Making the Case: ACC on the Road to Omaha

Jacob Dennis Says This Is The Year – Why The ACC Will Break Its College World Series Title Drought In 2015

It doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true: 2015 marks the 60 year anniversary of the last time a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference won a College World Series.  The conference is loaded with traditional powers such as Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Miami, which joined the conference three years after its last national title in 2001. But Wake Forest’s 1955 squad remains the last ACC team to earn the title of nation’s best.

Is it a curse? Hardly.  The league has had its chances.  One quarter of teams to reach Omaha since 2005 have hailed from the ACC.  But is it bad luck?  Definitely.  The conference has had its fair share of heartbreak, ranging from back-to-back Oregon State titles, both of which came via defeats of North Carolina in the final game, to last year’s 3-2 win by Vanderbilt over preseason No. 1 Virginia.

But this year could be different.

Not only does the league have teams that have been among the nation’s best all season in Miami, Florida State, and Louisville, but the conference also has other, lesser-known teams that are peaking at the right time.

For example, Pool B winner NC State will play for the conference championship Sunday at 1 p.m., but the Wolfpack traveled to Durham as an under the radar No. 6 seed with little chance of making it to the tournament’s last day.  Three wins later, a squad laden with freshman and sophomore talent is beginning to appear on the national radar for the first time all season. 

NC State has won 13 of 15 games, thanks in large part to stellar pitching.  The Pack held offensive powerhouse Miami, winner of 13 straight games, to just four runs in Friday night’s thrilling 5-4 extra-inning win. 

In fact, the Wolfpack has allowed just six runs total in the entire tournament.  In the regular season, NC State ranked second in the conference in team ERA (2.86), trailing just Louisville (2.72), a team with future first round pick Kyle Funkhouser and arguably the best freshman in the country in Brendan McKay toeing the rubber frequently.

NC State will, in all likelihood, land a three seed and be forced to hit the road for the NCAA regionals, but the Wolfpack is full of young players who have found their roles and it shows.  NC State is talented enough to beat any team in the country.  The Wolfpack proved it by beating Miami and proved it by beating Louisville in the regular season’s final week.  State won’t be favored, but it is one of a handful of ACC teams capable of making a run to Omaha.

Another prime example is Clemson, a team squarely on the bubble but probably did enough to make the tournament.  The Tigers’ starting rotation is headlined by ACC Pitcher of the Year Matthew Crownover, making Jack Leggett’s team a formidable opponent.  But Clemson, like NC State, seems to be figuring it out at the right time.  The Tigers won seven of eight to close the regular season and they, like NC State, recorded a win over a quality opponent in Durham with a 7-2 triumph of Louisville.

It may not seem likely that Clemson or NC State will be in Omaha, but the improbable happens on a daily basis in collegiate athletics.  Both teams have great starting pitching and enough talent to make it to the College World Series, despite the fact that they’re both second-tier in the conference.

The ACC also has juggernauts in Miami, Florida State, and Louisville, three teams that figure to have legitimate title chances.  All three should host Regionals and, barring major upsets, will be favored to make it to Omaha. Even with upsets ever-present in collegiate athletics, it isn’t unreasonable to expect at least two to land spots on college baseball’s biggest stage.

While there are certainly other great offensive teams across the country, most wouldn’t argue that Miami is the best.  The Canes led the ACC in nearly every hitting category in the regular season, a feat made even more impressive by the fact that Jim Morris’ squad leads the entire country in runs scored per game (8.5).  On a given night, one through seven in the Hurricanes’ lineup will all be batting over .300.

Louisville isn’t the dominant offensive team that Miami is, but the Cards rank seventh in the country in team ERA (2.72), an impressive feat considering the team had to face off against the Canes three times.   Funkhouser and McKay are arguably the most formidable one-two punch in the country.

Finally, D.J. Stewart and Florida State, winners of Pool A, didn’t have an astounding year by Seminole standards, but that hasn’t stopped the team from stringing together three consecutive impressive performances in Durham.  The Noles have competent starting pitching and a bullpen with potential. And   Stewart, an impressive prospect with as much power as nearly any other player in the upcoming MLB draft, is an asset that could carry Mike Martin’s ball club deep into postseason play.

The sheer volume of talented teams should land the ACC at least one squad, if not more, in Omaha. When selections are announced on Monday, the ACC could have as many as eight teams in the field. That, paired with the fact that the conference’s trio of top teams has frequented Omaha in years past, makes 2015 a likely year for an ACC to win the College World Series.

It hasn’t happened in a while, six decades to be exact, but this year is the year that the ACC will end its title drought.