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2021 NCAA Winter XC Championship Qualifying Projections


Welp, here we are.


Despite all of the craziness, multiple seasons of competition, conference cancellations and overlapping national meets, we have finally made it to the point where we are predicting team qualifiers for the NCAA Winter XC Championships.


Below, we give you our 31 men's teams and 31 women's teams that The Stride Report believes will qualify for the cross country national meet which is set to take place on March 15th.


PLEASE NOTE: These are NOT rankings. This list is simply a very rough gauge of who we think will be going to the NCAA XC Championships in order of likeliness to earn a national qualifying bid. The further down the list a team is, the less confident we are in our projections, although that really only applies to the last few teams on each list.


Please note that these predictions are based on the (somewhat vague) selection criteria that the NCAA released back in November. These predictions aren't necessarily based on who deserves to go to the national meet, but rather who we think will be going to the national meet.


There are also certain points in these predictions where TSR needed to make assumptions as to what the selection committee will value when comparing teams and results.


Let's begin...

 

If you're reading this, welcome back! Below, we color coded our predictions to reflect how we did in comparison to the actual selection announcements. Green indicates that we correctly made that prediction whereas red indicates that we were incorrect with a certain prediction.

 

Men's Predictions

1. BYU Cougars

2. Stanford Cardinal

3. Arkansas Razorbacks


4. Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

I mean, c'mon. The NCAA selection committee isn't going to leave the Lumberjacks out of the national meet despite them not winning a conference title. If Northern Arizona is left out of the national meet, then I'll shut down TSR (but also not really).


5. Wisconsin Badgers

6. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

7. Oklahoma State Cowboys

8. Iowa State Cyclones

9. Tulsa Golden Hurricanes

10. Colorado Buffaloes


11. Iona Gaels

They raced once earlier this season at the Spider Patriot Classic, taking home a relatively comfortable win. Then, at the MAAC XC Championships, they earned a perfect sweep of the field. The Gaels are a historic powerhouse and they are highly ranked in the coaches' poll. There's no way the selection committee leaves them out of the national meet.


12. NC State Wolfpack

13. Washington Huskies

14. Air Force Falcons

15. Utah State Aggies

16. Butler Bulldogs

17. Indiana Hoosiers

18. Ole Miss Rebels

19. Gonzaga Bulldogs

20. Wake Forest Demon Deacons


21. Virginia Cavaliers

The Virginia men may be a bit further down on our list, but they're still safe bets to make it to the national meet. Virginia beat NC State earlier in the fall and finished 4th at the ACC XC Championships. That should be enough to get them a bid to the national meet.


22. Southern Utah Thunderbirds

This one might upset a few people. Prior to the BIG Sky XC Championships, the Thunderbirds didn't have a great argument to make the national meet. They had lost to Utah State in an early-season opener and later placed 10th at the FSU Winter XC Classic where Syracuse and Florida State finished ahead of them.


However, a massive upset win over a limited Northern Arizona team at the BIG Sky XC Championships essentially makes Southern Utah a lock to qualify for the national meet. Yes, NAU may not have run their best lineup at their conference meet, but that kind of win is massive and the committee is not going to leave out a Southern Utah team that upset a national title contender.


23. Purdue Boilermakers

24. Michigan State Spartans

Purdue and Michigan State tied for 3rd place at the BIG 10 XC Championships, although the Boilermakers got the edge and won the tie-breaker. Neither team has any other cross country performances on their resume this season, so we're not sure how much weight this will carry with the selection committee.


However, seeing Michigan lose to a struggling Syracuse team theoretically helps these two programs as it makes their conference performances seem slightly stronger. Not only that, but of all the teams that aren't expected to qualify for the national meet, how many are realistically better than Purdue and Michigan State this season?


25. Furman Paladins

The Paladins *should* qualify for the national meet, but they're a small school in a classic mid-major conference that dominated their competition. They have only competed once on the grass this year, so...how confident are we that they'll qualify for the national meet?


They're not even ranked in the coaches' poll, but Furman has been a great team over the past few years and they have returned six of their top seven from their 2019 lineup that finished 14th at the national meet. On paper, that should get them to the NCAA Championships...we think.


26. Duke Blue Devils

A 5th place finish at the ACC XC Championships wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. However, seeing the Blue Devils finish 6th at the FSU Winter XC Classic, taking down the likes of Florida State, Syracuse and Southern Utah, should be enough to get them into the national meet.


Although, admittedly, outside of beating Southern Utah, the Duke men don't really have a long-winded resume of seasonal accomplishments. They should still have enough to get by, but that's more because other teams in contention for a national qualifying spot have struggled as of late or have less impressive resumes.


27. Portland Pilots

28. Oregon Ducks (replaced by either Villanova, Georgetown or Syracuse)

Coming into these predictions, I felt confident that we were going to have Oregon and Portland left out of our top-31. However, as we kept going down the list, we continued to find difficult arguments to leave these teams out of the national meet.


Is the NCAA selection committee really going to leave out Oregon despite them finishing 4th at the PAC-12 Championships? That's a difficult conference and although the Ducks didn't run their top names, it's not unrealistic to think that Oregon could get a bid to the national meet.


And if Oregon does get a bid to the national meet, then that means that Portland would likely qualify as well despite placing 3rd at the WCC XC Championships. That's because the Pilots beat Oregon earlier this season.


Now, the big catch is that the committee could choose to completely ignore the Oregon men and in turn, the Portland men as well. And truthfully, if the committee chose to do that, then they would be somewhat justified.


However, ask yourself this question: Who would you rather have at the national meet? Portland and a limited Oregon team that placed 4th at the PAC-12 Championships? Or a struggling Syracuse group and a Michigan squad that just lost to said Syracuse team?


I'm not saying I have the right answer to that, but I feel like the committee will lean in favor of the established west coast powerhouses. After all, Oregon and Portland are still ranked at No. 16 and No. 17 (respectively) in the coaches' poll. Would the committee really leave out two established top-20 teams? I find it hard to believe that they would.


29. Charlotte 49ers

We don't feel amazing about Charlotte's chances, but we think that they have a good argument. They won their conference title and they weren't afraid to toe the line against Ole Miss at the Louisville Classic where they finished 2nd, taking down Kentucky and Tennessee in the process. The coaches' poll does have them ranked at No. 30, so it's not unjustified to send a conference winner like the 49ers to the national meet.


30. Georgia Bulldogs (replaced by either Villanova, Georgetown or Syracuse) Originally, we had Georgia not making it to the national meet. However, when you take a closer look, they actually have a great argument. In the fall, they took down both Georgia Tech and Florida State at the FSU Invitational. Then, they went to the SEC XC Championships where they finished 3rd ahead of Tennessee and Kentucky, two very respectable squads.


That conference meet performance looks a lot better than Syracuse's 6th place finish at the ACC Championships. If conference performances hold the most weight, then the Bulldogs could argue that they deserve to be in the national meet.


31. Texas Longhorns (replaced by either Villanova, Georgetown or Syracuse)

This feels weird. The Texas men raced twice in the fall, once at the Arturo Barrios Invitational and once at the BIG 12 XC Championships. At the Arturo Barrios Invitational, they won with ease over an unexciting field. At their conference meet, they settled for 3rd place finish behind two top-10 teams in Oklahoma State and Iowa State.


Other than that, the Longhorns didn't really do a whole lot in cross country.


So if the NCAA selection committee doesn't feel like Texas (or Georgia) deserves a spot to the national meet, then who would fill this 31st national qualifying spot? Unbelievably, there is a legitimate argument for Syracuse.


Yes, the Orange were 6th at the ACC Championships and struggled at the FSU Winter XC Classic where they finished 8th overall, losing to Florida State. They beat Michigan at the FSU Winter XC Last Chance meet, but on paper, that didn't actually do a whole lot for their national meet hopes.


However, we have to remember that Syracuse beat Southern Utah at the FSU Winter XC Classic and in theory, that helps their case a lot. The Thunderbirds did, after all, beat a limited Northern Arizona team at their conference meet.


Even so, it's important to remember that the NCAA selection committee gives the most weight to conference performances and at this point in our selection process, the BIG 12 is the only Power Five conference that doesn't have three teams going to the national meet.


So, strictly based on the NCAA's own guidelines, which suggests that they will put the most weight on conference performances, we believe that the Texas men will be going to the national meet.


Just Missed Teams

32. Syracuse Orange

33. Michigan Wolverines

34. Georgetown Hoyas

35. Florida State Seminoles

36. UMass Lowell River Hawks

37. Villanova Wildcats

38. North Carolina Tar Heels

39. Virginia Tech Hokies

40. Cincinnati Bearcats

 

Women's Predictions

1. Arkansas Razorbacks

2. NC State Wolfpack

3. New Mexico Lobos

4. BYU Cougars

5. Stanford Cardinal

6. Michigan State Spartans

7. Colorado Buffaloes

8. Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

9. Boise State Broncos

10. Iowa State Cyclones

11. Alabama Crimson Tide


12. Michigan Wolverines

They were given only one opportunity to race this year and although they couldn't compete at their conference meet, they dominated their competition at the FSU Winter XC Last Chance meet with ease.


Now, admittedly, that wasn't the most challenging field by any means. After all, the Wolverines took nine of the top-10 places and earned a perfect score. Still, the committee should recognize that Michigan is highly ranked in the coaches' poll and that they have done nothing to hurt their national qualifying chances.


13. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

14. Minnesota Golden Gophers

15. Illinois Fighting Illini

16. Georgetown Hoyas

17. Florida State Seminoles

18. Duke Blue Devils


19. Oklahoma State Cowgirls

The Oklahoma State women were pretty unimpressive during the fall. Between the Oklahoma State Invitational and the BIG 12 XC Championships, they lost to BYU, Southern Utah, Texas, West Virginia and Iowa State (twice). On paper, that was not a good look for this team. Yes, the Cowgirls were without Molly Born during those races, but the NCAA selection committee isn't going to take that into consideration.


Luckily, the women from Stillwater were able to rebound in the winter with Born returning to their lineup. They went to the FSU Winter XC Classic and pulled off a big 4th place finish, beating conference champion Iowa State as well as West Virginia and ASUN champion Liberty. That performance, paired with a win over American Conference champions Tulsa, should be enough to get Oklahoma State into the national meet. They've taken down numerous conference champions this winter and look poised to continue their momentum heading into the postseason.


20. Washington Huskies

On paper, this doesn't make much sense. The Washington women really haven't done anything that warrants them going to the national meet. However, this is more of a "who would you rather have" situation.


The Huskies finished 3rd at the PAC-12 XC Championships on Friday and that is probably what will allow them to toe the line in Stillwater, Oklahoma. They beat Oregon State in that conference meet and despite posting some unexciting finishes in a pair of regular season meets, the Washington women also didn't lose to any non-qualifying teams this winter.


With the coaches' poll still viewing Washington as a top-ranked team at No. 12, and other national qualifying programs earning worse finishes in less competitive conferences, it seems likely that the Huskies will make it to the NCAA XC Championships this year.


21. Texas Longhorns (replaced by either Tulsa or Colorado State)

22. Indiana Hoosiers


23. West Virginia Mountaineers

The success that we've seen from the Oklahoma State women is probably the best thing that has happened to West Virginia. The Mountaineers finished 3rd at the BIG 12 XC Championships in the fall, taking down the Cowgirls in the process.


However, seeing Oklahoma State rise in the national ranks and have a significant amount of success this winter likely makes WVU's win over the Cowgirls a lot more impressive in the eyes of the selection committee. West Virginia also beat ASUN champions Liberty at the FSU Winter XC Classic.


24. Furman Paladins

The Paladins are a super young team poised for major success in the future. They won the SoCon XC Championships back in November with relative ease, but that's the only cross country race that we've seen out of them this year.


Here's the thing. Strictly on paper, the Furman women are like any other mid-major conference champion this season. However, what allows them to stand out is the fact that they are ranked at No. 14 in the coaches' poll.


We could debate that ranking for hours, but ultimately, the NCAA selection committee isn't going to leave out a conference champion that is viewed so highly by the rest of the country. That would be like the Iona men not qualifying for the NCAA XC Championships.


No, the coaches' poll isn't part of the criteria that the NCAA outlined when it comes to making their selections, but it has to play a role if they are going to send the absolute best teams to Nationals...right?


25. North Carolina Tar Heels

A 5th place finish at the ACC XC Championships isn't amazing, but it's not bad either and the UNC women still took down a respectable Notre Dame team on a tie-breaker. That same Notre Dame squad also beat Ole Miss back in the fall, a team that went on to place 3rd at the SEC XC Championships.


However, the biggest argument that UNC has is that they took down (a very limited) NC State team back in the fall. No, the Wolfpack didn't have their best scorers competing that day, but the NCAA selection committee isn't differentiating between "A" teams and "B" teams.


So, based on that logic, the Tar Heels have a win against a title contending program. That should be more than enough to get North Carolina into the national meet.


26. Portland Pilots

27. San Francisco Dons

28. Oregon State Beavers

Portland's runner-up result to the BYU women at the West Coast Conference Championships was respectable, but the bigger development was seeing Portland take down the 3rd place team (San Francisco) at that meet as well. The Pilots were also able to beat the Dons, as well as Oregon State, at the Oregon XC Open earlier this season.


Oregon State and San Francisco aren't amazing programs, but they aren't bad either. In fact, they're both currently listed in the coaches' poll at No. 23 and No. 27, respectively. Portland sits at No. 20 in the coaches' poll.


Ultimately, Portland's national qualifying hopes hinge on the idea of Oregon State qualifying for the national meet. Why? Well, if Oregon State qualifies, then that means that San Francisco should qualify. And if San Francisco qualifies, then Portland should also qualify since the Pilots beat the Dons twice this season.


But let's suppose that the NCAA selection committee were to ignore that transitive property of national qualification. If Portland, San Francisco and Oregon State don't qualify, then who would?


Counter arguments could be made for Kentucky, Colorado State, Utah State and Connecticut and those arguments wouldn't necessarily be wrong. Those teams have done just as much this season, although UConn did falter at the FSU Winter XC Classic and that could come back to hurt them.


However, a 4th place finish by Oregon State in a powerhouse conference like the PAC-12 will likely be too impressive to ignore, as will their national ranking in the coaches' poll. That means that Portland and San Francisco also deserve to go to the national meet since they beat the Beavers earlier in the year.


29. Liberty Flames

I'll be honest, we don't feel super confident about this selection. We like Liberty quite a bit, but their only argument is that they beat a relatively unexciting Notre Dame team at the FSU Winter XC Classic and then won their ASUN title with ease.


Liberty's chances of qualifying for the NCAA XC Championships will largely depend on how the selection committee views Notre Dame. If the Fighting Irish get in, then the Flames should also get a spot since they actually won their conference and beat the women from South Bend earlier this winter. That conference title is something that a few other teams at the backend of this list can't boast.


So how does Notre Dame get in? We explain below...


30. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (replaced by either Tulsa or Colorado State)

Notre Dame qualifying for the NCAA XC Championships largely depends on how the NCAA selection committee views the SEC XC Championship results. The Fighting Irish took down the Ole Miss Rebels at the Louisville Classic earlier in the fall. Later, the Ole Miss women would place 3rd at the SEC XC Championships.


If Ole Miss gets in, then it would make sense for Notre Dame to also qualify. Yes, the Notre Dame women did falter to 6th place overall at the ACC XC Championships, but they actually tied with North Carolina and lost on the tie-breaker, so that fact should actually help their national qualifying argument just a little bit.


So why do we think Ole Miss could qualify? Here's our thought process...


31. Ole Miss Rebels

Here's the thing. Ole Miss, on paper, doesn't exactly have an amazing resume that guarantees them a spot to the NCAA XC Championships. They weren't bad by any means, but we don't think that they did anything to inspire much confidence in the NCAA selection committee.


However, the Kentucky women could be their saving grace.


Ole Miss beat Kentucky not once, but twice during the fall. The first time came at the Louisville Classic and the second time came at the SEC Championships where Ole Miss finished 3rd and Kentucky finished 4th. So how does Kentucky play into this?


Well, the Kentucky Wildcats actually beat the Alabama women at the beginning of the fall season at the Commodore Classic. In retrospect, that win turned out to be monumental. The Crimson Tide have rapidly ascended up the national rankings, making Kentucky's early-season win from almost six months ago that much more impactful.


In other words, Kentucky's win over Alabama makes Ole Miss' two wins over the Wildcats relatively more meaningful and relatively more impressive. Only 31 teams can go to the National Championships and if we're pairing head-to-head matchups like the selection criteria mentions, then Kentucky unfortunately gets the short end of the stick.


Of course, it's impossible to know exactly how the NCAA selection committee will view Kentucky relative to Liberty, Ole Miss and Notre Dame. One small caveat or one minor opposing argument could completely reshape how these final few teams qualify for the National Championships.


Just Missed Teams

32. Kentucky Wildcats

33. Colorado State Rams

34. Utah State Aggies

35. Connecticut Huskies

36. Ohio State Buckeyes

37. Providence Friars

38. Tennessee Volunteers

39. Washington State Cougars

40. Utah Utes

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