As we prepare for a huge weekend of competition, there are plenty of uncertainties that fans around the NCAA would like to figure out. At The Stride Report, we decided to type down a few of our burning questions...
What will happen to Wisconsin if Morgan McDonald doesn't run in 2017?
Rumors have circulated that Morgan McDonald could be redshirting the 2017 cross country season in an attempt to fight for the NCAA cross country title in 2018 (when Justyn Knight won't have eligibility). There are also rumors that Olin Hacker has an injury and will be redshirted along with teammate Zach Snyder. If that's the case, then Wisconsin could be in trouble when it comes to qualifying for NCAA's. Then again, these rumors could be totally false and the entire team could be out in full-force this Saturday at the Wisconsin Invite.
What on earth is UTEP doing?
This is such a difficult team to figure out. At the beginning of the season, UTEP's roster only listed three individuals. Now, they have a variety of guys and have a very odd meet selection. Kapel, Kosgei, and Koech are all looking like respectable competitors, but the rest of their squad is what is confusing me. Why do I say that? Because of their final few finishers...
Michael Saruni: 22nd out of 23 finishers / 7:11 mile pace
Carvellion Horn: 23rd out of 23 finishers / 9:27 mile pace
Notre Dame (Gold section)
Carvellion Horn: 158th out of 160 finishers / 8:05 mile pace
Alejandro Alcazar: 159th out of 160 finishers / 8:05 mile pace
Guevara, Asa: 160th out of 160 finishers / 9:56 mile pace
UTEP vs New Mexico State
Esteban Montanez: 8th out of 10 finishers / 5:49 mile pace
Carvellion Horn: 10th out of 10 finishers / 6:37 mile pace
It turns out that a lot of these guys are actually sprinters. It seems like Coach Ereng got a bit desperate for a lineup and recruited from the shorter distances. Still, this doesn't explain why Michael Saruni has only raced once this season. He had some respectable finishes in cross country last season and should be a consistent scorer for UTEP this fall.
How good is BYU?
The Cougars are looking scary good so far this season when you consider how many guys are able to finish towards the top of the results. With that said, they haven't had a legitimate challenge. Sure, they beat Utah State and a few B-level teams at Bill Dellinger, but they haven't really been tested. We should get a better idea of what this team is capable of at Pre-Nats where they'll face elite programs like Colorado, Oregon, and Arkansas. Although they will be competing at separate meets, Wisconsin and Pre-Nats will be give us a better understanding of who has the best depth in the NCAA: BYU or Furman?
How much of an impact will these first-year freshmen have on their respective squads?
Casey Clinger has shown that he can be a scorer on a super talented BYU squad. Cooper Teare was Oregon's top finisher at Bill Dellinger. At Louisville, Wisconsin had three freshmen scorers (Hirsch, Gessner, Wagnor). In that same race, Luis Grijalva was 11th overall and Bernal was 32nd overall. At Notre Dame, Connor O'Neill of Texas finished 13th overall and was the Longhorns top finisher. Teammate Sam Worley? He was 33rd.
It's still early, but it looks like traditional powerhouse schools are going to rely on their youth to get them through to NCAA's and (hopefully) on to the podium. So far, the freshmen hype has been real.
Alexander Palm, Edwin Kurgat, Sylvester Barus, Oliver Hoare, and Aaron Templeton...are they for real?
Every season, there are always new and exciting names that emerge among the best. The guys mentioned above had excellent season openers and could continue to be at the top of the results as we enter championship season in the next few weeks. Still, are they one race wonders or are they the real deal? The one I will be watching the most will be Sylvester Barus. He may have won the Cowboy Jamboree a few weeks ago, but he did the same thing last year and was never able to match that kind of performance again.
Is NAU a lock for the national title?
At the Greater Louisvlle Classic, Northern Arizona took the top four spots in the race with their 5th and 6th men placing 11th and 12th. Yes, their 7th man placed 56th overall, but let's not forget that Cory Glines wasn't in the lineup. We could see him sneak into that top seven later this season...
Here's a fun fact. Even if you took out Baxter and Day's 1-2 finish in the team scoring and replaced them with the scores from their 6th and 7th men, the Lumberjacks STILL take first place and defeat a talented Furman squad, 78 to 81.
I'm trying to find a scenario where teams like Syracuse, Arkansas, or BYU could pull off the upset and win it all, but unless NAU has a tragic collapse, it's tough to think that any team could really beat them right now.
How many teams will make it out of the Mountain region?
As of right now, The Stride Report is projecting six teams to qualify for NCAA's out of the Mountain region (including the Auto-Locks). Utah State is also on the verge of qualifying after a strong race at Paul Short. The Mountain region always sends a lot of teams to NCAA's, but seven teams would be an incredible number. Who knows? Maybe UTEP could find a few more pieces and somehow sneak into the qualifying picture...
How vulnerable is Oklahoma State?
In their season debut at the Cowboy Jamboree, Sylvester Barus and Hassan Abdi took the top two spots and defeated a talented runner in Sean Tobin. In that meet, Oklahoma State had a respectable top four, but their 5th man proved to be their weak point. Oklahoma State narrowly beat Ole Miss by two points in the first race of their season and showed that they could be vulnerable to an upset in the coming weeks.
With Illinois looking like the real deal through two invitationals and Iowa State entering 2017 with a new-and-improved roster, Oklahoma State's streak of being a top two team in the Midwest region might be in jeopardy this season. It also doesn't help that other programs like Bradley, Minnesota, and Tulsa are known to be at their best in the post season.