OMAHA, Neb. - The locals who have grown accustomed to watching Texas at the College World Series year in and year out don't know whether to greet the Longhorns with "Howdy, stranger," or "Welcome back."
With a cast lacking the star power of past Texas squads, the Longhorns are in Omaha for a record 33rd time but the first time in 4 years.
No current Longhorn has played on Division I baseball's biggest stage but, as the top seed, Texas is favored on paper to win its seventh national title. The 'Horns will go against a field that features 2008 CWS qualifiers North Carolina and LSU and first-timers Virginia and Southern Mississippi.
Bracket 1 play opens today with Arkansas (39-22) meeting No. 2-seeded Cal State Fullerton (47-14) in the afternoon and Virginia (48-13-1) facing No. 3 LSU (51-16) at night. Tomorrow's Bracket 2 first-round games pit No. 5 Arizona State (49-12) and No. 4 North Carolina (47-16) in the afternoon and Southern Miss (40-24) against Texas (46-14-1) at night.
Winners emerging from double-elimination bracket play meet in the best-of-three finals starting June 22.
Texas will try to become the first No. 1 seed to win the CWS since Miami in 1999. No team seeded among the top eight nationally has won the title since Rice in 2003.
Like the past two champions, Fresno State and Oregon State, the Longhorns' roster is short on high draft picks and All-Americas. Texas, in fact, hasn't been to the CWS since winning it all in 2005.
Augie Garrido, college baseball's all-time winningest coach, said he's more concerned with developing successful college players than pro prospects.
"At what point does physical talent supercede the heart and soul of a player?" Garrido said. "You've got to have 25 people working together, and that's what baseball is really about."
The Longhorns come in ranked 196th out of 288 teams in home runs (39), 208th in batting (.287) and 216th in scoring (6.0). Maybe their most impressive offensive stat is their nation-leading 96 sacrifice bunts. *