As mentioned in our rankings rubric article, we are aware that certain conferences and universities will not be competing this fall due to ongoing concerns surrounding COVID-19. However, for the sake of content, we have constructed these rankings as if a regular cross country season will happen.
20. Devin Meyrer, Rs. Senior, Michigan
The 2018 transfer from Baylor made a big impact in his first cross country season with Big Blue. During his time with the Bears, Meyrer had shown flashes of talent on the grass, but had never managed to qualify for the National Championships.
That all changed when he joined the Wolverines.
Meyrer was a key contributor for the Ann Arbor men in his first two meets of the 2019 cross country season as he finished 21st at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational and 36th at the Nuttycombe Invitational two weeks later. While they weren't necessarily jaw-dropping results, they were encouraging starts to his season which pointed towards his potential as a future low-stick.
It wouldn't be until the postseason that Meyrer stepped up his game. He would go on to finish 9th at the always deep BIG 10 Championships and later cruised through the Great Lakes regional meet with his team.
Up until this point, Meyrer looked like a fringe All-American candidate. That, however, turned out to be a very conservative guess. In the best race of his career, Meyrer finished 16th overall in Terre Haute to lead the Michigan men to a surprising 7th place team finish.
With championship experience under his belt, it's hard not to expect some improvement from Meyrer whenever he does race next. However, the question we have moving forward is whether or not he'll be able to replicate that amazing performance from Nationals in the rest of his regular season meets.
It's a fair question as you evaluate his overall resume, but the Michigan men have proven to be a team that can peak for championship races for consecutive years. That has to be considered when talking about Meyrer's place in our preseason rankings.
19. Curt Eckstein, Senior, Purdue
A key member of the 2018 Purdue team that struggled at NCAA’s, Eckstein used 2019 to prove that one bad race does not define him (or his team).
The Purdue veteran started the fall of 2019 with an impressive 10th place finish at the John McNichols Invitational against TSR preseason #1 Stanford, #2 Northern Arizona and #5 Iowa State. He put himself ahead of numerous key scorers and even finished two spots ahead of two-time All-American Alek Parsons.
Eckstein would later validate that performance with a pair of strong results. He placed 20th and 29th at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational and Nuttycombe Invitational, respectively. Along with teammates Brody Smith and Jaret Carpenter, Eckstein was the model of consistency throughout the regular season.
An 8th place finish only bolstered his already impressive 2019 resume, but he easily had the best race of his career in Terre Haute a few weeks later. After a disappointing 2018 performance, Eckstein rebounded in fantastic fashion, finishing 24th overall and helping the Boilermakers to an 11th place finish as a team.
With Jaret Carpenter out of eligibility, it would have been up to Eckstein and TSR #29 Brody Smith to lead a promising Purdue team this fall. With personal bests of 8:04 (3k) and 13:51 (5k), Eckstein has certainly has shown that he has the ability to be top notch runner in the NCAA on both the track and the grass.
A plethora of championship experience and not a single bad performance during his 2019 season is hard to overlook which is why we are giving him the #19 spot in our rankings.
18. Dylan Jacobs, Rs. Sophomore, Notre Dame
After redshirting his 2018 cross country season, Jacobs delivered on his exciting potential in 2019. He played a crucial role in Notre Dame’s title-winning DMR team last year and was a big reason why the Irish were favorites to win the DMR once again this past winter. However, his value on the grass is arguably just as high.
Jacobs had a solid race at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational where he finished 15th overall, a very strong result for an inexperienced redshirt freshman. However, that lack of big-meet experience caught up to him at Wisconsin as he struggled at the Nuttycombe Invitational, finishing 83rd overall.
The rest of his season, however, was nothing less than spectacular. He finished 5th overall at ACC’s and 8th at the Great Lakes regional meet. His postseason peak eventually earned him an All-American 29th place finish at the National Championships, making him one of only three freshmen that fall (both redshirt and non-redshirt) to finish as an All-American.
With three more seasons of cross country eligibility, the sky is the limit for Jacobs. His championship experience between the grass and the track is unheard of for someone who still has three years of cross country eligibility left.
That should come in handy for Jacobs and the Irish as they prepare for an all-out assault on the rest of the NCAA in a few years time.
17. James Mwaura, Junior, Gonzaga
After just missing out on qualifying for the 2018 NCAA Cross Country Championships, Mwaura and Gonzaga came into 2019 on a mission. Although the ‘Zags came up just short of qualifying for Nationals (due to a weird Kolas quirk), Mwaura qualified individually after a very strong regular season leading up to regionals.
As a sophomore, the Gonzaga standout finished 8th overall at a very elite Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational before heading to Wisconsin where he crossed the line in 15th place at the Nuttycombe Invitational.
With top five finishes at both the WCC Championships and West Regional Championships, Mwaura looked a sure-fire All-American candidate who had held his own against a variety of top talents throughout the season.
Alas, Mwaura would have an off day at the National Championships where he finished a disappointing 138th at NCAA’s. Still, his season as a whole proved to the rest of the country that he belongs with the best. He learned how to race in a more tactical manner while gaining plenty of experience in the process.
With personal bests of 7:57 (3k) and 13:46 (5k), the Gonzaga runner has the established track pedigree that most top 20 runners would need for this kind of ranking.
16. Ian Shanklin, Senior, NC State
One of the most underrated distance runners in the country, Shanklin has been a consistent low-stick for an NC State team that has shown plenty of exciting potential over the past couple of years.
The senior has made significant improvements in every year of competition and you can see that progress in his results. In 2017, he finished 75th at NCAA’s and bettered that result in 2018 to finish 54th. Last year, however, was when he put it altogether, crossing the line at NCAA's in 39th place to finish as an All-American.
Based on that trend (as well as his regular season performances), it's not absurd to consider Shanklin a top 20 talent.
2019 started off well for the NC State runner who finished 7th overall at Joe Piane, proving that he was a true front-runner who could be an All-American threat later in the year.
Shanklin recorded a DNF at the Nuttycombe Invitational, but bounced back to earn a 3rd place finish at the ACC Championships, losing only to Peter Seufer and Yared Nuguse. Given those results, his All-American performance at the National Championships was hardly surprising as he put in a solid effort to lead his team and finish 39th overall.
Unlike many other names throughout this list, it's not hard to predict what we will see out of Shanklin in 2020 / whenever he next races. He will be a consistent, top-end low-stick for one of the better teams in the country who hasn't shown any flaws or weak points in his results (at least, not as of late).
Shanklin may not have the same ceiling as an up-and-coming youngster, but he is one of the most dependable All-American candidates in the country.
15. Yared Nuguse, Senior, Notre Dame
There haven’t been many milers who have been so successful and consistent in cross country as Yared Nuguse has been over the past two years. He was 59th at NCAA’s in 2018 before finishing 46th at Nationals in 2019.
His 7:46 personal best in the 3000 meters from this past winter was a mind-blowing result for a guy that many of us considered to be a miler. That alone makes him an easy choice for the top 20 portion of these rankings.
Last fall, Nuguse took advantage of running on his home course, placing 6th overall at the loaded Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational to establish himself as a true low-stick that the Irish could rely on.
Nuguse later followed up that performance with a solid 25th place finish at Nuttycombe, a result that was good, but not quite as strong as what we saw from him at Joe Piane. He later finished 2nd at the top-heavy ACC Championships, pulling away from guys like Ian Shanklin, Zach Facioni, fellow teammate Dylan Jacobs and many others.
Going into a tough, hilly and muddy course in Terre Haute, Indiana, it's fair to suggest that the conditions didn't favor a mile-specialist like Nuguse. Still, he ended his season just six spots out from All-American honors with a modest 46th place finish.
There is no doubting that Nuguse is wildly talented and a key front-runner for his team. In a world where everything was normal, he would be an easy All-American pick for this year.
Admittedly, he seems to fare better in certain race situations compared to others, but he never had a "bad" performance last year and that's a something that you have to respect when crafting these rankings.
14. Waleed Suliman, Senior, Ole Miss
Like another miler behind him on this list, Suliman has exhibited a level of consistency on the grass (specifically on the national stage) that most middle distance runners could only dream of.
2018 was a breakout year for the Rebel ace as he threw down some outstanding performance during the regular season before finishing as an All-American at NCAA’s, crossing the line in 36th place. Since then, Suliman has developed into one of the best milers in the country, running personal bests of 3:56 (mile) and 3:38 (1500).
In the fall of 2019, Suliman picked up where he left off, finishing 17th at Joe Piane before earning a respectable 12th place finish at Pre-Nationals. He later led Ole Miss to an SEC title with a very narrow 3rd place finish.
On a tough day in Terre Haute, on a course that did not appear to favor the speed of a middle distance specialist, Suliman ran one of the most impressive races of the day, finishing as an All-American yet again, but this time in 20th place overall.
Suliman is one of the most dynamic and versatile distance talents in the country. When you combine his underrated stamina with insane track speed, he can hang with nearly anyone in the country regardless of the race scenario.
Admittedly, his regular season performances aren't quite as strong compared to some of the regular season results of other men that we have in these rankings. Even so, his multiple All-American finishes has shown us that Suliman is an extremely clutch postseason runner who almost always has his best performances in November.
13. Isai Rodrgiuez, Rs. Junior, Oklahoma State
Rodriguez is the only runner ranked within our top 20 who did not qualify for NCAA’s last fall.
And yet, I feel like we could have given him an even better ranking.
The Oklahoma State Cowboy was a breakout star in 2018 after he finished 4th at the National Championships in Wisconsin. The three men he lost to? Morgan McDonald (2018 NCAA Cross Country Champion), Grant Fisher (2017 NCAA Outdoor 5k Champion), and Edwin Kurgat (2019 NCAA Cross Country Champion).
None of those men return in the fall of 2020.
The problem, however, is that the last time we saw Rodrgiuez compete was at the Midwest Regional Championships where he finished 66th overall. Of course, it would be misleading to say that he had a bad 2019 cross country season based on just that performance.
He was 3rd at Pre-Nationals behind only Conner Mantz and Amon Kemboi, and then finished 2nd to Edwin Kurgat at the BIG 12 Championships. Kurgat went on to win the NCAA title while Mantz and Kemboi finished 3rd and 8th (respectively) at the national meet.
For whatever reason, Rodriguez just had a bad day at regionals.
While we have not seen Rodriguez compete at a high level in nearly nine months, he has shown in the past that he can not only compete with the top runners in the country, but also beat them as well. That alone makes him a top 15 runner in our rankings.
If he finds his 2018 form (whenever that may be), then he has the potential to be a challenger for the NCAA title. Until then, he'll stick at the #13 spot in our rankings.
12. Drew Bosley, Sophomore, Northern Arizona
After not seeing the true freshman race at the beginning of the year, it seemed like we would not get to see Drew Bosley in a collegiate cross country race until 2020. With a loaded roster, Northern Arizona didn't appear to need his contributions.
Thankfully for cross country fans, we got to see Bosley start his career with a bang. His 21st place finish at the Nuttycombe Invitational was thrilling, as he made a big move to lead an elite field in his first ever collegiate race. His confidence and fitness translated to the postseason as won the BIG Sky title in brutal, icy conditions.
After resting through the regional meet, the true freshman led Northern Arizona to a runner-up finish at the National Championships with a 22nd place finish.
The speed in which Bosley was able to adapt to collegiate competition was remarkable, especially for someone who was potentially going to redshirt this fall.
Despite having only three collegiate races under his belt, Bosley's immense talent has trumped his lack of experience. There may not be anyone in the country with more potential than this rising sophomore and he will likely solidify himself as the next NAU star to come out of Flagstaff, Arizona whenever he does compete next.
11. Athanas Kioko, Senior, Campbell
Kioko enters the 2020 season as the lead man for the Campbell Camels, no longer in the shadow of Amon Kemboi. He will look to replicate the firepower and refined racing tendencies that Kemboi showed the country during his time with the Campbell men.
A massive win at the Louisville Classic announced the arrival of Kioko to the rest of the NCAA last year. He ran an incredibly fast time of 22:58 for 8000 meters and took down elite talents like Jacob Choge and Kigen Chemadi, as well as teammate Amon Kemboi, in the process.
However, his performance at Pre-Nationals lacked the same spark. On a far less forgiving course in Terre Haute, Indiana, the new Campbell standout faltered to 22nd place overall. It wasn't a bad result, but it also wasn't great.
A few weeks later, Kioko ran away from Kemboi to win the BIG South Championships and later finished 2nd at the Southeast Regional Championships. When it came time to return to Terre Haute for the national meet, Kioko had a better understanding of how he wanted to navigate the course. The Campbell runner took advantage of the aggressive pace set by Peter Seufer and ended his season with a strong 19th place finish, finishing as an All-American in his first NCAA Championship ever.
Like Alex Masai, there were some questions about how Kioko would fare in a championship setting after he dominated smaller meets that required fewer racing tactics. Of course, those concerns held less legitimacy once he earned a top-20 finish in a race where numerous distance stars struggled.
Looking forward, Kioko is a huge talent who should be able to take a big step forward in his second year of competition with the Camels. With an extra year of experience, it would be no surprise to see him in the front pack at NCAA’s (whether that be this year or in 2021).
Is he a title favorite? No, not yet, but he is certainly a great dark horse pick.