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LRC: A Fan's Guide To The 2009 NCAA Championships - Men's Preview

June 5, 2009 - Below you will find a preview of all of the events included in our 2009 NCAA Track & Field prediction contest which are all mid-d and distance events plus both relays, the 100, the 400, and the team competiton. Our women's preview can be found here. For a preview of all events, we recommend the T&FN Men's Form Chart as well as Women's Form Chart. In a few days, we'll make our predictions.

Men's 100m
Five guys under 10.10. You might see a sub-10. Exciting race led by LSU's Trindon Holliday. The mini bowling ball came up short last year behind then-teammate Richard Thompson and then-amateur Travis Padgett, but ahead of double Olympic medallist Walter Dix. All three of those guys have gone on to run great times as pros. Holliday looks to be headed in a similar direction. Holliday's biggest competition seems to come from Clemson's Jacoby Ford. The two have a nice rivalry as Ford won the indoor 60m title with Holliday 2nd.

More than the NCAA title is on the line when these two race. The title of fastest football player ever is also up for grabs. Holliday tied footballer Jeff Demps at 10.01 earlier this year (Demps ran that time in high school!). We very well could have the first ever sub-10.00 by an active football player. Ford is clearly the better football player as he's expected to be Clemson's go-to guy next year. He was 6th in the ACC with 55 receptions last year.

Men's 400m
Four guys come in with seasonal bests between 44.96 and 45.05, including last year's 5th-placer and 2009 sub-45.00 runner Calvin Smith of Florida, who leads the country with a 44.96. Smith has the top seed but he got a healthy dose of competition at the East Regional meet, as Wake Forest's Michael Bingham narrowly beat him to the line in 45.05. Bingham was the indoor champ at 400 and should be considered the favorite. Indoor runner up Gil Rodgers of Texas Tech is 2nd-fastest at 44.97. SEC runner-up Dwight Mullings of Mississippi State has also broken 45.00 (44.98).

Washington's Jordan Boase sits only 10th on the national list with a 45.6, but this guy can play at the national level.

So too can the Borlée twins of Florida State. Only freshmen, these two little guys from Belgium can really run and are used to the bright lights. They ran as individuals and relay members at the 2008 Olympics for Belgium.

Men's 800m

Tevan Everett running 1:47 as if it's a joke.

With the injury to the winner of the 2008 outdoor and 2009 indoor 800 titles, Jacob Hernandez, a lot of casual fans are probably just assuming this race will be a cake walk for 2008 Olympian Andrew Wheating. They would be making a big mistake with that assumption. Wheating is a great runner no doubt, but his style of come-from-behind running hasn't proven itself to be a winner on the national stage yet. He has a very good chance of winning, but he faces at least one very formidable opponent.

The guy to beat very well may be Hernandez's teammate - Texas' Tevan Everett - who leads the nation with his 1:47.39. Sure, we're biased for twins like Everett, but the guy has been unreal outdoors. The most talented 800 guy in the NCAA? Yes. Don't believe us. Please watch the video that we recently found after being tipped off about the race by a prominent coach. That is the race where Everett set the national leader at 1:47.39. He wasn't feeling great going into it so he was just going to rabbit it for 600. He was so far ahead at 600 that he didn't step off the track; instead, he just looked over his shoulder and slowed down. He let the field catch him and then he kicked it in the last 50 to win.

Look at how effortlessly he goes out in 49 or 50. The guy was making a joke of a race that included US Olympian Lopez Lomong. After doing that, he killed Hernandez by 1.62 to win the Big 12 title after going out in 50.38!!! At the Regional, he killed Baylor's Chris Gowell, who sports the nation's #2 time, by 1.06 seconds.

We were a bit disappointed not to see Georgetown's Liam Boylan-Pett in this race as we think he could have been a factor as, after Everett, Wheating and 2008 indoor champ Tyler Mulder, the field seems to be a little bit lacking in big-time star quality, which isn't a surprise as 5 of the 8 finalists last year were seniors and gone and now Hernandez is gone so there are only two finalists back from last year in Mulder and Wheating. Boylan-Pett's 1:46.00 split at Penn, when he gave the fans a thrill thinking he might walk down Hernandez, would do very well in the final here. His strength from his background as a miler would be interesting to see contrasted with Everett's speed.

Men's 1,500
We aren't great track and field historians, but the NCAA men's 1,500 may be at an all-time level (at least certainly in recent memory) in terms of depth. It wasn't too long ago (2005) that a 3:37 for Leonel Manzano was viewed as a shockingly-fast time. This year, 7 guys have already run 3:37 or better. Okay, if you look at the list, only 6 have done it, but German Fernandez ran 3:55.02 indoors for the mile and if you don't think that's a 3:37 you are a fool as it equates to 3:37.61 using the accepted conversion of 1.08.

Converting things the other way, Michael Coe has run 3:37.98, which equates to a 3:55.34 mile. So you have seven 3:55 milers in the field - well really you have 8, as Andy McClary ran 3:37 last year.

So you have a ton of quality and you also have some real up-and-coming star power. The favorite has to be national leader and redshirt freshman Matt Centrowitz of Oregon. The youngster has not only run fast, he has won a ton of races and clearly is in good form, whereas some of the other fast runners may be suffering a little bit of burnout. The PAC-10 is the best conference in the country in the 1,500 this year and Centro won that as well as the West Regional, which is probably the best region in the country this year for the 1,500.

Centro has run 3:36.92 in his first year of competition for the Ducks. The American collegiate record is 3:35.84, held by Brian Hyde and Joe Falcon. It'll be interesting to see what Centro does after NCAAs, but he might want to take a crack at the WChamps with a stint in Europe.

Indoors, no one was better than Lee Emanuel, who absolutely dominated, but we aren't picking him at NCAAs. He did run 3:37 at Stanford (losing to Centrowitz), but since then his results haven't been impressive. He only ran the 800 at the Mountain West conference and he was just 5th in 1:53.15 in that event. At his Regional, he was just 7th. Rumors were that he was taking it easy and knew he was in the final (and at NCAAs on time), but if you weren't already worried about burnout, why would you be taking it easy in your Regional?

Speaking of guys that didn't do well in their Regional meets, Wisconsin's Jack Bolas was only 7th despite his 3:37.64 seed time. The most accomplished Badger in NCAAs is his 3:37.81 teammate Craig Miller, who was the NCAA indoor runner-up. Outdoors, Miller was the Big 10 champ over Bolas and was Regional runner-up. The Mideast Regional champ was none other than SEC Champ Dorian Ulrey, who seems to have recharged after a little bit of a lull at the end of indoors/beginning of outdoors. Ulrey was 3rd indoors and should be a big factor in the final.

Stanford's Garrett Heath is the #3 seed at 3:37.57. He's a guy that almost certainly will score but we don't see him being a factor for the win as he was just 4th at PAC-10s and 3rd in his Regional. Cal's Michael Coe is the other 3:37 guy in the field, but given the fact that he didn't score at PAC-10s (10th) and was only 7th in the West Region, it wouldn't surprise us to see him not make the final.

So that leaves us with super true frosh German Fernandez. It will be interesting to see Fernandez in a real race this year as he's been totally untouched all year at the 1,500/mile given the fact that he didn't run NCAA indoors and given the fact that the Big 12 is down this year in those events. Fernandez's 3:55.02 indoor mile was sensation - a new junior world record - but there are lots of guys at NCAAs running that fast outdoors.

There are two schools of thought around Fernandez. The pessimist would say he's looked really good because he hasn't faced anyone all year as the Big 12 is way down - no one else from the conference made NCAAs in the 1,500. Fernandez is a great time trialer who won't run any faster in a real race than he does by himself. Given how he dominated so much last year in HS and that he didn't do NCAA indoors, he may very well not have good racing tactics. Plus championships are often slow-starting kicker's races - how will a guy who will likely end up in the 5k/10k or even marathon do if it comes down to a fast 300?

The optimist would say the kid is a phenom. He runs 3:55 by himself so of course he'll run faster in the final.

Outside of those guys, you have a lot of talented guys from the East Region, where 6 guys finished within .7 of each other and 5 of them ran 3:41 in the final. The class of the East Region appears to be Providence's David McCarthy, who was 4th indoors - one spot ahead of Centrowitz. Second through 6th at the East Regional were very tightly bunched (.30 apart), but he was .34 ahead of second. Given his 1:46.00 split at Penn, Georgetown's Liam Boylan-Pett shouldn't be discounted; nor should Ohio State's Jeff See, who seems to be coming on at the right time.

And of course the Ivy Leaguers will be obsessed with the antics of Cornell's bad boy Jimmy Wyner.

Men's Steeple
This event was dominated by seniors last year as only two guys from the top 9 are back from last year. Leading the way in terms of scorers from last year is Syracuse's Kyle Heath, who was 6th last year and is currently #5 on the national list (8:40). Iowa State's Hilary Bor was 4th last year as a frosh and is seeded 9th this year at 8:43. Mideast champ Cory Thorne (Louisville) and runner-up Josh Karanja (E. Michigan) both have PRs under 8:40 and should be in the mix.

The favorite, though, is Jake Morse of Texas, who redshirted last year. Morse was the surprise runner-up in the mile in 2008, so he clearly has good speed. He's the national leader at 8:34 and likely will end up as our pick to win.

Men's 5k
With indoor runner-up Sam Chelanga and indoor 3rd placer Shawn Forrest in the 10k only, we'd be stunned if Galen Rupp didn't win this race. Who could possibly challenge Rupp?

Midwest Regional champ Hassan Mead is a real talent as he was 6th last year as a frosh and 4th indoors in the 3k. However, we just don't think a guy that was running in the B heat of Stanford is going to somehow beat Mr. Galen Rupp in his prime, even if Mead was winning the race in a stellar 13:28.

Arizona State's Brandon Bethke has also run 13:28. He won PAC-10s over Oregon's Shadrack Biwott by .06 but at Regionals he was beaten by both NAU's David McNeill and Rupp. McNeill is the top returnee as he was 4th last year. Biwott seems to be coming on at the right time so he could surprise.

Super-frosh Chris Derrick, the American junior record holder at 5k, who was a double scorer indoors, is running just this race outdoors. He's had an AMAZING freshman year but it seems that he's getting a little tired (maybe he's not that tired, but the other guys are just stepping up their game). He should score but no way does he touch Rupp.

Of guys not seeded in the top 15, we say watch out for the SEC 10k champ Tyson David, as well as East Regional winner Ryan Sheridan. Soon-to-be Oregon Duck Michael Maag of Princeton has run 13:41 and is seeded 8th.

Men's 10k
Before we start our preview, we want to say we were thrilled to see Galen Rupp enter this race. He'd been saying all season that this year was all about Oregon and if he did the 1,500/5k double (avoiding Chelanga in the process), he would have been crucified by his many detractors on the message boards. As it sits now, you have a hell of a race. Rupp is going for NCAA outdoor title #1 and he's got the NCAA collegiate record holder Sam Chelanga standing in his way.

This race is a big one for GRupp. He's had a simply perfect senior year up to this point but if he loses this race, the perception of Rupp's senior year will instantly change  As a result, it's simply a race he has to win. The NCAA runner-up in this event as a frosh, Rupp has never won an NCAA outdoor title. This should be title #1 for him but it's by no means an automatic for Rupp. Trying to block his path is no other than the collegiate record holder in Liberty's Sam Chelanga, who ran 27:28.48 at Cal.

Rupp got the best of Chelanga in XC and indoors, but if one is looking for a reason as to how Chelanga might be able to turn the tables on Rupp, they need to realize that Chelanga will be fresh, whereas Rupp will have had to run a 5k heat. That being said, Rupp is still the favorite in our minds. If Chelanga had run faster than the 13:30 for 5k at last week's Reebok Grand Prix, say 13:15 or so, then we might have picked him for the win. But he didn't and thus we say "Advantage Rupp."

Rupp ran a 27:36.99 last year in less-than-ideal conditions at the Beijing Olympics. That race showed us that Rupp very well may have been in American record shape (27:13). He's even better this year than last, so he should be able to beat Chelanga even if Chelanga is in 27:28 shape as the old knock on Rupp of "he has no kick and can't win big races" was totally put to rest indoors. The only question we have is, "Will Rupp still have energy in the tank to go for the ARecord later on this summer?"

Rupp or Chelanga will win this thing but Arkansas' Shawn Forrest is the likely third placer (or possibly 2nd if Chelanga falters) as he's a 27:52 guy. 27:52 is amazingly fast for college but it's a long, long way from the 27:28 that Chelanga ran and truly even farther away than the 27:36 that Rupp ran in Beijing. Forrest was the runner-up last year and is the only scorer back from last year's senior-dominated event. Forrest certainly isn't overraced coming into this event as he only singled at the SEC Meet. We got a flood of angry emails after we asked if anyone knew why Forrest didn't double at the SEC meet and never got an answer we felt comfortable with, so we thought we'd mention it again. We weren't trying to insinuate anything negative about Forrest. We just wanted to know if he was hurt or not. No emails that we received mentioned anything about an injury so we'll assume he's ready to go.

The #4 seed in Georgetown's Dan Nunn has struggled mightily after his hot 10k at Stanford, as he was just 4th in the Big East 5k and 5th in the IC4A 5k.

Men's 4 x 100m
Florida has the #1 time in the country but got smoked like July 4th ribs at the East Regional by Clemson, led by Jacoby Ford. These two teams have SB's separated by 0.01 and are trailed by none other than Texas A&M. The Aggies come in as Regional champs and they think they can win this relay, securing big points in the team race.

Men's 4 x 400m
Baylor, led by 400m coaching genius Clyde Hart, has won 42 consecutive competitions against NCAA 4 x 400 teams. Qualifying 0 men in the 400 or 400 hurdles for the NCAA meet, and operating seemingly without the services of NCAA 4 x 4 Champion and 44.75-guy LeJerald Betters, Baylor nevertheless won the Midwest Regional over Texas Tech by 0.03 thanks to a 44.5-anchored come-from-behind thriller. If they somehow win this race, give all the credit in the world to the Baylor mystique.

Florida State has the Belgian Borlée twins, who are experienced, tough relay runners who have excelled on the international scene. FSU, Tech and Baylor are all 3:02 teams. Whichever team becomes a 3:00 or 3:01 team will win the title.

Handicapping this race, it's always hard to tell how the open 400m race will affect the relay. The open 400m final is Saturday afternoon, only a couple hours before the relay, but sometimes guys really surprise you. They'll disappoint in the open race and then roar back for a "nothing to lose" stellar 4 x 4 leg. The Baylor guys will be fresher than the FSU guys and Tech guys.

On paper we'd say FSU has the most talent and perhaps the most experience. Tech has a ton of talent and a great anchor, as does A&M.

Baylor has Hart. They train all year (yes, even during the fall) specifically to win this event and this is their number one focus.

NCAA Men's Team Race
Well, it's going to be really interesting as Oregon has a star-studded squad. The Ducks have to be the favorites as it's not very difficult to see them winning a massive 6 individual events with 5 different athletes (see below). A&M could definitely challenge them with their fantastic horizontal jump strength, relay prowess and sprint stars.

Arkansas will be hosting the meet and team leader Dorian Ulrey had some fightin' words earlier this week, saying they'll be tough to beat on their home track. We're not saying they won't be tough to beat in events where the Hogs are running, and we love the fighting spirit. But they don't have half the firepower of Oregon. It's almost impossible to look at their lineup and find 60 points. 50 is a stretch. As the charts look, they'll score about 35 and battle with Florida for a distant third.

T&FN's Men's Form Chart will have it broken down with way more depth than we have here.

Oregon Men NCAA Points: 66

Decathlon: 10, Eaton
Javelin: 10, Hostetler
10,000m: 12, Rupp, Puskedra
5,000m: 13, Rupp, Biwott
Steeple: 3, Winter
1,500m: 10, Centro, Jr.
800m: 8, Wheating

Texas A&M Men NCAA Points: 55

100m 3 Phiri
200m 10 Dykes, Phiri
400m 5 Oliver, Miller
4x100m 6
4x400m 5
LJ 8 Reid
TJ 14 Reid, Stewart
Decathlon 4 Otto

Arkansas Men NCAA Points: 30+

Triple Jump Balumbu 5th 4
Long Jump Bailey & Stewart 1st and 6th 13
4x100m 11th 0
10,000m Strang and Forrest 8th and 3rd 7
Steeple MacPherson 7th 2
1,500 An McClary and Ulrey ?
800 Al McClary 5th 4
100 Samuels 9th 0

Florida Men NCAA Points: 37

100m: 6, Hall, Wilks
 200m: 3, Hall
400m: 10, Smith
4x100m: 8
4x400m: 5
Triple: 1, Christ. Taylor
Shot Put 4 Mesick



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