Updated: Sep 6, 2018
It should hardly be a surprise that the Brigham Young men are slated at number two in our rankings. With four of their top five set to return, this team will once again be in the title hunt during 2018. Their numerous weapons and endless depth makes this group one of the more difficult squads to defeat.
The 2017 season was a magical one, filled with high hopes and big expectations. They were arguably the most talked about team in the NCAA, maybe even more than the number one team in our rankings...
After an early-season rust-buster at the BYU Autumn Classic, the Cougars took their talents to Oregon in an attempt to challenge themselves against top-tier competition. However, the men from Provo, Utah were one of the few squads who ran their best lineup. As a result, the Cougars would squash their competition thanks to Young, Linkletter, McMillan, and Clinger taking the top four spots in the meet.
If you thought that was impressive, Pre-Nats was another story. Linkletter pulled out the individual win to establish himself as a potential threat to Knight and Fisher later in the season. As for the rest of his teammates, they rallied to post some phenomenal finishes. McMillan and Clinger placed 6th and 7th while Clayton Young was close behind in 12th. Daniel Carney finished the scoring with a 15th place finish of his own. Coach Eyestone's squad ended the day with an incredible score of 41 points, almost 80 points ahead of runner-up Colorado. If they were trying to make a statement, they certainly did just that.
The West Coast Conference Championship was an easy victory for the Cougars as they swept the field with a perfect score. However, Portland had opted to not run a few members from their varsity squad and the individuals they did race lacked the same pop we had seen from them earlier in the season. Despite the easy win, the Pilots would prove to be a problem for BYU on a different day.
After such a dominant regular season, there was no denying that BYU was a shoe-in for the national meet. At regionals, they secured the second automatic qualifying spot, defeating Colorado by one point. However, it was clear that the Mountain Regional Championships was not where NAU and BYU would settle their media-hyped rivalry. That would come two weeks later...
For many, the final meet in Louisville looked like BYU's greatest opportunity to earn their first national title as a team. However, they would need to battle an NAU squad who looked just as untouchable as BYU.
When the gun went off, the Cougars didn't seem to have the same edge that they had shown all throughout the regular season. Linkletter still finished as an All-American, but his 39th place finish was not what was expected of him. Freshman Casey Clinger led the team with a strong 24th place finish while McMillan crossed the line in 30th. At this point, NAU had five All-Americans and were out of reach from any team in the field. Still, with Carney finishing 42nd, BYU looked like they could still secure silver.
Unfortunately for them, that was not the case. Clayton Young didn't have his best performance, meaning that Kramer Morton would have to be the fifth scorer after placing 65th overall.
All together this was an incredibly strong performance. Still, they didn't have a low-stick among the elite tier of finishers and had a bit of weakness in the final scoring spot (compared to other podium teams). Portland's wicked trio up front and strong supporting scorers gave them the runner-up position over BYU.
In the end, the Cougars left Louisville knowing that they were capable of so much more...
In 2018, BYU will begin their revenge campaign. They know they have enough talent to win a national title, but they need to put the pieces of the puzzle together when it matters the most.
While some may disagree, Rory Linkletter is the undeniable leader of this team in our eyes. Ever since his runner-up finish at the 2017 Outdoor National Championship 10k, people have looked to him as "the guy" of this powerhouse program. Winning Pre-Nats is no fluke and I think it's fair to say that he'll be fighting for a top 10 individual spot at NCAA's this year (maybe even top five).
Luckily, Linkletter doesn't have to be the constant leader of this team. Connor McMillan and Clayton Young are some of the best second and third scorers a team could have. Young had a few inconsistencies during last cross country season, but there is no denying his talent. This is the same guy who ran 13:37 and 28:27 this past spring.
As for McMillan, he's incredibly reliable and is one of the more underrated distance runners in the nation. Just like last year, he'll give the Cougars plenty of firepower in an already loaded lineup. Don't be surprised if he somehow gets even better than he initially was.
One of the reasons why BYU was so successful last fall can partly be attributed to standout freshman Casey Clinger. Unfortunately, Clinger is no longer with the team after he opted to pursue a mission trip for his church at the end of last cross country season. While that may be a huge hit, the team won't be hurting too much.
Conner Mantz has returned to the team after his two year mission trip and if this past spring was any indication of his true talent, then this will be an extremely difficult team to beat. As a redshirt freshman, Mantz ran personal bests of 13:52 and 28:57 this past spring. He qualified for Nationals in the 10k, establishing himself as one of the key scorers for this team in 2018. If anyone was going to replace Clinger, Mantz was going to be the guy to do it.
Just like last year, Daniel Carney will round out the top five. With so much incredible talent on this team, it's easy to overlook someone as strong as him. This is the same guy who was 15th at Pre-Nats and was two spots off from being an All-American at the national meet. With personal bests of 7:57, 13:39, and 8:41 (steeplechase), Carney may be the best fifth scorer on any team in the nation (and yes, we mean ANY team).
When you look at this team, it's hard to believe that they did not win a national title last year. However, over the past year, you'll find that their underwhelming performances didn't come at just one national meet.
BYU seemed like a lock for top two at the XC National Championships last fall, but dropped to 3rd. At the indoor national meet, they qualified three individuals but walked away with only one All-American (6th place) finish. During outdoors, they sent four individuals to NCAA's in the 10k and three in the 5k. The result? One All-American finish (8th). Both All-American finishes came from Rory Linkletter.
In terms of fitness, this may be the only team in the country who can go head-to-head with the Goliath known as Northern Arizona. However, they'll need to have their best race at Nationals which has proven to be a challenge in and of itself.
If you're looking for a team with an exciting personality, electric performances, and a chip on their shoulder, look no further than Brigham Young. It's hard to ignore a team who has their entire top five under 14 minutes for 5000 meters.
Last year was a thrilling rollercoaster ride for fans around the country. If they thought 2017 was fun, just wait until we get to Part Two.
Get back in your seat. We're only at intermission...