Written by Garrett Zatlin and Ben Weisel
The Stride Report has opted to only rank teams that have competed in cross country races this season (i.e. results that are posted on TFRRS). These rankings are based on a team's performances from this season, not necessarily their potential moving forward. We may choose to update these rankings following the completion of a few other cross country meets at the end of the month.
25. Florida State Seminoles (-7 / 18)
This fall was a bit underwhelming for the Seminoles as they finished 9th at the ACC Championships. Losing to Georgia and Georgia Tech on their home course to start the season was discouraging, but they bounced back incredibly well to finish 3rd at the Blazer Classic where they beat Tennessee.
Although it was an up-and-down season for Florida State, there were some promising bright spots. Paul Stafford looks like he has made a leap in fitness. He did not have his best day at the ACC meet, but his 5th place run at the Blazer Classic resulted in him beating Waleed Suliman which puts him in an exclusive tier of runners who have done that this season.
Freshman Gabriel Curtis also looks like a potential future low-stick and he will be a key name to watch for a rising Florida State team that is looking to rebuild and reload over the next year or two.
Although there are bright spots up front, Florida State needs to improve its depth to be competitive in the ACC during the winter cross country season.
24. Virginia Tech Hokies (-9 / 15)
The Virginia Tech men didn't have the best day at the ACC Championships, finishing 8th overall and pulling ahead of 9th place Florida State by only three points. That said, the Hokies had a great race from Antonio Lopez Segura who finished 9th at the ACC meet. Plus, their regular season wasn't all that bad.
Even so, the gaps in their conference lineup were extensive and that ultimately caused their team score to skyrocket. They didn't have top low-stick Fitsum Seyoum toe the line at the ACC meet and that left the men from Blacksburg with a lot of missing scoring potency.
When he's in their lineup, this team is notably better.
23. Navy Midshipmen (-3 / 20)
A convincing 11-point win over Army earlier in the year was a promising result. It's been hard to figure out where exactly we should rank the Midshipmen, but they have held their own and are handling the loss of Jake Brophy fairly well.
22. North Carolina Tar Heels (-5 / 17)
A 7th place finish at the ACC Championships wasn't anything amazing, but they ran well this fall considering so many of their scorers were inexperienced freshmen and their projected top scorer (Thomas Ratcliffe) finished only one early-season race.
It feels like this team improved their scoring once rookie Patrick Anderson began to record a few finishes and that's an encouraging sign for the future. We don't have much else to say, but watch out for this team a few years from now.
21. Eastern Michigan Eagles (Unranked)
Eastern Michigan is always a major contender in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) and that seems to be the case once again this year. The EMU Eagles made their season debut against their conference rivals this past weekend and ultimately took home the win with a score of 35 points.
Their scoring group of Gualter (2nd), Magnusson (3rd), Devaney (7th) and Zuercher (8th) all held their own despite being sophomores and freshmen, but their fifth scorer was a bit further back in 15th place.
Regardless, this is a VERY young team. They could end up being very competitive a year or two from now once they gain some additional experience. We'll be interested to see how they run at the Mid-American Conference Championships later this month.
20. Missouri Tigers (-4 / 16)
With Kieran Wood leading the way, the Missouri men have a legitimate low-stick who can run with many top talents in the NCAA, as evidenced by his 4th place finish at the SEC Championships. Martin Prodanov has also proven to be another nice scoring piece, but the Tigers still need a little more scoring help if they want to compete with the Kentucky's, Tennessee's and Georgia's of the world.
Even so, this is a group with a lot of talent that could improve this coming winter. Freshman William Sinclair looked good throughout the regular season, beating Prodanov twice. Marquette Wilhite, despite having an "off" day at the SEC Championships which saw him finish 42nd overall, has looked like a reliable middle-lineup scorer at certain times this season.
This is not the deepest team in the SEC, but they have some respectable pieces who could push the Tigers towards the top five of the conference when everyone runs at their best.
19. Texas Longhorns (Unranked)
A relatively easy win at the Arturo Barrios Invitational, followed by a 3rd place finish at the BIG 12 Championships where they were well behind Oklahoma State and Iowa State, left us shrugging our shoulders.
We're not entirely sure how to rank this team as they were basically in no-man's land in the BIG 12 team results. Haftu Knight is an underrated front-runner and the rest of the lineup ran very well alongside each other. Otherwise, Texas did what they had to this season and their younger scorers gained some valuable experience.
18. Syracuse Orange (-10 / 8)
The Syracuse men are probably better than TSR #18...well, at least in theory. Unfortunately, they only faced Army and Boston College this fall, and when they got to the ACC Championships, they struggled quite a bit, finishing 6th overall (one point behind Duke).
Nathan Henderson and JP Trojan both had not-so-great days at the ACC Championships. Are they better than what their performances from last week suggest? Yes, most likely, but with their season now over, we can only rank them based on what we saw from them this season and not on what their potential is.
17. Kentucky Wildcats (-6 / 11)
One of the more pleasant surprises of the fall was the Kentucky Wildcats. Led by a large group of freshmen, the men from Lexington looked strong from the start of the season and looked like a team that could challenge for a national qualifying spot in the next few years.
Matt Duvall and Ethan Kern were excellent during their inaugural season with the Wildcats. Although Duvall did not have his best race at the SEC Championships, he still finished 15th in a strong field.
Teammates Dylan Allen and Trevor Warren, both juniors, give this team a veteran presence in Kentucky's varsity lineup, but will be around for at least the next year. Another freshman, Harper Moore, had a respectable race at the SEC Championships which saw him finish 25th.
This team will be better in the winter, but we are more excited to see how much they improve in the next year or two as these stud freshmen continue to develop.
16. Tennessee Volunteers (-3 / 13)
The Volunteers have had a consistent 2020 season which saw them improve upon last year’s performances. Georde Goodwyn was excellent for Tennessee this fall despite having a bit of an "off" day at the SEC meet. He gives them another top runner to pair with two other studs.
Alongside (and sometimes ahead of) Goodwyn was Karl Thiessen who really grew into a lead scoring role and looks to have reclaimed his freshman year fitness. His 11th place finish at the SEC Championships really shows his true talent.
The expected front-runner for the Vols coming into this season was Alex Crigger. Despite a slow start, he found his rhythm and finished the season with a 19th place run at the SEC meet. If the steeplechase standout is at full fitness, then we would expect to see him running with Thiessen in the winter.
This front three gives Tennessee a great chance at beating Georgia a few months from now.
15. Duke Blue Devils (-1 / 14)
A strong 5th place finish at the ACC Championships (where they beat Syracuse by a single point) is a respectable result, although not anything crazy. Even so, they had a strong lineup structure and respectable depth.
You could certainly make an argument that Tennessee and/or Kentucky deserve to be ahead of the Blue Devils, but we thought Duke improved their stock since our last update by keeping things relatively competitive in a dual meet against the Virginia men at the Panorama Farms Invitational.
14. Georgia Bulldogs (-2 / 12)
Another team that took advantage of the shortened fall season was the Georgia Bulldogs. After struggling over the last few seasons, the men from Athens were much improved in 2020 as their season culminated with a 3rd place finish at the SEC Championships.
Sam Bowers has been an impressive low-stick for this team in his two races this fall and he earned a strong 10th place finish at his conference meet. This upperclassmen-laden team boasted strong depth behind Bowers and fellow teammate Chase Condra. That group of supporting scorers was enough to beat Florida State fairly easily earlier in the year and was enough to hold off challenges from Kentucky and Tennessee at the SEC Championships.
With an extra season of eligibility, the Bulldogs should continue be top-three contenders in the SEC this upcoming winter and next fall.
13. Southern Utah Thunderbirds (Unranked)
A 4th place finish at the Oklahoma State Invitational was a solid result for the Thunderbirds. Aidan Reed is healthy enough to return as a legitimate scorer, Christian Ricketts and Nate Osterstock continue to be reliable veterans and Travis Feeny was a pleasant addition to this lineup.
With solid backend support from Stefen Rasmuson and Santiago Gaitan, the Southern Utah men should be encouraged by their only cross country result of this 2020 cross country season.
12. Weber State Wildcats (Unranked)
It is extremely difficult to rank this team. Truthfully, the Wildcats could be ranked as high as TSR #8 and it wouldn't feel wrong.
Weber State hadn't toed the line to race (officially) prior to this weekend, but a matchup against BYU on Friday only validated our early-season suspicions that they would be a nationally competitive team in 2020.
Despite the BYU men not running Mantz or Shumway (who is not officially on the BYU roster just for this season), the Cougars still had (what appeared to be) most of their varsity lineup on Friday. In the end, BYU came away with the win by only a single point over the Wildcats, 28 points to 29 points.
Weber State's Bronson Winter secured a clutch 2nd place finish while fellow teammates Dallin Leatham, Taylor Dillon and Christian Allen finished 4th, 5th and 6th, respectively.
Through four runners, Weber State was the better team, but there was a significant drop-off until their fifth runner crossed the line in 18th place overall behind a plethora of unattached runners. However, in the team scoring, that was only a 12th place finish.
That said, the Wildcats didn't have Austin Byrer on Friday and he likely would have been a scorer for this team when he's healthy.
Overall, it's really hard to get a true gauge of this team and assigning them a specific ranking is a challenge as well. They only raced once this fall, but considering that they nearly took down a BYU team which ran a solid number of their own varsity athletes, we have good reason to believe that Weber State is just as strong as we expected them to be...and maybe even better.
11. Virginia Cavaliers (-5 / 6)
A 4th place finish at the ACC Championships may not have been an ideal finish for the Cavaliers, but they still had an excellent season. Asfaw has established himself as a legitimate low-stick, their veterans had their best races of the season at the ACC Championships and the freshmen, despite struggling a bit at their conference meet, were key pieces for this team throughout the regular season.
You could argue that they're a top-10 team and I'm not sure we would entirely disagree.
10. Charlotte 49ers (-1 / 9)
Their ranking did move back one spot, but the 49ers actually improved their stock after a dominating win at the Conference USA Championships. The fact that Nickolas Scudder took down fellow teammate Paul Arredondo, who was already viewed as a top-ranked low-stick, is awfully impressive. Their supporting scorers stayed close together and it looks like their depth is coming along incredibly well.
We had heard that this team didn't run all of their varsity options earlier in the season, so if they are able to add yet another low-stick to their lineup in addition to Arredondo, then they become far better than some people may realize.
9. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (+1 / 10)
This was a statement season for the Demon Deacons as they dramatically improved their stock this fall, specifically at the ACC Championships.
Wake Forest was a team that had been improving over the last few years, but it looked like they were still a year or two away from being national qualifiers. With top front-runners in Carter Coughlin, Jack Tiernan and Jonathan Velasco, the men from Winston-Salem have since proven that they are ready to contend at the national level now -- not just in a few years.
Their 3rd place performance at the ACC Championships is all the more impressive when you realize that they were without their projected top runner in Zach Facioni. Carter Coughlin has filled that role admirably while Tiernan was strong all season long before having an "off" day at the ACC meet.
Velasco ran an ambitious race at last week's conference championship, but he still finished 12th in a very strong field despite the aggressive approach. The team also has strong depth thanks to the services of Ben Mitchell and Coen Roberts.
Add Facioni to this team and Wake Forest will be even better a few months from now.
8. Ole Miss Rebels (-3 / 5)
Even though they lost handily to Arkansas at the SEC Championships, Ole Miss was one of the biggest winners from this shortened fall season. The massive leap in fitness made by both Cole Bullock and Mario Garcia Romo gives the Rebels two additional low-sticks to add to Waleed Suliman.
For this front group to finish 1-2-3 at the SEC Championships tells us that they have one of the best scoring trios in the country. The backend of their lineup was admittedly not great, but they have plenty of talented runners who can fill that void.
A fully healthy Cade Bethmann will provide stability in the fourth or fifth scoring spot while Michael Coccia will likely improve upon his SEC performance in the winter. Their overall depth will need to improve, but with their front three, Ole Miss is set up for a big cross country season whenever that next happens.
7. NC State Wolfpack (0 / 7)
When you consider that a handful of new teams entered the rankings, NC State staying at TSR #7 is actually very encouraging for them. Their lineup structure proved to be very useful in a larger field (i.e. the ACC Championships). Their low-sticks (Shanklin and Bistritz) offered great firepower and the backend of their lineup closed out their scoring relatively quickly. Their early-season loss to UVA wasn't ideal, but we figured that they would be better in future meets and sure enough, that was the case.
6. Iowa State Cyclones (-2 / 4)
Not many teams can lose the reigning NCAA cross country national champion and hardly miss a beat. However, Wesley Kiptoo (Banguria) has been sensational for the Cyclones this season as he dominated the BIG 12 Championships.
Beating Isai Roriguez by 14 seconds and the rest of the field by 51 seconds proves that Kiptoo is on a different tier right now. Conner Mantz, Luis Grijalva and a few others better be careful when racing this Iowa State star.
Festus Lagat has also been huge for Iowa State as he continues to showcase his jaw-dropping range. Finishing 3rd at the BIG 12 Championships gave his team a chance to take home the title. The quartet of Chad Johnson, Mitchell Day, Thomas Pollard and Milo Greder all look strong and will undoubtedly be even better in larger fields given the depth that they provide.
Kiptoo and Lagat raise the Cyclones' ceiling to "podium contender" status while the quartet behind them will ensure that Iowa State remains a top-10 team. This might be one of Iowa State’s deepest teams in recent years and I think they could surprise us all with a podium finish in the winter. They barely lost to a top-ranked Oklahoma State team on a tie-breaker at the BIG 12 Championships and one could argue that they may be worthy of a top-five ranking.
5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-3 / 2)
This may seem a bit outrageous to place the ACC champions at TSR #5 and we don't blame anyone for thinking that they should be given a better ranking. Their ACC title victory was impressive, but a 14-point win over NC State isn't exactly an overwhelmingly dominant result and they didn't race a ton prior to the conference meet which is the biggest reason for ranking them at this spot.
Even so, this is a team that could realistically be ranked at TSR #3 and we wouldn't have any arguments against that. Their youngsters ran incredibly well last weekend and that's an encouraging sign moving forward.
4. Arkansas Razorbacks (-3 / 1)
With an influx of new talent, the Razorbacks had the looks of a potential podium team. They had a legitimate front-runner in Amon Kemboi while Emmanuel Cheboson, Jacob McLeod, Luke Meade and Andrew Kibet gave this team some much needed depth.
This shortened season showed us that our high preseason expectations were warranted. In fact, their overall depth has been even better than we expected. Cheboson has been much more consistent for Arkansas than he ever was for Louisville and Kibet has meshed into Arkansas' lineup quicker than we imagined he would. Meade has taken a big jump as well while McLeod has sustained the promise that he showed us at Belmont.
Arkansas dominated the SEC Championships even though Kemboi was not able to finish in the top four. Returner Matt Young has been solid while Gilbert Boit has not looked quite like his usual self. And yet, the Razorbacks look like they might not even need him.
That said, Arkansas is at their best when Gilbert Boit is at his peak and when Kemboi is challenging for an individual victory. It is scary to think that the men from Fayetteville have been this good already, but still have plenty of room for improvement.
3. BYU Cougars (Unranked)
We only got to see the Cougars race twice this season, but they answered some of the big questions that we had for them coming into this season.
Entering the year, we wanted to see how Casey Clinger and Clayson Shumway looked after not competing in 2019. Clinger, returning from his years-long church mission, ran unbelievably well and finished right behind Mantz at the Oklahoma State Invitatioanl. His presence gives BYU what may be the best duo in the country.
Additionally, Shumway (who raced unattached because he is not currently on the BYU roster), finished a strong 8th place overall and gives BYU what could be the best top three in the country when he returns to the roster in the winter.
Meanwhile, Conner Mantz looked like the preseason individual title favorite as he narrowly lost to the runaway train that was Luis Grijalva.
Their backend is a minor concern, but they have so much depth that it would be surprising if two guys did not step up in the future.
BYU is ranked at TSR #3 here solely because Shumway ran unattached at the Oklahoma State Invitational and isn't an official member of the BYU roster this fall. However, looking towards the future, they will continue to be a major threat to Northern Arizona's title hopes.
2. Oklahoma State Cowboys (+1 / 3)
Some people may make the argument that the BYU men deserve to be at our TSR #2 spot if you include Clayson Shumway into the Oklahoma State Invitational results. However, the fact of the matter is that Shumway wasn't an official part of BYU's team this fall and that Oklahoma State beat top-ranked teams on a more consistent basis.
They've defeated Iowa State twice (once on a tie-breaker), took down a Shumway-less BYU squad and consistently posted top-tier results. Based on what we've seen from them this season, we don't have much of argument for placing OSU anywhere other than TSR #2.
1. Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (Unranked)
They may have only raced once, but they beat out Oklahoma State and BYU somewhat convincingly without Nico Young, Blaise Ferro and Theo Quax. They were our top-ranked team coming into the season and now that they actually competed, we can finally rank them in this year's Top 25.