Boy has the SEC been an interesting conference to follow this year. Heavy favorites, Alabama, have experienced a tough season so far. The absence of Octopias Ndiwa along with the possibly injury to Noel Rotich has left the team with little depth. And now, with the news that Kigen and Kiprop are redshirting the season, Alabama has little chance of coming in the top five at conference.
Ole Miss has added what has turned out to be one of the most impactful transfers in the country in Farah Abdulkarim. He has been a top three performer all year for an Ole Miss team who lost Sean Tobin (along Robert Domanic and Trevor Gilley) last year. Arkansas, the winners of the last eight conference titles, lost a lot of their top runners from the team who finished 5th in the country last year. However, they have bounced back and put together some solid performances including a 3rd place finish at the Penn State National Open right behind Eastern Kentucky. All three of these teams have been nationally ranked during the year and has been in TSR’s rankings at some point as well. With Alabama’s health and status in the air, I anticipate that this will be a two-horse race between Ole Miss and Arkansas.
After a spectacular 5th place finish at Nationals and winning their 8th consecutive SEC title, Arkansas lost Alex George, Jack Bruce, and Austen Dalquist. In their place, Cameron Griffith and Gilbert Boit have stepped up as low-sticks for the team. Ole Miss started their rebuild two years ago after their podium finish at Nationals in 2016. Last year’s team, with the exception of Sean Tobin, was built on youth. This year has been no different. The team at Pre-Nats was led by sophomore Waleed Suliman and redshirt sophomore Michael Coccia. In fact, the only upperclassman in the top five at Pre-Nats for Ole Miss was junior transfer Farah Abdulkarim who finished right behind Coccia.
The race for first will be decided by Ole Miss’s ability to pack up within the top 15. Arkansas will most likely have two runners finish before Ole Miss’ Suliman and Abdulkarim, but these two should finish in front of Arkansas’ number three. Ole Miss needs to earn those points back by putting Mark Robertson, freshman Mario Garcia Romo, and redshirt freshman Cade Bethmann ahead of Arkansas number five runner, Ethan Moehn.
Arkansas’ Ryan Murphy and Matt Young will try to win the race for the team by finishing right behind Suliman and Abdulkarim. While Ole Miss has better options for their fifth runner, Arkansas could put the race out of reach with their top four.
In addition to that scoring equation, a strong performance from Arkansas’ Ethan Moehn could help guarantee another title for Arkansas. When looking at live results tomorrow morning, keep an eye on where Murphy and Young are compared to Abdulkarim and Suliman. The closer they are to those two, the better chance they have of winning their 9th consecutive SEC Championship. Conversely, for Ole Miss, watch where the squad of Robertson, Bethmann, Romo, and Coccia finish. If two or three of them can hang with Murphy and Young (or even beat one of them), then Ole Miss should win their first SEC title in years.
As for Alabama. It has been a disappointing season culminating with the news that Kigen and Kiprop are redshirting. After coming into the seasons with high hopes, maybe even earning a podium position, this has been a letdown. It is definitely a strange way to end what has been a strange season for the Crimson Tide.
Before hearing the news from Flotrack, I had written:
“Facing the possibility that Alabama may not come in the top two or three at conference or at region, it might be time to start wondering if Coach Waters will try to redshirt his top trio.”
It seems as if this has been Coach Waters plan as he preps for next year when Alabama could again compete for a top 10 spot.
Two other teams to keep an eye on are Kentucky and Tennessee. With Alabama possibly falling apart, Tennessee could now be in the driver's seat to qualify for Nationals. A solid 3rd place performance at SEC’s could make Tennessee the favorite to come in second in the South region. They will face tough competition for that 3rd spot from not only from Alabama, but also Kentucky. Kentucky had a nice 2nd place finish at Greater Louisville which saw stellar performances from Brennan Fields and Ben Young. These two followed this up with a good performance at the Penn State National Open. Patrick Schaefer has been a solid number three, but Kentucky has struggled to find a consistent four and five. Trevor Warren and Cole Dowdy were their four and five at Louisville while Matthew Thomas and Warren filled those spots at Penn State.
Tennessee, on the other hand, has a deep squad behind All-American Zach Long. Long has been very good all year, finishing 30th at Nuttycombe and then 8th at the Arturos Barrios Invitational. Freshman Karl Thiessen has been a revelation so far this year by finishing 95th at Nuttycombe. He was also a top 10 true freshman in the race.
Behind Thiessen, the collection of Alex Crigger, Nick Brey, Wesley Robinson, Brad Swiney, and Max Barbour give Tennessee many options for the rest of their top five.
Watch for the battle between Tennessee’s three through five against Kentucky’s as this is where the race will be won (or lost) between these teams. The top two for both of these programs will most likely come out as a wash, so it will be interesting to see how the back end of Tennessee and Kentucky match up.
1. Arkansas Razorbacks
2. Ole Miss Rebels
3. Tennessee Volunteers
4. Kentucky Wildcats
5. Missouri Tigers
6. Florida Gators
7. Georgia Bulldogs
8. Alabama Crimson Tide
9. Texas A&M Aggies
10. Vanderbilt Commodores
11. Mississippi State Bulldogs
12. LSU Tigers
13. Auburn Tigers
I expect Arkansas’ top two of Boit and Griffith to finish ahead of Ole Miss’ Suliman and Abdulkarim. The clincher for Arkansas will be Murphy and Young finishing right behind Suliman and Abdulkarim. I do expect it to be a close battle that won’t be decided until the last 2k.
As for the race for 3rd, I think Tennessee’s depth will prevail. If they have two guys in their top five who run poorly, then they have others who can step up and fill their spots. Kentucky and Alabama don’t have that same luxury which I think will prevent them from finishing within the top three.
The individual race will be a lot different than last year. Only Chelenga remains from the Alabama Tri which finished one through three in 2017. Running with Chelenga will be Arkansas’ duo of Griffith and Boit. Look for Zach Long to be in the lead pack as well and challenge for a top three finish. A dark house to look out for is Missouri’s Kieran Wood. The transfer from the United Kingdom, who has PR’s of 3:43 and 8:09, has run well in his first season in America. Look for him to push for a top 10 spot.
Overall, I’m sure the top of the race will see many Razorback and Rebel singlets flying to the finish.
1. Alfred Chelenga (Alabama)
2. Cameron Griffith (Arkansas)
3. Gilbert Boit (Arkansas)
4. Zach Long (Tennessee)
5. Waleed Suliman (Ole Miss)
6. Brennan Fields (Kentucky)
7. Farah Abdulkarim (Ole Miss)
8. Kieran Wood (Missouri)
9. Ben Young (Kentucky)
10. Ryan Murphy (Arkansas)
11. Michael Coccia (Ole Miss)
12. Matt Young (Arkansas)
13. Mario Garcia Romo (Ole Miss)
14. Karl Thiessen (Tennessee)
15. Mark Robertson (Ole Miss)
16. Patrick Schaefer (Kentucky)
17. Alex Crigger (Tennessee)
18. Cade Bethmann (Ole Miss)
19. Ethan Moehn (Arkansas)
20. Sam Bowers (Georgia)