Overreaction: Part 1

By: Ben Weisel and Michael Weidenbruch

Now that most of the nation's top teams and individuals have debuted, it's time evaluate some of the more notable performances and results. Below, we've taken some of the more interesting headlines from the past few weekends and established whether or not fans of the NCAA are overreacting or have reasonable takes. Let's begin...

Northern Arizona is the best cross country team in the modern era* of D1 cross country

*Modern era is 1965 to the present when the distance was changed from 4 miles to 6 miles

Ben Weisel: Overreaction

NAU has one of the best teams that I’ve seen over the last 10 years, but they have some tough teams to compete with for best ever. The 1981 UTEP team that scored 17 points and the 2003 Stanford team that scored 24 points were both stacked with quality talent. Adding Baxter to their dominant Nuttycombe lineup would have helped the team score about 30 points, but at Nationals the point total will likely be higher.

One thing to keep in mind is that the quality of the field is better now than in previous years, especially since 1981. With that said, Stanford had sub 13:30 guys in Ryan Hall and Ian Dobson who would compete among the best in any year. If NAU comes close to the point totals of Stanford or UTEP, then it might be a discussion. Until then, I think Stanford and UTEP are still a step ahead of NAU.

Michael Weidenbruch: Overreaction

I think if they win the title for the third year in a row, NAU has a solid case for being the best team in the modern era. Some of the UTEP teams of the 1970s/early 1980s (six titles in seven years), specifically the 1981 team that won NCAA's with 17 points, cannot be left out of this conversation.

Stanford’s 2002 team won NCAAs with 24 points, led by Ryan Hall’s 2nd place finish to Dathan Ritzenhein of Colorado. This team's performance is still remembered as one of the best ever.

I think NAU put themselves in this conversation with their win last year, and could solidify a claim of being the best team of this era if they follow up with another dominant title run in 2018. Unlike last year, NAU seems to be the outright favorite.

I don’t see anybody stopping them, and while I don’t think they are currently the best team in the modern era, they could change my mind in Madison come November. This is definitely a special team, but it will take a very impressive performance to convince me that they are truly the best ever.

Wisconsin is back as a national powerhouse OR Wisconsin has the best chance of upsetting NAU

Ben Weisel: Reasonable

Boy have we been waiting for this kind of performance from Wisconsin. After breaking their streak of qualifying for Nationals for 43 straight years in 2015, Wisconsin has not always competed at the highest level. After their runner-up finish on their home course last weekend, I think it’s safe to say that Wisconsin is back.

Stellar performances by Morgan McDonald and Oliver Hoare give Wisconsin the low-sticks they need to compete with any team outside of NAU. Olin Hacker provided a great performance as their number three man, and the Badgers showed that they have plenty of talent right behind him. With Nationals being on their home course this year, it will be exciting to look for Wisconsin at the top of the leaderboard once again.

Michael Weidenbruch: Reasonable

Wisconsin is definitely back as a national powerhouse. McDonald has shown that he is a legitimate title contender and he has a strong team behind him. I think this squad can definitely finish in the top five at NCAAs, but the field is looking too deep for me to make a solid claim at anything higher than that. BYU looked strong at Joe Piane and Stanford has yet to race a full squad, so I think it is too early to say who has the best chance at upsetting NAU. Wisconsin is definitely in that picture as they looked phenomenal at Nuttycombe. However, at this point, I would give BYU the nod for having the best chance at an upset.

For Texas, it’s time to panic

Ben Weisel: Reasonable

I was very surprised by Texas’ poor performance at Wisconsin. I expected Sam Worley and the rest of the squad to take a bigger step forward this year. This was only one race, but after a 30th place finish last year at Nationals last year, they needed to show that they can compete in a big race. While Texas should still easily make Nationals due to their easy region, it is hard to foresee them finishing any higher than top 25. This seems like a letdown considering all of the talent in Austin.

That said, we need to be more patient in Coach Watson’s first year as he molds the team into his image. Hopefully we will see some positive signs by the end of the year, but right now I am concerned with the lack of progress.

Michael Weidenbruch: Overreaction

I don’t think Texas needs to panic yet. One poor showing isn’t enough to ruin their season and they have time to bounce back. The South Central region is not particularly strong compared to other regions, so Texas should still be considered a strong contender to make Nationals. I don’t expect this team to be going for a top 10 finish, but they shouldn’t have a problem making the big dance if they can perform at regionals. I am fully expecting this to just be a slow start for Texas and that they will look a lot better by the time Big 12’s rolls around.

Morgan McDonald is now the favorite to win Nationals

Ben Weisel: Overreaction

Although McDonald had a fantastic race at Wisconsin, there are still many people who could take him down when Nationals rolls around. On his home course at Nuttycombe, McDonald gapped the field, rolling down the final hill and never looking back. In a different race, I worry that he may not have the same strength as the NAU boys. With no Grant Fisher and Matthew Baxter at Wisconsin, we have yet to see what kind of shape the other top contenders are in. While it was a very impressive run, my money is still on Matthew Baxter to win Nationals.

Michael Weidenbruch: Reasonable

Morgan McDonald has been my pick to win NCAA's since the preseason, and he has only solidified my feeling with his Nuttycombe performance. The NCAA is deep with talent and the list of potential champions is long, but McDonald remains my pick to win.

Alabama isn’t even the best team in their region

Ben Weisel: Reasonable

I am a huge fan of Ole Miss so this might color my commentary on Alabama. This said, Alabama could be in big trouble. Head Coach Dan Waters said that Noel Rotich may be done for the season after having to drop out of Wisconsin along with other injuries plaguing their roster. Without Rotich, Alabama will heavily rely on Octopias Ndiwa and James Brinyark. Ndiwa, an 800m specialist, still hasn’t raced and Brinyark ran 25:05 at Wisconsin. These two need to be top 40 in the region for Alabama to have a chance at taking down Ole Miss who looked very good at the Battle in Beantown. If these two fall below 50th, then Alabama could be in danger of not qualifying for Nationals with an underrated Tennessee team lurking close behind. All of this ignores the fact that Vincent Kiprop has yet to race due to “a late start to training” according to Coach Waters. Without Kiprop, there is a small chance that Alabama makes Nationals. Needless to say, all eyes will be on the Crimson Tide whenever they run next.

Michael Weidenbruch: Overreaction

From what I’ve seen so far this season I don’t think there is a team in the South region capable of beating Alabama. Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Middle Tennessee State will be strong challengers, but Alabama is looking like a more solid team than they did last year and I think they will dominate their region. We haven’t seen their full team race yet so it’s difficult to say, but I think their 4-7 runners will make up for a lot of what the team lacked last year in backing up their top three.

Iowa State is underrated

Ben Weisel: Reasonable

If you are selling any of your Iowa State stock after a 4th place finish at Wisconsin, then I will buy all of it. Edwin Kurgat is the real deal and I expect him to be in the top 10 mix when Nationals rolls around. Festus Lagat had an impressive 23rd place finish while Andrew Jordan had a bit of an off day coming in 31st. After Jordan’s fantastic race at Nationals in 2017 (where he placed 15th), I expect him to find his way back into the top 20 this year.

Dan Curts had a nice race finishing right behind Jordan in 36th. That top four is as good as anyone in the country outside of NAU. Their fifth spot is currently Milo Greder, but look out for Chad Johnson, Stanley Lagat, and Thomas Pollard.

Pollard is the most intriguing candidate for the fifth spot. He dealt with a medical condition all of last year, but still finished 98th at Nationals. After sitting out the spring to get healthy, Pollard could be the one that helps Iowa State finish runner-up to NAU at Nationals.

Michael Weidenbruch: Overreaction

I think Iowa State is appropriately rated. Their performance at Nuttycombe was about what I expected, if anything a little worse. Iowa State has a very strong team and I don’t think that's much of a secret. At the moment, I don’t think they are in a position to move up in the rankings, but that does not mean they are overrated. In our rankings, Iowa State is 6th while Wisconsin is 5th and Colorado is 7th. I think it would take a considerably good or bad performance for the Cyclones to move in either direction.

Purdue will finish in the top 10 at Nationals

Ben Weisel: Overreaction

Purdue had a statement race at Wisconsin. Coming into the meet unranked, Purdue finished 9th in the race and rocketed to TSR #16 in our Top 25. Unfortunately, I think this team may have hit it's peak at Wisconsin. Although they are filled with many talented runners, Purdue needs to improve their 5-7 men. If the Boilermakers can pack their top five closer together, then they have a real shot at top 10. Yet, for now, I don’t see that happening. Look for the Big 10 Championship to be a key race for Purdue. Racing against teams like Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, Purdue will have a great opportunity to prove that they are for real by finishing in the top three.

Michael Weidenbruch: Overreaction

False. Purdue’s lack of experience at this level may end up hurting them. Their top three are all very good, and the addition of Brody Smtih to their roster has been crucial. I don’t think Purdue is ready to be a top 10 team yet, though. I may be proven wrong eventually, but I think they simply do not have all the pieces to break into that elite top 10 group. Looking at the current NCAA picture, there are about 15 teams that I think have the potential to finish in the top 10 at Nationals. Purdue makes that list, but as I narrow the list down to 10 teams, they get bumped off. The rest of the NCAA is simply too good.

Regions need to be realigned

Ben Weisel: Reasonable

The regions have been unfair for years. The Kolas system tries to even the playing field by giving teams from any region the opportunity to earn a spot to Nationals. Unfortunately, some of the best programs in the country still do not make it to Nationals because they are in a tough region. Over the last few years, the Mountain region has been much better than the rest of the regions. Southern Utah, ranked 18th in the country, is ranked 6th in their region. If they were in the South Central region, then they would most likely earn an automatic qualifying spot over Texas.

The South Central and the South are both poor regions that are adjacent to some of the stronger regions (Mountain and Southeast respectively) in the country. A simple fix such as adding the rest of Texas and New Mexico to the South Central and adding South Carolina to the South could help ease the regional imbalance. With automatic qualifying spots being so valuable, it seems unjust to give some teams a better chance at earning them just because of their geographic location.

Michael Weidenbruch: Reasonable

I am in favor of a regional realignment. Some regions like the Mountain, Southeast, and West are incredibly deep with up to seven or eight teams that are in the picture for national qualifying spots. Other regions like the Mid-Atlantic and the South Central have only two or maybe three teams that I consider to have the ability to qualify. This is partially due to high concentrations of strong teams in certain states/areas of the country (e.g. Colorado and Utah).

Realigning the regions would be a difficult undertaking, but I think the South, Southeast, and South Central could be realigned to balance the power a little better. Even the Mid-Atlantic could take some teams from the northern portion of the Southeast region.

Another possibility would be to change the system entirely. Fewer regions with more teams qualifying from each could be an interesting setup. This would likely have a negative impact on teams already in deep regions while teams in weaker regions would have less pressure to make Nationals. The regional meets would also be huge.

Splitting up regions to create more meets would make the races too small and some not competitive enough. The concentration of top teams in certain areas would produce an even larger disparity between the good and bad regions.