantee advancement into the championship series, as LSU proved against Wake Forest last year. But it sure makes the trip a lot less bumpy. So whoever wins the UVa-UNC opener will have a distinct advantage moving forward.

The Cavaliers have been here before and the Tar Heels have been living a charmed life with multiple close calls and miracle comebacks on the road to Omaha. Their luck is bound to run out, so give the edge to UVa.

FSU meanwhile, drew the toughest opening opponent. But with Arnold on the mound, a deep lineup and an opponent with a dubious postseason history, it’s actually a good matchup for the Seminoles.

Tennessee is too good to go 2-and-barbecue and will advance through the loser’s bracket. But their pitching will run out against a potent FSU lineup and the ‘Noles will complete the comeback from last year’s disappointment by playing for the national title in Link Jarrett’s 2nd year at his alma mater.

Pool SEC+1

Do you go with the hot team? The team with karma on its side? Or the one with the best pitching?
Take your pick. Because this side of the bracket has all 3, to go along with a fourth team that will be without its best player because of injury.

Let’s start with the hot team. Florida (34-28) has already answered the critics who thought they didn’t belong in the original field of 64 because of a 13-17 SEC record and an overall mark barely above .500. The Gators will also be playing an opponent they won 2 of 3 from during the regular season and will be without projected 1st-round MLB Draft pick Braden Montgomery, who broke his ankle during the Aggies’ Super Regional win against Oregon.

The team with the karma, NC State, is determined to make up for the wrong that was done to it in 2021 when the Wolfpack was sent home 1 win from the championship series because of a COVID issue. Elliott Avent’s team has the bats to finish the job. But Kentucky’s pitchers come in having allowed only 3 runs in their previous 5 postseason games.

Call it a hunch. Call it ACC bias. Better yet, call it karma.

State is on a roll. And it’s destined to continue. That is, until it faces Jac Caglianone and the Gators. Hot, after all, is to karma what paper is to rock in Rock, Paper, Scissors. It’s also pretty powerful against pitching.

The Wolfpack will bounce back and take down the winner between Mississippi State and Kentucky. And then beat the Gators to get back to with a game of the final series. They’ll end up disappointed again, as the Gators make it to the championship series for the 2nd straight year. At least this time their fate will be decided on the field.

Championship series

Did I mention that hot beats karma?

Most of the time, it does. But not when the teams involved are rivals who know each other well. And when the other team, the one with all the karma, is just as hot. FSU is not only a perfect 5-0 in this NCAA Tournament. It’s also 3-0 in head-to-head matchups against the Gators. Including 2 wins by mercy rule.

The Seminoles have been playing this season in honor of their legendary former coach Mike Martin, who died in February at the age of 79. Martin never won a national championship, although he got close several times.

That motivation, combined with a batting order that ranks among the nation’s leaders in average (.316), homers (123) and runs per game (9.0) will be enough to subdue Florida, accomplish the goal that eluded Ol’ No. 11 and give the ACC its long-awaited 3rd ever national crown.