TSR's "If Everything Was Normal" D1 XC Top 25 Teams (Men): #23 Weber State Wildcats

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.

This is the point in our men's rankings where we unveil our underrated sleeper pick for the year. For some fans of the sport, this ranking may come as a surprise. However, for those who carefully watched the BIG Sky conference and Mountain region last fall, it feels only right that the men of Weber State earned a preseason ranking.

This is a team that probably deserved more recognition in our preseason cross country coverage than they did. In an article series titled "On The Brink" from earlier in the year, we talked about some of the top teams in the country that could make some noise in 2020 if the season were to go on as normal.

One group that we erroneously left out of our analysis was Weber State, a team that put together a handful of respectable performances throughout the 2019 cross country season and were set to bring back numerous runners in 2020.

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Admittedly, Weber State's results from last year don't exactly jump off the page, but they aren't necessarily bad either. The Wildcats were 15th at Joe Piane (one spot ahead of Alabama and 11 points behind Gonzaga), but had a better showing at Pre-Nationals where they posted a respectable 10th place finish. In that race, they were only 10 points behind Villanova and beat out respectable programs such as an underrated Iowa team, Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Arkansas and Campbell.

The Weber State men carried their momentum into the BIG Sky Championships where they quietly trounced respectable squads from Montana State and Southern Utah, but were also just 14 points out from Northern Arizona (which was truthfully not running their full lineup).

Even so, the Wildcats had begun to pick up some serious momentum. They eventually capped off their season with a 5th place finish at the Mountain Regional Championships and were represented by Christian Allen (TSR #34) at the NCAA Championships who went on to have the race of his life in Terre Haute (but more on that in a moment).

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When we look at this year's version of Weber State, we see that they bring back five of their top seven from last year. The two runners that they lost (Jordan Cross and Tyson Green) were top-five scorers for the Wildcats at Joe Piane, but neither man scored for the team at Pre-Nationals. The duo later finished their 2019 cross country seasons as the team's fifth and seventh runners (respectively) at the Mountain regional meet.

In other words, the loss of those two runners, while certainly not ideal, is by no means devastating. Weber State will certainly need to fill in the holes that they left behind, but Cross and Green's departures weren't going to dramatically hurt this team for the 2020 cross country season.

Despite those losses, the men from Weber State are still left with a promising group of returners that could have very realistically qualified for the NCAA Championships this year had the meet not been cancelled.

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Let's start with the focal point of this lineup: Christian Allen.

He was the star front-runner for this team in 2019 after earning an unbelievable 14th place finish at NCAA Championships last fall. The problem, however, is that none of his performances prior to the national meet suggested that he would even finish inside the top-50 at Terre Haute, much less the top-15.

Last fall, Allen was 65th at Joe Piane, 40th at Pre-Nationals, 7th at the BIG Sky Championships and 14th at the Mountain Regional Championships before venturing to NCAA's. Those aren't necessarily bad results, but if Allen can replicate his performance from the national meet on a more consistent basis (whenever Weber State next toes the line), then we're looking at a HUGE boost in scoring for Weber State.

How huge? Roughly 30 to 40 points depending on the meet and where you would project him to finish.

In a pretend world where the BIG Sky didn't suspend competition for this fall, Allen wouldn't have been the only reason why Weber State thrived during the 2020 cross country season, but he certainly would have been a big reason.

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Speaking improved scoring and great upside, let's talk about the rest of this team.

Based on last year's Mountain regional results, Weber State's lineup featured three sophomores (including Allen), one freshman, one junior and two seniors. Generally speaking, this was a very young and inexperienced group that was still growing and maturing as a competitive and cohesive unit.

When over half of your lineup consists of underclassmen, that should naturally result in great upside and sky-high potential for the following year. Current junior Taylor Dillon had a few great moments throughout last fall (finishing 24th at the Mountain regional meet) while current junior Austin Byrer and current senior Dallin Leatham consistently supported the backend of Weber State's top five regardless of the meet.

Bronson Winter was only a freshman last year and didn't always do well in ultra-large races, but he found some momentum in the postseason by finishing 15th at the BIG Sky Championships.

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Overall, Weber State has a very solid core of returners who will likely thrive with an additional year of experience. They held their own for most of the 2019 cross country season, and if everyone on this team could each make minor improvements, that could add up to some major reductions as to how many points they score.

They have a potential superstar in Christian Allen, a promising young group of returners (many of whom were scorers last year) and have already had a moderate amount of success when competing against nationally competitive programs.

On top of that, their 2020 cross country roster currently lists seven different men as either "freshman" or "redshirt freshman". When you consider the previous success that this team has had with younger distance runners, Coach Corbin Talley should be encouraged by the fact that he still has numerous young weapons to potentially add to this lineup.

Now, admittedly, this team isn't free from criticism. Christian Allen needs to replicate his 2019 national meet performance on a more consistent basis in order to give his team a spark in the scoring.

Additionally, each member of his supporting cast needs to make some kind of improvement. The rest of the roster, regardless of their youth, also needs to step up and fill in any gaps within this top seven that were left behind by Cross and Green.

In other words, this team just needs to be better, which is easier said than done.

Still, there are a ton more things to like about this team than dislike. In a normal year where there isn't a pandemic, the Weber State men could have surprised a lot of people during the 2020 cross country season.