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Florida will have to reverse history to advance from College World Series losers' bracket

Teams generally don't rebound after falling from the winners' bracket to the losers' bracket.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

In an eight-team tournament set up like the College World Series (or Women's College World Series), the terms "winners' bracket" and "losers' bracket" really only refer to a couple of games.

There's only one "winners' bracket" game on each side of the draw each year, pitting two 1-0 teams against each other. The rest of the games, after the opener, are either losers' bracket games — elimination games, really — or games in which at least one team can be eliminated.

Dropping to the losers' bracket from the winners' bracket is, of course, quite easy: Two teams do it every year, and Florida did it on Monday by sputtering at the plate in a 1-0 loss to Virginia.

Getting out of it, though? That's tremendously hard.

And for teams that win their first games and fall into the losers' bracket, it's been even harder: The last team to win the College World Series after winning its first game and then falling into the losers' bracket was Wichita State in 1989.

The Shockers, who finished the year a staggering 68-16 — teams played more games back then — actually made a habit of coming back from losses in the NCAA Tournament that year: After dropping a game to Michigan in the West II Regional, the Shockers eventually beat the Wolverines twice to move on to Omaha, where they lost to Florida State to drop into the losers' bracket, then topped the Seminoles twice to advance to a national final in which the Shockers defeated Texas.

Since then, only seven teams have won their first game in Omaha, lost their second, and still made the CWS championship. And it has helped those teams to either hail from the Carolinas — South Carolina (2012) and North Carolina (2007) have made the last two such runs — or to emerge from the losers' bracket to play an unbeaten Miami — the first three teams to win their way back from the losers' bracket after taking a loss in the winners' bracket all took down Miami in consecutive games to reach the final.

But while none of those teams have won it all, three teams that lost their first CWS game have, in the same time frame, gone on to win a national title: USC did it in 1998, Oregon State followed in 2006, and South Carolina did so in 2010.

Florida's title hopes would have more recent history to buttress them, in other words, had the Gators lost to Miami on Friday.

This isn't to say that Florida can't or won't work out of the losers' bracket to the championship series, or to a title: Certainly, the Gators are talented enough to do that, even though the odds and their own recent history — Florida hasn't won a losers' bracket game since 1996, and is just 1-5 in games after losses since that year — are against them.

But history says teams generally don't resurrect themselves in Omaha, and the bracket as we see it now is brutal: Miami has beaten Florida this year; Virginia is experienced, rolling, and now confident it can beat Florida; and the other bracket will be won by either red-hot Vanderbilt, a TCU team that nearly no-hit Vandy, or an LSU outfit that still might be the nation's most talented.

This is what happens when a team loses a game in Omaha.

Let's hope we don't have to experience another one.