The College World Series (CWS) is upon the sporting world again and the Arkansas Razorbacks are once again on the invitation list. Coach Dave Van Horn is making his seventh trip to Omaha with the Razorbacks and his ninth overall (Nebraska 2001, 2002). This will be the 11th time overall that the Razorbacks have played in the CWS. The Razorback have played for the title twice with narrow losses in the 1979 and 2018 finals.
Remarkably, Kole Ramage and Zebulon Vermillion will be making their third trip to Omaha. They are the first Razorbacks to have that distinction. The Super Seniors were allowed an extra year because of Covid-19 and are adding 2022 onto their previous trips in 2018 and 2019.
The Razorback baseball program is on an incredible run as frequent trips to Omaha are not the norm and aren’t guaranteed for the future. Remarkable model of consistency despite last year’s narrow miss. TCU had a similar run not long ago under now A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle with five trips in seven years including four seasons in a row. The last was in 2017. They haven’t been back since.
So appreciate the moment, Hog fans. Getting to Omaha isn’t easy as the Razorbacks found out last season and Tennessee this season. College baseball has more parity than ever due to the transfer portal and so many older players in college due to Covid-19 bonus year and a shortened MLB draft. Coupled with more schools investing in baseball, inside and outside the SEC, college baseball is an outstanding product right now.
The Hogs in Omaha brings a remarkable vibe to middle America. I’ve been fortunate enough to go a few times. I narrowly missed out on going as a player in 1989 which ended up being my redshirt freshman year at Arkansas. I went again as a fan to the last series in the old Rosenblatt Stadium when South Carolina defeated the Gerritt Cole/Trevor Bauer led UCLA Bruins in 2010. Then of course in 2018 and 2019 and now I’m headed back this Friday to cheer for the Razorbacks.
Despite the gut punch in finals of 2018, that was something special with scads of Hog fans descending upon Omaha. The 2019 trip was brief as the team ran into a brutally tough lefty from Florida State losing 1-0 then lost a 3-2 game to a very good Texas Tech squad. New team, new experience, new year. But the same Omaha-experienced coach in Dave Van Horn.
Reseeding the College World Series
Despite still #1 in the RPI Tennessee not making it to Omaha, the field is LOADED with zero cinderellas in the bunch. Ole Miss underachieved during the regular season but this group was ranked #1 early in the season before hitting a rough patch. All that is behind them now as the Rebels and the Texas A&M Aggies are the only two teams in the field that haven’t lost an NCAA tournament game in 2022. Stanford is the highest seed remaining as they came into the tournament as the 2 seed. A&M is still alive as the 5 seed. Other seeds still playing are #9 Texas and #14 Auburn.
Solely based on the latest and greatest D1Baseball.com RPI rankings, if the tournament was reseeded it would look something like this.
- Stanford (RPI #2)
- Notre Dame (RPI #4)
- Auburn (RPI #5)
- Oklahoma (RPI #6)
- Texas (RPI #7)
- Texas A&M (RPI #8)
- Ole Miss (RPI #19)
- Arkansas (RPI #20)
RPI isn’t the end all be all, especially this time of year but fittingly Arkansas matches up with Stanford in what shakes out to be the “best” versus the “worst” teams in the College World Series bracket. At least on paper anyway based on the RPI’s body of work algorithms.
Vegas, meanwhile, can weigh how a team is trending lately. That’s why Arkansas is developing into a favorite here. Consider that the Razorbacks have the second-best odds according to BetOnline.ag (Twitter: @betonline_ag):
|Odds to win NCAA Baseball World Series|
Notre Dame: +500
Ole Miss: +850
Texas A&M: +900
The disparity in the RPI rankings distorts how tight this College World Series should be. All eight teams are playing very well and the door is wide open for someone to kick down and win the national championship.
For perspective, Arkansas is 5-5 versus the CWS field with 2-1 series wins over Auburn and Ole Miss coupled with a 1-2 series loss to A&M (two one run losses in College Station) and an early season loss to Stanford at the Round Rock Classic. Texas is 2-3 versus the field. Stanford 1-0, A&M 6-4, Auburn 4-6, OU 3-2 and Ole Miss 4-5. Notre Dame has not played a team in this year’s CWS.
Expect a very, very competitive tournament with any of the eight teams truly capable of winning the whole thing.
Home Field Advantage… NOT
While everyone jockeyed to be a national seed with hopes of hosting in the NCAA tournament, the 2022 postseason actually benefited the traveling teams. Notre Dame, Auburn, Oklahoma, Texas, Ole Miss and Arkansas all advanced with the celebratory dog piles on other team’s fields.
The trip to Chapel Hill for the Razorbacks turned out to be no big deal and hardly a hostile environment. The Hogs kept the crowd at bay as they really only had the top of the 9th RBI single by lightly used Patrick Alvarez to get excited about in 18 innings of baseball. That flame was quickly extinguished in the bottom of the 9th after the Razorbacks rallied with Brady Slavens walking it off with the game winner past a drawn in infield.
Much was made locally about the availability of tickets for the “common man” in Chapel Hill. Seems the wine & cheese crowd was given first crack and gobbled up what was available minus the 600 for the Razorback traveling party and fans. Conspiracies abound as to why more tickets weren’t offered to the more raucous Tar Heel baseball fan base. I’ve never seen a regular season game involving UNC at home so I’m not sure what their rowdiness is for baseball. Other than the one fan that felt the need to given Connor Nolad the ole one finger salute (double barrel version), this past weekend was rather blah as Hog fans could easily be seen and more importantly heard.
Texas won at East Carolina which is known to get rather wild. I watched two of the Oregon State Auburn games and the crowd at Corvallis was rather subdued. Maybe because they were bundled up in winter weather gear that looked like something we would be wearing in February at Baum Walker. Ole Miss dominated Southern Miss with two shutouts. Hard to get the crowd going when you don’t score a single run. Same goes for OU’s convincing win at Virginia Tech.
And of course Notre Dame going into the hornet’s nest in Knoxville and hightailing it out of town with the series win derailing the Vols epic season. Tennessee’s crowd can get very unruly towards opponents, umpires and whoever else isn’t wearing pale orange. That was evidenced by fans throwing objects on the field after star outfielder Drew Gilbert’s ejection for clearly overstepping the bounds of player and umpire relations. Gilbert had been previously warned by the umpiring crew but in typical 2022 Vols fashion, he arrogantly believed that caution didn’t apply to him.
SEC West With the Muscle
Omaha loves the SEC. College Baseball’s best conference brings the fans and the atmosphere to kick the College World Series up a notch. This year is particularly intriguing because half the CWS field is from the SEC West including three on the same side of the bracket. Ole Miss and Auburn actually square off in game 4 on Saturday night.
Then throw in future SEC schools in Texas and Oklahoma making Stanford and Notre Dame feel like they got invited to the wrong party.
Auburn has quietly become a frequent contender under Butch Thompson. Auburn was in Omaha with the Hogs in 2019, finished under .500 in 2021 and rebounded this season with a combination of a few contributors from the 2019 CWS team coupled with some key players out of the transfer portal. This was a group mistakenly picked to finish last in the SEC West.
Ole Miss, despite countless highly ranked recruiting classes and high rankings, is only making its second CWS appearance in the 20 plus year Mike Bianco era. The last being in 2014. This team was reported as one of the last teams allowed in the tournament and has seized the opportunity. Their two game, shutout sweep of Southern Miss in Hattiesburg was impressive. Ole Miss has always had the offense this season. The emergence of freshman lefty Hunter Elliott as an excellent number two pitcher has been season changing.
Texas A&M is on an incredible run of winning ball games in the later innings. Their clutch factor is remarkably high. Is that due to run out in Omaha? Time will tell but first year coach Jim Schlossnagle was an Omaha regular when he took TCU to the CWS five times between 2010 and 2017. The Aggies play a lot of transfers that took awhile to gel but once they did, A&M has been on a serious roll. But they drew a tough first round game with Oklahoma who is on fire of late.
Of course at this point in the season…they are all tough. That’s where a battle tested SEC West team may just rise to the top in 2022. Wouldn’t the SEC haters just love that?
Arkansas vs Stanford
The highest remaining seed had to scratch and claw to make it to Omaha but they did it with a convincing game three super regional win over UCONN. The Hogs faced Stanford in the Round Rock Classic back in February with The Cardinal cruising to a 5-0 victory. Both teams had solid seasons from there with Stanford winning the PAC12 regular season and the Hogs holding onto first place in the rugged SEC West until the last weekend of the season.
Arkansas is a much different team than the one in early February that only managed three hits against lefty Quinn Matthews (9-1, 9 saves, 2.62 ERA). Matthews is now their closer and has dominated opposing hitters all season. The Razorbacks will likely face Stanford ace Alex Williams (8-3, 2.88 ERA) who is on some first team All American lists and was the PAC12 Pitcher of the Year. But he has struggled in the NCAA tournament and the Hogs have already knocked around another first team All American in Oklahoma State’s Justin Campbell. Twice.
Stanford brings a lot of experience into the game and was in Omaha last year. Outfielder Brock Jones (.320, 20HR, 56RBI) is an elite athlete and should be an early round draft pick in the upcoming MLB draft. Their lineup is littered with guys that can run, catch and throw at a high, high level. Stanford recruits at a very high level, has an outstanding tradition so expect a battle.
Arkansas will surely counter with Connor Noland and he didn’t face The Cardinal in Round Rock. Hagen Smith got that start and didn’t fare well. They may get to see Smith again but in his new role as an end of game stopper. His ability to attack with the fastball has been paramount to the Hogs road to Omaha.
Interestingly, the only regularly used pitcher The Cardinal saw that game was Smith so there are a lot of unseen bullets to throw out of the pen if Noland falters early. Noland features numerous offspeed pitches that are complimented by a darting and diving fastball. His ability to mix and match offspeed in any count for competitive pitches will be crucial to slowing down a potent Stanford lineup. If he struggles finding his offspeed and is forced to throw a lot of fastballs, the bullpen could be in action early.
As with any double elimination bracket, winning the first game is critical to having much of a chance of making the best two of three championship series. Getting in the loser’s bracket early can be a quick ticket out of town. The teams here are just too good. The 2019 Razorbacks know all about that after two one run losses to Florida State and Texas Tech.
Keys for Arkansas Baseball
There is no secret to how the Hogs keep winning. How they’ve been playing will allow them to be very competitive. The Razorbacks look and feel like a totally different team than Stanford saw in February and even what fans saw in May. Confidence is high and now the pressure of just making it to Omaha is gone.
Play loose and let it fly like they did in Stillwater and Chapel Hill and I like the Hogs’ chances. This may be the most wide open the CWS has been in years as I truly believe any of these teams can win it and any of them can go 0-2 if they don’t play at a very high level. This group of teams is just too good.
Somebody will show up flat, worn down mentally from the grind to get to Omaha as it’s an unbelievably tough row to hoe. Now that they’ve made it, the foot will come off the gas. That’s inevitable and happens every season.
The OmaHogs might go 0-2 but it won’t be because of that. This team still has a definite chip on its shoulder and has the revenge factor in the matchup with Stanford. DVH will have this group ready to rock and roll. Whether they can be better than any of these opponents on a given day, we will just have to let the games play out between the lines.
Personally, I would appreciate some additions to the win column so my stay in Omaha is a little longer than it was in 2019.
A 247Sports Prediction That Loves Those Hogs
Some interesting stuff came out in a game-by-game College World Series prediction piece by 247Sports. These people love those Hogs. Here are some excerpts from the bigger piece:
ROUND 1: Arkansas vs No. 2 Stanford
Despite entering the CWS as the highest-ranked team remaining, Stanford has not played its best baseball lately. The Cardinal eked past Texas State in a home regional, then had to rally against UConn in Supers after the Huskies won the opener. Something has been just a tick off with Stanford during the postseason.
Arkansas, on the other hand, boasts a great roster with experience and an elite head coach in Dave Van Horn. Last year’s loss in Super Regionals as well as a team-wise slump in the regular season have the Razorbacks highly motivated and playing with an edge. Connor Noland dominated North Carolina in his start last weekend, and he should put on a similar performance here.
Prediction: Arkansas wins
CWS FINALS: ARKANSAS VS. NO. 9 TEXAS
“Another juicy matchup between two of college baseball’s best programs and old Southwest Conference rivals whose fans do not like each other. Arkansas and Texas will both bring massive followings to Omaha, making for a fantastic showcase for the sport on the biggest stage.”
“This one is going the distance. Arkansas arguably has the edge in Game 1 with Noland surging down the stretch to go with its rested bullpen that has two days off. Game 2 could flip a bit depending on whom Texas starts, but regardless the Razorbacks have a fair-sized drop-off from Noland. The decisive Game 3 would be full of drama. Van Horn and the Hogs have knocked on the door so many times, and it feels like they will finally break through now that they have figured things out in the postseason.”
Prediction: Arkansas wins CWS Finals in 3
More on Arkansas baseball here:
In the above video, Irwin breaks down why he thinks a North Carolina baseball fan should have been banned for flipping off Connor Noland in the Super Regional round:
“You see it in student sections at football and basketball games and at Baum-Walker, it might happen some out in the hog pen. This man appeared to be a non-student and he was on the front row of the seats behind Arkansas’s dugout. Not more than 25 feet from Nolan.”
“The other thing about it was a complete lack of triggering action by Connor. I mean, he just did his job and he came out when DVH said, ‘Hey, it’s time to go to the dugout.’ The reaction to what I posted, however, has sort of been predictable. I think older fans tend to agree with what I was saying. But the younger fans, a lot of them were like, ‘Hey, we won. Lighten up. He was mad. Too bad for him. Haha. It was funny.’….
“… When we get older, certain things become more important, like how we behave in public and how other people behave. I think public behavior is a problem right now. We all need to start becoming more civil to each other. Maybe it’s not just a huge issue in college baseball. But what that fan did, to me, was over the top.”
“If schools start holding people accountable for stuff like that, it’s going to stop. And I’m not just talking about yelling and getting mad and blowing off steam when you think an opponent or the umps or the refs have disrespected your team. That’s not it. I’m talking about just being flat-out obscene when there’s no real reason for it. So grow up and act like an adult.”
Acting like a real adult was our motivation behind our latest post on Arkansas baseball: