Pitching depth key in wide-open CWS

CWS Chat with Tony Gwynn: Thurs. 3 p.m. ET

The College World Series is a baseball lover's dream. The action starts Friday in Omaha, Neb. -- where it's been played since 1950 -- with the final championship-series game on either Sunday, June 27 or Monday, June 28. There will be up to 17 games, all on ESPN2 or ESPN, and I'll be in Omaha broadcasting most of the games throughout the week-plus.

College World Series:
First-Round TV Schedule
Friday, June 18
Arizona-Georgia
2 p.m. ET | ESPN2

Arkansas-Texas
7 p.m. ET | ESPN2

Saturday, June 19
CS Fullerton-S. Carolina
2:30 p.m. ET | ESPN

LSU-Miami
7 p.m. ET | ESPN

Here's how the College World Series works: There are eight teams -- two brackets with four teams each -- and within the brackets the teams play each other in a double-elimination format.

Then the winner of Bracket 1 and the winner of Bracket 2 play a best-of-three for the national championship.

In recent years, the championship was just one game after the double-elimination rounds, but a best-of-three is how it should be.

In Bracket 1, the first-round matchups are Arkansas (44-20) vs. Texas (55-13) and Georgia (43-21) vs. Arizona (35-25-1). In Bracket 2, the first-round matchups are LSU (46-17) vs. Miami (49-11) and South Carolina (50-15) vs. Cal State Fullerton (42-21). You'll notice that four SEC schools are in the College World Series: Arkansas, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina.

Bracket 2 Looks Tough
On paper, it looks like Bracket 2 is tougher than Bracket 1. The NCAA baseball tournament started with 64 teams and eight national seeds -- the top eight teams in the nation, according to the tourney committee. Bracket 2 has the No. 2 national seed (South Carolina) and the No. 3 national seed (Miami). Some observers thought LSU should have been a national seed, and Cal State Fullerton has won 23 of 25 games.

In Bracket 1, Texas is the No. 1 national seed and therefore will be the favorite. But as we've seen earlier in the tournament and in past years, anybody can step up and win. Arizona has the fewest wins of any team left (35), but the Wildcats upset Long Beach State -- which featured one of the nation's best pitchers, Jered Weaver -- to get to Omaha.

Texas has the most wins (55) of the eight teams in Omaha. The Longhorns are the only team in the College World Series that my San Diego State team played this year. We played them three times in Austin, Texas -- and yes, those were three of their 55 wins (but we took them to extra innings once before losing 3-2).

Without question, Texas is a tough, solid ballclub. Texas is the most balanced team, but South Carolina is a good hitting club. Arizona is fundamentally solid. Arkansas' numbers don't look great, but the Razorbacks play great baseball. Miami is a perennial power, and LSU can hit with the best of them. Cal State Fullerton can score in bunches, and Georgia plays a blue-collar game.

Really, paper comparisons aside, any of these teams can win. The key in this tournament is pitching and timely hitting. The team that gets good starting pitching and good bullpen work will have the best chance to win the College World Series.

Players to Watch
South Carolina C Landon Powell has great power and does a great job behind the plate.

Texas CF Drew Stubbs, only a freshman, is a polished hitter and fielder. His teammate, catcher/first baseman Curtis Thigpen, is a good hitter. Texas closer Huston Street is tremendous, and he's tournament-tested.

Miami third baseman Gabby Sanchez is a solid hitter, as is LSU right fielder Jon Zeringue.

Georgia pitcher Sean Ruthven, the son of former major-league pitcher Dick Ruthven, has thrown well in the tournament.

Remember, pitching staffs in college baseball aren't like major-league rotations. Each of these teams has about two strong starters, so to win the College World Series a team really needs its No. 3 and No. 4 guys to step up. Also, during the year coaches tend to be careful about pitch counts, with perhaps a 110- or 120-pitch limit. During the College World Series coaches probably will need to go with their starters longer.

Tony Gwynn, a career .338 hitter with the Padres, is the head baseball coach at San Diego State and an ESPN baseball analyst. Ask Tony in his CWS chat!

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