Colorado Men Start NCAA DI Three-Peat Quest as Preseason Favorites
NEW ORLEANS | Thought you’d seen the best of the Colorado men last year when they stampeded the field at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships for their second consecutive national title?
With, combined with the CU women, what head coach Mark Wetmore has said might his best teams ever, the Buffaloes are the unanimous preseason No. 1 in the National Coaches’ Poll announced Tuesday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).
Not only does CU return four All-Americans from a year ago, including a pair of top-10 returners in Ammar Moussa (5th) and Ben Saarel (7th), but Wetmore and the Buffs also return 2013 All-American Morgan Pearson from a redshirted 2014 campaign. Also back for Colorado are 24th-place finisher Connor Winter and 35th-place harrier Pierce Murphy.
The Buffaloes entered last season ranked No. 1 unanimously and never cast a shadow of a doubt to the contrary all fall, becoming the first team in the past two decades (the span of the USTFCCCA National Poll archives) to win the national title as the season-long consensus favorite.
That all adds up to a tough uphill climb for the rest of the country in preventing the Buffaloes from winning a third consecutive men’s national title – a feat last accomplished by Arkansas in 1998 through 2000.
Projected as the most likely challenger is No. 2 Stanford, last year’s national runner-up. The Cardinal are joined in the top five by No. 3 Syracuse (fifth in 2014), and the duo of Oklahoma State and Wisconsin – the only two other teams to win men’s national titles this decade – in a tie at No 4.
Incidentally, Oklahoma State in 2011 was the last squad to attempt to go back-to-back-to-back, but the Cowboys’ roster that was so star-studded and so favored in the preseason was denied the three-peat by an experienced Wisconsin squad. (Head coach Dave Smith discusses this in our interview with him on the QA2 Max Podcast).
For Stanford, a run at an upset national title will be boosted by the return from redshirt of 2013 fifth-place finisher Jim Rosa, who will join his twin brother Joe (33rd at NCAAs in 2014) for one last run at national glory.
Though Stanford lost the near-guaranteed low stick in Maksim Korolev and the veteran leadership of Michael Atchoo, the brothers Rosa will be joined by All-American junior Sean McGorty (20th), All-American sophomore Sam Wharton (39th), a pair of returning top-100 finishers in Garrett Sweatt (68th) and Jack Keelan (100th), and potentially a pair of game-changing frosh phenoms in Grant Fisher and Alex Ostberg. (Head coach Chris Miltenberg joined the QA2 Max Podcast last week. Listen here.)
Syracuse is ranked top-three for the fourth consecutive poll, and is coming off a fifth-place effort at NCAAs in 2014. Though their top runner at NCAAs, MJ Erb, has moved on to Ole Miss (more on the Rebels later), the Orange still return three of five scorers and five of seven from their NCAA roster.
Martin Hehir was an All-American in 2014 (38th), while Dan Lennon just missed that top-40 standard in 45th. Providing a significant boost will be the emergence of Justyn Knight, who was just 143rd at NCAA cross but took sixth at 5000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Rounding out the top five are a pair of former national champions at slightly different stages of reloading.
Oklahoma State (ninth) – the winners of three of four national titles from 2009 through 2012 – will rely on a trio of vets in Craig Nowak (16th in 2014), Fabian Clarkson (52nd) and Brian Gohlke (89th) who spent their early college years running day-in, day-out with those national champions. Add to the mix the improvement of sophomore Cerake Geberkidane and the Cowboys have an experienced core that could lead them to the podium.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin doesn’t return anyone from last year’s 10th place team who’s older than junior eligibility. Though head coach Mick Byrne was forced to go to the well with true freshman earlier than hoped a year ago, that experience is set to pay off big-time in 2015. Junior 10th-place finisher Malachy Schrobilgen leads a quartet of sophomores in Morgan McDonald, Ryan Kromer, Carl Hirsch and Joe Hardy who all finished between 75th and 111th last season.
This is Wisconsin’s highest rank since finishing runner-up in 2012.
Two-time defending individual national champion Edward Cheserek leads No. 6 Oregon, which leads a trio of consecutive teams who reprise their final 2014 finish along with No. 7 Villanova and No. 8 Iona. Rounding out the top 10 are No. 9 Virginia – which is trending up in a big way after finishing 21st a year ago – and No. 10 Northern Arizona.
Virginia hasn’t been ranked so highly since a pair of No. 9 rankings near the end of the 2007 season, and returns all seven runners from the 2014 Championships. (You can listen to our QA2 Max Podcast interview with head coach Pete Watson here).
NAU still has the second-best individual returner in Futsum Zienasellassie, but drop from fourth in 2014 to No. 10 to start 2015 after losing three of its five scorers.
Joining Virginia as teams that leapt out of the 20s (or 30s) in 2014 and into the top two-third of the field were No. 15 Mississippi (29th in 2014), No. 17 Arkansas (28th), and No. 18 Furman (30th). (Ole Miss distance coach Ryan Vanhoy joined us on the QA2 Max Podcast last week, as did Arkansas head coach Chris Bucknam).
For Ole Miss, that No. 15 mark is the highest in program history and just the second-ever top-30 appearance. Furman nearly matched its all-time program-best No. 16 rank from a year ago near the end of the season.
Teams looking to break into the NCAA Championships after not appearing in 2014 include No. 22 Arizona State, No. 25 Iowa State, and No. 28 California.
The latter two are among seven teams from the Pac-12 ranked in the top 30 to start 2015. Cross country fans, circle October 30th on your calendars, because the Pac-12 Championships are going to be a barnburner. Next up with four nationally ranked teams apiece were the Big Ten and ACC.
Unfortunately, not all teams were met with good news in Tuesday’s rankings. Following a program-best third-place finish in 2014 and the exhausted eligibility of all but one of their scorers, Portland dropped all the way down to the 30th and final numbered spot in the poll.
The West Region, in which the Pilots compete, is the best-represented of any of the nine regions in the preseason polls, with seven of its teams appearing in the top 30 and another receiving votes. Close behind was the always competitive Mountain region with five top-30 teams plus two more receiving votes. The Great Lakes and Southeast both boast four top-30 teams.
All of these teams will be fighting for the national championship on Nov. 21 in Louisville, Kentucky on the course inside E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park.
Men’s Cross Country National Coaches’ Poll
2015 Preseason — September 1
|next poll: September 15|
|Rank||Institution (FPV)||Points||Region||Conference||Cross Country Coach (Yr*)||
|1||Colorado (12)||360||Mountain||Pac-12||Mark Wetmore (21st)||
|2||Stanford||344||West||Pac-12||Chris Miltenberg (4th)||
|3||Syracuse||335||Northeast||ACC||Chris Fox (11th)||
|4||Oklahoma State||305||Midwest||Big 12||Dave Smith (10th)||
|4||Wisconsin||305||Great Lakes||Big Ten||Mick Byrne (8th)||
|6||Oregon||299||West||Pac-12||Robert Johnson (4th)||
|7||Villanova||288||Mid-Atlantic||Big East||Marcus O’Sullivan (16th)||
|8||Iona||279||Northeast||Metro Atlantic||Ricardo Santos (8th)||
|9||Virginia||242||Southeast||ACC||Peter Watson (4th)||
|10||Northern Arizona||240||Mountain||Big Sky||Eric Heins (9th)||
|11||Indiana||238||Great Lakes||Big Ten||Ron Helmer (9th)||
|12||Michigan||232||Great Lakes||Big Ten||Kevin Sullivan (2nd)||
|13||UCLA||224||West||Pac-12||Mike Maynard (7th)||
|14||BYU||181||Mountain||West Coast||Ed Eyestone (16th)||
|15||Mississippi||173||South||SEC||Connie Price-Smith (1st)||
|16||Georgetown||163||Mid-Atlantic||Big East||Michael Smith (1st)||
|17||Arkansas||132||South Central||SEC||Chris Bucknam (8th)||
|18||Furman||124||Southeast||Southern||Robert Gary (4th)||
|19||North Carolina||112||Southeast||ACC||Mark VanAlstyne (4th)||
|20||Washington||110||West||Pac-12||Greg Metcalf (14th)||
|21||New Mexico||109||Mountain||Mountain West||Joe Franklin (9th)||
|22||Arizona State||92||West||Pac-12||Luis Quintana (15th)||
|23||Eastern Kentucky||83||Southeast||Ohio Valley||Rick Erdmann (37th)||
|24||Colorado State||82||Mountain||Mountain West||Art Siemers (4th)||
|25||Providence||69||Northeast||Big East||Ray Treacy (32nd)||
|25||Iowa State||69||Midwest||Big 12||Martin Smith (3rd)||
|27||Florida State||65||South||ACC||Bob Braman (16th)||
|28||Michigan State||59||Great Lakes||Big Ten||Walt Drenth (12th)||
|28||California||59||West||Pac-12||Tony Sandoval (24th)||
|30||Portland||41||West||West Coast||Rob Conner (26th)||
|Others Receiving Votes: UTEP 30, Southern Utah 29, Texas 22, NC State 17, Virginia Tech 13, Minnesota 12, Louisville 9, Tulsa 9, Eastern Michigan 8, Penn State 7, Boise State 6, Florida 2, Illinois 1|
|(* year as effective coach of that team in men’s cross country)|