Making the College World Series was an incredible feat on its own for Tennessee baseball. The Vols hadn’t done it in 16 years, and Tony Vitello pulling off this accomplishment in his fourth season, only his third full season, is incredible.
But with success comes hunger for more, and all of a sudden, the national title is in play. The N.C. State Wolfpack shocked the world this past weekend by knocking off the No. 1 seed Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas was arguably the only team indisputably better than the Vols, as they took two of three in Knoxville during the regular season and then beat them for the SEC Championship.
Now, the only team left that won any series against Tennessee baseball is the Vanderbilt Commodores. Vandy took two of three from the Vols in Knoxville as well, and their two wins were blowouts, but UT is the higher seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Look at the Vols’ CWS bracket as well. They’ll either face the Dallas Baptist Patriots or the Virginia Cavaliers first, both of whom are No. 3 seeds out of their respective regionals. Also on their side will be the Texas Longhorns, who are seeded higher than them, and either the Mississippi State Bulldogs or Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
UT beat Mississippi State in their only outing this year 12-2, which occurred in the SEC Tournament. Notre Dame was the No. 10 overall seed, so the Vols would definitely be favored over them if the two faced off. Taking all that into account, Texas appears to be the only team that could be in the way on Rocky Top’s side.
Sticking with the bracket breakdown, Vanderbilt is on the other side and has the toughest first opponent of any of the top four seeds, the No. 5 seed Arizona Wildcats. As a result, there’s a chance the Vols never have to face the defending national champions from 2019.
Simply put, with the Hogs out, there are only two teams in the College World Series who either have the head-to-head advantage over the Vols this year or are the higher seed, and nobody is both. That puts Vitello’s program in as good of shape as any to win the whole thing.
Let’s also not forget rankings. Despite not being the highest seed, Tennessee baseball is ranked ahead of Texas in the Baseball America Top 25, although to be fair they are ranked behind Vanderbilt in that poll.
Still, there was a bit of controversy about Texas being seeded higher than the Vols’ given UT’s brutal road in the SEC. As a result, Rocky Top has a great case to make as the favorites in Omaha. Who would have ever seen that coming?
You also have to take into account who is hottest. The Vols just dominated an elite LSU Tigers team, winning 4-2 and then 15-6. Before that, they swept all the competition in their regional, and they haven’t even had any scares since their first game, when they beat the Wright State Raiders with a walk-off grand slam.
Texas had to survive a much lesser South Florida Bulls team in their Super Regional, sweeping them but only winning the first game 4-3. Vanderbilt beat the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets by one run and then needed extra innings to beat them again to advance to the Super Regionals, although they did handle a solid East Carolina Pirates team there.
Right now, Tennessee baseball expects to win games given all of its walk-off wins this year, and it also is on a red-hot streak with total domination its last four games. Those combined with Arkansas being out put the Vols in great shape.