Read up on Part One here...
The Arkansas women are still national title favorites at this point in the season, even without Katrina Robinson
Garrett: FACT. They’re the national title favorites, but not by much. With Colorado recently losing to Utah and New Mexico not yet fielding a full lineup due to Adva Cohen's absence, Arkansas seems to be the favorites by default.
Ben: FACT. With the rest of the country in a similar state of flux, it is hard to not trust Arkansas who has been very consistent. They have new runners stepping up in a big way who should be able to fill out the top five even without one of their stars in Katrina Robinson.
Sam: FACT. After the emergence of Katie Izzo and the resurgence of Devin Clark, the Razorbacks are the team to beat. If you take out Robinson AND Gregory, then you maybe start to panic, but for now I feel safe betting on the Razorbacks.
Brian: FACT. The ladies of Arkansas have been arguably the most consistent contender at this point in the season. Led by Taylor Werner and Katie Izzo, this senior-heavy team is poised for a high finish at Nationals. Having a closer top five spread would strengthen their title hopes, but they still have a lot of firepower.
Maura: FACT. Werner, Izzo, and Clark have been three solid runners for the Razorbacks this fall, leading us to believe that they may not need Katrina Robinson to score low points. Werner has been on a tear since indoors and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Izzo and Clark are close behind and have been providing key scoring potency. New Mexico only has Kelati, Kurgat, and maybe Cohen, but behind them, there isn’t much to rely on. Colorado is also a little vulnerable after losing to Utah.
Sean: FICTION. Truthfully, I really want to say fact, but it just doesn’t feel right. Arkansas has been hitting on all cylinders so far, and that’s worrisome since there doesn’t seem to be much room for improvement among their top four. Plus, rewind to last year's national meet, and there’s enough of a bad memory to be slightly scared. If I had to pick a favorite, I think I’d lean toward BYU with Colorado and Michigan right behind with New Mexico ready to pick up the pieces should Cohen return.
The Oregon men are a podium threat
Garrett: FACT. They’re definitely a podium threat after what we saw Bill Dellinger. West and Teare have seemingly emerged as true low-sticks for a team that desperately needed scoring potency last fall. With Hocker and Affolder emerging as reliable supporting scorers, I find it hard to believe that Oregon can’t at least put themselves in the conversation to finish as a top four team.
Ben: FACT. Even without any proven NCAA performers, Oregon has to be seen as a podium threat because of how much talent they have on their roster. As Garrett mentioned, their top four looks very strong and they have a plethora of options to fill out the remainder of their lineup. If Cooper Teare and James West can finish as All-Americans, then this is a team that absolutely can finish on the podium.
Sean: FACT. Any team who beats BYU is a podium threat in this era of NCAA cross country. Plain and simple.
Maura: FACT. Oregon winning the Bill Dellinger Invite is a promising start to the season. James West and Cooper Teare are two strong leaders. Affolder looks to be in a better place after transferring from Syracuse. True freshman Cole Hocker appears to have adjusted well to college training. A top four finish is not out of the question for Oregon.
Brian: FICTION. Early season wins at your home course doesn’t move the needle for me. This team has a bunch of talent, but I need to see some consistency in the next few meets before I can call them a threat to podium.
The regions are more balanced now than they have been in the past
Garrett: FICTION. On both the men’s and women’s side, I don’t see any at-large bids being given to teams out of the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, or South Central regions (at least, not by the end of the season). The South, Southeast, and Midwest regions may end up having one at-large bid from each, but the majority of the qualifiers will come from the Great Lakes, Mountain, and West regions (like usual). This has typically been the case in the past and it doesn’t seem like it will be changing any time soon.
Ben: FACT. The regions aren’t balanced like Garrett mentioned, but they are more than before. Instead of seven teams coming out of the West and Mountain regions, we could see only four or five. This dispersion of at-large bids could help even out the other regions. There are still weak regions, but I think we are seeing stronger South and Southeast regions that could make the talent pool seem a little more balanced.
Sam: FICTION. This year is really no different than any other year in recent history. At least half the teams on both sides will come from the Great Lakes, Mountain, and West regions, which means the remaining six regions will be sending a maximum of sixteen teams (combined). Quick math leads us to believe that there will be two to three qualifying teams per region. When three regions are sending double or triple the number of teams as other regions, you can’t even make an argument (sorry Ben) for it being more balanced.
Maura: FICTION. I don’t know if the regions will ever be balanced. The Mountain, West, and Great Lakes seem to dominate the NCAA come championship season because of teams and individuals receiving automatic qualifications and at-large bids. The Midwest has its years where an extra team (or two) qualifies, but that’s not always the case. Teams that could shake things up at NCAA's sometimes never get the chance due to regional location.
Sean: FACT. It really isn’t hard to be more even than in past years. Looking at the rankings, there’s legitimate podium contenders from at least eight regions this year. That would be Mountain (M/W), Great Lakes (W), Midwest (M), South (M), West (M/W), South Central (W).
There’s an increase in competitiveness in the South region (for both the men and women), the Southeast is heating up, the Midwest is more competitive than normal, and the South Central men is no longer just Arkansas at the very top.
Is there still going to be some lopsided NCAA qualifiers with teams in the West, Mountain, and Great Lakes? Yes. However, I think there’s a high-level of competitiveness in almost every region this year which makes the NCAA feel balanced...and that’s good for the sport.
Brian: FICTION. I agree with Maura 100%. There aren’t enough regions that send more than two teams to NCAA’s and those teams aren’t expected to be strong contenders (with the exception of the Arkansas women). The Mountain, West, and Great Lakes regions always dominate the at-large and automatic qualifiers and seem to perform the best come championship day. Rinse, Repeat.