The first games of the 2014 College World Series are set to begin exactly 352 days from Thursday. But that's soon enough for the hype to begin for next season's Virginia baseball team.
A pair of major college baseball websites -- Baseball America and Perfect Game -- both included the Cavaliers in their respective "Eight For Omaha" features released on Thursday. The articles try to forecast the field for the 2014 College World Series.
The Cavaliers only lose four key contributors -- closer Kyle Crockett, starter Scott Silverstein, and infielders Reed Gragnani and Jared King -- from this year's team. Virginia finished the season ranked No. 11 in the country in every major college baseball poll, after going 50-12 and earning a national seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
"The Cavaliers entered the 2013 campaign unranked, but coach Brian O'Connor and his coaching staff did a terrific job and almost guided UVa back to the College World Series," wrote Perfect Game's Kendall Rogers. "Now, the Cavaliers have a chance in '14 to be the team that wins their first national championship."
"Virginia’s lineup has a good chance to be college baseball’s best next year," wrote Aaron Fitt of Baseball America, "led by fearsome fivesome Mike Papi, Brandon Downes, Joe McCarthy, Derek Fisher and Branden Cogswell."
Virginia's lineup will also return everyday catcher Nate Irving and infielders Nick Howard and Kenny Towns next year. Friday starter Brandon Waddell will be a sophomore in 2014, and rising senior Artie Lewicki is expected to be fully recovered from the arm injury that cost him most of his junior season.
Both writers also pointed to the addition of Connor Jones to next year's pitching staff, with Fitt calling Jones "likely the nation’s best freshman."
"This club will have national title aspirations, and rightfully so," wrote Rogers.