A look at the 15 teams participating in this year’s Golfweek Conference Challenge, which begins Sunday at Spirit Hollow Golf Club in Burlington, Iowa. Eleven teams qualified for an NCAA regional last season. Six participated in the NCAA Championship.
Conference: Big 12
Coach: Mike McGraw
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 1
The scoop: Peter Uihlein is sitting this one out to rest after a hectic summer schedule, but that doesn’t mean the Cowboys aren’t a contender at Spirit Hollow. The Cowboys finished second against a stacked field at Olympia Fields even though Uihlein finished fifth among the team’s five starters. Drew Page led the team with a fifth-place finish, while Sean Einhaus was 15th. Oklahoma State was No. 8 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings.
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Coach: Bruce Heppler
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 2
The scoop: This is a young Yellow Jacket team, but one that could have its share of success. The team lost three of its top four players from last season – Kyle Scott, J.T. Griffin and Paul Haley – but still finished third at the season-opening Carpet Capital without senior James White, a first-team All-American last season. White failed to qualify for the Carpet Capital, but will be in the Conference Challenge. Freshmen Anders Albertson (T-3) and Ollie Schniederjans (T-11) led the team at Carpet Capital. The Yellow Jackets also added sophomore Drew Czuchry, a transfer from Akron.
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Coach: Brad McMakin
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 15
The scoop: The Razorbacks have a strong 1-2 punch in Ethan Tracy (No. 49 in last year’s Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings) and Sebastian Cappelan (25). Tracy upset Patrick Cantlay in the final of this year’s Western Amateur. Cappelan, of Sweden, represented Europe at this year’s Palmer Cup. They led the team to a season-opening victory at the Gopher Intercollegiate. Tracy was fifth at the Gopher, while Cappelen and Austin Cook finished sixth. Arkansas is No. 9 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings.
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Conference: Big Ten
Coach: Mark Hankins
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 17
The scoop: This is a rebuilding year for the host Hawkeyes, who dominated last year’s Golfweek Conference Challenge. Gone are Vince India (No. 19 in last year’s Golfweek rankings) and Brad Hopfinger (89). The team will be led by Chris Brant, who shared the individual title with India at last year’s Golfweek Conference Challenge and finished 55th in last year’s Golfweek rankings. Brant started this season with a victory at the Gopher Invitational. Iowa’s Barrett Kelpin finished second at the Gopher, but Iowa was sixth as a team as no other Hawkeye cracked the top 50.
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Coach: Steve Desimone
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 19
The scoop: Byeong-Hun An, the 2009 U.S. Amateur champion, turned pro after last season, but the Bears will still be contenders in the Pac-10. Cal, No. 20 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings, started its season with a 12-shot victory at the Wolverine Intercollegiate. All five Bears finished in the top 20. Three – Joel Stalter, Max Homa and freshman Michael Kim – finished in the top five. Kim, Pace Johnson and Brandon Hagy all played at the Wolverine after not being in the Bears’ lineup last season. Kim is a freshman. Johnson, the 2010 Big West Conference freshman of the year, transferred from Cal Poly. Hagy, who won the 2011 New Year’s Invitational over first-team All-American Bank Vongvanij, redshirt last season.
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Coach: Mark Guhne
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 38
The scoop: The Mocs, who returned all five starters from last year’s team, started the season with a sixth-place showing at the Carpet Capital. Austria’s Benni Weilguni, a sophomore finished second at Carpet Capital, the best showing of his career. He matched his personal bests for 54 holes (210) and 18 holes (67) at the Carpet Capital. Liam Johnston of Scotland will be making his first career start for the Mocs after shooting 62 in the team’s qualifier. Johnston, a freshman, was runner-up at the 2011 Scottish Boys Match Play and Stroke Play championships. Stephan Jaeger, a two-time Southern Conference player of the year, is the Mocs’ top returner. He was No. 60 in last year’s Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and advanced to the second round of this year’s U.S. Amateur.
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Conference: Sun Belt
Coach: Brad Stracke
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 41
The scoop: North Texas was once a golf powerhouse that produced its share of PGA Tour players. The Mean Green may not be among the land’s elite anymore, but they were a pleasant surprise last season, and look to continue that good play. North Texas started its season by finishing second to Arkansas at the Gopher Invitational. The Mean Green were the only team with all five of its players in the top 25. At the Gopher, North Texas used four of its five starters from last season. True freshman Juan Munoz finished 14th in his collegiate debut.
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Conference: Atlantic Sun
Coach: Jay Moseley
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 47
The scoop: Last season was a historic one for Kennesaw State, which advanced to the NCAA Championship for the first time. The Owls have a strong 1-2 punch in Jeff Karlsson and Matt Nagy. Karlsson was No. 27 in last year’s Golfweek/Sagarin Collegee Rankings, while Nagy, who qualified for the 2009 U.S. Open, ranked 82nd. Kennesaw State started this season ranked 30th in Golfweek’s preseason rankings. They finished ninth at the Carpet Capital. Nagy led the team with a 17th-place finish. Karlsson finished 25th.
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New Mexico State
Coach: Mike Dirks
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 53
The scoop: The Aggies have won four consecutive WAC Championships, and five of the past six. They’ll have a new coach, Mike Dirks, this year after Scott Lieberwirth took the job at Texas-El Paso. The Aggies also will have to cope with the loss of WAC player of the year Tim Madigan, who won the New Mexico Open on Sept. 15. Gaston de la Torre, a second-team All-WAC selection, is the team’s top returner. He was No. 225 in last year’s Golfweek rankings. New Mexico State finished fifth in the season-opening Mark Simpson Invitational. Justin Shin led the team with a fourth-place finish.
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Conference: Conference USA
Coach: Bill Brogden
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 55
The scoop: The Golden Hurricane started its season with a second-place showing at the Northern Intercollegiate, 10 shots behind winner Central Florida. Tulsa returns its top two players from last season, Chris Worrell (No. 196 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings) and Stephen Carney (258). They finished ninth and 22nd, respectively. John Young Kim led the team at the Northern with a fifth-place finish.
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Coach: Tim Baldwin
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 65
The scoop: The Lions, who have just one American on their eight-man roster, are an international bunch. Six countries – the United States, Colombia, Chile, England, South Africa and Germany – are represented. Their season got off to a rough start, with an 11th-place finish at the Sam Hall Intercollegiate. Germany’s Phillipp Westermann, No. 98 in last season’s Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, is the team’s top returner.
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Conference: Mountain West
Coach: Glen Millican
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 68
The scoop: The Lobos lost three of their top four players from last year – Travis Ross, Tom Carlson and Sam Chavez – but that didn’t stop them from finishing second in their first start of the year, the Mark Simpson Invitational. John Catlin, the team’s top returner from last year (No. 349 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, led the team with a third-place finish at the Simpson. James Erkenbeck finished seventh, while Victor Perez finished ninth.
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Conference: Big West
Coach: Paul Smolinski
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 80
The scoop: The Anteaters are without their top three players from last year’s team – Max Greil, Bryan Harris and Jerry He. Allan Jun, No. 369 in last year’s Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, is the team’s top returner. UC Irvine finished eighth in its season-opening St. Mary’s Invitational. Michael Yang led the team with a 28th-place finish. Jun was 33rd.
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Coach: Mike Fleck
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 101
The scoop: Ball State has started its season with two top-five showings, finishing fourth at the Northern Intercollegiate and fifth at the Gene Miranda Falcon Invitational. More impressively, the Cardinals have had the co-medalist in both events. Tyler Merkel tied for first at the Northern. TJ Carpenter tied UNLV’s Kevin Penner, a match-play participant at this year’s U.S. Amateur, for medalist honors at the Falcon.
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Coach: Doug Steiner
2010-11 final Golfweek rank: 111
The scoop: Last week was a good one for the Musketeers, as former Xavier golfer Jason Kokrak won the Nationwide Tour’s Boise Open to likely earn his 2012 PGA Tour card. We’ll see if Xavier can take inspiration from that victory. Xavier started its season with fifth-place finishes at the Marshall and St. Mary’s invitationals. Bolivia’s Sebastian MacLean, the team’s leading returner (No. 269 in last season’s Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings), finished seventh at Marshall and fifth at St. Mary’s.