The top two teams in the nation will finally go head to head on Saturday at the NCAA Cross Country National Championship.

The #1 Oklahoma State Cowboys have looked very controlled all season with easy victories at their Cowboy Jamboree Invitational and Chile Pepper Festival. They were first tested at the Big 12 Championships by Texas and Oklahoma, but easily fended off their challenges through a late surge by the entire OSU pack. A few weeks later at the Midwest Regional, they rested Shadrack Kipchirchir and Kirubel Erassa and still managed to sneak in with an auto-bid.

Their main opponents come Saturday will be the #2 University of Colorado Buffaloes. The Buffs have experienced both moments of brilliance and confusion throughout this season. Their squad first opened their season with an easy victory at their Rocky Mountain Shootout. They had their true debut at the Pre-National Invitational where they won with a team average of 23:39.30 and a 30-second spread from their #1 - 5 runners. They carried their momentum at the Pac-12 Championships where they not only crushed the field, but only had a 9-second spread between their scorers.

The only question mark on the Buffs’ season came at the Mountain Regional Championship. CU took third with 69 points (second place BYU scored 68) and earned an at-large bid to nationals. Were they running easy, did CU simply not execute their race plan, or is this a signal to throw up the red flags? More on that in a bit.

Below we’ve listed the top runners for each school. Even though both schools thrive on pack running, it will come down to each individual versus one another. Mano-a-mano.

 

Oklahoma State Roster Colorado Roster


Girma Mecheso


Info
: RS Senior from Lilburn, GA

Race Results
:
Cowboy Jamboree - 24:42.25 (4th)
Chile Pepper - 30:13.8 (2nd)
Big 12 - 23:58.1 (2nd)
Midwest Regional - 30:26.39 (2nd)

FloRatings:
215.8 (Big 12)
207 (Cowboy Jamboree)
205.4 (Chile Pepper)

Average FloRating:
209.4

Track Personal Bests:
3000m - 8:04.04
5000m - 13:34.83
10000m - 28:16.97

National Finishes:
16th (2008 at Auburn)
24th (2009)
7th (2010)
Jake Hurysz


Info
: Junior (transfer) from Mebane, NC

Race Results
:
Pre-Nats - 23:19.5 (4th)
Pac-12 - 23:41 (2nd 8th)
Mountain Regional - 30:13.2 (6th)


FloRatings:
216.5 (Pre-Nats)
213.1 (Pac-12)


Average FloRating: 
214.8

Track Personal Bests:
1500m - 3:42.89
3000m - 8:01.97
5000m - 14:17.03 13:38.59

National Finishes:
62nd (2011)









 





Shadrack Kipchirchir

Info:
Junior from Eldoret, Kenya




Race Results:
Cowboy Jamboree - 24:29.17 (1st)
Chile Pepper - 30:19.0 (4th)
Big 12 - 23:58.5 (3rd)

FloRatings:
215.6 (Big 12)
211.3 (Cowboy Jamboree)
203.7 (Chile Pepper)

Average FloRating:
210.2

Track Personal Bests:
1500m - 3:53:57
3000m - 7:59.79
5000m - 13:46.00i
10000 - 29:09.64

National Finishes:
27th (2010 at W. Kentucky)
50th (2011)





Blake Theroux

Info:
Soph from Chesapeake, VA


Race Results:
Pre-Nats - 23:38.8 (11th)
Pac-12 - 23:41 (8th)
Mountain Regional - 30:30.3 (14th)

FloRatings:
213.4 (Pac-12)
210.1 (Pre-Nats)


Average FloRating:
211.8

Track Personal Bests:
1500m - 3:45.33
3000m - 8:11.43
5000m - 14:55.21


National Finishes:
183rd (2011)





 

Tom Farrell

Info:
RS Junior from Carlisle, UK



Race Results:
Chile Pepper - 30:41.2 (12th)
Big 12 - 24:00.6 (4th)
Midwest Regional - 30:29.06 (4th)

FloRatings:
214.8 (Big 12)
196.3 (Chile Pepper)

Average FloRating:
205.6

Track Personal Bests:
1500m - 3:41.07
3000m - 7:52.38
5000m - 13:15.31

National Finishes:
29th (2010)
31st (2011)




Hugh Dowdy

Info:
Soph from Petaluma, CA



Race Results:
Pre-Nats - 23:39.2 (12th)
Pac-12 - 23:42 (9th)
Mountain Regional - 31:46.6 (53rd)

FloRatings:
212.8 (Pac-12)
209.9 (Pre-Nats)

Average FloRating:
211.4

Track Personal Bests:
1500m - 3:47.89
3000st - 8:56.19


National Finishes:
N/A




 

Kirubel Erassa

Info:
RS Soph from Grayson, GA



Race Results:
Cowboy Jamboree - 24:58.42 (9th)
Chile Pepper - 30:17.4 (3rd)
Big 12 - 24:06.0 (7th)

FloRatings:
213.0 (Big 12)
204.2 (Chile Pepper)
201.6 (Cowboy Jamboree)

Average FloRating:
206.3

Track Personal Bests:
1500m - 3:43.99
3000m - 7:59.35
5000m - 13:47.26

National Finishes:
N/A

 
Martin Medina

Info:
Senior from Grand Junction, CO


Race Results:
Pre-Nats - 23:49.5 (23rd)
Pac-12 - 23:49 (13th)
Mountain Regional - 30:14.0 (7th)

FloRatings:
210.4 (Pac-12)
206.5 (Pre-Nats)


Average FloRating:
208.5

Track Personal Bests:
1500m - 4:01.71
5000m - 14:14.51
10000m - 29:21.57

National Finishes:
173rd (2011)

 

Shane Moskowitz

Info:
RS Soph from Silverdale, WA



Race Results:
Cowboy Jamboree - 25:07.87 (13th)
Chile Pepper - 30:25.6 (5th)
Big 12 - 24:06.2
Midwest Regional - 30:30.21 (7th)

FloRatings:
212.9 (Big 12)
201.5 (Chile Pepper)
198.4 (Cowboy Jamboree)

Average FloRating:
204.3

Track Personal Bests:
800m - 1:53.08
1500m - 3:44.31
3000m - 8:07.29
5000m - 14:26.66

National Finishes:
N/A




 
Pierce Murphy

Info:
RS Freshmen from Hanalei, HI


Race Results:
Pre-Nats - 23:49.5 (22nd)
Pac-12 - 23:50 (14th)
Mountain Regional - 30:36.6 (19th)


FloRatings:
210.1 (Pac-12)
206.5 (Pre-Nats)


Average FloRating:
208.3

Track Personal Bests:
3000m - 8:39.47




National Finishes:
N/A




 

Joseph Manilafasha

Info:
RS Junior from Denver, CO



Race Results:
Cowboy Jamboree - 24:35.29 (3rd)
Big 12 - 24:21.2 (16th)
Midwest Regional - 30:26.69 (12th)

FloRatings:
209.3 (Cowboy Jamboree)
207.9 (Big 12)

Average FloRating:
208.6

Track Personal Bests:
3000m - 8:16.74
5000m - 14:24.70


National Finishes:
66th (2010)
96th (2011)
Aric VanHalen

Info:
Senior from Los Angeles, CA


Race Results:
Pre-Nats - 23:52.2 (27th)
Pac-12 - 23:46 (12th)
Mountain Regional - 30:50.7 (16th)

FloRatings:
211.4 (Pac-12)
205.6 (Pre-Nats)

Average FloRating:
208.5

Track Personal Bests:
1500m - 3:48.74
3000st - 8:42.55
5000m - 14:01.91

National Finishes:
130th (2009)
177th (2010)
 

Craig Nowak

Info:
FR from Cypress, TX



Race Results:
Chile Pepper - 30:38.6 (10th)
Big 12 - 24:43.2 (26th)
Midwest Regional - 31:06.22 (28th)

FloRatings:
204.7 (Cowboy Jamboree)
200.6 (Big 12)
197.1 (Chile Pepper)

Average FloRating:
200.8

Track Personal Bests:
1500m - 3:50.12
3200m - 8:49.12
5000m - 14:37


National Finishes:
N/A







 
Morgan Pearson

Info:
RS Soph from New Vernon, NJ



Race Results:
Pac-12 - 24:04 (18th)
Mountain Regional - 31:05.1 (17th)


FloRatings:
205.4 (Pac-12)



Average FloRating:
205.4

Track Personal Bests:
1500m - 3:55.19
3000m - 8:06.44
5000m - 14:03.53


National Finishes:
N/A







 

Fabian Clarkson

Info:
Soph from Berlin, Germany



Race Results:
Cowboy Jamboree - 24:55.42 (6th)
Chile Pepper - 30:25.9 (6th)
Big 12 - 24:32.5 (20th)
Midwest Regional - 31:07.28 (29th)

FloRatings:
204.2 (Big 12)
202.6 (Cowboy Jamboree)
201.4 (Chile Pepper)

Average FloRating:
202.7

Track Personal Bests:
1500m - 3:46.33
3000m - 8:13
5000m - 14:39
10000m - 29:18.25

National Finishes:
233rd (2011)





 
Connor Winter

Info:
RS Frosh from Centennial, CO



Race Results:
Pre-Nats - 23:55.7 (35th)
Pac-12 - 24:04 (18th)
Mountain Regional - 31:05.1 (17th)


FloRatings:
204.4 (Pre-Nats)
203.1 (Pac-12)


Average FloRating:
203.8

Track Personal Bests:
Mile - 4:10.33



National Finishes:
N/A






 

#1 Oklahoma State enters the NCAA Championships as the favorites both on paper and based on experience. When comparing each runner, you’ll notice that Oklahoma State has the advantage in terms of better track personal bests.

The main advantage to take away is that Oklahoma State has the experience to match their track credentials. Four of Oklahoma States’ scorers (Mecheso, Kipchirchir, Farrell, and Manilafasha) have been performed consistently well at NCAA Nationals on more than one occasion. They won’t fear the unknown as they are well accustomed to the conditions and intensity of nationals.

However, you cannot fault the Buffaloes for their lack of experience. Of the eight runners listed, five of them are classified as underclassmen in terms of eligibility. They don’t have the same experience as Oklahoma State not because they’re not qualified, but because they’re young. This is a group that should have the same resume, if not one more impressive than OSU’s, in the coming years.

Colorado has never been known to run more than the bare minimum at the Mountain Regional. Below are the regional and national places for the last five seasons:

2007: 1st at regionals; 7th at nationals
2008: 1st at regionals; 12th at nationals
2009: 2nd at regionals; 6th at nationals
2010: 2nd at regionals; 6th at nationals
2011: 2nd at regionals; 3rd at nationals

In the past five years, they’ve placed higher at nationals when they’ve taken second at regionals. Why should a team run more than they have to over a grueling 10,000m at altitude when they can qualify with a second place finish?

This is the only cause for concern for the Buffaloes. While they may have been running easy at the 2012 Mountain Regional Championships, there are some outliers. They still produced their normal spread of 37-seconds, but their top five was much different than at previous races. Their normal #3 runner, Hugh Dowdy, was their seventh man back in 53rd place.

If Colorado was running hard, then Dowdy had an off race. But if Colorado was running easy, then this is a cause for concern.

That's where the differences between the two teams becomes a bit more clear. The top runners at Oklahoma State have yet to misstep this season. Even if they would have placed third at the Midwest Regional Championship, the blame of having to accept an auto-bid would not have fallen on the athletes, but on Coach Dave Smith for resting two of their top five athletes. Again, these are hypotheticals.

This lack of experience is compounded as Colorado is without senior Joe Bosshard (20th at NCAA last year) and sophomore Ammar Moussa (65th). Bosshard is sidelined with an injury and Moussa has not raced since the Rocky Mountain Shootout. Imagine this team if they not only had these two contenders, but if Donn Cabral decided to attend CU rather than going professional (again... hypotheticals).

Colorado is not without a very strong advantage over Oklahoma State. Ironically, that advantage is experience.

For the first time in eight years, the NCAA Cross Country Championships will be held at a different site than the LaVern Gibson Cross Country course. Which of the two teams has actually run on the E.P. "Tom Sawyer" State Park in Louisville, KY?

Colorado.

A lot of coaches are concerned that the course in Louisville is more narrow than the traditional NCAA course in Terre Haute. Colorado has actual experience in terms of developing their race strategy on the new course. When they won the Pre-National Invitational, the number of runners in the field will be higher than at nationals.

This exact problem caused Oklahoma State trouble at the 2008 NCAA National Championships. If you look at the results, the splits for Oklahoma State had their top runners going through 3k and 5k nearly in the 100's. They tried to move up too late in the race and were unable to rally over the last 5k.

Upon arrival, Coach Dave Smith (@1:30 - 2:00) will have to carefully examine the course and decide on a solid race strategy if he does not want to reproduce the same outcome from 2008.

There’s also a bit of history between these two teams. Last year, Oklahoma State just edged out Colorado for second place at the NCAA Cross Country National Championship. Oklahoma State scored 139 points to Colorado’s 144.

The rivalry still goes a bit deeper. When Colorado used to compete in the Big 12 Conference, they had won 12 consecutive team championships. That streak came to an end in 2008 when Oklahoma State defeated Colorado 66 to 22.

Colorado took second place for the next two years before moving to the Pac-12 Conference. Oklahoma State has won every Big 12 conference title since then.

While losing hurts, breaking a streak goes much deeper.

Colorado has the talent, motivation, and tools to execute the perfect race at nationals. However, they are going to need a perfect race in order to dethrone the experienced Oklahoma State.