|Projecting the Field of 64|
|Gainesville, Fla.||Coral Gables, Fla.||Houston||Los Angeles|
|1. (1) Florida^*||1. Miami^||1. (5) Rice^*||1. UCLA^|
|2. Stetson*||2. Central Florida||2. Baylor||2. Cal State Fullerton*|
|3. Troy||3. Florida Atlantic||3. St. John’s||3. San Diego*|
|4. Bethune-Cookman*||4. Stony Brook*||4. Oregon||4. Marist*|
|Stanford, Calif.||Nashville||College Station, Texas||Baton Rouge, La.|
|1. (2) Stanford^*||1. Vanderbilt^||1. (6) Texas A&M^*||1. Louisiana State^|
|2. Mississippi State||2. Virginia||2. Florida International*||2. Florida State|
|3. San Francisco||3. Samford||3. Texas State*||3. Southern Mississippi|
|4. Fresno State*||4. Austin Peay State*||4. Navy*||4. Alcorn State*|
|1. (3) South Carolina^||1. Georgia Tech^||1. (7) Arizona^*||1. Texas^|
|2. Clemson||2. Georgia||2. UC Irvine||2. Mississippi|
|3. Coastal Carolina*||3. Jacksonville||3. Purdue*||3. Washington State|
|4. Charlotte*||4. Kent State*||4. Monmouth*||4. Princeton*|
|Chapel Hill, N.C.||Louisville||Fayetteville, Ark.||Norman, Okla.|
|1. (4) North Carolina^*||1. Louisville^*||1. (8) Arkansas^||1. Oklahoma^|
|2. Georgia Southern*||2. Oregon State||2. California||2. Texas Christian*|
|3. East Carolina||3. Kentucky||3. Missouri||3. North Carolina State|
|4. James Madison*||4. Wright State*||4. Missouri State*||4. Oral Roberts*|
|* Automatic qualifier|
• The Southeastern Conference is on a roll. SEC teams have won the last three national championships, and the league looks as strong as ever heading into 2012, with six teams in the top 11 of our preseason rankings, and seven in the Top 25. So it’s no surprise that SEC projects to lead all conferences with nine regional bids, followed by the ACC and Pacific-12 (seven apiece). The SEC also leads the way with three national seeds and five hosts. It’s worth noting that five of the seven ACC teams that made regionals last year were hosts, so it’s easy to envision five of the SEC’s nine teams in 2012 earning host spots.
• Arizona State enters the season ranked No. 17 in the nation, but the Sun Devils are not included in our field of 64 because they must serve a one-year postseason ban for NCAA rules violations. The punishment was initially levied for the 2011 season, but ASU’s appeal was not heard until after the 2011 postseason, so the Devils were allowed to participate in last year’s NCAA tournament. Oregon benefits from ASU’s ban, grabbing the seventh bid out of the Pac-12, and the last at-large bid in our field of 64. UCLA also benefits, nabbing a third host spot for the West (which had four hosts a year ago). If Arizona State winds up finishing ahead of UCLA in the Pac-12, it’s easy to envision Cal State Fullerton or UC Irvine beating out the Bruins for a home regional, but our concerns about the Titans’ pitching staff are enough for us to give UCLA the nod for now. We also considered placing a fourth Pac-12 regional in Corvallis, but we project the Beavers to finish fifth in the conference (behind ASU), so we placed our final regional in Louisville instead—the closest thing to a Northern regional in our field.
• The last five teams into our field of 64: Oregon (the lone at-large No. 4 seed), San Francisco, Southern Mississippi, Florida Atlantic and Kentucky. The boldest pick of that group is San Francisco, as the West Coast Conference hasn’t sent two teams to regionals since 2008 (when San Diego and Pepperdine both earned No. 2 seeds). But we’re expecting a banner year for the WCC, which has more depth and impact talent than its Big West peer, on the whole. San Diego, San Francisco, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and Portland all look like legitimate at-large candidates, and if the WCC takes care of business in nonconference play, its Ratings Percentage Index should be sound enough for the runner-up to earn an at-large spot.
• The first five teams that landed on the wrong side of our bubble: Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Wake Forest, Dallas Baptist and College of Charleston. In some years, getting to 64 quality regional teams is a challenge, but the pool of candidates looks strong this year. The Big Ten sent three teams to regionals as recently as 2009, so don’t write off Michigan State’s chances to snag an at-large spot. A three-game series at Texas A&M in early March will give the Spartans a chance to state their case.
• There were a couple of tough choices for the final host sites. With nine teams in our field from the Sunshine State (following its eight-bid 2011 season), we figured it would be geographically advantageous for the state to earn a second regional site, so we gave the ACC’s fourth host spot to Miami over Clemson. That, of course, sets up a dream (or nightmare) Palmetto State showdown between South Carolina, Clemson and Coastal Carolina. The Lone Star State produced four hosts a year ago, and it has a chance to do so again this year. But in 2011, the committee gave Texas Christian the nod for a host spot over Oklahoma, despite OU’s advantages in the head-to-head series and the RPI. If it’s close between those two teams again, we expect the Sooners to get the edge this time, especially since it moves a regional out of Texas and into Oklahoma, providing just a bit more geographic diversity.
• Interesting super regional pairings: North Carolina-Oregon State, in a rematch of the 2006 and ’07 CWS Finals; Vanderbilt-Stanford, in a showdown between private schools who will face off in Week Two of this season; and Florida-Miami, a battle between teams that have faced off in each of the last three NCAA tournaments (with Florida winning all three).