Imagine losing multiple 1st-round draft picks and several other key starters from a team that came within 1 win of playing for a national championship and having that team be even better the following season.

Now imagine that the team isn’t Alabama football, North Carolina or Duke basketball or some other college sports blue-blood. But rather, “little” Wake Forest.

As implausible as it might sound, the Deacons are fully reloaded and poised to set their collective GPS for a return trip to the College World Series in Omaha.

This one wouldn’t be as magical as the ride they took to the No. 1 ranking and the College World Series a year ago. Starting the new season at the top of every major national poll, they’re no longer the warm and fuzzy underdog they once were.

That’s just fine with Tom Walter.

Rather than spending his offseason patting himself on the back gleefully gazing in the rear view mirror at what his 2023 team did, as so many others have, the veteran coach used the time to think of things he can still do to help bring about a happier ending this spring.

“One of the things we talked about was let’s not stand still,” Walter said at a preseason media availability last month. “Last year was a great year. It was a magical year. But we have unfinished business.

“We finished a little short of where we wanted to be. So this team is really hungry to get back in that game again. As a staff we sat down and talked about what we can do to get better.”

Wake already possesses the best pitching lab in the country and is far ahead of the curve when it comes to advancements such as biomechanics and data analytics. But it has expanded those concepts to include players at all positions.

There’s been some aesthetic improvements to David F. Couch Ballpark, including a new video board and a name, image and likeness collective has been established to help team members benefit financially from their success.

As nice as all those bells and whistles might be, the most important thing Walter and his staff did to help advance their program is go out and find talented players to refill a talent pool drained by the departure of 2-time ACC Pitcher of the Year Rhett Lowder, the Deacon’s all-time home run leader Brock Wilken, leadoff man Tommy Hawke and others.

It’s not as if their cupboard was bare.

There an already strong foundation remained thanks to the return of 1st baseman Nick Kurtz, a legitimate national Player of the Year contender and potential No. 1 overall pick, to go along with more live arms than an octopus.

But much like Florida State’s Mike Norvell in football last summer, Walter didn’t stand pat on a pair of aces. Or in this case, preseason All-Americans Josh Hartle and Michael Massey. He went all in on the transfer portal and came away with a full house.

With the addition of a transfer class highlighted by hard-throwing right-hander Chase Burns from Tennessee and outfielder Seaver King, who was a sensation with the USA Baseball College National Team this summer after 2 standout seasons at Wingate, Wake has the potential to have 5 future 1st-round Major League Baseball draft picks on its current roster.

That’s something no one has ever done. No one has had more than 3. Not even by perennial powers such as LSU, Vanderbilt, Florida or Texas. But it’s a realistic goal. That is as long as those players and their teammates can live up to their preseason hype.

Walter likens the honor of being picked No. 1 in the preseason polls to the person voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in his or her high school class. There’s just as much chance they’ll turn out to be a fry cook as a millionaire.

“It’s a nice honor and it’s great that your peers feel that way about you,” he said. “We certainly don’t take that for granted. But it’s not necessarily a good predictor of the kind of season you’ll have. You still have to go out (and back it up). Our focus is getting better each and every day and our guys have been great about that.”

Walter’s Deacons will begin the quest of getting back to Omaha this weekend with a 3-game opening weekend set with games against Fordham, Illinois and Akron. The ACC schedule begins the 1st weekend in March with the conference tournament scheduled for Charlotte’s Truist Field in late May.

It’s a road full of potential obstacles, especially with 5 other ACC teams ranked in the preseason polls. But it’s one Wake has traveled before.

That experience and the talent the Deacons have to go along with it could be the factors that help them take care of their unfinished business should they make it back to Omaha.

They’ve got as good a shot to get there as they did a year ago.

Maybe even better.