- Kyle Peterson, College Baseball Columnist
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The College World Series kicks off with a bang on Friday, as a Clemson-Georgia Tech rematch acts as an opening act for the tournament's top game -- North Carolina vs. Cal State Fullerton (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET).
The Titans face one of the College World Series' hottest arms in left-hander Andrew Miller, the sixth pick in the 2006 MLB first-year player draft. Miller has the stuff to really dominate a game. At 6-foot-6, he's often compared to Randy Johnson -- and the reaction his fastball gets from lefty batters whiffing their at-bats away shows a resemblance to the Yankees pitcher as well. As good as the other pitchers in the tournament are, Miller has shown he's a notch above. If he throws strikes, there's not a tougher pitcher to hit in the tournament. North Carolina faltered down the stretch and struggled in the ACC tournament, but the Tar Heels are one of only two teams which won on the road to advance to Omaha, and that says a lot about this team.
The Tar Heels will see a typical Cal State Fullerton offense -- it's not loaded with a lot of power or speed, but it is very, very fundamentally sound. The Titans make their opponents play defense by putting the ball into play and executing the hit and run. Fullerton proved it can really pitch in the postseason. Even though the Titans lost junior ace Vinnie Pestano to injury earlier this year, they haven't missed a beat, as lefty Ryan Paul has stepped in and performed admirably in Pestano's stead. Fullerton will be a tough team to beat and probably won't score many runs off Miller in Friday night's game, but I think the Titans will come out of the loser's bracket to play in the championship series.
In the day's early game (ESPN2, 2 p.m. ET), two ACC rivals meet for the seventh time this season (each team went 3-3). Georgia Tech gave Clemson one of its few series losses on the season, and the Tigers won't overlook the Yellow Jackets. The two teams are somewhat similar. Historically, Georgia Tech has always had a strong offense, and that is no different this year. They've also had their share of injuries, losing a closer and center fielder. Those injuries haven't affected them in the postseason, but it remains to be seen whether that will continue in the College World Series.
Clemson, the top national seed, is a very complete team. The Tigers don't have a lot of strong arms, but they are outstanding offensively. It's tough to find a weakness with this team, but it may be hurt by its lack of consistent production from the bullpen. In past years, teams with strong closers were very successful in the College World Series. Clemson's lack of depth in that position might stunt a deep run in Omaha.
On Saturday, Georgia takes on a remarkably consistent Rice squad (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET). I've liked Rice from the beginning, but after watching the way Georgia performed when its back was against the wall (the Dawgs are 5-0 in elimination games), it's tough to pick against the Bulldogs. It seems like Georgia is never out of a game, and that resiliency should pay off at this stage of the season. The Dawgs are swinging the bats and have a tough one-two punch in set-up man Rip Warren and closer Joshua Fields, who have been excellent in the postseason. Georgia focuses on only having its starting pitchers throw six innings, knowing it can rely on the bullpen.
Rice's pitching may prove problematic for Georgia -- the Owls' staff owns more strikeouts than any group in the country, and Eddie Degerman has been as consistent as anyone in the country. Georgia gets the edge in this matchup because it has experience in must-win games, but it's an evenly-matched game. A lot of teams in this year's College World Series look the same -- you can make a legitimate case for any team -- and you haven't seen that in past NCAA baseball tournaments.
Saturday's other matchup pits a surprising Miami squad -- the only No. 2 seed remaining in the tournament -- against the only team that made the College World Series last year, Oregon State (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). This isn't your usual Miami squad; the Canes didn't dominate the regular season and did not host a regional or super regional. This is a team most have tried to find holes with, but the Canes keep winning with a mixture of freshmen and upperclassmen. This is one of the first times that Miami hasn't entered the CWS as the favorite, but it might work for coach Jim Morris' team.
I think the championship will showcase Cal State Fullerton and another team from the West Coast, but one that doesn't get a lot of pub -- Oregon State. The Beavers have three guys on the mound who were critical in the team's playoff run last year in Dallas Buck, Kevin Gunderson and Jonah Nickerson. Oregon State rolled through the first two rounds of the tournament and are the team to beat on this side of the bracket. A championship series between the Beavers and Cal State Fullerton would match two strong pitching staffs and two offenses that have been producing the runs to back up their aces.
Kyle Peterson was a three-time All American at Stanford, is the voice of "MVP 06 NCAA Baseball" and is a college baseball analyst for ESPN.