NCAA DI Outdoor Championships Men’s Preview
NEW ORLEANS – The time for rankings debates and projections for the NCAA Division I Men’s Outdoor Track & Field Championships has come and passed: it’s finally time for the show to start.
An exciting team race is set to begin Wednesday in Eugene, Ore., as a handful of teams battle for four days between June 5 and June 8 for the honor of claiming the team title, while many more student-athletes take place in title competitions, title defenses, all-time records chases and intense rivalries.
The Team Race
Though not quite as wide-open as the women’s race is, there is still significant drama infused into the competition for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships team title. A pair of conference foes are the top contenders in No. 1 Texas A&M — the SEC newcomer — and No. 2 Arkansas — the NCAA indoor champ and the SEC champ both indoors and out.
Throw into the mix the hometown favorite Oregon Ducks at No. 3 in front of their home crowd in Eugene, the defending outdoor champion Florida Gators at No. 4 and their Sunshine State rivals Florida State at five and you’ve got the makings for an intense team race that could very well not be determined until the final runners cross the line in the 4×400.
The No. 1 Aggies and No. 2 Razorbacks are in their position largely because of their large contingencies of top-ranked student-athletes — both will bring 20 entries to the NCAA Finals, five more than any other team in the top ten, as No. 8 Texas has 15. Not only do they have the advantage in numbers over most teams, but also in entries seeded in the top eight — scoring position — entering the Finals.
Texas A&M has six entries ranked within the top four of their events, tied with Oregon for the most in the country, including four that enter as the top seeds. Add in another four seeded between No. 5 and No. 8 and the Aggies have 10 total entries in position to score based on the rankings.
Arkansas has four seeded in the top four of their events — including two-time indoor pole vault champ Andrew Irwin — but not to be outdone by the Aggies they have seven entries seeded between No. 5 and No. 8 for a total of 11 in scoring position. This gives the Razorbacks the potential to more drastically improve upon their projected score than can the Aggies with finishes that exceed their seedings.
Oregon and Florida State both have nine entries apiece in scoring position, though the Ducks hold the overall edge over the Seminoles in total entries, 13 to 10. Defending champions Florida have seven seeded in scoring position, but another five on the fringe of scoring position between No. 9 and No. 12, including three at 400 meters.
This race could be a scorcher. Ole Miss’ Isiah Young broke the 10-second barrier with a 9.99 (+0.3m/s) to claim the top seed, but the next six sprinters ranked behind him have all run faster than 10.10 this season. TCU’s Charles Silmon is the top challenger at 10.03 (+1.7m/s) as the top seed out of the West Prelims, along with 2012 eighth-place finisher Aaron Ernest of LSU at 10.04w (+3.6m/s). Dentarius Locke of Florida State is also a big factor after going 10.05 (+1.6m/s) at the East Prelims. Ameer Webb of Texas A&M leads a cast of three Aggies in the event as the No. 8 seed, though an improvement from 20th for his two teammates would be a big boost in the team race. Young, Webb and Silmon all also have The Bowerman aspirations, as Young is on the final Watch List and Webb and Silmon also received mention.
Four of the top five seeds are in the midst of the most recent The Bowerman conversation around the Watch List, but it is the one among them who isn’t who is the top seed. Anaso Jobodwana of Jackson State ran a scorching 20.13 (+1.7m/s) at the Prelims to claim the top seed ahead of 2012 fourth-placer Young (20.20), USC’s Bowerman Watch Lister Bryshon Nellum (20.23), Silmon (20.23) and 2012 runner-up and 2013 indoor champ Webb (20.30). At No. 5, Webb is the top seed among those on top-five teams, with Ernest of LSU and Dedric Dukes of Florida at No. 7.
Four of the top eight from last year’s 400 meters final are back in the field for another shot at the title this season, with three of them representing top-five teams in the hunt for the team title. At 45.00, Deon Lendore of Texas A&M is the No. 2 seed after finishing eighth a year ago, while 2012 runner-up Mike Berry of Oregon is seeded No. 4 at 45.14 and Akheem Gauntlet is No. 9 at 45.53 after a seventh-place showing a year ago. Also returning is fourth-place finisher David Verberg of George Mason, seeded No. 6 at 45.34. The man they’re all looking up to in the rankings is Nellum of USC, who is the only collegian to go sub-45 this season at 44.76. James Harris of Florida State could also make an impact on the team race, seeded No. 5 at 45.25.
Elijah Greer of Oregon has the chance to go for the indoor/outdoor 800 meters sweep in front of his home crowd, seeded No. 1 at 1:46.20. Three others have gone sub 1:47 this season in No. 2 Patrick Rono of Arkansas at 1:46.49 and Declan Murray and Casimir Loxsom of Penn State, both No. 3 at 1:46.77. Arkansas could make a significant impact on the team race in this event with four entries into the race, with Rono at No. 2 and Leoman Momoh just outside scoring position seeded at No. 10. Greer finished third last season to highlight three returning scorers, including sixth-place finisher Ricky West of Penn State, seeded No. 16, and Samuel Ellison of Villanova, who is seeded 21 but finished eighth last year.
Andrew Bayer of Indiana is back to defend his NCAA title from a year ago, and seems to be rounding into form at the right time after running his season’s best 3:40.43 at the East Prelims last weekend. Top-seeded Riley Masters of Oklahoma is one of just three in the field to have gone faster than 3:40 this season at 3:38.79, along with Alex Hatz of Wisconsin and Jeremy Rae of Notre Dame. One of Bayer’s top competitors from a year ago may again prove to be his toughest competition, as Ryan Hill of NC State showed all-time collegiate indoor talent this winter in the mile but has been light on the schedule this outdoor season.
This event will most likely not be held past midnight as it was at the West Prelims last weekend due to thunderstorms in Austin, Texas, but we’re not sure you’d find many competitors from the West who would mind either way. In total, 11 of the 12 qualifiers from the West ran season’s bests despite the ungainly hour the race was held, including top-seeded Henry Lelei of Texas A&M — who finished fourth a year ago — improving his collegiate-leader status to 8:27.62. Six other men have broken 8:40 this season, including Florida State freshman Zak Seddon and Arkansas’ Stanley Kebenei at No. 2 and 3, respectively, along with 2012 sixth-place finisher Anthony Rotich of UTEP.
Lawi Lalang, in search of more national titles and The Bowerman, could be joining some very elite company if he can sweep both the 5000 and 10,000 meters races outdoors after claiming both the mile and 5000 indoors. The last man to accomplish an indoor/outdoor double sweep? That would be 2009 The Bowerman winner Galen Rupp of Oregon. The all-time collegiate 5000 meters record holder has a tough field to get through to accomplish that, however. Fellow Bowerman Watch Lister Diego Estrada of Northern Arizona is the top seed at 13:15.33 and No. 2 all-time outdoors, while No. 2 seed Eric Jenkins of Northeastern is No. 7 all-time outdoors at 13:18.57 and could have a chip on his shoulder after his disqualification at 3000 meters indoors. Also in the field are 2012 scorers Paul Chelimo of UNC-Greensboro (runner-up) and Girma Mecheso of Oklahoma State (eighth).
In order to complete the sweep, Lalang will need to get through the 10,000 meters first. At 28:14.63 he is the No. 2 seed behind Mecehso of Oklahoma State, the only collegian sub-28 this season at 27:52.38. Also in the field is 2012 fifth-place finisher Jared Ward of BYU, seeded No. 4 this year, and Ryan Dohner of Texas, who finished seventh a year ago. In terms of the team race, Florida State has two in scoring position in No. 5 Michael Fout and No. 7 Breandan O’Neill, while Oregon has No. 3 Parker Stinson and Arkansas will field No. 6 Solomon Haile.
With three of the top four in this event representing top-five teams, there’s more at stake in this race than simply the individual title — and two of the three set season’s bests at the Prelims last weekend. Wayne Davis II of Texas A&M is the top seed after a 13.27 showing at the West Prelims, hoping to break through after a runner-up finish a year ago, while Eddie Lovett of Florida is the No. 4 seed after a 2013-best 13.39 at the East Prelims. Oregon’s No. 2 Jonathan Cabral didn’t improve his 13.33w (+2.6m/s) at the Prelims. Another who is peaking at the right time is Terrence Somerville of Cincinnati, who ran a season’s best 13.37 at last week’s Prelims. Joining Davis and Lovett as returning scorers are third-place finisher Spencer Adams of Clemson and eighth-placer Keiron Stewart of Texas.
Five men have dipped under 50 seconds this season, all of whom have been on the NCAA Finals stage before. USC’s Reggie Wyatt is the top seed at 49.17 and the top-returner after finishing third a year ago. Right behind him at No. 2 is Michael Stigler of Kansas, who is seeded at 49.42 and finished sixth as a freshman a year ago. Jeffrey Gibson of Oral Roberts had the fastest season’s best last week at the prelims at 49.80.
The biggest upset in this event arguably already happened when the top-ranked Texas A&M squad was disqualified in the Prelims. Alabama takes over as the top seed at 38.97, just one-hundredth of a second faster than defending champ No. 2 LSU and another one-hundredth faster than No. 3 Florida. Right behind the Gators at No. 4 is Florida State at 39.32 and Arkansas is No. 6 at 39.34.
Half of the top eight teams in the event are among those competing for the team title, which very well may come down to this final event. If it does, Texas A&M is the top seed at 3:02.52, narrowly ahead of Florida at 3:02.65 from the Texas Relays — a meet at which the Gators edged out the Aggies in the event. Oregon’s No. 5 team at 3:04.16 and Arkansas’ No. 8 3:04.68 put them right in the running for the title, as well.
Though the field is loaded with 22 men who have cleared 7 feet this season, the headliner is without a doubt Indiana’s Derek Drouin against Kansas State’s Erik Kynard. The two tied this past weekend at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League Meeting at 7-8¾ (2.36m) at the same venue at which they’ll be competing this weekend. The two have combined for the last three outdoor titles, with Kynard taking the past two, while Drouin has claimed three indoor crowns, including this season’s. Drouin bested Kynard at the Texas Relays, but Kynard has cleared 7-8+ twice this outdoor season to Drouin’s once. If more reason to tune in is required, consider that the winner could likely be a finalist and potential winner of The Bowerman, and that the all-time collegiate record could very well be in jeopardy.
Andrew Irwin of Arkansas has dominated the indoor pole vault in his first two seasons, winning the title both times, but an outdoor title has eluded him to this point thanks to Jack Whitt of Oral Roberts, who is back to defend his title. Sam Kendricks of Ole Miss is the man to beat, however, after posting the only 19-foot vault by a collegian in 2013 with a clearance of 19-¾ (5.81m). Akron freshman Shawn Barber also stands between Irwin and a championship, seeded No. 2 at 18-8¾ (5.71m).
Indoor champion Marquis Dendy of Florida failed to advance from the East Prelims in perhaps the biggest upset of the entire weekend, opening the door for No. 1 seed Damar Forbes of LSU at 27-4½w (8.34m, +2.3m/s) to have a better shot at improving from runner-up in 2012 to winning the title this year. Arkansas could make a significant statement in the team race with three in this event, led by No. 5 Jarrion Lawson.
Dendy of Florida will have a chance to make up for his long jump mishap in the triple jump and gain his team back some vital points if they hope to defend their title. Seeded at No. 8, he joins top-ranked teammate Omar Craddock — the defending champ in the event. Craddock is the only jumper in the field to reach 54 feet this outdoor season, with four others who have surpassed 53 feet, including No. 4 Dave Brown of Texas A&M and Tarik Batchelor of Arkansas, both at 53-0 (16.15m).
Bowerman Watch Lister Ryan Crouser of Texas is far and away the top seed in the event at 69-2½ (21.09m) by more than five feet, but lurking at No. 6 is two-time defending champ Jordan Clarke of Arizona State, just waiting for his breakout competition of the spring.
Should UCLA’s Julian Wruck not win the title in the discus, it would be the biggest upset on the men’s side. Just this past weekend, Wruck smashed the collegiate record with a throw of 223-7 (68.16m) among five throws that rank among the ten best in collegiate history, placing him sixteen feet ahead of defending champion Chad Wright of Nebraska. Aside from Wruck and Wright, two other men have surpassed 200 feet this season, and four scorers return from a year ago.
A pair of underclassmen are the top two seeds in the event in Oklahoma State’s Nick Miller at 234-11 (71.60m) and Virginia Tech’s Tomas Kruzliak at 232-5 (70.84m), but two veterans are right on their tails looking to improve on their top three finishes from a year ago. Alec Faldermeyer of UCLA finished third last season and is No. 3 at 228-10 (69.75m) this season, while Florida’s Jeremy Postin finished runner-up last year and is No. 4 now at 225-4 (68.68m).
Illinois State’s Tim Glover defeated Texas A&M’s Sam Humphreys at last year’s NCAA Finals, but the tables have been turned. It is Humphreys who enters as the No. 1 seed by more than ten feet over Glover at 268-8 (81.90m) to his 258-0 (78.65m). Also in the mix are oregon’s Sam Crouser at No. 3 and third-place finisher Matthias Treff of Virginia Tech at No. 4.
Four of last season’s top eight decathletes are back for more this season, but it’s a pair of freshmen who have stolen the show. Johannes Jock of Texas is the top seed at 8,293, narrowly ahead of Maicel Uibo of Georgia at 8,223. Runner-up from a year ago Romain Martin of UT-Arlington is also in the field, as is third-place finisher and indoor heptathlon champ Kevin Lazas of Arkansas, who could make significant inroads in the Razorbacks’ team title hopes if he improves upon his No. 16 seed.