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Omaha Eight: Perennial Powers Strike Back

July 11, 2007

Kendall Rogers
Rivals.com College Baseball Editor

With Oregon State claiming its second national title last month, the 2007 season is history. Now it's time to take an inside look at what next season might bring.

Arizona State was a disappointment in this year's College World Series, but will be the preseason favorite to win the national title in 2008.

North Carolina joins the list of eight, while Palmetto State representative South Carolina earns a spot on the list with the return of several offensive contributors.

We expect Texas and Miami to return to Omaha, while San Diego and Vanderbilt hope to make their first appearances in the CWS.

Surging UCLA also joins the impressive list, while Missouri, Ole Miss, Rice, Arizona and Michigan round out the next five.

We take a look ahead at our Omaha Eight for 2008.

 

Looking ahead: Omaha Eight for '08
Arizona State
Breakdown: The Sun Devils joined Rice and Vanderbilt as the favorites to win the national title in 2007, but the CWS didn't go as planned for Pat Murphy's team. While the Devils were disappointed with their play in Omaha, they will have another opportunity to make their case in 2008. The Devils will be without left-hander Brian Flores, but the core of their pitching staff is back with the return of talented sophomore Mike Leake and the likely return of senior Josh Satow. Jason Jarvis also promises to be a key contributor next season, while the addition of right-hander Seth Blair from the high school ranks could be huge. Offensively, the Devils should be outstanding with Brett Wallace, Petey Paramore, Kiel Roling and Ike Davis leading the charge. The Devils might be the preseason favorite.
UCLA
Breakdown: With coach John Savage at the helm, the Bruins continued their upward climb in the college baseball ranks with a Super Regional berth in 2007. The Bruins had their season ended by in-state rival Cal State Fullerton, but the message was perfectly clear - UCLA baseball is here to stay. After a successful 2007 campaign, the Bruins will enter the 2008 season with national title aspirations. Not only does UCLA return Charles Brewer, Jason Novak and Tim Murphy, they also welcome back outstanding reliever Garett Claypool and sophomore left-hander Gavin Brooks. Brooks finished the 2007 season as one of the nation's most impressive pitchers. Offensively, the Bruins return Jermaine Curtis, Brandon Crawford, Gabe Cohen, Alden Carrithers and others.
Miami
Breakdown: With one of the nation's most talented teams, the Hurricanes entered 2007 as one of the favorites to reach the CWS. Instead of continuing an impressive string of postseason success, the Hurricanes were knocked out of the NCAAs in the Regional round. With several key hitters back in the mix and two of three weekend starters back, Miami will enter 2008 with the talent and motivation to get back to the elite level. The 'Canes will welcome back sophomore left-hander Eric Erickson, while right-hander Enrique Garcia recently announced that he'd return for his senior season. While Erickson and Garcia lead the charge on the mound, the Canes will have one of the nation's top lineups with Yonder Alonso, Jemile Weeks, Blake Tekotte, Mark Sobolewski and Dennis Raben leading the way.
Vanderbilt
Breakdown: Sure they must succeed without left-hander David Price and hard-throwing closer Casey Weathers, but the stage should be set with the pressure finally off them. Losing Price and an impressive crop of pitchers will be tough to overcome, but the 'Dores do return talented sophomore left-hander Mike Minor and junior right-hander Brett Jacobson, among others. Vandy will also welcome a star-studded freshman class to campus in the fall. While the pitching staff has some question marks, the 'Dores should be in great shape at the plate. Junior third baseman Pedro Alvarez headlines an impressive list of returnees, while veteran outfielder Dominic de la Osa will likely return for his senior season. Vandy also welcomes back Davis Macias, Shea Robin, Alex Feinberg and Ryan Flaherty.
Texas
Breakdown: After failing to reach the College World Series two years in a row, my money will definitely be on the Longhorns in 2008. While Texas continues without right-handers Adrian Alaniz and Randy Boone as fixtures for the pitching staff, they will likely welcome back veteran left-hander James Russell. The 'Horns are also excited about the returns of right-hander Kenn Kasparek and left-hander Riley Boening. Kasparek showed the ability to be a front-line arm two seasons ago, while Boening is a formidable pitcher when healthy. The Longhorns also welcome back Austin Wood and Kyle Walker, while Florida State transfer Casey Whitmer and JUCO transfer Brandon Belt should provide an immediate boost. Though some questions remain, Texas should also be in great shape offensively.
San Diego
Breakdown: Just as Oregon State has shown during the past two seasons, great pitching always beats good hitting. The Toreros were one of favorites to reach the CWS halfway through the 2007 season, but a collapse in their own Regional cost them a chance at getting to Omaha. With that behind them, the Toreros prepare for 2008 with the nation's top weekend rotation. Sure San Diego has a plethora of offensive contributors to replace but the pitching staff is loaded and ready. Junior left-hander Brian Matusz will spearhead the weekend rotation, while two-way star Josh Romanski and veteran Matt Couch promise to continue their successful ways. Premier reliever AJ Griffin also returns next season, while the addition of righty Kyle Blair is huge. If USD hits at all in '08, Omaha will be on its mind.
North Carolina
Breakdown: For the second consecutive season, the Tar Heels competed for a national title against Oregon State. While UNC finished the CWS on the losing side of the ledger, they will enter the 2008 season with confidence. The Heels must deal with the losses of veteran Robert Woodard, shortstop Josh Horton and closer Andrew Carignan but they have several key contributors coming back. Sophomore first baseman Dustin Ackley was the Rivals.com Freshman of the Year, while outfielder Tim Fedroff and right-handed pitcher Alex White earned spots on our All-Freshman Team. The Tar Heels also welcome back reliable pitchers Adam Warren and Rob Wooten, while catcher Tim Federowicz and third baseman Chad Flack should help the offense.
South Carolina
Breakdown: The Gamecocks put together an impressive regular season campaign in 2007 but were dealt a tough Super Regional at North Carolina. Despite losing to UNC, the Gamecocks enter the offseason with a lot of confidence. They will enter 2008 with a potent offense led by third baseman James Darnell and first baseman Justin Smoak. South Carolina also welcomes back shortstop Reese Havens, while the drafted trio of Andrew Crisp, Phil Disher and Trent Kline are leaning towards returning to school. While the offense promises to be productive once again, the Gamecocks do have a few holes to fill on the mound. Harris Honeycutt and Arik Hempy have each signed pro contracts, which means Blake Cooper, Mike Cisco and Will Atwood must elevate their game.
The Next Five: Missouri, Ole Miss, Rice, Arizona, Michigan