2015 NCAA Regionals Men’s Cross-Country Preview: Who’s On Track To Qualify For The Big Dance? What Two 2014 Podium Teams Will Be Left Home?

*What do you think? Vote in the 2015 LetsRun.com Regional Polls. *MB: Official 2015 NCAA XC Regional Live Discussion Thread

By LetsRun.com
November 11, 2015

Shortly after 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday, the fields for the 2015 NCAA Cross Country Championships will be set. All nine of the NCAA Regional Championships will have concluded by then; all that will remain is for the results to be published and the proper formulas applied to generate the 31 men’s and 31 women’s teams that will head to Louisville’s E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park on November 21 for the Big Dance.

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We here at LetsRun.com expect to be able to publish the NCAA qualifiers within minutes of the final results being posted thanks to the amazing computer program of former Duke runner and now Olympic Trials qualifier (and Harvard Ph.D. candidate) Bo Waggoner. Check out our live messageboard thread on Friday – MB: Official 2015 NCAA XC Regional Live Discussion Thread – as we’ll be running the program all day long, telling you who is in and who is out after each of the regional results come in.

Friday is one of the best days to be a college cross country fan, but it’s also one of the most hectic. To prepare you for Friday’s races, we’ve used Bo’s program to project the qualifiers for NCAAs based on results up to this point and the most recent USTFCCCA Regional Rankings (we used those rankings to project the results at regionals). We’re doing the men today; the women will be up tomorrow.

After projecting the fields, we previewed each region. You can find those previews, including links to live results (where applicable), below. If you want a quick and dirty summary, scroll all the way to the bottom where we’ve outlined each region in two sentences.

If the regionals go according to form, this is who will be in NCAAs.

Automatically selected (projected to finish top-two at Regionals)
1. Michigan
2. Indiana
3. Georgetown
4. Penn
5. Oklahoma State
6. Tulsa
7. Colorado
8. BYU
9. Syracuse
10. Iona
11. Florida State
12. Ole Miss
13. Arkansas
14. Texas
15. NC State
16. Virginia
17. Stanford
18. Oregon

At-large teams*
19. Furman
20. UTEP
21. Columbia
22. Michigan State
23. Washington
24. UCLA
25. Boise State
26. Air Force
27. Colorado State
28. Washington State
29. California
30. Virginia Tech
31. Southern Utah

*It was necessary to make a few assumptions based on whether a school was was running an A team or a B team at a certain meet. Check out this article for those assumptions, as well as the logic behind why each team was selected. *LRC  2015 NCAA Regional Projections Assuming Everything Goes According To Form

Total bids by region
7: West
6: Mountain
4: Southeast
3: Northeast, Great Lakes
2: South, Mid-Atlantic, South Central, Midwest

Ranked Teams That Will Be Left Out
No. 19 Illinois
No. 22 Villanova
No. 26 Minnesota
No. 26 Eastern Kentucky
No. 26 Oklahoma
No. 29 Providence
(Eastern Kentucky, Illinois and Providence would be the first three teams out)

This definitely seems like a year where more ranked teams than normal could be left out.

Unranked Teams That Would Be Dancing
Michigan State (#31 in the votes)
Texas (#32 in the votes)
Southern Utah (#33 in the votes)
Florida State (#34 in the votes)
Mississippi (no votes)
Washington State (no votes)
California (no votes)

Below, you’ll find analysis of all nine regions. There’s a quick cheat sheet of the teams/regions to watch for at the bottom of the article.

South Regional
Live results *
Official site
Harry Pritchett Running Park, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Start times: 10 a.m. ET (women); 11 a.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. Florida State #
  2. Ole Miss #
  3. Georgia
  4. Florida
  5. Middle Tennessee State
  6. Lipscomb
  7. Georgia Tech

Neither Florida State nor Ole Miss has had the season either were hoping for, yet because they reside in the godawful South Region, both still have a good chance to make it to NCAAs. Every other region has at least one team ranked in the top 15 (the Southeast and Mountain have three apiece); the South has no ranked teams at all. Florida State, who finished 18th at Wisconsin and 7th at ACCs, is the best of this sad bunch but in any other region (except for, perhaps, the South Central), they’d be a long-shot to make the Big Dance. Ole Miss was even worse at Wisconsin — the Rebels were 24th — and followed that up by getting third behind Arkansas and Texas A&M in the SEC. That’s a very poor result considering that the SEC was viewed as essentially a two-team conference at the start of the season — with Ole Miss being one of those two teams. Instead, the Rebs (122 points) were closer to fourth place Kentucky (129) than they were to runner-up Texas A&M (98). The Aggies deserve credit for running a strong race on their home course, but with the talent on the Ole Miss roster, there’s no way A&M should be putting three ahead of Ole Miss’s #1.

Still, the South Regional offers a chance for redemption. The third- and fourth-ranked teams in the region were even further back at SECs (Georgia was 5th with 142; Florida 7th with 170). And Ole Miss figures to improve. Wesley Gallagher (3rd at regionals last year) is out for the year with Lyme disease but if Syracuse transfer MJ Erb, who was dead last at SECs, can rebound to his early-season form (he was 4th at the Greater Louisville Classic on October 3) or the form he showed last year when he was an All-American when running for Syracuse (37th at NCAAs) , the Rebels will be more formidable. 2015 hasn’t seen the Rebs take the big step forward they were hoping for at the beginning of the season, but with strong runs from sophomores Sean Tobin (3:42 pb) and Craig Engels (3:40 pb) over the next two weeks, they can still top their program-best 29th-place finish at NCAAs from last season and move forward to 2016, when their entire 10-man squad from SECs returns.

Interestingly, because so many teams have beaten Florida State and Ole Miss, if either (or both) of those teams misses, there could be major implications across the rest of the country. If Georgia and Florida State finish as the top two, Purdue would go to NCAAs instead of Southern Utah (assuming all other regionals finish as projected, which is obviously unlikely to occur). If Georgia and Ole Miss finish as the top two, things get a whole lot messier. There are a bunch of ties to break in that scenario and it’s not totally clear how to break all of them, but Illinois, Oklahoma and Texas A&M could all make it in at the expense of Virginia Tech, Washington State and California. Texas A&M, in particular, will be rooting for Georgia and Ole Miss as it has wins over both of them from SECs.

South Central Regional
Live results * Official site
Watts Cross Country Course, College Station, Texas
Start times: 11 a.m. ET (women); 12 p.m. ET (men) 

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. No. 8 Arkansas #
  2. Texas #
  3. Texas A&M
  4. Lamar
  5. Stephen F. Austin
  6. North Texas
  7. UT Arlington 

Here’s another region where we’re unlikely to see any at-large teams (the South Central hasn’t sent an at-large team to NCAAs since 2002). No. 8 Arkansas rolled through the SEC two weeks ago and should advance to its 41st NCAA Championship in the past 42 years (the Razorbacks missed in 2011). Beyond that, it’s likely between Texas, who took third at Big 12s, and Texas A&M, who was second at SECs.

Arkansas swept the SEC titles for the third year in a row on October 30 (courtesy Razorback XC/TF)

Arkansas swept the SEC titles for the third year in a row on October 30 (courtesy Razorback XC/TF)

Texas A&M has the advantage of racing on its home course, and the Aggies just delivered their best performance of the season at SECs — which took place on the same course. Unfortunately for them, Texas has had success on this course too — and it came at the expense of Texas A&M, whom the Longhorns smacked, 37-116, at the Texas A&M Invitational on September 26.

Seven weeks have passed since then, though, and the Aggies should be much closer this time around. Both schools have raced Oklahoma State recently and the results were similar. At the Alabama Crimson Classic on October 16, A&M lost to OSU 27-95. Their average times were 24:25 for OSU vs. 25:03 for Texas A&M and dual-meet scoring would have had it as an 18-41 win for the Cowboys. At Big 12s on October 31, OSU beat Texas 28-83. Their average times were 24:25 for OSU and 25:05 for Texas; dual-meet scoring has it as a 16-41 victory for the Cowboys.

On a good day, Texas A&M could definitely pull the upset and make it to its first Big Dance since 2011. Generally the rest of the country can ignore this region as based on current projections, no at-large team will be affected by Texas A&M going over Texas.

Southeast Regional
Live results * Official site
Panorama Farms, Earlysville, Virginia
Start times: 12 p.m. ET (women); 1 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. No. 10 NC State #
  2. No. 12 Virginia #
  3. No. 13 Furman #
  4. No. 18 Virginia Tech #
  5. No. 26 Eastern Kentucky
  6. Louisville
  7. Duke

#= Projected qualifier.

Once again, the Southeast should be a balanced region with no dominant team, making for an interesting race at Panorama Farms. NC State tops the region as of now by virtue of its runner-up showing at ACCs, but the Wolfpack were only third among Southeast teams at Wisconsin, as Virginia was 4th with 238 and Furman 6th with 310 (NC State finished just a point back of the Paladins in 7th).

The good news for those teams (and Virginia Tech) is that, barring a blowup at regionals (6th or worse) they all collected enough points at Wisconsin to punch their tickets to Louisville. The interest in this region lies with the teams ranked outside the top four, particularly No. 26 Eastern Kentucky and Louisville. Louisville was only 10 points back of Virginia Tech at ACCs (and 15 back of UVA), a deficit the Cardinals could definitely overcome at regionals. We don’t have time to cover every possible scenario, but essentially if Eastern Kentucky or Louisville can finish in the top four, that school will get pushed in by NC State, UVA, Furman or Virginia Tech. If they both finish in the top four (unlikely), things become a lot more hectic — one of those schools will block a school with points, creating a logjam in the region. Assuming all other regions finish as projected, EKU and Louisville would get in as the final two teams if they went 3-4 in any order, but because they would take so long to get in, whichever schools they replace in the top four would be left home.

Just like in the NCAA basketball tournament, bubble teams (such as Southern Utah and Illinois) will be hoping things go according to form in the Southeast; if Eastern Kentucky or Louisville get pushed in, that’s one less at-large spot on the table.

Northeast Regional
Official site
Franklin Park, Boston, Massachusetts
Start times: 12 p.m. ET (women); 1 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. No. 2 Syracuse #
  2. No. 9 Iona #
  3. No. 16 Columbia #
  4. No. 29 Providence
  5. Yale
  6. Cornell
  7. Dartmouth

At the top, this region is fairly simple. Syracuse and Iona should coast to qualifying spots. At Wisconsin, Syracuse won and Iona was 5th, earning them a boatload of points (Iona also won the Greater Louisville Classic) and they are both building lengthy NCAA streaks — Iona’s currently sits at 13 while Syracuse’s is at 6.

The key team is Columbia. The Lions were 10th at Wisconsin, which means they have enough points to push in anyone who finishes third. So the Lions are in as long as they finish third or fourth. However, the other teams in this region are almost certainly not getting in unless they finish third and are pushed in by Columbia. Considering how close Heps was (Columbia won with 65; Yale and Cornell both scored 75), the Lions could certainly be had over 10k as they gave up a significant amount of places over the final 1k at Heps (of course, Franklin Park isn’t as hilly as Van Cortlandt Park). Was that a sign of weakness for Columbia or did they just not run as well as they did at Wisco?

Below, we’ve mapped out the scenarios for at-large teams in the region. The key is that Columbia has to finish fourth for this Northeast to send four teams (assuming Syracuse and Iona go 1-2).

Columbia is third: Columbia goes, no other at-large teams
Columbia is fourth: Columbia pushes third — both teams get in
Columbia is fifth: no at-large teams

The only other Northeast team that has a shot to get in on its own is Providence, but the Friars would need results around the country to break right (specifically, they’d need Eastern Kentucky to run well and one projected qualifier to blow up at regionals).

The most interesting storyline is whether Columbia can help its Heps rivals end long NCAA droughts. A subpar day from the Lions could push in Cornell (who last made NCAAs in 1992) or Yale (who has never made NCAAs). It would be quite ironic if Yale finally made it to NCAAs thanks to a Dan Ireland-coached team — Ireland was the head man in New Haven for 12 years.

Mid-Atlantic Regional
Official site
West Windsor Fields, Princeton, New Jersey
Start times: 12 p.m. ET (women); 1 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. No. 15 Georgetown #
  2. No. 23 Penn #
  3. No. 22 Villanova
  4. Navy
  5. Princeton
  6. Penn State
  7. St. Joseph’s

For everyone but Georgetown, the only route to NCAAs is to finish in the top two (or three, in the unlikely event that Georgetown finishes 4th). The Hoyas have been running well all year and should secure one of the top two spots, leaving the other auto spot for one of the following three teams:

Penn: 2nd at Heps, finishing just four points behind Columbia. Beat Villanova at Princeton Invitational, but only 11th at Notre Dame Invite.

Villanova: 2nd at Big Easts, finishing just one point behind Georgetown. 2nd at Princeton Invitational (behind Penn). 2nd at Paul Short Run (behind Georgetown). #4/#5 spots have been trouble all year, but they’re coming off their best race of the season at Big Easts  (their #4 was 6 seconds back of Georgetown’s #4; their #5 was 7 seconds back of Georgetown’s #5).

Navy: Coasted to win at Patriot League Champs (19 points); 8th at Notre Dame Invite (beat Penn, 225-243).

Why don’t any of these teams have points? Because none of them ran Wisconsin or Pre-Nats, where the majority of at-large points are handed out (Villanova could have earned one at Big Easts but lost to Georgetown by a single point). Villanova has a big advantage as they’ve got the best top three by far in Patrick Tiernan (who should be the individual champ), Jordy Williamsz and Rob Denault. But #4 and #5 has been a problem for the Wildcats, and if Penn and Navy can pack it in ahead of them, that could spell doom for Nova. Penn is coming off its best race of the year at Heps and considering how well the Quakers closed there, the extra 2k at regionals could help them. If the Quakers make it to the Big Dance, it would be quite an accomplishment for fourth-year coach Steve Dolan. How long has it been since their last visit? The Penn basketball team has been to a Final Four (1979) more recently than the men’s cross country team has made NCAAs (1975).

One other team worth noting is Princeton. The Tigers were a pedestrian 5th at Heps — the program’s worst finish since 2004 — and they were way back at Wisconsin (31st). But they did beat Columbia and Virginia Tech at the Princeton Inter-Regional on October 3, and though those points won’t be enough to get them to NCAAs (even if they take 3rd on Friday), that performance shows that Princeton is capable of summoning quality. It also helps that that race came on the Tigers’ home course — the site of regionals.

Finally, if Georgetown is third, it will have to hope Villanova is one of the teams in the top two. Georgetown has beaten Villanova twice this year and without those wins counting as points (each win = 1 point), the Hoyas will have trouble making it to Louisville as an at-large squad.

Midwest Regional
Official site
Rim Rock Farm, Lawrence, Kansas
Start times: 1 p.m. ET (women); 2 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. No. 6 Oklahoma State #
  2. No. 14 Tulsa #
  3. No. 19 Illinois
  4. No. 26 Oklahoma
  5. No. 26 Minnesota
  6. Iowa State
  7. Bradley

This is the bubble region. Illinois, Oklahoma and Minnesota all project to earn multiple points, but as things stand, none of them will be going to NCAAs. We’ll assume Big 12 Oklahoma State makes its 13th straight NCAA appearance by finishing in the top two. If that’s the case, the key team in this region — and perhaps the key team in the entire country — is Tulsa.

Tulsa (AAC champs, 8th at Wisconsin) occupies a similar position to that of Columbia in the Northeast. As things stand, if Tulsa is second, the Midwest will get no at-large spots. If Tulsa is third, the Midwest will get one (Tulsa) and if Tulsa is fourth, the Midwest will get two (Tulsa and whoever is third). But unlike the Northeast, the teams behind Tulsa actually have points. That means Illinois (coming on strong after taking second at Big 10s), Oklahoma (2nd at Big 12s) and Minnesota (3rd at Big 10s) all have a shot to go if projected qualifiers stumble in other regions. But the easiest way for all of them to get in is to beat Tulsa on Friday.

Great Lakes Regional
Live results * Official site
Zimmer Championship Course, Madison, Wisconsin
Start times: 1 p.m. ET (women); 2 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. No. 5 Michigan #
  2. No. 30 Indiana #
  3. Michigan State #
  4. Purdue
  5. Eastern Michigan
  6. Wisconsin
  7. Ohio State
Michigan won its first conference championship in 17 years earlier this month; now Big Blue shoots for its fifth straight NCAA appearance (courtesy Michigan Track&Field)

Michigan won its first conference championship in 17 years earlier this month; now Big Blue shoots for its 5th straight NCAA appearance (courtesy Michigan Track&Field)

Another region where chaos reigns. We all know about the struggles Wisconsin has endured, and the Badgers will need to put together their best race of the season to extend their NCAA-record qualifying streak to 44 (and even that may not be enough). But beyond Big 10 champ Michigan, which has been the Great Lakes’ best team all year, nothing is certain. Indiana finished just one point ahead of Michigan State at Big 10s; those two could easily flip-flop. Eastern Michigan was only 15th at Pre-Nats, but they won the MAC Championships handily (26 points) two weeks ago (but they did lose to Purdue at the Notre Dame Invite).

And of course, Wisconsin remains a massive wildcard. Two-time defending Big 10 champ Malachy Schrobilgen, the Badgers’ #1 man, DNF’d Big 10s due to injury; it’s a game-time decision as to whether he races regionals. Based on what Wisconsin has shown this year, they’re a longshot to make the Big Dance, but they have talent, home-course advantage and a coach with a ton of NCAA experience in Mick Byrne. If they finish third, then they will get pushed in as what this region boils down to is that Indiana and Michigan State should both go as long as they finish in the top four. If one is second and the other third, the team in third will get in with points. If one is second and the other is fourth, the team in fourth will push in the team in third. If one team is third and the other fourth, both will get in with points.

The only thing that really screws this region up is if one of those teams finishes outside the top four — or if Wisconsin earns an auto spot. Because Wisconsin has so many losses (yes, including losses at the Greater Louisville Classic), if the Badgers auto-qualified they would hand out a ton of points, allowing teams such as Eastern Kentucky, Illinois, Louisville and Providence to get in (assuming everything else is equal). We won’t know everything until all the results are in, but if you’re a fan of those four schools, you should root for Wisconsin to run well.

Mountain Regional
Live results * Official site
UNM North Golf Course, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Start times: 2 p.m. ET (women); 3 p.m. ET (men) 

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. No. 1 Colorado #
  2. No. 3 BYU #
  3. No. 11 UTEP #
  4. No. 21 Air Force  #
  5. No. 25 Colorado State #
  6. Southern Utah #
  7. Wyoming

Last year, this region sent seven teams, including a surprising UTEP squad that barely squeaked in (they were pushed in by New Mexico who finished just two points behind the Miners). With New Mexico and Northern Arizona taking steps back this year, the Mountain may not send seven again, but it has a good shot to send five or more (it’s currently projected to send six).

Colorado (who, if recent history is a guide, will likely rest one of its top guys) and BYU are locks, and UTEP should have enough points to go thanks to a win at Notre Dame and a fourth-place finish at Pre-Nats.

As of now, the Mountain projects to send six teams as long as Air Force, Colorado State and Southern Utah finish 4-5-6 in some order. But whoever finishes sixth (and even fifth) in the region needs to be worried.  If just one team gets pushed in a different region, whoever is sixth in the Mountain could be bumped out. If there’s more than one upset, the Mountain could only send four teams. Air Force, fresh off its first conference title since 2003, is the favorite for 4th (it beat Colorado State at Mountain Wests and both CSU and SUU at Pre-Nats), but it’s going to be a battle. Southern Utah beat Colorado State at Roy Griak but lost to them at Pre-Nats, and the loser at regionals will find itself on the bubble. All three teams can make it to Louisville, but for that to happen, they’ll have to root for the rest of the regionals to play out according to form.

West Regional
Live results
Jefferson Golf Course, Seattle, Washington
Start times: 3 p.m. ET (women); 4 p.m. ET (men)

USTFCCCA Regional Rankings

  1. No. 4 Stanford #
  2. No. 7 Oregon #
  3. No. 17 Washington #
  4. No. 20 UCLA #
  5. No. 24 Boise State #
  6. Washington State #
  7. California #
  8. Portland
  9. UC Santa Barbara
  10. Gonazaga
Oregon's Edward Cheserek was defeated at regionals last year before earning his second straight NCAA title eight days later (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)

Oregon’s Edward Cheserek was defeated at regionals last year before earning his second straight NCAA title eight days later (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)

Stanford and Oregon are locks; Washington (13th), UCLA (9th) and Boise State (11th) all ran well at Wisconsin and should have the points to go. It’s the 6-7 spots where this region becomes interesting. Right now, Washington State and Cal are both projected to get in late in the process (teams 28 and 29; Cal pushes Washington State) but that is subject to change if there is upheaval in other regions. First of all, Washington State has to finish in the top six. It projects to earn two points (from Cal and Texas) but that won’t be enough to get the Cougars in on their own. Instead, Washington State will have to beat Cal, as it did at Pac-12s, or a different school ranked ahead of it in order to be pushed in and earn its first NCAA bid since 2011. It’s the same story for Big West champ UC Santa Barbara or 2014 NCAA third placer Portland — neither has enough points to go on their own, so they’ll need to be pushed by beating one of the region’s ranked teams or Cal.

Cal is a team that was just 7th at Pac 12s. If they make it to the Big Dance, they’ll do so because they ran well early in the year (3rd at Roy Griak and 7th at Pre-Nats).

If Portland misses NCAAs, the Pilots would become the first team since Eastern Michigan in 2003 to miss NCAAs the year after finishing on the podium. Amazingly, they might not be the only squad to accomplish that in 2015 — Northern Arizona has even slimmer odds of making NCAAs out of the Mountain Region after finishing fourth at nationals last year.

Pay Attention To …

If you read the whole preview, you know which schools/regions to look out for, but we’ll recap them quickly here.

  • Southeast: NC State, Furman, UVA and Virginia Tech should all go with a top-five finish; Eastern Kentucky or Louisville could get pushed or get in on their own with some help from other regions.
  • Northeast: Syracuse and Iona are locks. Columbia goes as long as it finishes in the top four; everyone else will need to finish in the top four and hope Columbia pushes them in as they don’t have enough points to get in on their own.
  • Mid-Atlantic: Almost certainly a two-bid region although Georgetown will go with a top-three finish. Penn, Villanova, Navy and Princeton need to finish in the top two as none of them has enough points to go at-large.
  • Midwest: Oklahoma State is a lock. Illinois, Minnesota and Oklahoma need to beat Tulsa or hope for help from other regions.
  • Great Lakes: Michigan is a lock. Indiana and Michigan State should get in; anyone else in the region will need to beat Indiana or Michigan State and get pushed.
  • Mountain: Should send at least five; could send six with a lack of upsets elsewhere. Whoever finishes sixth in this region will be on pins and needles.
  • West: The ranked teams plus Cal should get in; Washington State/UC Santa Barbara/Portland need to finish in the top six and hope for a push.

What do you think? Vote in the 2015 LetsRun.com Regional Polls. We’ll compile the votes and then run the computer program to see who gets in and who is left home after the fans’ vote. Discuss this topic in our fan forum: MB: Official 2015 NCAA XC Regional Live Discussion Thread.

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