Golfweek's Conference Challenge preview
A brand new event hits the college golf schedule Aug. 30 - Sept. 1, – the Golfweek Conference Challenge. The 54-hole stroke-play tournament will be played at Blue Top Ridge in Riverside, Iowa, and will include 15 teams from 15 different conferences. Eleven of the 15 teams in the field played in the postseason a year ago.
Conference: Big 12
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 44th
Top Returnees: Joakim Mikkelsen (156th), Cody Paladino (218th), Colton Williams (316th)
Ringler’s Take: Baylor posted four top-5 finishes including a pair of victories last fall, but slowed in the spring and came up a few shots short of advancing to the NCAA Championship. With everyone back in the lineup with the exception of one starter, look for the Bears to improve on its national ranking (No. 44) and be in the mix when it comes time to play for a trip to the NCAA Championship.
• • •
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 32nd
Top Returnees: John Murphy (96th), Eric Mina (145th), Stephen Hale (250th)
Ringler’s Take: The top-ranked team in the Golfweek preseason rankings, California will be one of the favorites to win this week. The Golden Bears brought in a strong freshman class led by Michael Weaver to go along with a solid core of returnees. California plenty to look forward to this year.
• • •
Team: Coastal Carolina
Conference: Big South
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 48th
Top Returnees: Dan Obremski (277th), Drew Ernst (333rd), Sam Lyons (358th)
Ringler’s Take: The loss of All-American Zack Byrd will be noticed, but the Chanticleers return the rest of their starters from a year ago and should again be the team to beat in the Big South Conference.
• • •
Team: Florida State
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 29th
Top Returnees: Brooks Koepka (81st), Drew Kittleson (83rd), Cameron Knight (328th)
Ringler’s Take: The Seminoles have two go-to guys in Koepka and Kittleson, and with a mix of veteran players and younger players, look for Trey Jones’ squad to improve throughout the year.
• • •
Team: Georgia Southern
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 51st
Top Returnees: Logan Blondell (126th), Spencer Fulford (304th), Joe Monte (431st)
Ringler’s Take: Larry Mays has quietly built a solid and consistent program in Statesboro. This season could be one of his better ones if the Eagles can lean on Southern Conference Player of the Year Logan Blondell to continue where he left off a year ago. Georgia Southern will also need some help at the bottom of the lineup.
• • •
Team: Illinois State
Conference: Missouri Valley
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 97th
Top Returnees: Kyle Bragg (478th), Joe Emerich (496th), Tommy Bliefnick (537th)
Ringler’s Take: The Redbirds sport a veteran squad this year and look to unseat Wichita State as the top team in the Missouri Valley Conference.
• • •
Conference: Big Ten
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 54th
Top Returnees: Vince India (148th), Brad Hopfinger (237th), Barrett Kelpin (514th)
Ringler’s Take: Last year was a career season for Hawkeye golf. Iowa cracked the top 100 in the spring rankings for the first time in well over a decade and did not stop there, as the Hawkeyes advanced to the NCAA Championship and placed 17th. The trick this year will be trying to build on that without letting new expectations get in the way.
• • •
Conference: Conference USA
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 100th
Top Returnees: Jack Belote (661st), Brandon Bunn (780th), Jeff Hall (919th)
Ringler’s Take: The Tigers will have to replace its top two players from a year ago and might look to Auburn transfer Jonathan Fly or a freshman to help fill the void.
• • •
Team: Middle Tennessee
Conference: Sun Belt
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 67th
Top Returnees: Jason Millard (184th), Kent Bulle (300th), Craig Smith (536th)
Ringler’s Take: Two years ago the Blue Raiders stormed onto the scene advancing to the NCAA Championship. Last year, Middle Tennessee made noise by winning the Callaway Collegiate Match Play Championship and again played in the postseason. With three of their top five players back, the Blue Raiders could make some pay attention again.
• • •
Team: New Mexico State
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 82nd
Top Returnees: Gaston De La Torre (456th), Ryan Word (474th), Timothy Madigan (529th)
Ringler’s Take: The Aggies have won four of the last seven WAC titles, including last year’s victory, and return three players from last year’s squad that competed in NCAA regional play. Expect New Mexico State to again be amongst the top teams in the WAC. If the Aggies can find some depth on their young roster, they could contend for an at-large bid to the postseason.
• • •
Team: South Florida
Conference: Big East
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 167th
Top Returnees: Robby Carl (635th), Luke Leibel (781st), Raj Nahal (949th)
Ringler’s Take: There might not be a coach in the field this week that is more excited to get the 2009-10 season underway. Last year the Bulls finished the season with a head-to-head won-loss-tie record of 36-112-1. Jim Fee returns all of his starters from a year ago.
• • •
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 53rd
Top Returnees: Bobby Massa (104th), Zack Fisher (219th), Michael Van DeVenter (344th)
Ringler’s Take: Expect the Mavericks to better this year than they were last year. Led by Massa and Fisher, UTA should easily be an at-large selection to the postseason and possibly the top team in the Southland Conference.
• • •
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 41st
Top Returnees: Ryan Haselden (214th), Hudson Johnson (238th), Adam Hoffmann (293rd)
Ringler’s Take: Tom Shaw will have to find someone to step in and fill the gap left by Jon Curran. The Commodores return a solid core of players and a couple of solid recruits to provide depth, but will need consistency at the top of the lineup to crack the top 40 this season.
• • •
Team: Virginia Commonwealth
Conference: Colonial Athletic Association
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 72nd
Top Returnees: Lanto Griffin (142nd), Rafael Campos (273rd), Vincent Nadeau (405th)
Ringler’s Take: VCU has slowly been improving over the last few years and this season could produce one of the better squads in head coach Matt Ball’s tenure. The Rams return their top five players from a team that won the Colonial Athletic Association last spring.
• • •
Conference: Atlantic 10
2008-09 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 94th
Top Returnees: Sebastian MacLean (130th), Peter O’Neill, Alan Glynn (569th)
Ringler’s Take: Doug Steiner’s returns his top four players from a year ago. Look for the Musketeers to challenge Charlotte for the Atlantic 10 and possibly make a run at an at-large bid.