OMAHA, Neb. Tulane is ready to take on the big boys at the College World Series.
Three teams from the Big 12, two from the Southeastern Conference and two from the Pacific-10 made it to Omaha, but it's the top-seeded Green Wave from Conference USA who are favored to win their first national championship.
Though the traditional power conferences remain dominant in college baseball, the CWS has a bit of a new look this year. Oregon State's only other appearance was in 1952. Baylor is here for the third time, but first since 1978.
''It's good to see the field starting to even out and that it's not just the same schools dominating every year,'' said Jeff Corsaletti of Florida, which is in the CWS for the first time since 1998.
Not everything has changed.
Established powerhouses Texas and Arizona State return, and each is looking for its sixth national title. The Longhorns are in the CWS for the fourth straight year and a record 32nd time overall. The Sun Devils haven't been to Omaha since 1998. And Nebraska is back with a familiar sea of red-clad fans.
Bracket 1 play opens Friday with No. 7 national seed Florida (45-20) playing Tennessee (46-19) at 2 p.m. EDT and No. 3 Nebraska (56-13) playing Arizona State (39-23) at 7 p.m.
First-round games Saturday in Bracket 2 match No. 1 Tulane (55-10) against Oregon State (46-10) at 2 p.m. and Baylor (44-22) against Texas (51-16) at 7.
Bracket winners meet in a best-of-three championship series starting June 25.
Tulane will try to become the first No. 1 seed to win the championship since Miami in 1999.
The Green Wave started the season ranked first in one of the major polls and has been a consensus No. 1 the last three weeks. Tulane, 17-5 against ranked opponents, proved its mettle with regular-season games against Arizona State, Cal State Fullerton, Pepperdine and LSU.
''It's a relief for us to be here, going into preseason ranked as we were,'' Tulane coach Rick Jones said. ''We handled it as well as we could, and that comes with not only a veteran club but a talented club.
''I kept waiting for us to have that situation where we may have given in to (the pressure), but it never happened.''
The CWS opener matches SEC rivals Florida and Tennessee. The Volunteers won the regular-season series 2-1.
The Gators are led by sophomore first baseman Matt LaPorta, who has 24 home runs and is among four UF players who have 10 or more homers. The Gators also feature a strong bullpen that has helped them to a 38-4 record when leading after six innings.
Tennessee coach Rod Delmonico will start freshman left-hander James Adkins instead of season-long No. 1 pitcher Luke Hochevar. Adkins is 3-0 with 39 strikeouts in his last three games.
''He's really pitched better than Hochevar down the stretch. He's hot right now, so we're going with him,'' Delmonico said.
Nebraska enters the CWS with one of the deepest pitching staffs in the nation and the No. 2 pick in the major league draft in third baseman Alex Gordon (Kansas City Royals).
The Sun Devils come into Omaha 33-14 in their last 47 games after opening the year 6-9.
Their reward is a date in Rosenblatt Stadium against a Nebraska team that will have all but a handful of the 25,000-plus fans cheering for the Huskers.
''It's going to be fun, this is what we came here for,'' ASU's Travis Buck said. ''Bring on the 30,000. We're going to feed off it, too. I don't know how much it holds, but we'll probably have 100 or 200 Arizona State fans and that's all that matters.''
Tulane features two-way stars in Brian Bogusevic and Micah Owings. Bogusevic, the Houston Astros' first-round draft pick, is batting .324, and he's 13-2 with a team-best 3.14 ERA. Owings (11-4), the C-USA player of the year, will start the opener and also brings in a .354 average and 18 homers.
Pac-10 champion Oregon State started the year picked to finish seventh in the conference but has reached Omaha with the help of a speed-dominated lineup led by center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who batted .413 and stole 25 bases.
''Hard work pays off,'' Beavers coach Pat Casey said. ''We don't really have any magical players, we don't have any superstars. But we're a club that bonded real well early and knew we'd be a pretty good club that would compete for one of those top spots in the Pac-10.''
Baylor comes into the CWS with four wins this season against the Longhorns. Three of the games were decided by one run. Catcher Josh Ford, batting .333, has reached base in 60 of 61 games.
Texas is tournament toughened, winning five elimination games in regionals and super regionals. Shortstop Seth Johnston is batting a team-leading .387, and J. Brent Cox leads the nation with 17 saves.
''We're fortunate to be here,'' coach Augie Garrido said. ''Unlike the others, it's mandatory that we're here. There is a different point of view at Texas, and that point of view is that you go to the College World Series.''
Peninsula Clarion ©2015. All Rights Reserved.