Gauging Impact (Part Five)

Updated: Jul 7

With so many transfers on the move, we opted to bring back our Gauging Impact series! Will the arrival of these standout talents help their new teams more than they hurt their old teams? We decided to take a look at three more names and do some analysis...

Gauging Impact (Part One)

Gauging Impact (Part Two)

Gauging Impact (Part Three)

Gauging Impact (Part Four)

Thomas Ratcliffe: Bigger Gain for UNC or Bigger Loss for Stanford?

Arguably the biggest transfer name of the offseason so far has been Thomas Ratcliffe, the Stanford superstar who has run 13:32 for 5000 meters and finished 3rd at the 2019 Outdoor National Championships. Despite struggling with a plethora of injuries, Ratcliffe has been capable of throwing down elite times while acting as the top Cardinal scorer this past fall.

Ratcliffe will be joining former coach Chris Miltenberg at UNC next year, bringing with him eligibility in all three seasons (cross country, outdoor track, indoor track). The former Cardinal star will also be joined by incoming graduate transfers Alex Ostberg, Conor Lundy and Allen Siegler.

On paper, this looks like a team that is slowly turning into a powerhouse program. However, as far as cross country is concerned, Ratcliffe is the only incoming transfer with eligibility left. That means he will be the sole low-stick on a team that finished 10th at ACC's this past fall and loses three of their top seven (according to TFRRS).

The good news for UNC is that this team is still relatively young and they have a very promising recruiting class on the way, headlined by 3rd place Foot Locker finisher Patrick Anderson. Tack on a healthy Thomas Ratcliffe, and the Tar Heels are guaranteed to be a better team than they were last year.

Even so, it's hard to see the North Carolina men contending for a national qualifying spot or pulling off any major upsets this year. They may be able to flirt with a top five or top six finish at their conference meet, but this team still needs to find numerous other pieces to make them national contenders on the grass.

As for Stanford, this is where things get tricky. Yes, they lose Ratcliffe, but the Cardinal were already going to be losing top low-sticks Alex Ostberg and Steven Fahy. Stanford was going to be hurting regardless of whether or not Ratcliffe left.

Even so, a team headlined by Ratcliffe and Alek Parsons (a two-time All-American) would have been pretty darn good, especially alongside a pair of elite recruits (Sprout and Boyden) and a roster loaded with young depth. In a PAC-12 conference where numerous top teams are losing some of their best talents (Colorado, Washington, UCLA), keeping Ratcliffe would have allowed Stanford to at least remain competitive with Oregon.

That, however, didn't happen and now Stanford will have to rely on a handful of young unproven talents to support their team in the fall of 2020 (assuming we even have a season). That's not to say that this team isn't still talented (because they most certainly are), but Stanford had a lot more to gain by keeping Ratcliffe than UNC did by adding him.

Final Verdict: Bigger Loss for Stanford

Fiona O'Keeffe: Bigger Gain for New Mexico or Bigger Loss for Stanford?

It's not the easiest to analyze the gain vs loss quotient when talking about graduate transfers. Most of these men and women usually have limited eligibility left and oftentimes leave their undergraduate programs to pursue a Masters degree at a university that has their specified major.

That's been exactly the case with Fiona O'Keeffe, the seven-time All-American who was a veteran superstar during her time with the Stanford women. O'Keeffe does not have any additional cross country eligibility left and will be joining her sister Olivia O'Keeffe at the University of New Mexico to earn her Masters degree.

Both New Mexico and Stanford are powerhouse squads on the women's side of things. New Mexico was going to be competitive next winter and spring regardless of the whether or not O'Keeffe joined their team. The same could be said for Stanford even if O'Keeffe had stayed.

However, one point that I made on our latest episode of the Blue Oval Podcast was that O'Keeffe now complicates things from a qualifying and All-American standpoint. New Mexico and Stanford are two teams that typically earn numerous qualifying spots to the National Championships as well as All-American finishes.

Could O'Keeffe's decision to join the Lobos put her in a position where she potentially clashes with her old team?

There could be multiple scenarios next year where O'Keeffe inadvertently bumps out an old Stanford teammate from a spot to the National Championships or even an All-American finish. The odds of that happening aren't super high, but it's realistic and feasible enough to make this scenario a little more interesting.

O'Keeffe leaving Stanford isn't necessarily a surprise, but joining a West region rival that she has been battling for the past few years is.

Final Verdict: Bigger Loss for Stanford

Elijah Armstrong: Bigger Gain for BYU or Bigger Loss for Boise State?

A talented and respectable distance runner for Boise State over the past few years, Armstrong has opted to transfer to BYU where he will use the rest of his eligibility.

Armstrong has actually been with Boise State since 2015, but skipped the entirety of 2017 and most of 2018 for a mission trip. He will join the BYU Cougars with one season of cross country eligibility remaining along with numerous seasons of track eligibility. Armstrong owns a personal best of 13:58 for 5000 meters and finished 70th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in 2015 as a true freshman.

Let's start this conversation by talking about the Boise State men. In addition to Armstrong, the team will be losing All-American Miler Haller. Those are two reliable low-sticks that the Broncos leaned on throughout most of last season.

The good news for Boise State is that they will be returning the rest of their national lineup from last year and are still expected to have Ahmed Muhumed and Logan Rees leading the way. Even so, losing two top scorers isn't the easiest thing to manage and the Broncos were already a fringe Top 25 team last year (they finished last fall ranked at #24 in our rankings). Having Armstrong still on the team would have made qualifying for NCAA's this fall a whole lot easier.

Now for BYU. The defending national champions lose two All-Americans in Jacob Heslington and Daniel Carney along with Michael Ottesen. They do, however, return everyone else and even add Casey Clinger and a healthy Clayson Shumway back into their lineup.

That lineup alone suggests that BYU will be back in the podium hunt this fall. There are, however, plenty of questions to be had. How quickly can Clinger rebound into an All-American scorer? Can Shumway replicate his All-American fitness from 2018? How good will Elijah Armstrong be under Ed Eyestone?

It depends on who you ask, but BYU likely won't be favored to defend their national title entering this fall. However, adding an experienced veteran like Armstrong can only help this team. At the very least, he brings extra depth and scoring security, but it's tough to truly say what his overall impact will be with so many moving pieces on this team.

In an ideal scenario, the former Boise State runner could be a consistent #4 or #5 scorer for the Cougars this year...but would that be enough to upset NAU? Or win another national title? What is Armstrong's ceiling? How high does he have to reach in order to change our projected outcome at this year's National Championship?

We don't know if Armstrong is going to be the major x-factor who helps BYU win another national title. We don't even know if he is guaranteed to be in their top five. Still, his scoring potential and ability to give BYU extra depth is only going to help the Cougars inch closer to another national title.

That alone seems like a good enough reason to say that BYU had the bigger gain.

Final Verdict: Bigger Gain for BYU