TSR's "If Everything Was Normal" D1 XC Top 25 Teams (Men): #7 Oregon Ducks

Written by Conor Stack and Garrett Zatlin

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.

Known as a historically strong and dangerous distance program, the Oregon Ducks were looking like potential podium contenders coming into this 2020 cross country season.

In a year where everything was normal, the Ducks bring back a ton of talent, both young and old, to compete with the best teams in the country after posting a handful of strong performances throughout last season.

2020 could have very well been their year to make a huge jump and truly contend for a major finish at the National Championships if everything went their way.

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The Oregon men faced their first true challenge of the 2019 season at the Bill Dellinger Invitational which included teams such as BYU and UCLA (as well as a Portland squad which didn't field their best lineup).

The Ducks were able to defend their home turf and take the team title by six points over BYU (which was considered an upset at the time) and eight points over UCLA. The Ducks put three men in the top-10 of the race, including freshman Cole Hocker who went on to become one of the most consistent scorers on this squad throughout last fall.

The Ducks took a three week break from racing to prepare for the Nuttycombe Invitational. Known as one of the premier midseason meets that the best teams in the country flock to, Oregon would have their first (very minor) hiccup of the season.

Cooper Teare was able to finish in a very solid 12th place position, but the rest of his teammates were a bit spread out behind him, leaving their scoring far less compact and potent than expected.

James West fell back to 58th place while Hocker finished 64th. With Carter Christman placing 87th and Jackson Mestler finishing 106th, the Ducks fell to 10th place in the team standings and found themselves over 100 points outside of 5th place UCLA, a team they had previously beaten just three weeks prior.

However, the Ducks powered back at the PAC-12 Championships and finished a strong 2nd place overall. They were able to knock-off conference rival foes such as Stanford and UCLA -- two teams loaded with top-heavy firepower.

This was the Oregon team that everyone was expecting to see. At their conference meet, the Ducks put seven men in the top-30, going 2-9-14-15-17-20-28 and had a five-man time spread of just 27 seconds. Teare raced exceptionally well and gave this team a major spark as he beat out men such as Thomas Ratcliffe, Alex Ostberg, John Dressel and Robert Brandt. The only runner to finish ahead of him was Colorado’s Joe Klecker.

The West Regional Championships was nothing too special as the Ducks did what they had to in order to qualify for the national meet. Their real objective was to peak for the Big Dance in Terre Haute, Indiana.

At the NCAA Championships, Teare had the race of his life, finishing 6th overall and taking down names such as John Dressel, Amon Kemboi and Gilbert Kigen. Unfortunately, the Ducks didn't have another All-American behind Teare, but they had a nice group of scorers who still put up solid results.

As a true freshman, Hocker ended his season in 69th place at the national meet and not far behind him was Mestler (73rd) and West (74th). They didn't offer the same scoring potency that Teare did, but they packed together and gave this team great value in the middle portion of their lineup. However, their fifth and sixth runners ended the day in 140th place and 143rd place, resulting in some excessive point scoring.

Oregon ended their season at the NCAA Championships with a 9th place team finish. It was a strong and encouraging result, but one that also left some fans wanting more given the overall talent of this roster.

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As we shift our attention to a theoretical 2020 cross country season, this Oregon roster is loaded with talent and returns numerous men from last year's team. In a season where everything was normal, they would have an excellent shot at claiming a podium spot.

With the return of Cooper Teare, the Ducks are getting a guy who has immediate star power. He only got better as the 2019 season went on and continued to thrive on the indoor track after running 3:55 (mile) and 7:46 (3k).

There isn’t a ton more you can ask out of a guy who was already offering minimal points. If there were to be a 2020 national meet, it wouldn't have been surprising to see Teare win the individual national title.

Jackson Mestler (TSR #46) had a strong postseason last fall as he finished 14th at the PAC-12 Championships, 6th at the West Regional Championships and ended his season with a solid 73rd place finish at the national meet.

Mestler is a guy capable of closing the gap on Teare after seeing him drop a huge 5k personal best of 13:35 this past indoor track season. It's clear that Mestler still has a ton more to give in terms of scoring value as he carried that postseason cross country momentum into the indoor track season.

We then come to current sophomore Cole Hocker (TSR #39) who was 17th at the PAC-12 Championships and 69th at the national meet. The youngster is someone who had just about as good of a freshman year as any rookie in the NCAA. He made outstanding improvements during the indoor track season (running 3:58 in the mile and 7:57 for 3000 meters) and we were projecting him to make a major splash in terms of scoring this fall.

Hocker remained consistent throughout last fall and was able to show up when it mattered the most. That's a rarity for someone who was as young and inexperienced as he was.

We feel very confident in Oregon's top three. Yes, we are banking on some of these men making significant improvements, but the Teare-Hocker-Mestler trio looks strong and showed us that they still had room to improve last winter.

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The Ducks have a plethora of options when it comes to building out the rest of their lineup. However, we are less certain as to what order and what impact some of these men will have in this varsity seven.

One easy candidate to emerge as a consistent scorer is Charlie Hunter who posted a promising 15th place finish at the PAC-12 Championships last fall. He is another name who has run similarly to Mestler and has the potential to fill help some of the lost scoring that West has left behind. He has two cross country national meets under his belt and for a guy who is mainly a middle distance track athlete, he can hold his own on the grass.

It also doesn't hurt that he ran a 3:55 mile this past winter. You have to imagine that some of that elite fitness will translate to the grass...right?

The men of Oregon also bring back a slew of other talents who will offer depth and scoring stability for this squad. Jack Yearian (20th at PAC-12's and 2nd at Nuttycombe "B" race), Carter Christman (87th at Nuttycombe) and Reed Brown (3:57 mile and 3:38 for 1500 meters) are three men who can interchangeably round out the last few spots of this varsity lineup.

They have all proven they have what it takes to compete in this top seven and have made strong improvements as of late. Carter Christman ran a personal best of 14:19 in the 5000 meters this past winter while Yearian dropped a new PR of 4:00 in the mile as well.

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We're not done talking about this roster just yet.

The Oregon men are adding a few key distance recruits to their team in 2020. The introduction of freshman Evan Holland will be massive for this program as they attempt to fill in the spot left behind by James West.

Holland owns jaw-dropping personal bests of 14:30 for 5000 meters and 8:50 for two miles. The Oregon native was also a two-time NXN qualifier, finishing 16th in 2018 and 6th in 2019.

If the newest recruit can replicate the scoring value that Hocker showed the country during his freshman year, then Holland will give this team a massive scoring boost which may be enough to put them in podium contention (whenever we next have a season).

Oregon also added Michael Abeyta (14:34 5k) and Elliott Cook (15:01 5k) to their team with this most recent recruiting class. These two men will give Coach Thomas a few more options for his cross country lineup whenever competition returns.

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The lineup combinations for Oregon are endless and they have a varsity structure that could put them into podium contention. They have an elite low-stick, two All-American candidates, a group of experienced veterans on the backend and a highly-ranked group of youngsters joining the team.

Even so, this squad isn't perfect.

Oregon's success this fall would have hinged on Mestler and Hocker being as good as we think they can be. They're both trending in the right direction, but there is no guarantee that they would have been All-Americans in 2020.

Evan Holland was one of the best high school distance runners in the country, but you can't always rely on freshmen being immediate impact scorers in their first year of competition. From a lineup perspective, he could have filled the hole left behind by James, but that wasn't a lock to happen.

Furthermore, there were a few gaps within their top five last year, specifically at larger invitationals like Nuttycombe and the National Championships. Those gaps need to be closed if Oregon wants to contend for the podium whenever competition returns.

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Although the Ducks have their weaknesses, experience and exciting upside should be able to correct any vulnerability moving forward. A handful of athletes on this team need to make improvements, but that seems more likely to happen than not, especially with the impressive performances that we saw from them on the track.

One of the more intriguing teams in the country, look for the men of Oregon to shake up the national rankings whenever racing next commences again.