The past few years have been legendary when it comes to the collegiate 800 meters for the men. Recent standout stars such as Clayton Murphy, Emmanuel Rotich, Michael Saruni, Brandon McBride, Donavan Brazier, Isaiah Harris, and most recently Bryce Hoppel have left the collegiate system with a plethora of accolades, possibly making these past few years the best ever when it comes to the indoor four lap affair.
That era of legendary dominance could continue with this group in 2020...
Devin Dixon (Texas A&M)
Let's start with the overwhelming favorite to win it all in 2020. Devin Dixon has been an elite name for years now, developing a reputation for his scary-fast regular season times and willingness to be employ aggressive race strategies from the gun.
Last year was Dixon's breakout year. He had earned a few All-American accolades leading up to 2019, but he was never considered to be a serious title contender as he was seemingly still developing his championship racing tactics and racing preferences. He ended last winter with an NCAA-leading time of 1:44.97 (which was converted from altitude), but faltered in the final moments of the national meet, dropping to 4th in a race where some people considered him to be the national title co-favorite.
But the spring was a different story. Dixon dropped elite time after elite time, eventually running 1:44.76 at the SEC Championships to pull away from Marco Arop and establishing himself as a legitimate threat to Hoppel's incredible winning streak.
Unfortunately for Dixon, he had to settle for 2nd at the National Championships, running 1:44.84 and finishing behind Hoppel yet again.
In the winter of 2020, Dixon appears to be the favorite by default. Hoppel is no longer in his way, Wake Forest ace Robert Heppenstall is out of indoor eligibility, and Marco Arop - who seemed to be one of the few realistic challengers to Dixon this season - has opted to turn pro. As a result, the Texas A&M middle distance star is the undeniable favorite to win it all.
Dixon's career has been incredible, but a national title will validate himself as one of the best in an era known for it's legendary 800 meter performances.
Festus Lagat (Iowa State)
We opted to leave Festus Lagat out of our Preseason Indoor Top 25 rankings because, despite his incredible performance(s) last spring, he was still largely unproven during indoors. Those concerns, however, were quickly tossed aside this past weekend as Lagat threw down a jaw-dropping time of 2:20.88 for 1000 meters. That performance makes him the first runner at the Division One level to run under 2:21 since 2017 (when Virginia Tech's Neil Gourley also ran under that mark).
Last indoor season was a relatively quiet one for Lagat. He ran 1:48.04 (altitude converted) to earn the #16 time in the NCAA. However, Lagat would end up scratching from the event at Nationals, going all-in on an anchor leg for Iowa State's DMR which ended up placing 5th.
It wasn't until the outdoor season where Lagat really broke out. He ran 1:46.93 at the BIG 12 Championships before going on to NCAA's where he was finally able to pursue individual glory. His patience was rewarded as he finished 3rd overall and dropped a HUGE new personal best of 1:45.05 in the process.
There is no doubt in our minds that Lagat has some of the best raw talent in the NCAA. He is clearly learning how to race in championship settings and is gaining valuable experience in doing so. Our concerns about his minimal accomplishments on the indoor oval now seem to hold much less merit after his phenomenal 1k performance this past weekend.
Isaiah Jewett (USC)
It's fair to say that Dixon is the clear title favorite, but Jewett is a sneaky-good challenger who could make things interesting. He was extremely consistent throughout last indoor season, running an altitude converted 1:46.60 at the Texas Tech Classic (finishing behind only Devin Dixon) and going to finish 7th at the National Championships.
And although Jewett established himself as a top-tier middle distance runner last year, his breakout season didn't come without some classic growing pains of being one of the best in the nation. Jewett has never actually run faster than 1:46.11 (which he ran during outdoors last year) and failed to advance to the finals at the outdoor national meet, getting edged at the line for the final spot.
USC has an underrated history of developing strong 800 meter runners, and Jewett is only an extension of that. If he can take last year's experience at the National Championships and adjust accordingly, then he'll be a major name to watch this winter.
Carleton Orange (Texas A&M)
I almost feel bad for Orange despite all of his success. He has had a very strong career, specifically in the 800 meters, but has been left in the shadow of teammate Devin Dixon a bit.
Even so, Orange has developed into a top-notch 800 meter runner who will be gunning for a top three spot at NCAA's come March. He was one of the participants in that thrilling Texas Tech Classic 800 meter race from last year where Dixon dropped a converted sub-1:45. Meanwhile, Orange finished 3rd in that race, running a converted 1:46.74 and earning the #6 time in the NCAA. However, despite the great performance, Orange was unable to make it out of the prelims at the indoor national meet.
But much like Dixon, the outdoor season was where Orange truly thrived, running back-to-back personal bests in the prelims and finals of NCAA's (leading to a 1:46.40) and eventually placing 4th overall.
Dixon will get a lot of the attention, but Orange transferred from Arkansas to Texas A&M for a reason, and that was to be nationally competitive when it came to the 800 meters.
Cooper Williams (Indiana)
It's hard to dislike Cooper Williams and all that he has accomplished. The Indiana ace was able to learn and develop alongside former teammate and middle distance stud Daniel Kuhn for a few seasons before eventually earning top results and times of his own.
Williams is a hard name to gauge sometimes. He's tactically very strong and his postseason accolades are incredible. Last winter and spring, he earned two 5th place finishes at the national meet. With a personal best of 1:46.06, Williams is someone who should in the conversation for a top three spot in March.
On the flip side, Williams hasn't ever run under 1:47 during indoors before and his personal best of 1:46.06 came from the 2018 BIG 10 Championships (roughly a year and a half ago). He also lost the indoor BIG 10 title to Domenic Perretta last winter.
But Williams is likely out to prove that he belongs in the upper echelon of middle distance talents this season. After all, he just ran a very impressive time of 2:22 for 1000 meters this past weekend at the Hoosier Open.
Regardless of how he does in other meets, it's clear that Williams can peak perfectly in time for the National Championships and generally speaking, that's all that really matters.
Michael Rhoads (Air Force)
One of the most underrated and under appreciated 800 meter runners in the NCAA has to be Michael Rhoads who has quietly put himself in the All-American conversation every March and June.
We were first introduced to the Air Force ace back in 2018 when he went all-out in a gutsy prelim effort at the Indoor National Championships. That race plan ultimately back-fired and he was forced to settle for 15th place.
Even so, that moment ended up being a turning point in his career. The following year, Rhoads would qualify for the 2019 indoor and outdoor national meets, earn a pair of All-American honors (8th and the 6th), secure two Mountain West conference titles, and consistently post a handful of 1:47's before dropping a 1:46.58 at Nationals last spring.
Rhoads not only has experience, but he has proven success on the national stage. With the consistency and times to back it up, Rhoads could be a very strong contender for a top three spot at Nationals this winter if his progression is anything like what we sa last year.
Domenic Perretta (Penn State)
Everything we need to say about Domenic Perretta has already been said in our preseason Honorable Mentions article. Even so, it doesn't hurt to further emphasize the fact that this guy is really good.
With Isaiah Harris no longer with the program, Perretta has become the face of a historically great Penn State middle distance program. The Nittany Lion senior upset Cooper Williams for the BIG 10 indoor title last winter and has shown off a handful of impressive performances between the 800, 1000, and 1500 meters.
Perretta is strong tactically and has put together a few very respectable performances, but he'll need to elevate his fitness to a new level and crack into the 1:46 range if he wants to be an All-American in March.
Roshon Roomes (Iowa State) + Daniel Nixon (Iowa State)
Festus Lagat will likely get all of the attention for Iowa State (at least in the early portion of the indoor season) thanks to his 2:20.88 time for 1000 meters, but fans of the sport should recognize that Roomes and Mississippi State transfer Daniel Nixon weren't far behind, running 2:21.29 and 2:21.56, respectively. Those times should also catch the attention of their middle distance counterparts...making Iowa State possibly the scariest middle distance group in the NCAA this winter.
You can essentially think of Roshon Roomes as Festus Lagat-lite. He actually beat Lagat at the Outdoor BIG 12 Championships last year en route to a personal best of 1:46.91 and has posted similar indoor times to Lagat. The only difference is that Roomes struggled at the outdoor national meet last spring while Lagat carried his momentum to a big new PR.
As for Nixon, he was the NCAA #10 performer in the country last spring for 800 meters, running a time of 1:47.06 while competing for Mississippi State. Unfortunately for Nixon, his season ended after the SEC Championships as we didn't see him at the NCAA East Prelims.
Together, these two make a very strong duo behind Lagat which can offer a ton of value, not only in the 800 meters, but also in the DMR as well.
Matt Wisner (Duke) + Bashir Mosavel-Lo (Virginia Tech)
There were a few other names we could have mentioned here, but this ACC duo seemed like an appropriate fit...but you can't necessarily mention one without the other.
Last winter, Wisner got the best Mosavel-Lo pretty consistently. At Camel City, Wisner ran 1:47.68 (flat-track converted) while the Virginia Tech ace followed closely behind in a converted 1:47.92. Wisner would once again come out on top at ACC's with a runner-up performance while Mosavel-Lo finished 4th.
But at Indoor Nationals, the Virginia Tech middle distance specialist was the better finisher, although neither man made it to the finals.
In the spring, the roles were switched. Mosavel-Lo would edge Wisner on his home track at the Duke Invitational, run 3:44 for 1500 meters, and then go on to win the ACC title. Mosavel-Lo would use that momentum to qualify for Nationals while Wisner would end his season early at the NCAA East Prelims.
Together, these two are a very strong and consistent 1-2 ACC punch who should (hopefully) push each other under the 1:47 barrier, if not this winter, then definitely this spring.
Others to Watch
Frank Hayes (Ohio State)
Sean Torpy (Miami (OH))
Sven Cepus (Texas Tech)
Kristian Hansen (New Mexico)
Ruach Padhal (Georgetown)
Matt Manternach (Iowa)
Carlos Villarreal (Arizona)
Cade Bethmann (OIe Miss)
Waleed Suliman (Ole Miss)