Once a CWS staple, the Cowboys haven't ended a season in Omaha since 1999. Coach Josh Holliday believes this could be the year the drought ends. He has assembled a team that might lack for star power but doesn't for talent. The decision of All-Big 12 shortstop Donnie Walton to return for his senior year is a huge bonus. Five other starters return, and Holliday is high on three junior-college transfers — J.R. Davis, Garrett Benge and Collin Theroux — who should add pop to the lineup. The Cowboys must replace Big 12 pitcher of the year Michael Freeman, but even without him Oklahoma State will not have a shortage of arms. Michael Mertz is expected to move to the front of the rotation after sitting out most of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
The Chanticleers return eight everyday players from last season, raising hopes that they can get over the hump and make their first CWS appearance. Coastal came close to Omaha in 2010, losing to eventual national champion South Carolina in super-regional play. Center fielder Anthony Marks and shortstop Michael Paez are the team's top returning hitters and provide plenty of lineup stability. Coastal is banking on a lineup that includes five senior starters to do the heavy lifting early as an inexperienced pitching staff gets its bearings. Right-hander Alex Cunningham and Jason Bilous are power arms, but both have had injury concerns in the past. If Coastal's pitching rounds into shape, this group could find itself playing in Omaha in June.
No longer college baseball's gold standard, the Trojans find themselves trying to once again become relevant on the national scene. USC played in the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade last spring, pressing Virginia to the limit before losing in extra innings in the regional championship game. The Trojans begin this season hungry to take the next step. The lineup returns seven starters, the best of them being center fielder Timmy Robinson and right fielder A.J. Ramirez. USC did suffer a major loss in the departure of All-America catcher Garrett Stubbs. Jeremy Martinez is set to replace Stubbs and will have an experienced pitching staff to work with. Ace Kyle Davis is back, as are potential rotation contributors Mitch Hart, Brent Wheatley and Bernardo Flores. Marc Huberman will close and is surrounded by capable setup men.
A late surge carried the Wolverines back to regional play last season for the first time since 2008. Having made the tournament, Michigan is eager to continue showing improvement while establishing itself as one of the Big Ten's premier programs. Coach Erik Bakich has one of the country's best two-way players in first baseman-pitcher Carmen Benedetti. A unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten team as a sophomore, Benedetti hit .352 with 71 RBIs and also posted three saves while striking out 23 hitters in 15 innings. Benedetti is penciled in to replace closer Jacob Cronenworth, while the Wolverines return their weekend rotation of Brett Adcock, Evan Hill and Ryan Nutof. On paper, the Wolverines have plenty of the pieces necessary to make a deep NCAA tournament run.