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October 26, 2017

Wood Report: The State of Men’s NCAA Cross Country Before Regionals

A bit of time passed between my pre-season rankings and the latest rankings but I’m pretty happy with how everything has turned out. Like I’ve mentioned before, I spent most of my summer’s free time just slaving away and analyzing every team and every conference so it’s nice to see that I wasn’t totally wrong for now. Five of the teams that were in the preseason rankings have moved out of the picture and all but two teams have moved around slightly. I consider that a success.

Preseason rankings are always hard because you don’t know who is redshirting, who is hurt and several inside factors that are known to just the team and its coaches. I was working with how athletes fared outdoors and what they have previously accomplished in cross country.

A few helpful links that I will be referring to below:

Latest individual men’s rankings

Latest men’s team rankings

Last week’s column on the men

Here are my thoughts on the latest rankings:

The two-point difference!

This was pretty much par for the course of what I thought it would be. I assumed that it would be very close between BYU and NAU. Then I did the math to put together the projections and it was closer than I thought. I was surprised but not surprised. When we went into camp, here at BYU, I thought we had a chance of winning but it’s looking even better than I thought.

Who is the difference maker for both teams? It’s going to be Andy Trouard for NAU and Clayton Young for BYU. Those guys will be the reason why either team will win. If Trouard can hang at a hot pace for 10K, then the Lumberjacks can win. If Young can run closer to how he did at Dellinger (he didn’t run poorly at Pre-Nats but it was more of an OK performance for him) then I think he’s under-positioned in my rankings and projections.

Still in on Arkansas

My pre-season pick has about 50 points to make up for the victory and I don’t think they’re out of the picture. Anyone who thinks that this is just NAU vs. BYU (I know we’ve been drilling that narrative right now) is discounting the Razorbacks too much. Maybe they know something that I don’t about their squad. If Andrew Ronoh can run like I think he can or close to where he was last year, they will be contenders.

Portland made the biggest move in the rankings

I try not to allow my head not to freak out too much when I do these projections. I think some of that core in the top 10 is pretty solid. Oregon has the pieces to be that good. The talent is there. WIth Colorado, you never sleep on the G.O.A.T. Mark Wetmore. I think Syracuse is just about right based on what was seen at Wisconsin. Portland was the big stunner. Their spread between their third and fourth person is what would concern me a little bit for NCAAs. When you put in another 100 talented runners into the field, that gap can grow. It can go from scoring 120 points to the 200 range.

The comedy of scoring Alabama

It was ridiculous because on paper, they’re probably one of weakest teams in the field that ends up at NCAAs but they’re saved because of the Crimson Tri. Their Kenyan trio of Gilbert Kigen, Vincent Kiprop and Alfred Chelanga are unbelievably talented. I feel bad for their other guys because there is a lot of pressure on them. All they have to do is run decent at their South regional and they’re in. Having three Kenyan stars and a few other pieces land you that high in the team standings, just goes to show that maybe it’s worth just getting three good ringers and a few decent pieces for a top 15 finish at nationals. Maybe that’s how you do it?

Wisconsin falls out of the rankings

That might have seemed a little harsh because I kept Virginia in the rankings. I thought about that a little bit. I think Virginia is a good team but just had a very bad day at Wisconsin. The Badgers without Olin Hacker and Morgan McDonald lose a lot. I was very optimistic on their freshman class with Finn gessner and Seth Hirsh and thought I’d see more out of them. I thought they would be right with Cooper Teare and Reed Brown. Joe Hardy is solid but outside of that, I don’t know if they can get enough together at regionals to make it to the big dance. Virginia can get it going. Wisconsin may have too much to overcome.

Ole Miss didn’t lose as much as I thought

They ran well at Pre Nats. They have a nice pack behind Sean Tobin. Parker Scott and Walid Suliman have come up big for them. I think Ryan Manahan is only going to get better from his 61st place finish at Pre Nats. They’re a team on the rise.

Addressing Georgetown

I have Georgetown as last in these projections. I’m not trying to be mean. I hope they make it but they may have to ball out at the regional in order to do so.  If things went south for the Hoyas and Penn runs well, then I think it could be Penn and Princeton heading to Louisville. I think there’s three teams fighting for those two spots. Georgetown has too much talent on that team to not go. Frankly, I could be dead-wrong in putting them last. I want them to prove me wrong. They can put one together to win Big Easts. They can do it at regionals and then head to the national meet. I believe in John Green. If the other six guys can run to their full potential, they can be a top 20 team. It’s just hard when you’re putting together these rankings to give them that ranking after finishing 14th at Pre-Nats.

Who is on the bubble?

Boise State is close. They were listed in the preseason rankings so they haven’t totally moved out of the picture. I look at Campbell as a similar case like Alabama. They’ve got four really good Kenyans up in front and if their fifth guy can find something within them, they can make it. Quick shout-out to a few in-state teams from Utah: Utah State is now in the projections for nationals after their sixth place finish at Pre-Nats. Weber State finished 13th at Pre-Nats and if they hit a home run at regionals, they could get pushed in.

King Stays King

Justyn Knight remains No. 1 again. It’s hard to go against him for the win right now.

I Believe in Rory Linkletter

Get that printed on a shirt. I wouldn’t put anything past him. It’s pretty exceptional that the top three guys in my projects are Canadian or have Canadian ties. (For those wondering what’s Grant Fisher’s Canadian tie, he was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada but represented the United States internationally.)

Clinger will be top freshman

No bold declaration here. He’s head and shoulders above the rest of the freshmen. He can do whatever he wants. He’s unbelievable for an 18-year-old guy, especially in what I consider to be a very deep year at the top of the race. Stick with me as I drop a little bit more Utah love. There’s a lot of guys from the state that have found success as a true freshman: Luke Puskedra was 4th in his freshman year. Ben Saarel was 8th in his freshman year. If that’s how the trend is going, I wouldn’t be shocked by a performance of that caliber from Clinger.

That’s enough BYU love to end the column. Have a good one, folks!

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