Vanderbilt won the most recent College World Series, returns most of its everyday lineup and features the top two pitchers in college baseball.
Still, the Commodores aren't even considered the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference, let alone the nation — not with Florida's roster overflowing with talent at nearly every position.
Other top contenders to reach the College World Series in Omaha in June are Louisville, Texas Tech and UCLA. The NCAA Division I season began Friday, although Vanderbilt's opener of a three-game series against Wright State in Nashville was postponed due to weather.
Florida may the popular favorite, but the expectations remain the same inside the Vanderbilt clubhouse.
The Commodores played in the NCAA super regionals eight times from 2010 to 2019, have reached the CWS finals three times since 2014 and won national championships in 2014 and 2019. They were 13-5 last year when their season was cut short as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports across the nation in mid-March.
Kumar Rocker, who threw a no-hitter in super regionals in 2019 and was selected most outstanding player at that's years CWS, is back. With a 96 mph fastball, he's the projected No. 1 pick in this year's Major League Baseball draft. Fellow Vanderbilt right-hander Jack Leiter, who complements a mid-90s fastball with a knee-buckling curve, could be selected right behind Rocker.
The Commodores should have one of the nation's best outfields with Cooper Davis, Isaiah Thomas and speedy freshman Enrique Bradfield, one of 18 newcomers on the 43-man roster, which is larger than normal because last season did not cost players a year of eligibility. That created a logjam of talent in college baseball that will require young players to be patient at schools across the country.
"If only nine people are eating at the table, that means a lot of people are watching," Commodores coach Tim Corbin said. "When you're watching, you have to find other roles that are conducive to helping the team move forward."