Boy, have times changed.
UCLA (45-14) will host TCU (40-20) in a best-of-three NCAA Super Regional, beginning Friday at 6 p.m. at UCLA's Jackie Robison Stadium.
They do so as back-to-back Pac-12 champions, having just hosted their third consecutive Regional, and are set to host their second Super Regional in three years, as the number two national seed. They are two wins away from their second trip to the College World Series in two years. What was once the biggest "sleeping giant" in college baseball is asleep no more.
To bring things full circle, the team they will have to beat to get to Omaha is the same team they played the last time they were in Omaha two years ago. UCLA took on TCU three times in the 2010 College World Series, winning the first, losing the second and then winning the third to eliminate the Horned Frogs and advance to the Championship Series.
This time around, the Bruins will get to play the Frogs at home as opposed to in Omaha, but pretty much everything else is the same as two years ago. Three games and the winner's dream of winning a national title continues, while the loser's season comes to an end.
As the number two national seed, The Bruins are the clear favorite this weekend. They were one of the nation's top teams all season, won a Pac-12 co-championship and rolled through the Los Angeles Regional with a perfect 3-0 record while outscoring their opponents 23-6.
Things have not been nearly as smooth for TCU, who have battled injuries all season. Only three of their players have played in more than 85% of the team's games and it showed as they struggled to display anything resembling consistency all season. The championship of the Mountain West Conference, which had been their plaything for years, went to New Mexico and the Horned Frogs looked cooked.
Slowly but surely, TCU got healthy and despite being sent on the road last weekend for the Regionals, they knocked off Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Dayton to win the College Station Regional. They did it after losing their opening game of the Regional, too, winning four straight games and averaging more than 10 runs per game over the weekend to earn their trip to Westwood for this weekend.
TCU showed what they are capable of last weekend, and UCLA has been putting up gaudy numbers and mowing down teams all year.
UCLA's starting pitching coming in to the weekend is performing at a high level. Adam Plutko has been dominant of late for the Bruins, going 5-0 with a 0.49 ERA in his last five starts, and those numbers pale in comparison to the 16.2 innings of three-hit shutout ball that make up his career postseason line. Nick Vander Tuig was just as good last weekend, too, allowing just one hit in eight innings. If the Bruins can get those types of performances from their numbers one and two starters this weekend, there won't be a game three.
Despite those impressive outings, UCLA's strength remains at the plate and in the bullpen. Jeff Gelalich is a Golden Spikes Award semifinalist who hit .372 on the season, hit two home runs last weekend en route to Los Angeles Regional Most Outstanding Player and he is just one of eight Bruins hitting over .300.
Meanwhile, the UCLA bullpen was one of the best in the country. Closer Scott Griggs set a school single-season record with 15 saves and earned Louisville Slugger third-team All-America honors, while both Ryan Deeter and David Berg earned All-Pac-12 honors.
TCU is a good team, and coming off of four consecutive postseason wins they are flying high. Even without Jason Coats -- TCU's top hitter and last of the Horned Frogs' walking wounded who is out for the year – they bring an offense with lots of power. If they get rolling, the Bruins can be in trouble, but ESPN did UCLA a favor by scheduling three night games when the heavy air at Jackie Robinson Stadium turns it into a pitcher's park. Meanwhile, the Bruins hold advantages in starting pitching, relief pitching, defense and pitching depth.
Two years ago TCU was the last team standing between UCLA and the Championship Series. This time around, they meet a round earlier and the Horned Frogs are the last team standing between the Bruins and a trip to the College World Series.
There is one big difference between 2010 and 2012, however. UCLA is not longer the up-and-coming underdog, the sleeping giant just awakening. They are now the favorite, the national power, and an out-and-out giant with eyes on the College World Series and a national title.