The Gators begin the season ranked No. 1 in most polls, just as they were in 2011 and 2012. They made it to Omaha in each of those seasons, losing in the final series in 2011 and then going 0-2 the next season. Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said he learned some lessons that might help the ultra-talented Gators navigate through this season. The Gators return seven starters in the field and their weekend rotation of Logan Shore (11-6, 2.72 ERA), A.J. Puk (9-4, 3.81) and Alex Faedo (6-1, 3.23). Players from a recruiting class ranked second nationally are expected to fill holes at second and third base, while Brady Singer — the No. 56 pick in last June's draft — is expected to take over as the closer. This is a Florida team that not only will finish the season in Omaha, but will have a great shot at winning a first national championship.
Dan McDonnell has built Louisville into an elite program in his nine seasons as coach, with the Cardinals winding up in Omaha three times and advancing to super-regional play five times. The next step will be to win it all, and this Louisville team appears capable of putting together that kind of season. Five-tool outfielder Corey Ray (.325. 11 HRs, 56 RBIs) anchors an offense that includes three other starters — second baseman Nick Solak, first baseman Brendan McKay and center fielder Logan Taylor — who hit .300 or better last season. McKay, Baseball's America national freshman of the year in 2015, is one of college baseball's best two-way players. He hit .308 and won 11 games on the mound. The unexpected return of Kyle Funkhouser — he is back for his senior year after being selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers with the No. 35 pick in the draft — gives the Cardinals a potent 1-2 punch at the front end of the rotation, and Zack Burdi is a flame-throwing closer.
The Aggies' 50 wins were their most since 1999, but they fell one victory shy of making a trip to Omaha. Rob Childress has 18 lettermen back, and expectations are high. The Aggies will have plenty of pop in their lineup, with center fielder Nick Banks (.386, 8 HRs, 48 RBIs) a contender for national player of the year honors. Also back are second baseman Ryne Birk (10 HRs), first baseman Hunter Melton (8 HRs) and designated hitter Ronnie Gideon (7 HRs, 41 RBIs). Catcher Michael Brash is a top-notch defender and handler of pitchers. Childress will need to retool the rotation with the departure of Grayson Long and A.J. Minter and the dismissal of left-hander Tyler Stubblefield. Regardless of who starts, the Aggies will have a couple of the best finishers in Ryan Hendrix and Mark Ecker. Hendrix brings dominant stuff to the mound, having struck out 105 batters in 92 innings last season.
Virginia denied the Commodores back-to-back national championships, and many of the key contributors to that run are gone. That includes No. 1 draft pick Dansby Swanson and all of Vanderbilt's nails-tough weekend rotation. The Commodores' reloading process gets a boost from coach Tim Corbin landing the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation as well as the return of some key veterans. Outfielders Bryan Reynolds (.318, 5 HRs, 49 RBIs) and Jeren Kendall (.281, 8 HRs, 40 RBIs) are potential first-round draft picks in each of the next two seasons, and third baseman Will Toffey (.294, 49 RBIs) provides experience to a young infield. Corbin's ability to bring elite mound talent to Nashville should make the transition away from Carson Fulmer, Walker Buehler and Philip Pfeifer a bit easier. Freshman All-American Kyle Wright (6-1, 1.23 ERA) figures to move into the No. 1 spot in the rotation, and there is no shortage of power arms to fill in behind him.
The Beavers didn't buy the notion last season that teams that get crushed by graduation and the draft should take a step backward. Despite relying on a young roster, Oregon State wound up playing in the NCAA tournament. Coach Pat Casey said last season's team might have overachieved, but it also gained the experience that should make the Beavers ultra-competitive this season. First baseman K.J. Harrison and pitcher Drew Rasmussen bring All-America talent to the table. Harrison hit .309 with 10 homers and 60 RBIs as a freshman. Rasmussen stepped in and took over the No. 2 spot in the weekend rotation. He threw the first perfect game in program history and won seven games. Rasmussen will take over the No. 1 spot this season, and Casey is encouraged by the potential of the rest of the staff. He also is high on freshman shortstops Cadyn Grenier and Nick Madrigal and their ability to play multiple positions.