Predictions & Previews: Conference Week (Pt. 2)



PAC 12

Analysis

As usual, the PAC 12 is once again one of the more competitive conferences in the NCAA. With Cheserek no longer in the equation, Grant Fisher has taken over as the heavy favorite to win it all. If he loses, consider it an upset. Behind Fisher is where the debate begins. Personally, I am huge fan of Robert Brandt and his development over the past year. He's matured as a tactical runner and I think this field will prove just how good he actually is. Joe Klecker is still waiting for his first huge race of the season while John Dressel is looking to rebound from an underwhelming Notre Dame performance. They'll have to battle with recent Stanford breakout Alex Ostberg as well as Oregon's Tanner Anderson who is beginning to develop into a legitimate low-stick for the Ducks. In addition to those six, be sure to keep an eye on Colby Gilbert. The 2015 All-American is looking to reestablish himself as a presence on the grass and PAC 12's may be the perfect meet to do it at.

The team race will most likely be a powerhouse clash between Stanford and Colorado. Stanford's performance at Wisconsin was encouraging, especially after seeing such a great race from Alex Ostberg and respectable finishes from their three freshmen. However, Wharton, Keelan, and Ratcliffe were glaring absences (Wharton ran in the Open race). Is it possible that we see any of these three make their season debut this weekend? If so, could it be the difference between a PAC 12 title and a runner-up finish? Whatever you think the answer is, you just have to remember that Colorado will be at the top of their game. Naturally, the Buffaloes always come up big in the postseason and when you look at the pieces they have, I struggle to believe that they'll have a score higher than 55 points. Still, Zach Perrin might prove to be Colorado's biggest liability. He came up big last year at PAC 12's, but he hasn't quite had the season that many have expected from him in 2017. Oregon will most likely be a safe pick for third. They have a solid pack and a lot of depth, but they lack the firepower up front to compete for the title, especially if Matthew Maton doesn't run. Washington State and Washington are solid programs, but they're simply not on the level of Stanford, Colorado, and Oregon.

Individuals

1. Grant Fisher (Stanford)

2. Robert Brandt (UCLA)

3. Joe Klecker (Colorado)

4. Alex Ostberg (Stanford)

5. John Dressel (Colorado)

6. Tanner Anderson (Oregon)

7. Trent Brendel (California)

8. Garrett Reynolds (UCLA)

9. Ryan Forsyth (Colorado)

10. Colby Gilbert (Washington)

11. Jack Keelan (Stanford)

12. Cooper Teare (Oregon)

13. Michael Williams (Washington State)

14. Eduardo Herrera (Colorado)

15. Sam Prakel (Oregon)

16. Carlos Villareal (Arizona)

17. Sam Wharton (Stanford)

18. Zach Perrin (Colorado)

19. Callum Bolger (Stanford)

20. Garrett Corcoran (California)

Teams

1. Colorado Buffaloes (49)

2. Stanford Cardinal (52)

3. Oregon Ducks (76)

4. Washington State Cougars (134)

5. Washington Huskies (155)

BIG Sky

Analysis

The BIG Sky Individual title will depend on if NAU actually puts together a 100% effort or if they decide to practice some of their pack-running. If we assume that they give an honest effort, Baxter, Trouard, and Day seem to be locks for the top three spots. Southern Utah's Mike Tate and Kasey Knevelbaard will try to break up that top pack, but it seems pretty clear that NAU will have someone snag the individual title once again.

In the team race, Northern Arizona is the heavy favorite and I feel confident that they wont relinquish their title from 2016. Not only does this team have an overwhelming amount of firepower, but they also have the depth to displace any Southern Utah athletes that will try to battle with the Lumberjacks. Still, I'm expecting the Thunderbirds to at least make NAU work for the crown.

Individuals

1. Matthew Baxter (NAU)

2. Andy Trouard (NAU)

3. Tyler Day (NAU)

4. Mike Tate (Southern Utah)

5. Geordie Beamish (NAU)

6. Kasey Knevelbaard (Southern Utah)

7. Luis Grijalva (NAU)

8. Peter Lomong (NAU)

9. Josh Collins (Southern Utah)

10. Jordan Cross (Weber State)

Teams

1. Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (18)

2. Southern Utah (43)

BIG 10

Analysis

If there is any meet in particular you should watch / keep an eye on this weekend, it's definitely the BIG 10 championships. On both the individual and team side, there isn't exactly a clear favorite. Let's start with the individual aspect of this meet where guys like Ben Flanagan, Jonathan Davis, Clark Ruiz, and Oliver Hoare look like the most realistic contenders for the conference title. So far this season, Oliver Hoare of Wisconsin has looked very strong. After a sub-four minute mile earlier this summer, Hoare proved his prowess in XC with a 8th place finish at Notre Dame. Unfortunately, his 114th place finish at the Wisconsin Invite shows that he's still a bit inexperienced. Of course, Jonathan Davis is also relatively inexperienced, but his monster 6th place finish at Wisconsin shows that he's at another level of fitness. Still, plenty of people are curious as to how the sophomore perform on the championship stage. If you're looking for more experienced athletes, Clark Ruiz is a great option. Obviously, his exposure to big-meets like this play into his favor. That experience factor added with a 4th place finish at Roy Griak and a 15th place finish at Wisconsin makes him a dangerous individual to watch. Another veteran to watch for is Ben Flanagan. After redshirting the 2016 cross country season, Flanagan has taken his regular season performances to a new level by winning his two first meets of the season and then placing 22nd at Wisconsin. Historically, Flanagan has done very well in the postseason and I like the experience he has compared to the rest of the field. In addition to those four, be sure to keep an eye out for Evan Stifel of Ohio State. He hasn't quite had the season I was expecting him to, but he's a talented individual who had some strong performances in the postseason last year. I wouldn't be surprised if he did it again.

For a team perspective, this field is incredibly deep. Up front, I see Michigan and Michigan State battling it out for the conference title. In all honestly, I could see this going either way. Michigan State has a solid and consistent group through four scorers, but they have shown some vulnerability at the 5th man spot. As for Michigan, their top three are reliable but their overall pack is relatively spread out. That could potentially hurt them in such a deep BIG 10 field. As for Illinois, many people might be skeptical as to what else they can produce for the rest of the season. Still, I'm not sold that the Wisconsin Invite was a realistic indicator of what they're truly capable of. This squad is deep and with Jonathan Davis looking like one of the best names in the BIG 10, it's hard not to think that they'll rebound at the conference meet. I suppose Minnesota also deserves some love after a nice showing at Wisconsin. I like the experience they bring and I think some of their younger guys are beginning to show signs of budding potential. Still, this group has a history of being inconsistent. Finally, Penn State will stay competitive because of two solid scorers up front along with three reliable scorers to back them up. However, if any of their top five have a bad day, they will be stretched for points...

Individuals

1. Ben Flanagan (Michigan)

2. Jonathan Davis (Illinois)

3. Clark Ruiz (Michigan State)

4. Oliver Hoare (Wisconsin)

5. Ben Veatch (Indiana)

6. Aaron Baumgarten (Michigan)

7. Joe Hardy (Wisconsin)

8. Jaret Carpenter (Purdue)

9. Jesse Reiser (Illinois)

10. Colin Abert (Penn State)

11. Morgan Beadlescomb (Michigan State)

12. Obsa Ali (Minnesota)

13. Connor Mora (Michigan)

14. Evan Stifel (Ohio State)

15. Tim McGowan (Penn State)

16. Ryan Robinson (Michigan State)

17. Connor Olson (Minnesota)

18. Zack Smith (Illinois)

19. Kyle Mau (Indiana)

20. Charlie Lawrence (Minnesota)

Teams

1. Michigan Wolverines (70)

2. Michigan State Spartans (77)

3. Illinois Fighting Illini' (83)

4. Minnesota Golden Gophers (110)

5. Penn State Nittany Lions (141)

6. Purdue Boilermakers (175)

7. Wisconsin Badgers (179)

West Coast

Analysis

A lot of fans are excited for the West Coast Conference Championships because it will give us a much better idea of how BYU and Portland stack up against each other. The team battle will certainly be exciting, but if we're just talking about individuals, then I think it's fair to say that Rory Linkletter is the heavy favorite in the field. He has proven on multiple occasions that he can take the win with practically any racing style. We also have to acknowledge that Linkletter's teammates are never too far off from where he usually finishes. Essentially, if Linkletter does well, his teammates will follow. Of course, you could argue the same thing with Portland. Jeff Thies, Nick Hauger, and Emmanuel Rouldolff-Levisse (ERL) placed 8th, 9th, and 11th at Wisconsin. I'm not sure a Portland Pilot is going to take the win, but it's not unrealistic to say that all three of them will be in the top five.

In case it wasn't already clear by the individual picks, I think BYU has the edge in the team battle. They simply have a much more complete squad through five men and even have some leeway with their 6th and 7th guys. Still, if I'm the Cougars, I am not taking the competition lightly. After such a monster performance at Wisconsin, Portland proved that they could be a legitimate threat to BYU's title hopes. Another team that deserves some recognition is San Francisco. Despite losing Alex Short to graduation, the Dons look like they might actually be better than last year. They have developed some respectable low-sticks and although I have them 3rd, San Francisco shouldn't be forgotten just because powerhouse programs like BYU and Portland are grabbing all of the attention.

Individuals

1. Rory Linkletter (BYU)

2. Clayton Young (BYU)

3. Jeff Thies (Portland)

4. Connor McMillan (BYU)

5. Emmanuel Rouldolff-Levisse (Portland)

6. Nick Hauger (Portland)

7. Casey Clinger (BYU)

8. Troy Fraley (Gonzaga)

9. Ben Alcock (San Francisco)

10. Daniel Carney (BYU)

11. Caleb Webb (Portland)

12. Noah Shutte (Portland)

13. Jonathan Harper (BYU)

14. Logan Orndorf (Portland)

15. Mohamed Aziz (San Francisco)

Teams

1. BYU Cougars (24)

2. Portland Pilots (37)

3. San Francisco (90)

Mountain West

Analysis

When I looked at the Mountain West, I quickly realized that the race for the individual crown might be the most competitive of any other conference. Some may argue that Jerrell Mock is the favorite to win it all, but you have to think that Yusuke Uchikoshi is hungry for redemption after such a tough race at Wisconsin. Dillon Maggard is another big-time name who may have the best regular season resume in 2017 so far after winning Paul Short and following that up with a 5th place finish at Pre-Nats. These three could give us the matchup of the weekend. After those three, I am a big fan of experienced runners like Andrew Johnston and Cole Rockhold. In a field as deep as this, the guys who take a conservative approach to their racing style will thrive and I like to think that Johnston and Rockhold will take that approach. And how about Alex Palm? The New Mexico senior finished 7th at Notre Dame and 19th at Wisconsin. Will he be able to step up and compete against the elites of the Mountain West? He was only three spots off of Jerrell Mock at the Wisconsin Invite...

As we transition to the team race, the competition doesn't get any more lenient. Colorado State will enter this meet as the favorite after taking the win at Roy Griak and placing 6th at Wisconsin where they defeated a very solid Southern Utah squad. Just as I had mentioned in my Roy Griak preview, Colorado State has the low-sticks, experience, and depth to overcome most of their challengers. On paper, Boise State has the squad to contend with the Rams. Unfortunately, they have struggled to all run well on the same day. On the other hand, Air Force is beginning to look like a legitimate upset candidate. Johnston, Davey, and Bilvado, have been consistent all season. I would argue that they are one of the more underrated trio's in the NCAA. The Falcons top five isn't that far off either. If Air Force's top three has a big day, then Colorado State may not be guaranteed the win. In fact, they aren't the only team that could pull off the upset. Utah State has some solid group of men this fall and their results have been promising. Dillon Maggard is an easy top-five pick while their depth has begun to create a formidable pack. However, those middle three scorers are only sophomores. How will they handle such a deep and talented field? Can they close the gap between them and Maggard? As for New Mexico, they aren't necessarily on the same level of the other teams I mentioned, but they have a couple of solid pieces that could keep them competitive.

Individuals

1. Jerrell Mock (Colorado State)

2. Dillon Maggard (Utah State)

3. Yusuke Uchikoshi (Boise State)

4. Cole Rockhold (Colorado State)

5. Andrew Johnston (Air Force)

6. Alex Palm (New Mexico)

7. Mickey Davey (Air Force)

8. Miler Haller (Boise State)

9. Jacob Bilvado (Air Force)

10. Grant Fischer (Colorado State)

11. Michael Vennard (Boise State)

12. Luke Beattie (Utah State)

13. James Withers (Utah State)

14. Christopher Henry (Wyoming)

15. Josh Kerr (New Mexico)

Teams

1. Colorado State Rams (52)

2. Air Force Falcons (62)

3. Boise State Broncos (66)

4. Utah State Aggies (78)

5. New Mexico (99)

#XC #ncaa #predictions #preview #gzatlin