Omaha or Hoover? College World Series heavy on current, future SEC teams

FAYETTEVILLE — Several games at the 2022 College World Series could be a sneak peek at the 2026 SEC baseball schedule.

Arkansas will be joined by conference mates Auburn, Texas A&M and Ole Miss this week at the College World Series, giving the SEC West half the field at college baseball’s pinnacle event in Omaha, Neb.

It will be the seventh College World Series with four teams from one league. Six of those instances have included SEC teams, and the other was the ACC in 2006.

The SEC has had at least three teams go to Omaha in six of the last seven tournaments.

In a testament to the league’s long-term health, two additional participants, Texas and Oklahoma, will join their future SEC partners in Omaha. The Longhorns and the Sooners will join the conference by the 2026 baseball season.

The Razorbacks (43-19) are guaranteed to play at least one team from the SEC in Omaha. Arkansas will play Stanford (47-16) on Saturday at 1 pm and will play either Ole Miss (37-22) or Auburn (42-20) on Monday.

Arkansas has played at least one game against each of the other three teams in its pool. The Razorbacks lost 5-0 to Stanford on Feb. 27 at the Round Rock (Texas) Classic; won two straight following a series-opening loss to Ole Miss in Fayetteville on April 29; and won the first and third games of the series at Auburn on May 6-8.

The Razorbacks lost two of three games at Texas A&M (42-18) on April 22-24. Those teams would not play again unless they play each other in the national championship series.

Arkansas will play an SEC team at the College World Series for the fourth time in its last six trips. The Razorbacks lost two games to eventual national champion LSU in 2009; went 1-2 against national runner-up South Carolina in 2012; and defeated Florida in a national semifinal in 2018.

While a member of the Southwest Conference, Arkansas defeated South Carolina and lost to Mississippi State at the 1985 College World Series, and defeated Georgia and lost to LSU in 1987.

The SEC is represented well in Omaha despite the fact the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, Tennessee, was eliminated by Notre Dame in a home super regional in the sport’s biggest upset of the year.

“Who knew the league was going to be so tough, especially in our division,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Sunday following a 4-3 victory at North Carolina.

“It was just a tough year and we beat each other around, and it prepared us for the end of the season.”

Texas A&M’s 19-11 conference record was the best in the SEC West, one game ahead of Arkansas at 18-12. The teams were tied going into the final day of the regular season.

Auburn went 16-14 in league play. Ole Miss was 14-16, but finished 7-2 to qualify for the SEC Tournament. The Rebels were one of the final four teams to make the NCAA Tournament field, according to the selection committee.

Ole Miss and Auburn are scheduled to play each other in their College World Series opener Saturday night. The Rebels won two of three games at Auburn in the first SEC series for both teams. Ole Miss was ranked No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll at the time.

The Rebels are undefeated this postseason with victories by a combined 46-11 over Arizona (twice), Southern Miss (twice) and Miami. The wins over Southern Miss and Miami were on their home fields.

Auburn is 5-1 in postseason play and has outscored its opponents by a combined 65-30. The Tigers won two of three games in a super regional at Oregon State following a regional sweep on its home field against Southeastern Louisiana, Florida State and UCLA.

“It’s a really good league,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said Monday following a 4-3 victory over Oregon State. “I know you hear a lot nationally about the SEC, but when you have four teams from one division making helped the teams in the Omaha field, it’s impressive.”

Texas A&M was predicted to finish fifth in the SEC West in its first season under coach Jim Schlossnagle, who previously led TCU to the College World Series five times. Auburn was picked to finish seventh in the division.

Arkansas was predicted to win the West, just ahead of a second-place tie between Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Following a national championship run last season, Mississippi State failed to make the SEC Tournament this year and finished with the worst record in the league.

“Probably there’s some baseball pundits out there that talked about the SEC being down…and then you wake up and you look at the end of the year and that’s really not the case,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said Tuesday. “I think that can happen in our league, where you can get fooled. The teams are good. The same teams may not be the best teams every year, but the league is so, so good.

“When you look at the SEC West and what a great year Auburn’s had….Arkansas had a great year and what Coach Schlossnagle has done at A&M and the turnaround — just a terrific year for the SEC.”

All four SEC West coaches have led multiple teams to the College World Series. Van Horn’s nine appearances are the most of any active coach and include seven trips since 2004 as the Razorbacks’ coach. Schlossnagle is in his sixth College World Series and Thompson and Bianco will each make their second appearance.

There are 14 active coaches who have led multiple teams to Omaha; six coaches in the SEC West. Only Alabama’s Brad Bohannon didn’t make the College World Series.

David Pierce, the Texas coach, will make his third appearance in five seasons with the Longhorns.

Texas and Oklahoma will play in a pool with Texas A&M and Notre Dame in Omaha. The Aggies will open play with a game against the Sooners (42-22) on Friday afternoon, and the Longhorns (47-20) will play the Fighting Irish (40-15) on Friday night.

Texas is guaranteed to play one of its two big rivals in Omaha. The Longhorns lost a 12-9 midweek game to Texas A&M on March 29 in Austin, and went 2-2 against Oklahoma. The Longhorns won a neutral-site series over the Sooners at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas in April, and Oklahoma defeated Texas 8-1 on the same field in the Big 12 Championship Game on May 29.

Texas is in its 38th College World Series, which is 13 more than the next-closest program, Miami.

Oklahoma advanced to Omaha for the 11th time, but for the first time since 2010. The Sooners are in their fifth season under coach Skip Johnson, who was previously a pitching coach at Texas for 10 seasons.

In January, Van Horn commented on the new teams joining the league during a speech to the Hawgs Illustrated Sports Club.

“Everybody says, ‘I want to coach in the SEC,'” Van Horn said. “I’m like, ‘Come on over. See what it’s all about.’

“When those two schools come in, SEC baseball — and probably all things — it just got stronger and stronger. It’s going to be amazing.”

College World Series Appearances by SEC Team

Program, Appearances (Championships) — Last Appearance

LSU, 18(6) — 2017

Florida, 12 (1) — 2018

Mississippi State, 12 (1) — 2021

Arkansas, 11 — 2022

South Carolina, 11(2) — 2012

Texas A&M, 7 — 2022

Auburn, 6 — 2022

Georgia, 6 (1) — 2008

Ole Miss, 6 — 2022

Missouri, 6 (1) — 1964

Alabama, 5 — 1999

Tennessee, 5 — 2021

Vanderbilt, 5 (2) — 2021

Kentucky, 0

notable: Incoming SEC members Texas and Oklahoma have 38 and 11 College World Series appearances, respectively. Texas has won six national championships, most recently in 2005, and Oklahoma has won two national championships, most recently in 1994.

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