The mile is a personal favorite of mine. The event is typically the most entertaining as far as race tactics are concerned and it is arguably the most recognizable and relatable event for most Americans (I mean, who hasn't run a gym class mile in their lifetime?).
This year's NCAA mile will be entertaining as always with a heavy portion of last year's most talented and electric athletes aiming for yet another shot at glory.
Oliver Hoare (Wisconsin)
Between the DMR, mile, 3000 meters, and the 1500 meters during the outdoor season, it was entirely realistic to think that Oliver Hoare would have ended his 2019 track seasons with a national title.
That, however, didn't happen.
Hoare was assigned the brutal DMR/mile/3k triple at Indoor Nationals last year which ultimately backfired, as he was upset by Geordie Beamish and Casey Comber in the mile before significantly faltering in the 3000 meters. Wisconsin's DMR would end up placing 7th overall.
Of course, when you own a personal best of 3:54 for the mile, 3:37 for 1500 meters, and own the 2018 1500 meter national title (which came after upsetting Josh Kerr), then it seems reasonable to say that Oliver Hoare is a national title favorite this year.
The Aussie Badger is simply way too talented to not be in the national title conversation. He's not always super consistent when it comes to race tactics, but beating the greatest miler in NCAA history (Josh Kerr) will always keep you in consideration when we talk about winning it all.
Yared Nuguse (Notre Dame)
Nuguse doesn't get enough love for what he has done on the indoor oval. Part of that is because he had a relatively quiet regular season last winter before soloing a 3:57 mile en route to the ACC title. He would then scratch from the mile at Nationals to go all-in on a DMR anchor where he split 3:55 to hold off a hard-charging Grant Fisher for the national title.
Nuguse further proved himself the following spring, running 3:38 at Bryan Clay and putting in a heroic final surge on the final straightaway at Nationals to barely edge out Justine Kiprotich for the win.
Frankly, it's hard to find a flaw with Nuguse. He doesn't necessarily have the range that a lot of these other runners do, but all he does is win. I would like to see how he handles a substantially slower sit-and-kick type race (like last year's indoor mile final), but in the eyes of many, he'll be the favorite to win the national title in March.
Geordie Beamish (Northern Arizona)
One of the biggest individual upsets of last year was seeing Geordie Beamish take home the national title in the mile after throwing down a blistering last 400 meters, pulling away from Oliver Hoare and holding off Casey Comber to take home the win.
The knock on Beamish (and a handful of other Northern Arizona men) last year was that they relied solely on generous altitude (and flat-track) conversions to get them into the national meet. Prior to NCAA's, Beamish had never run faster than 4:06.96 for a mile, but his conversion gave him a time of 3:58.
Naturally, conversion critics were a little quieter than usual after Beamish's win.
Beamish took a different approach in the spring, running the 5000 meters instead of the 1500. We imagine Beamish will have a similar event dilemma in 2020 as he attempts to figure out whether or not he'll want to defend his title.
Carlos Villarreal (Arizona)
There may not be anyone in the NCAA with the range that Villarreal has.
With personal bests of 1:46 (800), 3:57 (mile), and 7:52 (3k), this Arizona senior can do it all. However, it seems safe to say that Villarreal has developed himself into a true miler as that is where he has built his reputation.
Last winter was a big one for Carlos as he put together a handful of clutch postseason performances to run 3:57 for the mile and eventually finish a pleasantly surprising 4th place at the national meet. His maturity as a tactical runner has clearly brought him to a new level and we are now seeing him become the runner we thought he could be.
His time of 3:37 for 1500 meters the ensuing spring season further solidified his place among the best milers in the nation. However, Villarreal was unable to advance out of the prelims at Nationals, ending his impressive junior season one race too early.
Consistency in the postseason is a minor concern for this Arizona veteran in 2020, but his raw talent is beginning to translate into his tactical running. If he can put all of the pieces together and peak at the right time, Villarreal could win a national title in March.
Waleed Suliman (Ole Miss)
The Ole Miss superstar did something that only Oliver Hoare did last winter: break 3:57 for the mile. At Boston University, late in the season, Suliman dropped an incredible mark of 3:56 and solidified himself as a potential threat to Oliver Hoare in a tactical race, especially with his 1:47 800 speed.
Unfortunately, Suliman struggled a bit at NCAA's, finishing one spot out of All-American honors. Those same postseason woes would follow Suliman into the outdoor national meet as he failed to advance out of the prelims along with Villarreal.
On paper, Suliman is arguably just as good as anyone else that we will mention in this article. That said, he'll need to further refine his postseason tactics if he wants to be in the hunt for a top three finish this winter.
Pretty much anyone on Oregon's roster
Ok, maybe saying "anyone" is a bit of an exaggeration...but you get the point.
James West (3:57), Charlie Hunter (3:57), Reed Brown (3:57), Cooper Teare (3:59), and Jackson Mestler (3:59) are all men who have run under four minutes for the mile during their career. Admittedly, I had to go back through their roster and check to see if I missed anyone.
All of those personal bests that I listed above are from last year with the exception of Brown's who ran his in 2018 (when he was a freshman). This group of five is scary good and they often race extremely well with each other.
The main contenders out of this group will be West, Hunter, and Brown who all have something to prove this year. West was DQ'd from the NCAA West Preliminary 1500 meter last spring after a controversial false start. Hunter also failed to advance to Nationals that spring after earning an 8th place All-American honor in the mile the season prior.
As for Brown, he has qualified for three of the past four National Championships on the track, but has only mustered one All-American result (8th in 2018). That said, this is the first year where Brown isn't an underclassmen. Experience will be on his side in 2020.
All five of these men could be major factors in the mile this winter, but Teare will likely pursue the longer distances while Mestler will likely pursue the 5000 meters (although that's not a given).
Keep in mind that James West ran 3:35 for 1500 meters last summer following the completion of the NCAA outdoor season. That mark rivals the 3:54 mile time that Hoare ran at the Millrose Games last year (and actually converts to a 3:52 depending on who you ask).
Sam Worley (Texas)
Worley is one of those guys who is always just...there. His times are strong, but not necessarily strong enough to make him a national title favorite. His range is better than most (especially in cross country), but you never see him go over the mile distance on the track. He's consistently a top finisher no matter what race you put him in, but he doesn't have the same marquee victories that a few of these other milers do (although his win at the Husky Classic last year was impressive).
Through and through, Worley is a solid, high-level talent who you can usually rely on to perform on the big stage. He ran 3:57 for the mile last winter at the Husky Classic, ran 3:38 for 1500 meters at Bryan Clay, and secured a 6th place finish in the mile at the Indoor National Championships. He did drop to 9th at the outdoor national meet, but for the most part, Worley is a top name who will produce when he needs to.
Casey Comber (Villanova)
The breakout mile star of the 2019 winter track season was easily Casey Comber. The Villanova ace had shown plenty of promise in the longer distances (specifically cross country), but the winter months were especially kind to him last year.
Comber went to Boston University last February and toed the line against Ole Miss star Waleed Suliman. Comber would be unable to edge out Suliman, but he would earn a huge new personal best of 3:57. The result was encouraging, but how would he handle the tactical racing at a national meet?
Apparently pretty well.
Comber would join Geordie Beamish in upsetting Oliver Hoare, edging him at the line, and taking home an incredible 2nd place finish thanks to an incredible kick.
The only issue that we have with Comber is the uncertain status of his health. He had a delayed start to this past cross country season and didn't appear to be at 100% for most of the fall. If can return back to full fitness, Comber will be yet another dangerous name to watch in 2020.
Kyle Mau (Indiana)
It's hard to dislike a guy who does it all. After running a new personal best in the 5k this past weekend, the Indiana star now owns personal bests of 3:57 (mile), 7:50 (3k), and 13:44 (5k) all during the indoor season. He's an outstanding tactician and maybe one of the best regular season distance runners in the NCAA right now.
That said, Mau hasn't always been perfect at the National Championships. Much like Hoare, he attempted the DMR/mile/3k triple, but walked away with only one All-American finish (4th in the DMR). During outdoors, he placed 8th in the 5000 meters.
On paper, Mau is just as good as the national title favorites that we have listed above. He'll likely put together another phenomenal indoor season over the next few months and with his workload at the National Championships expected to be lighter, Mau could finally reach his potential in March.
Kasey Knevelbaard (Florida State)
The former Thunderbird turned Seminole has had quite the collegiate career, especially in the mile and 1500 distances. He was 5th in the mile at the Indoor National Championships in 2018 and then 6th in the 1500 at NCAA's last spring. His range extends all the way from the 800 to the 5000 meters and owns a personal best of 3:58 (as well as an altitude converted PR of 3:55 from the 2018 indoor season).
What's not to like?
There are occasional instances where Knevelbaard doesn't meet expectations on the national stage (he failed to qualify for the 2017 outdoor national meet and didn't make it out of the prelims last winter), but he is incredibly well rounded and is one of the most experienced milers in the NCAA.
Jonathan Davis (Illinois)
In many instances, Davis has personal bests that are notably better than the men we listed above. With PR's of 3:58 (as well as a separate mile time of 3:55 with a flat-track conversion) and 7:49 (3k), it's clear that Davis belongs in the upper echelon of collegiate distance talents.
But Davis has had very limited racing throughout his career. After running 3:58 last winter, he opted to scratch from the event to go all-in on an Illinois DMR at Nationals. Since then, we haven't seen Davis in action.
His absence is puzzling, but if he returns to the track at full strength, then he is a very real threat to any (and yes, I really do mean any) of the men listed above.
Mick Stanovsek (Washington)
Ever since his breakout season with Oregon in the winter of 2018, it has been hard to not be a fan of Mick Stanovsek, especially when you consider his underdog walk-on story. Armed with a personal best of 3:57 (from that 2018 season), Stanovsek has the times to match his underrated consistency.
The problem, however, is that Stanovsek has been unable to crack the All-American top eight at a national meet despite qualifying the past four National Championships (on the track) in a row.
With the learning curve now behind him, Stanvosek must find a way to bring his regular season success with him into the month of March if he wants to compete with the men listed above.
Others to Watch
George Kusche (Nebraska)
Sam Tanner (Washington)
Festus Lagat (Iowa State)
Paul Ryan (Washington State)
Tyler Day (Northern Arizona)
Luis Grijalva (Northern Arizona)
Joe Klecker (Colorado)
Sam Ritz (Washington)
Talon Hull (Washington)
Alex Ostberg (Stanford)
Kieran Wood (Missouri)
Jack Antsey (Illinois State)
Cameron Griffith (Arkansas)
Spencer Brown (Georgetown)
Theo Quax (Northern Arizona)