During the month of January, Golfweek will preview the 2014 spring season for each conference. Check out all of the previews here.
Today, we look at the American Athletic Conference:
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5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
• Top of the class: Central Florida
• Player to watch: Chase Koepka, South Florida. Koepka, the brother of former Florida State standout Brooks Koepka, won twice last fall and didn’t finish worse than T-12 in four starts. Can he keep it up?
• Freshman to watch: Lars Van Meijel, Memphis. The freshman from Holland finished the fall ranked 30th in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, and you have to imagine he’ll only get better.
• Conference championship: April 27-29, Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club (Copperhead), Palm Harbor, Fla.
• Past champions (since 2009): Houston (2013), Notre Dame (2011-12), Georgetown (2010), Louisville (2009)
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(Golfweek/Sagarin rank in parentheses)
• Central Florida (8): The Knights won twice during the fall, at the Northern Intercollegiate and Adams Cup. They also were runner-up at Isleworth and fifth at Shoal Creek, and boast one of the best one-two punches in the country. Seniors Ricardo Gouveia and Greg Eason combined for six top 10s and are ranked 41st and 42nd, respectively, in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. Senior Kyle Wilshire, junior Linus Vaisanen and freshman Ryan Stovash also made four falls starts for Central Florida, which will be without senior Jose Joia. Joia, who missed the fall with a back injury, likely will redshirt this season. A tough spring schedule awaits as the Knights will play the Gator, John Hayt, Schenkel and Augusta State, among other tournaments.
• Houston (17): The Cougars won the Fighting Irish Gridiron Classic and didn’t finish outside the top 5 in four fall events. They also feature one of the deepest lineups in the country. Kyle Pilgrim and Roman Robledo won individual titles at the Fighting Irish Gridiron Classic and Northern Intercollegiate, respectively, and eight other players logged action last fall. Five Cougars are ranked 188th or better by Golfweek, including Pilgrim and Robledo, who are 91st and 99th, respectively. Spring dates include the Querencia Cabo Intercollegiate, the Forest Hills Collegiate and the BancorpSouth Intercollegiate.
• South Florida (20): The Bulls are led by Chase Koepka, who is sixth in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings and won twice last fall, at the AutoTrader.com Collegiate and Rees Jones Invitational. As a team, South Florida earned a victory at the Invitational at Kiawah’s Ocean Course to close the fall, and finished runner-up in two of its three other fall starts. It will be interesting to see who else steps up for the Bulls this spring. Junior Trey Valentine shined at times last season and freshman Rigel Fernandes has promise, but no one other than Koepka had a scoring average better than 73.3 during the fall.
• SMU (30): Like Houston, the Mustangs have depth in their favor. They also have one of the best players in the country in sophomore Bryson Dechambeau, who is eighth in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, had a scoring average of 69.85 and five top 5s in five fall events. After Dechambeau, though, no one has really stood out. Eight other players saw action in the fall, but just senior Harry Higgs and sophomore Austin Smotherman notched multiple top-10 finishes. The Mustangs, like the three teams ranked higher than them, have the potential to win this conference, and they’ll have a spring schedule that will test them, as well.
• Memphis (41): The Tigers won the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate last fall in an event in which Central Florida placed fifth. But Memphis also finished outside the top 5 at the Columbia Regional Preview and Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate. Freshman Lars Van Meijel (two victories, four top 10s and a 69.63 scoring average during the fall) has been the bright spot for the Tigers, who also have gotten a sizable contribution from senior Will Pearson.
• Louisville (53): The Cardinals had a busy fall, posting a victory and three other top 5s in six tournaments. Three players – Antoine Le Saux, Max Walz and Robin Sciot-Siegrist – logged 18 rounds and had sub-73 scoring averages. Robert Geibel competed in five events, recording a 71.0 scoring average and winning the Warrior Wave Invitational in a playoff.
• Cincinnati (93): The Bearcats won the Cleveland State Invitational and finished in the top 5 in its four other fall tournaments. It wasn’t the toughest schedule in the conference, but Baxter Reeves’ 70.9 scoring average in 14 fall rounds and Jared Howard’s 72 average in 14 rounds prove that Cincinnati has players capable of going low.
• Rutgers (133): Victories at the Lehigh Invitational and the Hartford Hawks Invitational were nice, but the Scarlet Knights finished back in the pack at their more competitive fall events, the Badger Invitational and Wolfpack Intercollegiate.
• Temple (158): The Owls leaned heavily on Brandon Matthews during the fall, and that trend should continue this spring. Matthews is the only Owls player ranked inside the top 600 of the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. He’s 151st, and had three top 5s and a 69.3 scoring average in three fall events. He also closed the fall with a victory at the Barnabas Health Intercollegiate.
• Connecticut (191): The Huskies closed the fall by winning the Connecticut Cup, but it wasn’t a particularly impressive fall performance as UConn notched just two top 5s in four other fall events.
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Lance Ringler predicts who will win the conference title
This could be one of the best conference championships we will see this spring. In my opinion, there are four teams – Central Florida, Houston, South Florida and SMU – that could win this, and each of those four could be the favorite come mid-April. The one team here that we have not seen the best from yet is SMU. The Mustangs will close the gap this spring. SMU would have been the team I would have selected in August. At this point, if forced to pick a winner, I would side with South Florida.