Can the Ole Miss men close the gap on Arkansas?
When we last saw these two teams compete, the Razorbacks easily took down the Rebels at the Blazer Classic. Arkansas’ revamped lineup featuring five transfers (at least from this past year) was absolutely dominant in victory.
Amon Kemboi and Emmanuel Cheboson were a perfect 1-2 punch while Andrew Kibet and Luke Meade have arguably never been running better. Still, this is a very good Ole Miss team that, through three runners, was actually a point ahead of Arkansas two weeks ago.
While their backend was not nearly as strong in that race, the men from Oxford, Mississippi have enough talent up front to make this a more competitive race at the SEC Championships. Better races from Michael Coccia, Ben Savino, Cade Bethmann or Dalton Hengst could give the Rebels a big boost and help them close the 21-point gap that separated them and the Razorbacks.
It's truthfully hard to see Arkansas losing this race given how deep and complete their varsity seven is. Still, I think we could see Ole Miss finish much closer to Arkansas in their third meeting of the season.
Not only that, but the individual battle between these two teams will be interesting as well.
Kemboi narrowly edged Mario Garcia Romo and Cole Bullock to win at the Blazer Classic, but Cheboson was less than a second behind as well. The SEC individual title will likely go to one of these four men, although we should not count out Ole Miss’ Waleed Suliman who has historically been a star in the postseason.
Kemboi will enter as the slight favorite based on his last race, but we could see up to five men battling for the title in the last 100 meters which would make for a thrilling finish.
It's the Arkansas women...and then everyone else
Like the men’s race, the clear favorite to take home the title is Arkansas. Their depth is way better than any other team in this field and their low-sticks are good enough to at least challenge the top individuals in this race. On paper, we don't see any other team coming close to the Razorbacks.
However, behind the Arkansas women is a large group of teams that could compete earn runner-up honors if they run well enough.
Alabama could be one team in the running for the 2nd place spot. They had a strong performance at the Florida State Invitational where they finished 2nd to Florida State, but it seems that they haven't run a full lineup yet this season, with one or two backend scorers absent from the results (depending on the race).
Mercy Chelangat and Jami Reed have been a potent 1-2 punch for Alabama while Esther Gitahi has done well enough to give this team a lethal trio of scorers. Their backend, however, is not quite as strong (or as established), which could allow teams like Missouri, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Kentucky to hang around.
However, if Alabama’s fourth and fifth runners (presumably Allie Wilson and Lauren Brackin) keep the scoring gap from becoming too large, then the Crimson Tide could finish right behind the Razorbacks.
It's been tough to get a gauge of the Ole Miss women, but they still have the talent to claim the runner-up position come Friday. They narrowly edged Kentucky and Tennessee at the Blazer Classic, but beat both teams rather easily at the Louisville Classic.
Skyler Boogerd, Anna Elkin and Victoria Simmons have been strong front-runners for the Rebels at most times during this season. We aren't expecting them to finish within the top-five on Friday, but they could be contenders for the top-10 or the top-15 spots.
The Rebels don’t have the same firepower like Tennessee or Alabama, but they have one of the deeper lineups in the conference which is more experienced than most of this field. Consequently, we aren't expecting them to have a big drop off between scorers.
If their pack looks more like it did in Louisville than it did in Birmingham, then I like Ole Miss’ chances at another 2nd place finish.
One team that did beat the Alabama women this year was Kentucky. The Wildcats dominated the Crimson Tide at the Commodore Classic. Alabama did not run Lauren Brackin or Allie Wilson, but Kentucky still showed just how talented they were.
Kentucky also beat Tennessee convincingly at the Louisville Classic before barely losing to the Volunteers at the Blazer Classic. The women from Lexington, Kentucky are led by Jenna Gearing who has been on a tear this year and enters Friday as one of the prominent conference title contenders.
Behind her is a strong duo of Kaylie Kenne and Tori Herman. Both women have run well so far this year, but Kentucky needs to tighten their fourth and fifth scoring spots in order to secure a runner-up finish as a team.
As for Tennessee, they have gone 1-1 against Kentucky and 0-2 against Ole Miss, but I believe they could pull the upset to finish 2nd.
The Volunteers, along with Alabama, have the best scoring duo of anyone in the SEC. Sydney Seymour and Katie Thronson have been incredible all season long and have finished in the top-four in each of their races this year. Both will challenge for the individual title on Friday.
At the Blazer Classic, Olivia Janke stepped up to give the Volunteers a solid third scoring option, but they need at least one more person to step up to close the gap between their third scorer and their fourth and fifth runners.
In a small but very competitive SEC field, Tennessee's shaky backend could be a big issue. Still, their scoring potency is what will allow them to keep pace with the likes of Alabama, Ole Miss, Kentucky and others.
Missouri is a team that we have not talked much about so far this season, but they were only four points behind Alabama at the Commodore Classic. They were dominated by Arkansas on their home course a few weeks later, but that would have been the case for almost any SEC team.
Mizzou may not have enough scoring pieces to compete with these other contenders for the 2nd place position, but Sarah Chapman is going to be in the individual title conversation. She could give the Tigers a major spark and surprise a few people.
With so many teams fighting for one spot, we should see some fascinating results this Friday. The lack of races from many of these teams does not give us much to go off of in terms of predictions which should lead to some surprising results.
On paper, this SEC women's field is the most unpredictable race of the entire season.
Three-team men's battle for 3rd place
The most interesting race on the men’s side is the race for 3rd. Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia all have a great shot at finishing behind Arkansas and Ole Miss, but trying to figure out who has the best chance is the tricky part.
Tennessee put together a strong performance at the Blazer Classic the other weekend while Kentucky sat most of their top runners. The Wildcats did, however, narrowly edge out the Volunteers by six points at the Louisville Classic earlier in the year. Meanwhile, Georgia easily beat both Georgia Tech and Florida State in their only race of the season at the Florida State Invitational.
All three teams have solid front-runners with Matt Duvall filling that role for Kentucky as only a freshman. Sam Bowers has been terrific for the Bulldogs in his second season while Georde Goodwyn and Karl Thiessen have traded responsibilities of being Tennessee's lead scorer this season.
Unfortunately, we have not seen the Georgia Bulldogs race either of those two teams, but they do have a common opponent in Florida State.
Tennessee lost to the Seminoles at the Blazer Classic while Georgia beat them at the Florida State Invitational. I would say that Florida State had a much better performance at the Blazer Classic, but Georgia looks like they may have the edge on the Volunteers coming into the weekend based on common-opponent matchups.
The Kentucky men look like they might have the most complete team out of this group. However, they are going to have to rely heavily on freshmen running well in their first SEC Championship race.
I personally don't think that their inexperience will have much of an impact on this race, but in a tight contest for 3rd place, that youth could make the difference.