WEEKEND PREVIEW: NCAA Division I Conference Championships

The postseason in NCAA Division I Cross Country is officially upon us.

There are 31 conference championship meets this weekend, headlined by action in the Big Ten and Pac-12. We say that because there are more ranked men’s and women’s teams in action between those two conferences than any other.

QUICK LINKS: Conference Championship Central | Broadcast Schedule

We’ll take a closer look at both the men’s and women’s races in the Big Ten and Pac-12 as well as highlight an epic showdown between No. 2 BYU and No. 3 Portland in the West Coast Conference Championships, among others.

Many of the meets will be televised, so you don’t want to miss a second of the action!

Pac-12 Championships

Date: Friday, October 27 | Location: Springfield, Oregon
2016 Champions: Colorado (Men), Colorado (Women)
Men’s Teams   Women’s Teams
#5 Colorado   #1 Oregon
#6 Stanford   #3 Colorado
#8 Oregon   #13 Washington
#14 UCLA   #14 Stanford
#20 Washington State   #27 Utah
#21 Washington   #28 California

Men’s Race

Get ready for what should be a good-old fashioned slugfest between three top-10 teams in the most recent National Coaches’ Poll: No. 5 Colorado, No. 6 Stanford and No. 8 Oregon. But if history repeats itself – like it has in each of the past six years – the Buffs will be standing tall.

Colorado’s men have created quite a dynasty for themselves in the Pac-12, winning every team title dating back to 2011. Last year the Buffs fought off the Cardinal by a score of 41-47.

Expect another strong battle between Colorado and Stanford based off both team’s efforts two weeks ago at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational and the Pre-National Invitational. While the Buffs and Cardinal didn’t square off, they both brandished top lineups. Colorado finished a strong runner-up to BYU without two-time All-American John Dressel. The Buffs put three in the top-15 and need a similar effort – if not, better – if Dressel misses this race as well. Stanford was led by Grant Fisher, who made his 2017 debut and finished second to Justyn Knight.

Oregon hasn’t found its groove yet this season, but there is no better time than the present for it to do so. The Ducks finished third behind Colorado at Pre-Nats and packed up well with runners in 17th, 24th, 28th, 29th and 31st.

Women’s Race

It was Oregon, Colorado and then everybody else at the Pre-National Invitational.

Look for it to be more of the same on Friday as the top-ranked Ducks and third-ranked Buffs headline a field comprised of six teams that were ranked in the most recent Coaches’ Poll.

Oregon won the Pre-National Invitational quite handily, totaling just 63 points. The Ducks got top-10 finishes out of Katie Rainsberger (fourth) and Lilli Burdon (seventh), while Carmela Cardama Baez and Jessica Hull came in 15th and 16th, respectively.

Colorado finished a distant runner-up with 91 points, but might have been closer if the field wasn’t so deep. The Buffs saw Dani Jones placed third overall and the next runner come through in 17th place. Back at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational, Jones took third as well, yet she had three teammates with her in the top-10.

Look out for Stanford, though. The Cardinal could be a factor depending on which lineup it decides to run. Stanford was without Elise Cranny and several talented sophomores at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational and finished eighth in the team standings.

Big Ten Championships

Date: Sunday, October 29| Location: Bloomington, Indiana
2016 Champions: Wisconsin (Men), Penn State (Women)
Men’s Teams   Women’s Teams
#13 Michigan   #9 Penn State
#15 Michigan State   #10 Michigan
#18 Minnesota   #17 Wisconsin
#30 Penn State   #19 Minnesota
    #20 Michigan State
    #29 Indiana

Women’s Race

We got a small taste of what could happen here two weeks ago at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational when four of the six ranked teams faced off. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan State and Indiana battled it out over the 6K tract.

The Badgers prevailed over their conference foes as they scored 298 points to finish ninth in the team standings. The Golden Gophers and Spartans were 10th (313) and 11th (331), while the Hoosiers came in at 17th place (454).

What about Michigan and Penn State?

Well, the Wolverines traveled to Kentucky for the Pre-National Invitational and placed fifth. Michigan received strong efforts from Jamie Morrissey (12th) and Gina Sereno (22nd).

The Nittany Lions hosted the Penn State National Open and rolled to a team victory. Penn State scored 44 points and put four of its runners in the top-10, led by Jillian Hunsberger (2nd).

Expect a close race, though, as seven of the last 10 meets were decided by eight points or fewer. Michigan won the 2016 title by seven points over Penn State, while Penn State edged Michigan by five points in 2015.

Men’s Race

If the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational proved anything, the race for the men’s team title is up for grabs.

Wisconsin has won 16 of the past 18 conference titles, but looks to be in the middle of a rebuild as it finished 25th at its own meet and chose to redshirt standout Morgan McDonald.

Michigan, led by Ben Flanagan and Aaron Baumgarten, and Michigan State, led by Clark Ruiz, finished neck and neck at Wisconsin, well ahead of Minnesota. The Wolverines edged the Spartans by two points (269 to 271), but the latter had a clear advantage through four runners (148 to 185). Isaac Harding came through in a big way for Michigan over the final 2K.

While the standings at Wisconsin don’t show it, Illinois could be a factor here. The Illini fared well at the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown as Jesse Reiser and Jonathan Davis went 1-2 and that same duo could mix it up at the front of the pack on Sunday.

West Coast Championships

Date: Friday, October 27 | Location: Oakland, California
2016 Champions: BYU (Men), Portland (Women)
Men’s Teams   Women’s Teams
#2 BYU   #4 San Francisco
#3 Portland   #18 BYU
#29 San Francisco    

Men’s Race

Take your pick between BYU and Portland.

The Cougars and Pilots have each won four of the past eight conference titles with the former winning in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016, and the latter in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014. It’s almost poetic how when one of the teams is going for a three-peat, the other is right there to ruin its chances.

If BYU runs how it has been, though, that elusive three-peat is right there for the taking.

The Cougars have been dominant in every sense of the word since romping at the Dellinger Invitational last month. BYU cruised to victory there and then easily dispatched a top-ranked field at the Pre-National Invitational. Running as a unit at the front of the pack has been BYU’s calling card in 2017.

Then we have Portland.

The Pilots flew to a runner-up finish at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational and put three runners in the top-10 of that stacked meet. That allowed them to soar from 24th to a program-record third in the National Coaches’ Poll.

If you sorted finishes by time for BYU and Portland from two weeks ago, the former would have posted a clean sweep. While it is fun to do, comparing times in cross country is next to useless because of the variances in courses and race tactics.

We’ll see a good battle up front, yet if the Cougars have their way, the meet scoring record of 17 points could be in danger – believe it or not.

Women’s Race

This is San Francisco’s title to win barring a collapse.

The Dons have been firing on all cylinders to this point of the season, winning the Roy Griak Invitational and placing second at the Wisconsin Nuttycombe Invitational. Weronika Pyzik and Charlotte Taylor have been one of the most powerful 1-2 combinations in the nation.

While the Dons won’t look past BYU, they have bigger fish to fry in two weeks at the West Region Championships. That’s where San Francisco would tangle with the likes of top-ranked Oregon, Boise State, Washington, Stanford and California.

Other Meets Of Note

ACC Championships (Friday, October 27): NC State appears to be the clear-cut favorite in the women’s race, but look out for a potential upset in the men’s as Virginia Tech has come on as of late. The Hokies finished fourth at the Pre-National Invitational and were ranked 11th in the most recent National Coaches’ Poll. Syracuse is going to have its hands full in this race compared to its next one in the Northeast Region.

Mountain West Championships (Friday, October 27): A total of six ranked teams will be in action (three men’s and three women’s). In the men’s race, No. 9 Colorado State goes up against No. 17 Air Force and No. 19 Utah State. In the women’s race, No. 2 New Mexico tangles with No. 8 Boise State and No. 12 Utah State. The race for the individual title in both instances should be great as Jerrell Mock and Dillon Maggard lead the men, while the New Mexico duo of Ednah Kurgat and Alice Wright as well as Boise State’s Allie Ostrander pace the women.

SEC Championships (Friday, October 27): You’ll see a total of five ranked teams battle it out at the University of Georgia Golf Course. The women’s race features three of those teams in No. 6 Arkansas, No. 16 Georgia and No. 22 Ole Miss. The men’s race has the other two in No. 16 Ole Miss and No. 27 Arkansas. When it comes to the women’s race, Missouri’s Karissa Schweizer should win the individual title and the Razorbacks have an inside edge on the team crown, but anything could happen. You’ll see an exciting race for the men’s individual title as Alabama’s three-headed monster of Alfred Chelanga, Gilbert Kigen and Vincent Kiprop go up against Arkansas’ Alex George and Ole Miss’ Sean Tobin. If the Crimson Tide can find depth to put around that trio, an upset could very well happen. Then again, the depth and pedigree of the Razorbacks and Rebels might just be too much to overcome.

Big 12 Championships (Saturday, October 28): Oklahoma State‘s men will look to win their 10th consecutive conference title. The closest any opponent has come to beating the Cowboys was 13 points twice, so teams like No. 23 Iowa State and No. 24 Texas have their work cut out for themselves. In the women’s race, Iowa State is the only ranked team and could nab its sixth title in the past seven years.