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#16 BYU baseball to host San Diego in important 3-game series and how the college baseball postseason works

BYU baseball is midway through a terrific season, can they carry their moment all the way to a NCAA tournament berth? What is the road to the NCAA tournament? Can they clear the program roadblock of San Diego in their series this weekend?

BYU ace Michael Rucker prepares to deliver a strike.
BYU ace Michael Rucker prepares to deliver a strike.
Keith Shirts/Vanquish The Foe

The BYU baseball team is having a terrific season! Midway through the 2016 campaign, the 23-4 Cougars are making noise nationally. Beginning the season with the best start in program history, BYU put together a 12-game win steak -- the longest win streak since 1989. After 22 seasons without being ranked, the Brigham Bats are ranked as high as #16 in national college baseball polls. Here's how the polls currently rank the Cougars:

Poll Rankings
Perfect Game #16
USA Today Coaches #19
Collegiate Baseball Magazine #22
National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association #22

Perhaps even more impressive, BYU is currently projected to host a Regional in the NCAA Tournament by D1Baseball.com. That's right, under that prediction, the college baseball postseason would be played in Provo for the first time EVER! That's a mind boggling thought. Especially since BYU hasn't qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 2002.

Due to it being 14 years since BYU has played in the NCAA post-season, Cougar fans aren't well versed in how college baseball decides a national champion.

Evidence of this is heard if you attend a game at Larry H. Miller Field. Far, far too many people are invoking the holy name of Omaha when discussing the future of the talented mustache mafia.

Don't get me wrong, I would love for BYU baseball to make the College World Series in Omaha. It would be the first time to play there in 45 years! Of course, I'm rooting for it, but saying "Omaha" is like discussing BYU basketball in the Final Four without concern for playing through the first two weeks of the NCAA basketball tournament.

So, lets take a look at how the NCAA D1 Baseball championship tournament is structured and how BYU may fit into those plans if they keep up the pace of the first half of the season.

The college baseball playoffs select 64 teams to compete for its national championship. Teams are qualified by either winning their conference tournament or getting an at-large bid. Once the 64 teams are selected, they compete in what are called Regionals.

Regionals are carried out by dividing the tournament qualifiers to into 16 pods of 4 teams. The teams are seeded 1 thru 4. Each of the 16 pods play a double elimination tournament. These games are played at the highest ranked team within the pods home field. (BYU is currently projected as a #1 seed and would host one of these 4-team double elimination regionals.) The winners of their regional advance to the next stage. For the record, BYU has never advanced out of regionals in the current national championship format.

The 16 regional champions play in Super Regionals. Super Regionals are played at 8 locations. The higher seeded team will host. The 2 paired teams then play a best-of-three series. The winner advances to the College World Series in Omaha.

The College World Series then has 8 qualifiers who all meet and play in Omaha. They are separated into 2 groups of 4 and play once again in a double elimination tournament. The winners of the two tournaments then play each other in a best-of-three series in the finals. The winner is crowned national champion.

So, a lot has to happen before fans can book travel to Omaha.

First, lets talk qualification for the NCAA tournament. In order for the Cougars to automatically qualify for Regionals they must win the WCC tournament. In order to qualify for the WCC tournament, BYU must finish in the top 4 of the conference. The top 4 teams in the conference will then compete in a double elimination tournament for the conference crown and a spot in the national tournament in Stockton, California. BYU is currently in 1st place in the WCC with a 7-2 record.

If BYU were to lose in the conference tournament, they could still qualify as an at-large team. The Cougars overall resume and performances would need to be impressive enough to capture one of the 34 at-large spots.

The West Coast Conference has recently been a 1-bid conference for the NCAA baseball tournament. Only getting 1 team in the tournament in five of the past seven seasons. For reference, in 2013 San Francisco was awarded an at-large with their 34-24 record, 58th RPI rankings, and 86th strength of schedule. For the Dons efforts they were awarded a #3 seed at their regional. In 2012, San Diego won an at-large bid with a 40-17 record, 40th RPI rankings, and 120th strength of schedule. The selection committee game the Toreros a #2 seed at their regional.

The Cougars are currently 23-4 with 25 games remaining. Their RPI is currently 25th with their strength of schedule rated at 141st. Given their weaker strength of schedule profile than previous WCC at-large teams, the Cougars are going to likely need to finish with a higher win total than the 2013 USF team to get an at-large. If the Cougars can reach 37 or 38 wins, I think fans could feel reasonable confident about BYU's chances to qualify for the NCAA tournament as an at-large.

All of that pushed aside, BYU baseball's next challenge comes in the form of a San Diego team that has absolutely owned and tormented BYU since they joined the WCC. San Diego has won 17 of the last 18 contests against the Cougars.

This 2016 Cougars baseball team has already achieved and overcome trends to blaze new positive paths, but this weekends series against San Diego is particularly significant. A notion that has been explained by head coach Mike Littlewood, "If we want to take first in this league we have to win the series (with San Diego), especially at home." This weekend series is about clearing a monster hurdle and a program roadblock -- the torment of the Toreros.

Attend, watch, and listen to see if the Y can continue its winning ways. BYU and San Diego play on Thursday at 6:00 PM MST, Friday at 6:00 PM MST, and Saturday at 1:00 PM MST. The Thursday and Saturday games will be broadcast on BYUtv. The Friday contest will be broadcast on TheW.tv. All games will be called on ESPN 960 AM by the great Brent Norton.

BYU's probable starters:

4 game series vs. Niagara Name Hand 2016 record 2016 ERA Year
Game 1: Thursday, April 7, 6:00 MST Michael Rucker Right 6-0 2.14 Junior
Game 2: Friday, April 8, 6:00 MST Maverik Buffo Right 5-1 3.58 Sophomore
Game 3: Saturday, April 9, 1:00 MST Hayden Rogers Left 3-0 3.94 Sophomore

Vanquish The Foe's projected starting lineup:

Position Name Year Bats Throws 2016 HR 2016 RBI 2016 Batting Average
Catcher Bronson Larsen Junior Right Right 4 18 .282
1st Base Tanner Chauncey Junior Right Right 0 14 .391
2nd Base Brennon Anderson Sophomore Right Right 3 31 .330
3rd Base Nate Favero Sophomore Left Right 3 15 .345
Shortstop Hayden Nielsen Senior Right Right 1 18 .274
Left Field Eric Urry Senior Left Left 4 27 .250
Center Field Brennon Lund Junior Left Right 1 15 .387
Right Field Keaton Kringlen Freshman Right Right 4 12 .417
Designated Hitter Colton Shaver Sophomore Right Right 7 37 .450