The Warm-Up Lap: More than Football This Weekend – Oregon vs. MSU on the XC Trails
NEW ORLEANS – So the No. 3 Oregon and No. 7 Michigan State football teams are squaring off on the gridiron in Eugene, Oregon, this Saturday?
We see your match-up, college football, and raise you the No. 2 Ducks’ and No. 6 Spartans’ women’s cross country teams at the third annual Bill Dellinger Invitational in Eugene later today.
Plus we get the No. 3 Ducks men – led by the defending national champ and now former frosh phenom Edward Cheserek – and the Michigan state men, who are receiving votes nationally in the Coaches Poll.
Both sports’ match-ups between the Ducks and Spartans are early-season affairs between marquee programs, but – as excited as cross country fans are over the propsects of this showdown – underlying the two is a key difference in football’s favor: the stakes.
Whichever football team wins will put itself in better position to qualify for college football’s new playoff system. The loser will find itself a big step behind in that goal. Either way, the drama will be palpable and the stakes very real.
Not so for this cross country duel. While the women’s team match-up between Maggie Schmaedick’s and Megan Patrignelli’s Ducks and Leah O’Connor’s and Sara Kroll’s Spartans is, on paper, by far the best showdown of the young cross country season, neither team’s potential NCAA Championships at-large qualification bid résumés will be either helped or harmed by the final outcome.
Performances in Division I begin counting for at-large consideration on September 26.
This week’s dichotomy follows just seven days after the Division I football and cross country seasons simultaneously opened last weekend. Football saw its reigning champion and preseason No. 1 Florida State not just take on but travel to another top-30 team in Oklahoma State in a make-or-break kind of game – and just narrowly avoid being broken.
Cross country? It’s men’s and women’s preseason favorites both kicked off their seasons with what amounted to intrasquad time trials. Neither right nor wrong, but different than football — and certainly just a touch less dramatic.
Apples and oranges between two inherently different sports? Of course, but one can still appreciate the stark difference and cross country fans can still relish the thought of having a complete regular season filled with meaningful, high-stakes match-ups.
That’s not to say great races in Division I don’t or can’t happen before that late-September milestone. The Spartans making the 2,000+ mile trip to Eugene should be proof of that. This weekend’s women’s showdown, rather than a controlled tempo as both teams dance around one another for 6K, could be a chance for two great teams to really go at one another with nothing to lose.
For Cheserek, it could be a chance to assert his dominance much like last year’s defending champ Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech did early in 2013. It could be a chance for an up-and-coming All-American like Caleb Rhynard of Michigan State to challenge alpha Ducks Cheserek and Eric Jenkins, or for his team to put up a valiant effort in order to bust through into the next edition of National Coaches Poll top 30.
After all, that would only be in the right spirit for a race held on a venue honoring one of American distance running’s most notoriously and historically bold and daring runners: Pre’s Trail.
What else is going on this weekend in cross country?
Outside of Michigan State and Oregon, nationally ranked Division I teams are keeping to themselves this weekend. The No. 1 Colorado men are sending a contingent to compete at No. 30 Colorado State before taking a month off from competition leading up to their Oct. 4 Rocky Mountain Shootout.
In men’s top-10 action, No. 2 Northern Arizona opens up its season at home with the George Kyte Invitational, No. 6 Indiana hosts the Indiana Open, No. 7 Portland duals with Illinois in the state of Washington, No. 8 Syracuse will send men to Colgate’s Harry Lang Invitational and No. 9 BYU heads to the Utah Open.
Rounding out the top-10 action for the women are No. 7 Arkansas with a contingent at the adidas/UC Irvine Invitational and No. 8 Colorado at Colorado State.
The rest of the top-30 schedule for this weekend is below.
Men’s Top 30 – DI
Women’s Top 30 – DI
This is Division II’s opening weekend, and most of the top-25 will be hitting the trails. Two-time defending men’s champ No. 1 Adams State will host its Joe Vigil Open, while RMAC rivals No. 3 Western State, No. 5 Colorado Mines and No. 10 Metro State will compete at Colorado State.
No. 6 Southern Indiana opens up with its Stegemoller Classic, No. 7 Augustana (S.D.) hosts the Augie Twilight against No. 17 Sioux Falls, No. 8 Alaska Anchorage will be at the Big Wave Invite in Hawaii, and No. 9 Shippensburg hosts its Galen E. Piper Alumni Open.
For the women, No. 2 Adams State is at home against No. 12 West Texas A&M, No. 3 Western State and No. 7 Metro State are at Colorado State, No. 6 Augustana (S.D.) is at home, and No. 10 Winona State starts on the road at Saint Mary’s (Minn.).
The rest of the top-25 schedule for this weekend is below.
Men’s Top 25 – DII
Women’s Top 25 – DII
Like Division I, Division III is in its second weekend of competition. Defending men’s champ No. 1 St. Olaf kicks off its season with its Alumni Race, while No. 2 North Central (Ill.) is active for the second weekend in a row at the Aurora Spartan Challenge.
No. 3 Williams and No. 12 Middlebury are getting together for a fun exhibition race at the Middlebury Co-ed Relays, while No. 5 Central (Iowa) hosts its own invitational against No. 14 Loras and No. 26 Carleton. No. 9 UW-Platteville hosts its own Alumni Invitational.
Four of the top five women’s teams in DIII are active this weekend, including No. 2 Williams and No. 3 Middlebury in that fun-run Co-ed Relay. No. 4 Chicago, with reigning National Athlete of the Week Breanna Hickey, will head to NAIA No. 4 Olivet Nazarene for the Midwest Classic, and No. 5 Oberlin is at Edinboro’s Doug Watts Invitational.
A full rundown of the Division III top-35 schedule is below.
Men’s Top 35 – DIII
Women’s Top 35 – DIII