JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- What's the bigger surprise: that Clemson's streak of consecutive NCAA appearances ended at 21 or that the ACC hasn't won a College World Series title since 1955?
The Tigers' not participating in the national tournament for the first time since 1986 is surprising on the surface, but consider that they lost half of their team to graduation and professional baseball coming into 2008 and it's a little easier to understand.
"The pitching in this conference at the top end of the scale is phenomenal, maybe as good as I've seen in the league," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "And then you throw in the offensive teams we've got in the league, too, and it makes it very, very difficult."
That was evident to the eight teams that participated in last week's ACC tournament, which was played at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville -- and won 8-4 by Miami over Virginia on Sunday.
To be fair, Miami has won four national titles, but the last one came in 2001, before the Hurricanes joined the ACC. But their streak of consecutive NCAA appearances is at 36 years and counting. And now they have an ACC title to add to the trophy case, thanks to their first conference championship.
There is no question that the quality of baseball on Florida's first coast was above and beyond what will be on display across the nation when the national tournament begins play Friday.
"This is what we go through 30 times during the year," North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. "Thirty games, they're all like this. They're all big games and big pitches and good teams and really good players that make great plays. That's why it's fun to coach in this league. You get to watch some great baseball."
Time will tell whether that great baseball translates into the conference's first title since Wake Forest beat Western Michigan 7-6 in the 1955 championship game. North Carolina has been the runner-up in each of the past two seasons, and the Tar Heels have the talent to make another deep run in this year's national tournament, but so do Miami and Florida State.
Here's a quick look at the six ACC teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament as they set their sights on Omaha.
Seed: No. 1 national, No. 1 at Coral Gables Regional
Last trip to Omaha: 2006
What to expect: The Canes, the only team in the nation without double-digit losses, are anchored by the one-two punch of 1B Yonder Alonso (.380, 21 HR, 66 RBI) and 2B Jemile Weeks (.374, 11 HR, 55 RBI). But three other UM players (MVP OF Dave DiNatale, OF Blake Tekotte, P Chris Hernandez) also were selected to the ACC all-tournament team. This team is deep and dangerous, and anything less than a trip to Omaha would have to be considered a disappointment.
Quotable: "Our pitching's been pretty good all year overall, but we've got to pitch better. You win in different ways, and we've got an outstanding record. The fact is we pitch sometimes, we play good defense sometimes and today was one of those days in which we took up for our pitchers and our hitters did a great job of battling back and winning the game."
-- Coach Jim Morris, after Miami's 15-12 win over Georgia Tech on May 22
North Carolina Tar Heels
Seed: No. 2 national, No. 1 at Cary Regional
Last trip to Omaha: 2007
What to expect: The Diamond Heels were very close to capturing the school's first national title in each of the past two years, but Oregon State topped UNC in the CWS championship series in 2006 and in 2007. 1B Dustin Ackley (.399, 7 HR, 44 RBI) highlights a trio of sophomore stars, but Carolina's pitching has been up and down to end the season. The starters were hit around pretty well in the final regular-season series at Miami, then the bullpen was roughed up in Jacksonville. Even so, the bracket sets up nicely for a third straight trip to Omaha.
Quotable: "I feel like we're well prepared. And we're a completely new team compared to how we played at the beginning of the year. We've matured a lot, and we've kind of figured out our personality as a team."
-- OF Tim Fedroff
Florida State Seminoles
Seed: No. 4 national, No. 1 at Tallahassee Regional
Last trip to Omaha: 2000
What to expect: The Seminoles have made 18 trips to the CWS and still don't have a national title to show for it. Considering FSU's historical baseball prowess, that might be the biggest surprise when it comes to ACC baseball. All-everything catcher Buster Posey (.467, 19 HR, 73 RBI) leads the way, but the Noles aren't a top-four team because of one player. As usual, there's a full complement of arms, gloves and sticks to go around. Then again, that's the case in most seasons, and FSU couldn't get out of its own regional last year.
Quotable: "I like [our] team, I like the way this team approaches the game. I know we have used that word [character] all season long, but they played [the UNC] game like it was a regional tournament. Bang plays at the plate, guys falling over, just playing their hearts out, in a game that probably didn't have any meaning. But it just goes to show you what kind of competitors this team is made of."
-- Coach Mike Martin
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Seed: No. 1 at Raleigh Regional
Last trip to Omaha: 1968
What to expect: This is NC State's sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, but the Wolfpack haven't advanced to a super regional since 2003. They went 1-2 in Jacksonville (beating Clemson but losing to Georgia Tech and Miami), with 3B Drew Martin and SS Tommy Foschi being named to the all-tourney team. In the win over the Tigers, starter Clayton Shunick (7-5, 2.12 ERA) pitched a complete game two-hitter. South Carolina would appear to be the biggest obstacle to the Pack's advancing and facing the Athens Regional winner, but with a national RPI of No. 12, don't be surprised to see State playing past this weekend.
Quotable: "We've been playing with a lot of confidence the last two or three weeks. You build it throughout the season, you go through some highs and some lows, and we've been in both places, but I feel like we have a lot of confidence right now."
-- Coach Elliott Avent
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Seed: No. 2 at Athens Regional
Last trip to Omaha: 2006
What to expect: The Yellow Jackets were holding out hope that they would be the fifth ACC team to host a regional. Instead, they have to make the hour trip east to Athens to face Big East champion (and 2007 CWS participant) Louisville, as well as the host Dawgs. DH Luke Murton (.349, 12 HR, 49 RBI), brother of Cubs OF Matt Murton, gets a lot of the attention, but equally impressive has been the batting prowess of converted pitcher Charlie Blackmon (.391, 8 HR, 42 RBI).
Quotable: "I feel like these [ACC tournament] games have prepared us more than any other games. We proved it to ourselves that we can come back against any team in the country, and we have to feel good about that heading into [the NCAA tournament]."
-- C Jason Haniger
Seed: No. 3 at Fullerton Regional
Last trip to Omaha: N/A
What to expect: Brian O'Connor has done a nice job of making UVa a national program. The Cavaliers have qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of his five seasons in Charlottesville. The next step is to advance beyond the regional round, but the committee did the Hoos no favors by making them the No. 3 seed in Fullerton behind the host Titans and No. 2 UCLA. 1B Jeremy Farrell (.320, 11 HR, 51 RBI) is the biggest threat at the plate, and OF David Coleman made a pair of highlight-reel catches in Jacksonville to earn all-tourney honors.
Quotable: "I think our team all year long has been searching for a little identity. I really believe we haven't played our best baseball and maybe down here now we're starting to find ourselves a little bit. Maybe it's good for our team to continue to have to prove ourselves."
David Albright is the senior deputy editor for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.