2018 has been the year of the BIG 10. The conference has reemerged as one of the deepest in the nation with a number of programs finding themselves among the top teams this fall. In fact, we can even revisit the most recent spring track season where four of the five men's distance events were won by BIG 10 individuals at the Outdoor National Championships.
Simply put, it's going to be competitive.
There is no denying that the Wisconsin Badgers are the overwhelming favorites this weekend. The front-scoring trio of Morgan McDonald, Oliver Hoare, and Olin Hacker make this team nearly unstoppable. Despite the great depth we've seen from other teams, it's hard to imagine another program matching the performances we are likely going to see from the Wisconsin low-sticks.
Ben Eidenschink is a respectable 4th scorer who had a great postseason in 2017. He is very underrated and should should prove to be a valuable asset in these championship races. Tyson Miehe may not be at the same level as Eidenschink, but he should be able to close out the Wisconsin scoring without too many issues.
After the Badgers, there are a number of teams who could battle for the runner-up spot. Purdue looks like they are the real deal after a pair of strong performances at Nuttycombe and Pre-Nats. Jaret Carpenter has proven that he is a true ace while Curt Eckstein and Brody Smith continue to embrace their roles as the team's #2 and #3 scorers. Eckstein had an excellent postseason in 2017, so don't be surprised if you see that happen again over the next month. Can the bottom two scorers of this team step up and close the gap that we saw two weekends ago? If so, the Boilermakers will easily handle the rest of this field.
Indiana may not have Ben Veatch, but Kyle Mau has proven to a reliable low-stick for this young squad. Freshmen Dustin Horter and Arjun Jha continue to play a pivotal role in the Indiana's success this season by occupying the middle scoring spots of the Hoosiers top five. With experienced scorers like Bryce Millar and Joseph Murphy close behind them, Indiana may have the edge over Purdue if that pack works together and has a good day.
The in-state rivals of Michigan and Michigan State are two more squads who will also be in contention for a top finish. However, compared to last year, both programs are dealing with significant roster losses. The Wolverines no longer have Flanagan, Baumgarten, and Mora while the Spartans are without Ruiz and Benoit. To make things even more interesting, it appears that Michigan State has opted to redshirt both Beadlescomb and Hersha this fall.
Despite these lineup deficiencies, both teams have found ways to stay competitive. Michigan has adopted the concept of pack-running (which has proven to be relatively effective) while Michigan State has seen significant improvements from Justine Kiprotich and Matthew Thomas.
On the flip side, both programs have their fair share of weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Between Nuttycombe and Pre-Nats, Michigan has shown that they lack the experience to stay consistent in big-time meets. I'm also worried that their lack of a legitimate ace will hurt them at BIG 10's. In a meet where nearly all of the top teams have excellent depth, it is the low-sticks who will allow their respective squads to have a standout race.
As for Michigan State, I worry that the gaps in their top five could be exposed by the sheer depth that we will likely see from other programs. Their inexperience during championship season is a (minor) concern as well. Still, all things considered, this team has done incredibly well even without four of their varsity runners from last year.
As of right now, Michigan State is at risk of not qualifying for Nationals and I'm sure they realize that. This is a huge opportunity for them to secure Kolas points. That should be enough motivation for them to do well this weekend.
On the individual side, it's all Wisconsin. Oliver Hoare won the title last year, but now teammate Morgan McDonald will be in the mix. Even Olin Hacker has proven that he can contend with the best of the best in the BIG 10 after an impressive 19th place finish at Nuttycombe.
I really like what we've seen from Purdue's Jaret Carpenter this season. He has established himself as a legitimate threat to the Wisconsin men, after finishing 16th at Nuttycombe and 9th in the Pre-Nats White race. After running 13:44 last spring, it's safe to say that Carpenter is now among the elite of the BIG 10.
Indiana's Kyle Mau is an exciting name to consider for a top five finish this weekend. He has upped his fitness to a new level this season which resulted in a 24th place finish at Nuttycombe in the Pre-Nats White race. Don't sleep on the guy who ran 7:50 for 3000 meters last winter.
Keep in mind that a number of top competitors such as Illinois' Jonathan Davis, Nebraska's Wyatt McGuire, and Indiana's Ben Veatch have yet to race this season. Their absences could open up an opportunity for one or two breakout performances. Then again, it's also possible that one of those men makes their season debuts at this meet.
1. Morgan McDonald (Wisconsin)
2. Oliver Hoare (Wisconsin)
3. Jaret Carpenter (Purdue)
4. Olin Hacker (Wisconsin)
5. Kyle Mau (Indiana)
6. Curt Eckstein (Purdue)
7. Justine Kiprotich (Michigan State)
8. Brody Smith (Purdue)
9. Ben Eidenschink (Wisconsin)
10. Colin Abert (Penn State)
11. Alec Basten (Minnesota)
12. Daniel Soto (Iowa)
13. Matthew Thomas (Michigan State)
14. Dustin Horter (Indiana)
15. Isaac Harding (Michigan)
16. George Kusche (Nebraska)
17. Nathan Mylenek (Iowa)
18. Tyson Miehe (Wisconsin)
19. John Aho (Michigan)
20. Billy Magnesen (Illinois)
1. Wisconsin Badgers
2. Purdue Boilermakers
3. Michigan State Spartans
4. Indiana Hoosiers
5. Michigan Wolverines