Over the next couple days, I’ll crank out a couple blog posts on why X-team will win or not win the 2017 NCAA Cross Country Championship on Saturday. Consider these like mini scouting reports before the big championship takes place. On Wednesday, I will be taping a podcast with Chris Chavez previewing all of the action for Saturday so if you have any questions or comments, send them my way by tweeting at me: @Wood_Report
The case for Northern Arizona
If it was up to me, I would’ve started with BYU obviously but I have nothing but respect for the defending champions and so we will start with them. When a team is a returning champion, that means you have a squad that’s been there and done that. It’s big knowing that you have a team that’s been able to perform well enough at the championship to win. Beyond that, you have two guys that are top 10 caliber like Tyler Day and Matt Baxter. You have a loaded top five to seven that fill out a great supporting cast. That’s made up of Andrew Trouard, Luis Grijalva, Geordie Beamish and maybe even Peter Lomong. They remind me a little bit of that Colorado team that won a few years ago and had multiple guys finish between 25th and 30th but also put two guys in the top 10. They have that low-stick power that we saw from when Oregon had Eric Cheserek and Eric Jenkins go 1-2.
The case against Northern Arizona
‘Why do I think NAU won’t win?’ was asked to me by Chris when I was writing this and it’s a little bit of a loaded question because of my obvious affiliation with BYU. I think what could hurt the Lumberjacks could be the gap between the No. 2 and No. 3 runners for them. That will likely be Andy Trouard hauling to close the gap between Day and Baxter. The other point that will be critical for them will be the gap from No. 3 to No. 4. What people don’t realize and forget is that 10 seconds in an NCAA championship can sometimes means an upward of 15 to 20 places. Let’s look at last year’s results: From 35th place to 50th was just 11 seconds. 15 places in 11 seconds is huge, whereas 11 seconds at the end of the race feels like nothing. That makes you think that if NAU’s No. 4 or No. 5 can’t keep it as tight as they have all year, then that could be enough room to lose the championship. That opens up the opportunity for a BYU or Syracuse to take it.
As for the regional championship, where NAU beat BYU, I don’t think those results are indicative of what will happen at NCAAs. What we did learn is that NAU may want to pack up at the front. They could try to do that at NCAAs. They were also totally content to just win there without going to the well in terms of exertion. I don’t think NAU or BYU showed any cards at regionals.