On Friday, 30 teams will begin their hopeful march to a national title at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., for the 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship. After 54 holes, the field will be cut to the low 15 teams, as well as the top nine individuals not on advancing teams. After 72 holes, the top eight teams will make match play and an individual champion will be crowned.
Below, Golfweek college expert Lance Ringler gives his take on the key teams in this field, along with a synopsis of all 30 squads.
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USC: You have to think coach Chris Zambri and his Trojans feel like they squandered a couple opportunities to win a national championship the last two years. The Trojans return four of the five players from last year’s team that advanced to semifinals. Two years ago, Rico Hoey and Sean Crocker were part of a USC that advanced to the championship match at Concession Golf Club before losing to LSU in the championship match. Add in the fact that USC is ranked No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin college rankings, and this team should be in the mix.
LSU: Despite an 11th-place finish in the fall, the Tigers have been as good as it gets. They have showed no signs of backing up, rather having continued to improve in becoming a clear-cut favorite to win a second NCAA title in three years. Player of the Year Sam Burns added a fourth victory to his results this year with a win in NCAA regional play.
Oklahoma State: It seems like a broken record, but the Cowboys are very good and very deep. Head coach Alan Bratton brings a team to Rich Harvest Farms that has its entire lineup ranked inside the top 62 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. However, these Cowboys have only Zach Olsen who has played in NCAA match play, as he did so as a freshman in 2014.
Oregon: Defending NCAA champions were the No. 2 ranked team using only spring rankings. Oklahoma State transfer Wyndham Clark leads the way for Casey Martin’s squad that has won five times in nine spring events. Let’s not forget Oregon won the Pac-12 Championship in some Midwest-like conditions when it snowed in Colorado.
Baylor: Consistency is a big deal in golf and with the early week goal of being in the top eight after 72 holes, it’s hard not to pencil Baylor in. The Bears, which got to the top-ranked spot in college golf for the first time in program history this spring, placed in the top four in nine of 11 events this year. All five Baylor players here at Rich Harvest Farms this week rank inside the top 81 players in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings.
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Keep an eye on
Oklahoma: Which way will the Sooners go? They have been a team that seems to be just a bit short of putting it all together. Here this week the goal is not to finish first after 72 holes, rather only find a way into the top eight. With sophomore Brad Dalke appearing to find his form with good play lately – top 10 at Big 12s and posting his first college win at Stanford Regional – Oklahoma is a perfect candidate.
UNLV: Head coach Dwaine Knight has done a very good job with scheduling over the past couple of years to prepare his program for postseason runs. That will help UNLV this week at Rich Harvest Farms. After winning the West Lafayette Regional – which was the toughest regional according to the power ratings as well as the toughest conditions on probably the most difficult course – this week and course should not intimidate an under-the-radar group.
Kent State: Best mid-major program in college golf by conference affiliation only. The Golden Flashes run like a power league. With three players ranked inside the top 100, this team is a legit title contender at a place head coach Herb Page is familiar with. Kent State does have one appearance in match play back in 2012 when it was played at Riviera. Don’t be surprised if they get there again this year.
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Don’t forget about
Virginia: With two players who could appear on the first page of the leaderboard in Jimmy Stanger and Derek Bard, you can’t forget about the Cavaliers. It must be noted that Virginia has played in Northern Illinois’ home event in 2013, 2014 and 2015, giving them much needed repetition on a golf course that knowledge is a must.
Illinois: Pressure, what pressure? Head coach Mike Small’s teams have more match play appearances than any other team with five – including the last four. However, the Illini have a 4-5 won-loss record in match play. With a home crowd and not the bullseye on their back, the Illini could be in a prime position to win a title.
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Ole Miss: Slowed down a bit this spring, but playing with house money this week here at Rich Harvest Farms. The Rebels are ahead of schedule under the guidance of third-year head coach Chris Malloy. If first-team All-American candidate Braden Thornberry can continue his outstanding sophomore campaign, you may see Ole Miss inside the cut lines this week.
Worth a mention in this category: Purdue, Jacksonville and Lipscomb
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A closer look
Here is a look at every team in the field, with their Golfweek/Sagarin ranking noted.
|1||USC||After two years of match play disappointment, Trojans should be focused on a title run|
|2||LSU||Led by player of the year candidate Sam Burns, Tigers appear to be getting better as the season goes on|
|3||Vanderbilt||SEC champs playing same format as NCAAs; Spent time this year ranked No. 1|
|4||Oklahoma State||Deep team with starting lineup all ranking inside the top 62 in the country|
|5||Baylor||Record-setting year for the Bears who won program’s first regional title a week ago|
|6||Illinois||Trip to Rich Harvest Farms is the Illini’s 10th consecutive trip to the finals|
|7||Stanford||Standout Maverick McNealy has appeared in match play only once – his freshman season|
|9||Oregon||Ducks are better this year than the team that won the national championship a year ago on home turf|
|10||Texas||Ghim, Scheffler and Hall provide a powerful trio if this group can get into the top 8 after 72 holes|
|12||Kent State||Best mid-major program in college golf. One of Herb Page’s better squads, don’t be surprised if Kent State makes a deep run|
|13||Clemson||Is this the year the Tigers make more noise in the finals? Missed 54-hole cut in last two finals appearances|
|14||Oklahoma||Sooners making seventh consecutive start in NCAA finals with just one match play appearance which came last year|
|16||UNLV||Should be well prepared after surprising regional victory for a Rebel squad playing in toughest regional|
|18||Duke||Peaking at the right time… ACC champs and 2nd at Baton Rouge Regional|
|19||Virginia||After four-win fall season, Cavaliers slowed a bit this spring, but pack a good 1-2 punch in Bard and Stanger|
|20||Auburn||Tigers make it six consecutive trips to NCAA finals, but have yet to find a spot in match play|
|21||Ole Miss||Led by Braden Thornberry, Rebels are a sneaky team that could make noise at Rich Harvest Farms|
|23||Arizona State||First-year Sun Devil coach Matt Thurmond brings three freshman and a sophomore to the finals|
|24||Florida State||Sixth consecutive trip to NCAA finals for the Seminoles and seventh in last nine years|
|28||North Carolina||Tar Heels snap a 10-year NCAA finals drought after placing 5th at Stanford Regional|
|29||Pepperdine||Another mid-major sleeper this year led by All-American candidate Sahith Theegala|
|31||Kennesaw State||One of three Atlantic-Sun Conference teams in the finals; making third appearance in seven years at finals|
|32||Purdue||Consistent season for Boilermakers hoping to take advantage of midwestern environment|
|33||Alabama||Battled injuries in the fall – and spring – but appear to be peaking at right time|
|35||Lipscomb||Playing well this spring with two wins and two runner-ups, Bisons hope to play Cinderella at Rich Harvest Farms|
|41||Jacksonville||Led by David Wicks, Dolphins making first trip to the NCAA championship|
|42||New Mexico||One of the bigger surprises to advance to NCAAs with just three top-five finishes on the season|
|45||Iowa State||Roller coaster season for Cyclones, but showed firepower with 21-under performance to advance out of Austin Regional|
|46||Penn State||Playing best golf late in the year with six top-five finishes in last six starts|
|50||UCF||Showed its potential with victory in Augusta this spring and now is back at NCAA finals for first time in three years|