Weekend Preview: NCAA DI Conference Championships Weekend

Welcome to Conference Championships Weekend.

We’ll see 31 meets featuring NCAA Division I programs over the next three days, which includes 17 on Friday, 13 on Saturday and the final one on Sunday. But what about that 32nd conference, USTFCCCA? Well, the SWAC held its meet back on October 18.

From The USTFCCCA InfoZone: Meets & Results | USTFCCCA Scoreboard

Let’s see which meets stand out the most, because 31 is a lot to cover.

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Pac-12 Cross Country Championships

Date: Friday, October 29 | Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Even in a “down” year – and we use that term loosely – the Pac-12 Conference is still loaded.

From 2011 until 2019, the Pac-12 had double-digit, top-30 teams in the National Coaches’ Polls leading up to Conference Championships Weekend. That number reached 13 in 2016, a year in which the league had a staggering total of seven top-10 programs: No. 1 vs. No. 2 headlined the women’s race with Colorado vs. Washington; No. 2 vs. No. 3 led the men’s race with Stanford vs. Oregon, but No. 7 Colorado ended up stealing the spotlight and the team title.

Fast forward to the fall of 2021: a total of eight ranked teams – an even split, when it comes to each race and top-10 squads – will compete for conference glory on Friday at the Regional Athletic Complex in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was similar in the spring, too, with eight and five.

Pac-12 Ranked Teams – National Coaches’ Polls

Men’s Teams
Women’s Teams
No. 3 Colorado
No. 4 Colorado
No. 4 Stanford
No. 8 Utah
No. 12 Oregon
No. 18 Washington
No. 26 Washington
No. 23 Stanford

The Men’s 8k Championship is first on the course at 10 am MT with a promising top-5 matchup between No. 3 Colorado and No. 4 Stanford, plus No. 12 Oregon and No. 26 Washington. The Buffs have been on a roll recently, taking runner-up honors at the loaded FSU Invite/Pre-Nats two weeks ago and posting a third-place finish at the Cowboy Jamboree in mid-September (CU lost a tiebreaker to Oklahoma State after each team ended up with 62 points). The defending champion Cardinal has been strong as well, posting a recent runner-up finish at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational and romping to the team title at the FSU XC Open in September. Either Colorado or Stanford has won each of the past 12 conference titles with the Cardinal earning three of the past four.

The Women’s 6k Championship is scheduled to start at 11 am MT with a strong top-10 matchup between No. 4 Colorado and No. 8 Utah leading the way, while No. 18 Washington and No. 23 Stanford look to play spoiler. The Buffs brandished their might twice so far this season: first with a three-point win over host Oklahoma State at the Cowboy Jamboree in mid-September; most recently at the FSU Invite/Pre-Nats, where they steamrolled the field for a 95-point win. Doubt the Utes at your own peril, though: Utah has impressed, going from RV in the first three polls of the 2021 season up to a program-high No. 8 and posted a runner-up finish to CU at the FSU Invite/Pre-Nats. Good luck counting out the defending champion Cardinal, which has something to prove after a bit of a slide over the past few weeks.

Big Ten Cross Country Championships

Date: Friday, October 29 | Location: State College, Pennsylvania

Penn State plays host to the Big Ten Cross Country Championships for the first time since 2009.

Not much has changed since then, at least when it comes to how stacked the conference is: eight total nationally-ranked programs toed the starting line 12 years ago when Wisconsin’s men and Penn State’s women stood tall; eight total nationally-ranked programs are also in the mix on Friday at the PSU Blue and White Course in State College, Pennsylvania.

Big Ten Ranked Teams – National Coaches’ Polls

Men’s Teams
Women’s Teams
No. 10 Wisconsin
No. 6 Minnesota
No. 15 Michigan
No. 9 Michigan
No. 29 Minnesota
No. 20 Michigan State
No. 22 Wisconsin
No. 25 Illinois

The Women’s 6k Championship, slated to begin at 10:45 am ET, features five of those eight nationally-ranked programs with No. 6 Minnesota, No. 9 Michigan, No. 20 Michigan State, No. 22 Wisconsin and No. 25 Illinois ready to compete. This is the sixth year in a row that the women’s race has multiple top-10 teams in the fold. The Golden Gophers, who last won the conference title in 2008, appear poised to make another run at the crown thanks to strong efforts at each of its major meets this season (most notably a fourth-place finish at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, which featured four other Big Ten squads). The Wolverines won three consecutive conference titles between 2016 and 2018, but the Spartans are the two-time defending champions with podium-topping efforts in 2019 and this past January.

The Men’s 8k Championship, which starts the day at 9:45 am ET, sees No. 10 Wisconsin as the headliner with No. 15 Michigan and No. 29 Minnesota looking to play spoiler. The Badgers have been historically strong at this meet, winning 50 – Yes, 50! – conference titles. Wisconsin topped the podium all but three years since 2000. Two of those years that the Badgers took a backseat were when the Wolverines reigned in 2015 and 2017. Earlier this month, six teams from the Big Ten squared off at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational with host Wisconsin beating them all.

ACC Cross Country Championships

Date: Friday, October 29 | Location: South Bend, Indiana

Is this a golden age of cross country in the ACC?

People are certainly asking that question.

After a strong showing at the NCAA DI Cross Country Championships this past spring, where Notre Dame’s men and NC State’s women finished runner-up in their respective races, things have certainly been looking up for the conference that spans as far north as Massachusetts, as far south as Miami and as far west as South Bend, Indiana, site of this weekend’s meet.

This is the fourth year in a row that at least five top-30 programs square off in the Women’s 6k Championship, which is set to begin at 10 am ET. Five-time defending champion and second-ranked NC State is the headliner and Laurie Henes’ program has shown no reason as to why a sixth consecutive crown isn’t a near foregone conclusion. The Wolfpack steamrolled the field at the Joe Piane Invitational earlier this year and most recently finished a close runner-up at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational without a few top athletes. Looking to dash NC State’s hopes of continuing its streak are No. 10 Florida State, No. 13 North Carolina, No. 16 Syracuse and No. 21 Notre Dame. The Seminoles appear to be hitting their stride at the right time, recently taking third place at the FSU Invite/Pre-Nats ahead of the fifth-place Tar Heels.

Several questions surround the Men’s 8k Championship, scheduled for an 11 am ET start. The biggest being “What kind of team will Notre Dame put on the line?” The Irish haven’t raced a full squad yet and slid from No. 2 to No. 8 in the National Coaches’ Poll. It’s hard to doubt Notre Dame when it runs at full strength, though, as its six All-Americans from this past spring are all back. The Irish are also the defending champion and have won two of the past three titles. No. 19 Florida State, last victorious in 2010, is the strongest challenger to Notre Dame’s throne. The Seminoles are led by Adriaan Wildschutt, who started the fall season with three consecutive individual titles including a near five-second victory on this same course at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational, back on October 1, where he clocked one of the fastest times in meet history.

Big 12 Cross Country Championships

Date: Friday, October 29 | Location: Stillwater, Oklahoma

The OSU Cross Country Course has seen its share of great racing over the past year. Friday will be no different, as Oklahoma State plays host to the Big 12 Cross Country Championships.

How could you start anywhere but with the Men’s 8k Championship, set to start at 10 am CT? You’ll see a top-5 matchup between No. 2 Iowa State and No. 5 Oklahoma State, two programs that have quite the history at this meet. Just last year, the Cowboys and the Cyclones tied with 31 points, but Oklahoma State earned the 3-2 tiebreaker and the conference title. Iowa State, back-to-back-to-back champions from 2017 to 2019, has been on a roll recently. The Cyclones enter the meet fresh off a surprising team title at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational. The Cowboys should be well-rested, last competing at the Cowboy Jamboree in September. Don’t count out No. 14 Texas, though: the Longhorns are hungry for their first conference crown.

The Women’s 6k Championship, which begins at 11 am CT, features No. 7 Oklahoma State and No. 17 Iowa State. The last time a team not named the Cowgirls or the Cyclones won the team title at this meet was 2010, when Texas Tech reigned. Iowa State has been a stalwart in recent memory, winning eight of the 10 conference titles awarded since the Red Raiders won.

Big Sky Cross Country Championships

Date: Friday, October 29 | Location: Hillsboro, Oregon

Northern Arizona is favored in both races to be held Friday at the Meriwether National Golf Course in Hillsboro, Oregon (near Portland). The Women’s 5k Championship is the first race at 11 a.m. PT, followed by the Men’s 8k Championship at noon.

Perhaps the biggest question at the meet is “How much energy will NAU’s No. 1 men expend this year?” Earlier this year, the Lumberjacks – who were ranked No. 2 in the National Coaches’ Poll, at the time – rested some of their top runners and were edged by unranked Southern Utah by three points. That broke a streak of four consecutive Big Sky titles for NAU. This year, only No. 30 Montana State joins the Lumberjacks in the rankings, but the T-Birds are also receiving votes in the National Coaches’ Poll – just like before the last meet held in February.

NAU’s women are the Big Sky’s lone ranked team at No. 19 with Weber State receiving votes. The Lumberjacks have won every team crown since 2016.

Mountain West Cross Country Championships

Date: Friday, October 29 | Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico

New Mexico received a boost when the championship site was moved from originally scheduled San Jose, California, to UNM’s North Campus Golf Course in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Action gets underway Friday at 10:15 a.m. MT with the Men’s 8k Championship, followed by the Women’s 6k Championship at 11 a.m.

Four different men’s programs have etched their school’s name on the conference team trophy over the past four years, and all four are ranked in the most recent National Coaches’ Poll. Air Force, the defending champions, made big noise in the latest poll by soaring 19 spots to No. 11. The Falcons earned a hard-fought title in March’s MWC meet, beating 2019 winner Utah State by four points. The Aggies are currently No. 21, sandwiched between co-No. 19 Colorado State and No. 23 Boise State – team champions in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

New Mexico’s women – No. 1 in the National Coaches Poll for the first time since 2018 – are looking to extend their MWC title dominance, having won the last 13 in a row. Not to be overlooked is a surging Colorado State team that rose nine spots in the latest rankings to No. 12, the Rams’ highest since 2007 (when they last won the conference title). Adding to the MWC’s depth are No. 28 Utah State and RV Boise State, the latter being runner-up last season.

SEC Cross Country Championships

Date: Friday, October 29 | Location: Columbia, Missouri

Three ranked teams are in both competitions at the Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia, Missouri. The SEC Network will be airing coverage, with races slotted for start times of 10:08 a.m. CT (Men’s 8k Championship) and 10:50 a.m. CT (Women’s 6k Championship).

In the men’s race, No. 6 Arkansas will be favored to add to its conference title war chest, having won 25 of the 29 crowns since joining the SEC in 1991. The only other programs to win the men’s title during that span are No. 22 Alabama and No. 28 Ole Miss, with two apiece.

The SEC’s three women’s ranked teams are all in the top-15, led by No. 5 Alabama. The Crimson Tide, who finished runner-up last year – matching their highest finish since 1994 – and are looking for their first SEC harrier title since 1987. No. 11 Ole Miss (who have never won the SEC in women’s cross country) and No. 15 Arkansas (winner of the last eight in a row) will both be ready to challenge in what should be a close competition. Three more SEC squads received votes in the national poll: Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida.

WCC Cross Country Championships

Date: Friday, October 29 | Location: Concord, California

BYU will be looking to extend team championship streaks Friday at Newhall Community Park in Concord, California.

The Women’s 6k Championship starts the day at 10 a.m. PT. Reigning national champion BYU, currently ranked No. 3, looks for a fourth consecutive crown. No. 27 Portland is the only other nationally-ranked team, with Gonzaga receiving votes.

Three top-20 lead the field in the Men’s 8k Championship, which is slated to start one hour later. No. 7 BYU has won every team title since 2015 and the main challenges this year look to come from No. 13 Gonzaga and No. 17 Portland. The Bulldogs have surged all year, rising in each National Coaches’ Poll since starting at No. 27 in Week 1.