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September 5, 2017

Wood Report: Arkansas Tops Preseason Rankings, Defending Champions NAU 3rd

Yesterday, it was announced that The Wood Report would be making a comeback to the public’s eyes.

I started this in 2012. It’s my idea of who the best 31 teams in the country are who are the best individuals. It’s obviously never perfect but in years past, it’s proved to be very decent and accurate. That’s why I kept doing it. If I stunk at it, then I would not have kept doing it. Here we are five years later.

For more information regarding, the process of how I come to decide these ratings, please check out yesterday’s introductory post. Below you’ll see my rankings for each of the 31 teams competing at nationals, with the exception of one but I’ll explain shortly. The rating is for the projected top 7, so there will be some teams who may not be as deep (so their rating is lower), but still ahead of a team with a higher rating because they’re a tad deeper, but not as top heavy. Also, these are the 31 teams that will compete at nationals. It’s not necessarily the best 31 teams in the country. Due to injuries or shortcomings at certain meets, sometimes we see cases of teams that are very good but don’t make it to the big dance. It happens.

If you have any questions or complaints, tweet them at me: @Wood_Report

I won’t keep the readers waiting any longer…

Here are the official pre-season Wood Report rankings:

  1. Arkansas – Rating 61.5
  2. Syracuse – Rating 62
  3. Northern Arizona – Rating 62
  4. Stanford– Rating 63.5
  5. Oregon – Rating 61.5
  6. Colorado – Rating 61
  7. Wisconsin – Rating 60
  8. Southern Utah – Rating 55
  9. Colorado State – Rating 57
  10. Oklahoma State – Rating 58
  11. Iona – Rating 59.5
  12. Boise State – Rating 58.5
  13. Furman – Rating 56.5
  14. Virginia – Rating 57.5
  15. UCLA – Rating 58
  16. Iowa State – Rating 57
  17. Washington – Rating 59.5
  18. Portland – Rating 55
  19. Virginia Tech – Rating 57.5
  20. Indiana – Rating 55.5
  21. Florida State – Rating 53.5
  22. California – Rating 56
  23. Michigan – Rating 56.5
  24. Ole Miss – Rating 55.5
  25. Michigan State – Rating 54
  26. Princeton – Rating 53
  27. Texas – Rating 54
  28. Georgetown – Rating 54
  29. Tulsa – Rating 53.5
  30. Minnesota – Rating 55

The 31st school competing at NCAAs is BYU. More on them, below.

Here is a chart breaking down the rank (one through thirty) on the horizontal axis, with each school’s Wood Report Score on the vertical axis. Chart is by Scott Olberding

Why is Arkansas ranked No. 1?

It’s hard to go against a team that has three guys that are capable of finishing in the top 10 at the NCAA Championship. You’ve got the Aussie Jack Bruce, who was second at nationals in the 5,000. You’ve got Alex George, who was top 15 at NCAA XC last year. Andrew Ronoh is their third guy who has run 28:36 and I get that get didn’t have a great year in cross country last season but he was second in the regional. Maybe he peaked a little too toon and they can fix that for this year. Cameron Griffith is their fourth guy and he was 48th at NCAAs last year but also owns a 13:52 for 5,000. Your fifth guy is Austen Dalquist who has some of the best range in the country. The only problem I have is that I’m not totally set on where their sixth and seventh guys are exactly. They have Kyle Evermore and Ethan Moehn, who are very solid but they’re not sub-14:00 quality in the 5,000m and they haven’t shown as much translate over into cross country. I don’t think their freshman are going to be able to make as much of an impact to crack the top five but that shouldn’t be a problem because their top five are the best five in the country.

Wait. Where’s BYU?

So that’s the thing about The Wood Report. Being part of the team at BYU, I have decided to omit them from the public Wood Report rankings so that it doesn’t impact members of the team. What can I say? Top 10 in the country for sure. Won’t specify any more. You can bug me as much as you want on Twitter but I’ll remain tight-lipped on this one.

Why I have last year’s champions, NAU, at No. 3?

What I think people don’t realize is that when you have a guy like Futsum Zienasellassie is that he was so good that he was pretty much scoring for four guys. Matthew Baxter was 11th but I don’t think he’s quite at Futsum’s level and that hurts you a little bit. Through their top three and maybe through four, they give Arkansas a very close run for their money as the best 1–4. Because of Cory Glines because of where he finished last year in cross and looking at what he’s done on the track. If he’s a sub-14 guy and a low-29 guy, you’re looking at a guy who should maybe be finishing in the top 50 or 60. He was 84th last year and it was a year where they had every reason to leave it out there for a coach that they loved so much. That’s my only concern. Like the lower sticks for Arkansas, I still have to try and pinpoint where guys like Blaise Ferro and Luis Grijalva will be at to start the season. I’ll bring it back to that Eric Heins factor. I don’t know if they’re going to have that reason to compete like they did last year because he was leaving after that season. Heins and I have a great relationship and he’s an incredible guy. I’d run through a wall guy for him. Maybe they have that same relationship with Mike Smith and if they do, they could pull that thing together fairly easily. In all reality, NAU is not that far from being the best team in the country even points-wise. 40 points at NCAAs is 10 seconds or maybe 15 to make up.

Syracuse is listed ahead of them. What’s the difference?

Justyn Knight is the difference maker. If he’s not the best guy in the country, then he’s probably No. 2 or 3. Give me the guy who finished top 5 at NCAAs last year and then cracked the top 10 at the world championships for the 5,000 on my team. Any day. It’s wild.

Syracuse is deep, deep, deep. I worry a little bit about Iliass Aouani just from how he ran last year at nationals. Concerned isn’t the right word for someone like Colin Bennie but he could be a top 10 guy. He was 17th at nationals but then didn’t have an outdoor season that necessarily set the world on fire. I’ll release my individual projections tomorrow but I’ve got him just outside of there to start the season. it’s hard for me to get excited about guys who haven’t been who they should be recently. In the words of Alex Lohr, I’m a “What have you done for me lately” kind of guy. The one guy who is a wildcard for Cuse is Aidan Tooker because he didn’t run cross country last year. He can be a lot higher than where I have him ranked because he ran 8:39 for the steeplechase as a true freshman. That has the potential to move him somewhere into the top 40 and then all of a sudden, they win the whole darn thing. Look out for him because he can be a significant difference maker for them.

Oregon opens the post-Cheserek era at fifth

He was the most dominant guy in NCAA track in the last 10 to 15 years and some would even say “ever.” When you have a guy of that level leave, it’s totally going to have an effect. I do think that they have some of the better freshmen that can make a mark early like Cooper Teare, Reed Brown and James West. Plus I think Tanner Anderson is due for a special year in cross. They should have the depth but I don’t know if they do. That’s the big question that surround this team. They have some pieces that could be good like Levi Thomet, who ran 13:59 at the Portland Track Festival. He’s finally looking like the guy that they recruited. The Ducks have a bunch of really strong 1,500 meter guys that I don’t know what they’re fully capable of in cross. Sam Prakel has run 3:38 for 1,500 or even a guy like Blake Haney, who has been the NCAA runner up. Oregon could be the most intriguing squad in the country because it’s up in the air what we’re going to see as they mix newcomers and a bunch of ridiculously-good 1,500 meter specialists. I’ll always lean on the more conservative side when it comes to estimating the value of incoming freshman. If they’re not ready to hit the mileage to make the transition from 5K to 8K to 10K then it can be hard. I’ll easily ready to make some adjustments if I see some success from Brown, Teare and West at the start of the season or even midway through the year.

Colorado, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State. Remember those past champions? 

They fall anywhere from sixth to 10th in these preseason rankings but each has its own chances of popping into the top 5.

Colorado is in the hunt every time because Mark Wetmore is a genius and he’s maybe the best developer of talent in the NCAA. If anyone can turn Eduardo Herrera and Phillip Rocha into All-Americans down the road, then it’s him. Wetmore has done a great job of taking developmental guys and making them good as well as taking high school studs into college studs. That’s hard to do and it’s a very underrated job. They could flat-out win it, if they get performances from Herrera and Rocha of what they used to be like in high school or if someone like Mark Tedder, who is coming from Cornell, makes an impact for them right away. The one thing that’s tough to guess about the Buffs early on is that they race so much at altitude to start the season. I like Colorado the most out of these three schools because they have more tools that can produce firepower to be really good.

With Oklahoma State, I really like Alex Haines. I feel like people aren’t thinking about him a lot as a sleeper that can do well as a redshirt freshman. I also like the Irishman Kevin Mulcaire since I watched him at Eurocross a few years ago. That guy is good. They could have some fight in them, if Haines continues the momentum that he had going from outdoors, if Mulcaire is still that stud that I saw a few years ago and then there’s also Cerake Geberkidane. We’ve seen him do very well before but there’s just a little bit of a question mark on his status, in my opinion. That’s a good five behind Hassan Abdi and Sylvester Barus, who I presume are their 1–2 by a solid margin.

Wisconsin, on the other hand, has the guy who gives Justyn Knight a run for his money as the best in the country. Who really knows at this point how tight the finish may be between Knight, McDonald and someone like Vincent Kiprop. McDonald is the truth so you have to score the guys behind him. There’s Olin Hacker (my dad was his dad’s agent) and Joe Hardy, who ran better at cross country than I thought he was going to. The part I love about this team? The recruiting class. Finn Gessner and Seth Hirsch are going to be special. I really think Hirsch is going to be good over 8K and 10K right away. If he can transition as well as I believe he can, that’s someone who can be an All-American as a true freshman.

What team lost the most and dropped to the lower end of the spectrum?

Ole Miss lost a lot. Michigan State lost quite a bit but they’re intriguing to me because I want to see what Justine Kiprotich can do in cross country. He’s a sleeper pick for me.

Georgetown lost a lot of senior leadership now that Scott Carpenter is gone. That hurts.

Cal losing Robert Brandt is a big-time low stick for him. They have a bunch of potential but just haven’t been able to rise to the occasion when it matters the most. Garrett Corcoran and Trent Brendel are legit but they just need to see something more from Kai Benedict, who has been great on the track. He had a couple good runs last year in cross before getting hurt.

Even a team like Michigan, – I try to be unbiased but Kevin Sullivan is another good friend of mine – I see them having two or three guys that are going to be strong. Beyond Ben Flanagan, Aaron Baumgarten and Beller, the other ones are little unproven. It’ll be interesting with the Wolverines. They might be a team that’s too low for now that I may move up a little higher on the next one.

Alabama has three Kenyans but the team doesn’t make nationals?

Well, I don’t want to sound too mean. Their fourth-best guy is a 9:04 steepler, I think. Their No. 5 is a 14:45 guy for 5,000m. They just don’t have the pieces behind them to be at the national level. I’m not at their practices every day. I’m at BYU’s. I have no idea what those guys behind the Kenyans are capable of doing or where their fitness is at. Maybe training with guys of that elite level has made them better? Great! Then we’ll see some things change in these rankings as the season progresses. This is just a pre-season projection.

31 is Minnesota. Who would be 32, 33 and 34 that just missed nationals?

After submitting this, I learned that Indiana lost a couple key guys from their team that makes them a little less quality of a team than I thought they were. So, I probably have to move Washington State into their position as a NCAA Championship qualifier. You can angrily tweet at me a fact that I already know about some runners that won’t be competing, I’ll fix it on the next one. So Washington State will be one of the teams.

Illinois has a chance at the top 31.

Sleeper alert on No. 34…Gonzaga.

When’s the next Wood Report coming out?

Like I mentioned in the intro, I’m still working on gathering all of the research for a preliminary women’s report, so please be patient on that. Because I have the research done and there’s just some tweaks to be made based off early-season races, the next men’s Wood Report could be out in mid-September.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about certain teams, please tweet at me @Wood_Report. I’ll respond. If you want to know where your respective school is projected to finish at its conference or regional meet, hit me up. Let’s make cross country fun. Send any longer inquiries or hate mail over to the Citius Mag email account at [email protected]

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