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MCWS 2024: Top storylines, bold predictions and picks for Omaha

Our college baseball experts tell us what they're most excited to see in Omaha this year.



MCWS 2024: Top storylines, bold predictions and picks for Omaha
MCWS 2024: Top storylines, bold predictions and picks for Omaha
The Men's College World Series begins Friday, and seven of the eight spots have been filled by top-16 teams, the one outlier being Florida, the 2023 national runner-up. This year's field is also made up of only SEC (No. 1 Tennessee, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 3 Texas A&M and Florida) and ACC (No. 4 North Carolina, No. 8 Florida State, No. 10 NC State and No. 12 Virginia) schools. The edge is with the SEC as the conference has won the past four MCWS titles. But with a newcomer to the party in Omaha, teams that have made plenty of visits but never hoisted the trophy and others looking for redemption, there is plenty to watch in this year's tournament. Our experts break down this year's MCWS, the storylines and players they're watching and give their bold predictions of what to expect in Omaha over the next week and a half. Jump to: Storylines | Players | Most to prove Bold predictions | Who's winning it all? 1. What storylines are you most excited to see play out? Ryan McGee: I am fascinated by the unfinished business aspect of this series. Florida and Virginia have won it all before. That's it. Florida State is the greatest program to never have dogpiled in Omaha. NC State, Tennessee, Texas A&M ... all have long been near the top of everyone's "How has this place never been better at baseball?" lists. UNC is still scarred by the heartbreak of 2006-07. Kentucky has never even been to Omaha before. Something's gotta give, right? Kiley McDaniel: It's hard to ignore the portal/NIL era leading to a top-heavy group of traditional powers with resources. That's in even more stark relief this year as the MCWS is a showdown of half ACC and half SEC teams, with no Oral Roberts interloping like in 2023. The pool of teams that can get to Omaha might be getting a bit smaller, but the level of competition at the top of the sport is getting higher, as more good players end up at these schools. Mike Rooney: Can the ACC stop a streaking SEC? The ACC has long been an outstanding baseball conference. But this year felt different. The teams at the top traded punches with the SEC during the regular season. Florida State outscored Florida 45-15 in its three-game sweep of the Gators. Clemson swept rival South Carolina in two games. Omaha is different, though. The SEC programs seem to find a different gear in Nebraska. Hence the five national titles (by five different teams) in the past six completed seasons. This should be fun. Chris Burke: Can the No. 1 national seed break the 24-year streak of not holding the trophy at the end? Tennessee comes into the MCWS as the No. 1 overall seed and is playing a brand of ball that has seen it finish the season winning nine straight SEC series, the SEC regular-season title, the SEC tournament title and going 5-1 through the tournament so far. It's an offense that has the second-most homers in the history of college baseball in a park that tends to be home run stingy. Can the Vols do it? Will be interesting to watch. 2. Which players are you keeping your eyes on? McGee: The easy answer here is Jac Caglianone and the 1-2 MLB draft punches -- Christian Moore and James Tibbs -- from Tennessee and FSU. And I was SO curious to see Texas A&M's Braden Montgomery, an outfielder who was to be playing in Omaha for the third consecutive season, the first two with Stanford, before he broke his ankle in super regionals. So, how about UNC's Vance Honeycutt? That dude knows drama better than most Hollywood writers. In supers, he hit a walk-off homer to beat West Virginia in Game 1, then the next pitch he saw, nearly a full day later, he hit it out, too! McDaniel: Ryan Waldschmidt from Kentucky is soaring up boards into the middle of the first round, even higher than my last mock draft had him. Same goes for Christian Moore at Tennessee. Both could continue rising with performances on the big stage. Teams are still split on Honeycutt, but his performances to close the year are likely also helping him, and he could go the middle of the first round, as well. Rooney: This might be getting in the weeds, but give me the North Carolina bullpen. There is a certain intimidation to playing a team with a shutdown bullpen. The opposing dugout feels pressure to secure a lead in the first five innings or feel the consequences. And this is especially true when it is a group of arms like the Tar Heels' relief quartet. Dalton Pence, Ben Peterson, Matt Poston and Matthew Matthijs provide skipper Scott Forbes with unique looks and a volume of cards to play. This group is talented, and it is tested. Could it be UNC's separator in Omaha? Burke: Honeycutt. He's not ranked as the top draft prospect in Omaha, but he's as talented as any college player in the game. With elite speed, explosive power and game-changing defense, this dude is must-see TV. Also, he has been on a serious heater in the postseason! If he stays hot, he's the type of talent who can carry the Tar Heels to the finals. 3. Who/what team has the most to prove in Omaha? McGee: Tennessee has to prove it can handle this stage. After years of being OK with occasional flashes of brilliance, the Vols are now ranked No.1 with regularity, but they always find a way to not close the deal. If Tony Vitiello can keep their Big Orange emotions from getting in the way, as they have before, then they could win it all and who knows what floodgates that might open in the years to come. McDaniel: Kentucky is the new kid on the block and the SEC needs to win this coin flip with the ACC to continue asserting that it's the best conference. If Tennessee wins, Vitiello might have the most leverage of any coach in a while as we head into silly season. Rooney: The Aggies have been lauded as one of the most talented teams in college baseball in 2024. And here they are in Omaha. However, they arrive without the services of recently injured superstar right fielder Montgomery. How many teams can withstand the loss of a top-10 pick? The Aggies could also be down a weekend starter as left-hander Shane Sdao came out of his super regional start with an apparent arm injury. Sdao had been brilliant down the stretch. If any roster could overcome these losses, it's this one. But it won't be easy against this field. Burke: Kentucky. Is it there to win it or is it just happy to be there? Sometimes the joy of arriving in Omaha, especially for the program's first time, can take your eyes off the goal at hand. The Cats are built to produce offense in this environment, but I'm really curious how they deal with this grand event in their first go-around. 4. What's your bold prediction for this year? McGee: A team from the South will win it all! Just kidding. We will have one of the two in-state showdowns in the championship series, either FSU vs. Florida or UNC vs. NC State ... though that might just be the sportswriter "please give me that awesome story to write!" in me. McDaniel: Florida was an inconsistent team this year that started regionals as a 3-seed, but I have the Gators right there with rivals Florida State and Tennessee as the well-balanced teams that are hot at the right time. With Florida alone in Bracket 2 while FSU and Tennessee are in Bracket 1, I have the Gators going to the MCWS finals. Rooney: You want bold. Here you go. At the worst hitters' ballpark in all of college baseball (Charles Schwab Field), Caglianone will hit four home runs and tie Charlie Condon of Georgia for the national lead. Condon's season ended in supers, and he sits at 37 home runs. "Cags" will need four bombs to catch him. That is a big ask. But Caglianone has gone on legendary heaters before. His 2024 season includes both a 30-game hitting streak and a nine-game home run streak. The latter is a college baseball record. "The Chuck Box" is a huge park, but it's not big enough to hold this guy. Burke: This is the last time we see Caglianone pitch. Throughout his career we have compared Cags with Shohei Ohtani and dreamed about the potential of the game's next great two-way star. Well, as his career has unfolded, the offense has completely overshadowed the pitching to the point where I think this MCWS will be the last time we see Cags on the bump. What a run it has been, as he has been so good at both for so long, but it appears that his pitching days are numbered. So let's enjoy our last look at one of the college game's greatest two-way talents. 5. Who's your pick to win it all? McGee: In a field severely lacking in "been there, done that" it's hard to look at Florida, which pushed LSU to a third game in last year's championship series, and not think that's going to be worth something one year later. McDaniel: I think whoever wins Bracket 1 between Tennessee and Florida State will win the title. I'll lean Tennessee because I think it's just too deep at a time of year where that's crucial and it has Omaha experience. Rooney: The Vols lead the nation with an eye-popping 173 home runs. The first three hitters (Christian Moore, Blake Burke, Billy Amick) are the toughest stretch of any lineup in college baseball. But it's more than the power ... it's the program pedigree. The Vols are returning to Omaha for the third time in four seasons. The team that missed the College World Series (2022) won 57 games before losing in Game 3 of a super regional. Tennessee has earned the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA tournament in two of the past three seasons. This program has been operating at the top of the sport for four years now. It's time for a crowning achievement. Burke: To this point the Vols have answered every challenge presented to them. I think the easiest prediction is that they will continue that in Omaha. If they do, the baggage of the No. 1 seed will be finally gone! Sleeper pick ... Virginia. Love the way this team plays offense, and after three trips in the past four years, I would not be surprised if this is the Hoos' time.