If you haven't already, make sure to read up on Part One by clicking here.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Case For: Oklahoma State’s path to the podium like a few other teams is simple: develop two runners who can fill out the bottom two scoring spots. For the Cowboys to reach the top four as a team, they will need another spectacular performance from Isai Rodriguez and an All-American finish from Ashnafi Hatte. With steeplechase runner-up Ryan Smeeton taking a big step forward in fitness this past spring, he completes Oklahoma State’s lethal top three. If he runs like he did on the track, then he should be on the All-American bubble.
With three studs up front, the Cowboys will need someone from their talented roster to take a step forward. Oklahoma State has only raced once this season at the Tulsa Hurricane Preview, but the results from that meet were encouraging. Bryce Quigley, Juan Diego Castro, and Adam Dayani swept the top three spots, but it's unclear if they will have any role in the Cowboys top seven moving forward. Still, even if one of those three runners can make a big improvement from their 2018 season, then Oklahoma State has a much better chance at the podium.
There are plenty of returners who could also make big leaps this year, but there are also two new Cowboys who could swing the podium odds in Oklahoma State’s favor: Felix Kosgei and Alex Maier. Kogei, the JUCO transfer, has run well in the NJCCA XC Championships and he could be the #4 finisher that the Cowboys desperately need.
Behind him, Alex Maier comes in with elite high school PR's and will look to be one of the top true freshmen in the country. After Danny Kilrea’s performances last year, it is clear that a talented true freshman can really help a team with lofty aspirations. With multiple options to fill out their lineup, Oklahoma State will make the podium if a few of their runners make the improvements we think they can.
The Case Against: Isai Rodriguez was magnificent last fall finishing 4th at NCAA's, but we haven’t seen anything from him since that would indicate that he is ready to finish in the top five again. If he falls back a bit, then Oklahoma State gains a few extra points which might push them off the podium.
Likewise, Ryan Smeeton had an awesome spring, but his cross country performances were nothing special. I expect him to improve on those results, but maybe a jump into the top 50 at NCAA's is unrealistic. Without Smeeton running at or near an All-American level, it gives the Cowboys back end less room for error.
While we mentioned that Oklahoma State has plenty of options to fill out the rest of their lineup, none of them have any proven experience at Nationals. The team has plenty of talented runners, but so do the rest of the teams on this list. There is a good possibility that Oklahoma State’s #4 and #5 improve, but maybe not enough to earn them a top four finish at Nationals.
The Case For: Although the Pilots ran at the Bill Dellinger Invitational, Coach Rob Conner sat out some of his top runners like he usually does in early-season meets. Caleb Webb, Emmanuel Roudolff-Levisse, Evert Silva, and a possibly a few others are all waiting to make their season debuts. When they do, Portland will look much more like a podium contender.
Despite not running their "A" team, there were still a few positive signs from the Bill Dellinger Invitational. Redshirt freshman Justin Hazell put together a fantastic race to finish 13th. Meanwhile, Ruben Kiprono was 33rd while George Duggan was 41st. This is exactly why Portland has contended for podium spots over the last few years. They have so much depth that Coach Conner can run different lineups every race to determine who his best seven are. Hazell looks to have put himself in that conversation after his stellar performance.
When Portland’s aforementioned top three return along with other top names like Riley Osen and Michael Teran-Solano, they will be an overwhelmingly talented group.
If Portland can find another All-American candidate (or two) behind Roudolff-Levisse, then the Pilots will very likely find the podium once again. Their overall depth gives this team a really high floor. Even with only one All-American, they probably still finish inside the top 10. However, in order to get into the top four, the team will need top runners like Webb, Silva, and Hazell to make the jump to All-American status.
Based on the conveyor belt of Top 50 runners that Coach Conner has been producing over the last two years, and the way that Portland runners seem to peak at the right time, it seems more like a foregone conclusion that the Pilots will have plenty of All-American candidates come November.
The Case Against: The recent success of Portland is certainly a good indicator that more is on the way, but their podium streak will have to come to an end eventually. Roudolff-Levisse is a clear low-stick while Silva and Webb should be right on the All-American bubble.
Unlike many other teams, the questions surrounding this group isn’t so much about their experience level, but simply just their overall talent. With only one real low-stick, Portland will need to stack the top 60 spots at Nationals with their best five runners. They certainly have three runners with a proven ability to do that, but will they find two more?
Even with all of their depth, Portland (much like BYU) needs to have a few guys emerge from their pack to finish higher up at NCAA's. Scoring potency will be the difference maker for the Pilots this season.
The Case For: The Ducks performance at the Bill Dellinger Invitational is the best reason for me to believe that they will reach the podium. Taking down another podium favorite in BYU, albeit without Shumway, proves that they belong in this conversation.
At their best, Oregon is a near perfect blend of low-sticks and depth. Cooper Teare is the one we all expect to finish as an All-American this year, but James West, after his performance last weekend, looks to be in contention for a top 40 spot as well. Last year, West started out the season strong with a 9th place finish at Dellinger and a 17th place run at Pre-Nationals. Unfortunately, he then faded towards the end of the year. If the Brit can make it through the entire season running like he did at Dellinger this year, then Oregon’s podium odds are much higher.
However, the biggest surprise for the Ducks last weekend was Cole Hocker. The true freshman finished in 9th overall and looks like he could be key member of the top seven and give Coach Ben Thomas yet another piece to fit into his podium puzzle.
Noah Affolder, after transferring from Syracuse, looked strong crossing the line in 14th. Like West, Affolder will be a big “x-factor” for the Ducks. He is clearly a huge talent based solely off his track times, but has never finished well at NCAA's. If this is the year he does, then the Ducks are in even better shape.
Behind this strong top four, Oregon also boasts depth with Jackson Mestler, Reed Brown, and Carter Christman finishing in the top 40 at Dellinger and filling out the rest of the lineup. If Oregon’s low-sticks can run like All-Americans at NCAA's, then this is certainly a team that has a chance at a top four finish.
The Case Against: Oregon had a very deep team last year, but was unable to earn a top 10 finish at NCAA's, instead settling for a 15th place run. They had multiple runners within the top 100, but they had no one come close to the top 40. For a team with podium aspirations this year, that must change.
Cooper Teare and James West are huge talents who have had a great success on the track, but they have yet to prove themselves in cross country (specifically at the national meet). Likewise, Affolder has yet to put together a great finish at NCAA's. Throw in Cole Hocker who is running his first season at the collegiate level, and the Ducks don’t have any proven top scorers like Oklahoma State or Colorado do.
Oregon has more depth than either of those teams, but they don’t have anyone who has been an All-American before. Cooper Teare should be that guy this year, but I still have questions about the rest of the top five.
Oregon will be a top 10 team even if their top runners aren’t on the All-American bubble. To move up 11 spots from last year, the Ducks will need some low-sticks to give them a shot at standing on the podium.
The Case For: Like Oklahoma State, the Buffaloes will rely heavily on their top three to finish on the podium like they did last year. With Joe Klecker, John Dressel, and Eduardo Herrera up front, Colorado may have the best top three in the country.
Klecker is one of the top contenders for the individual title this year after a top 10 finish at NCAA's last fall and a very impressive indoor season. Dressel, who finished right behind Klecker at NCAA's last year, should be a top 15 runner once again. Don’t forget about Herrera who was an All-American back in 2017. Together, this is a scary good trio.
Their number #4 and #5 runners will decide whether or not they reach the top four. With the amount of talent on their roster and Coach Mark Wetmore working his magic, it seems realistic to think that Buffaloes will have a much-improved back end of the lineup compared to last year (which we will hopefully see at Joe Piane).
Thankfully for the Buffaloes, Coach Wetmore is bringing in a talented freshmen class and has a few returners who should improve this year. Whether its Paxton Smith, Gus Newcomb, or Gabe Fendel, I think that at least one of them will show up in a big way this fall. Like Oklahoma State, the road to the podium goes through the bottom half of their lineup. Unlike the Cowboys, the Buffaloes have an even stronger and more dependable top three that will give them a great chance at finishing on the podium in back-to-back years.
The Case Against: There aren’t many concerns about how their top three will run at NCAA's. They are experienced veterans who will get the job done. Simply put, if Colorado doesn't reach the podium, it won't be due to a lack of firepower.
But the other half of their lineup leaves us with plenty of to be cautious about. Paxton Smith and Gus Newcomb are respectable talents, but they will need to make significant improvements if this year's Colorado team is going to even think about being on the podium.
More so, guys like Gabe Fendel and a handful of talented incoming freshmen lack experience on the national stage. Although they are certainly talented, not running at NCAA's before has proven to be an issue for other inexperienced teams.
Frankly, this is the only concern I have for the Buffaloes, but it is a significant one. Their top three doesn’t worry me at all because of their talent and experience at getting the job done on the biggest stage. Ultimately, it will come down to whether or not the new members of Colorado’s lineup are ready for the bright lights of the national meet.