Wildman’s top 5 teams on the rise

Blayne Barber, a redshirt sophomore at Auburn, could lead the Tigers deep into the postseason.
Blayne Barber, a redshirt sophomore at Auburn, could lead the Tigers deep into the postseason. ( Tracy Wilcox )

Friday, January 14, 2011

The fall season has come and gone, and spring is right around the corner. So let’s review some of the teams that are starting to gather some national recognition for playing well during the first half of the year. Today, we’ll focus on the men:

  1. The Auburn Tigers are back in the spotlight after second-year coach Nick Clinard has gotten the Tigers back into the top 10. Auburn closed out the fall with a win at instate rival Alabama’s tournament, the Jerry Pate Invitational. To start the year, the Tigers finished fifth at the Carpet Capital Collegiate, followed by a runner-up finish at the Gary Koch. When Clinard took over after the 2008 season, he inherited a team that finished the year ranked 63rd in the country. In Clinard’s first year, Auburn finished 35th. Now in his second year, Clinard has the Tigers at No. 9 in the country.
  2. Traditionally, Iowa has not been the team to beat in the Big Ten, but since Mark Hankins has taken over, the Hawkeyes have gotten better each year. Out of the gate, Iowa finished sixth at the Golden Gopher Invitational, but then rattled off four straight victories to close out the fall. When the spring starts, Iowa will be ranked No. 12 in the country and looking to climb the rankings. Illinois, led by reigning NCAA champion Scott Langley, is still the team to beat in the Big Ten, but Iowa seems ready to put up a fight for conference supremacy as the year continues.
  3. One conference that often gets overlooked is the Big Ten, but this year another “I” team is creating buzz. Last year, the Indiana Hoosiers ended the year ranked 63rd in the country. Many thought this might be another rebuilding year for a young team that starts one junior, two sophomores and two freshmen each week. In its first tournament of the year, IU finished fifth at the Wolf Run, but then finished 13th in a strong event at Olympia Fields. In their last three events, the Hoosiers finished T-5 at the Windon Memorial before closing out the fall season with back-to-back wins at the Firestone and Kiawah Island Intercollegiate. Indiana will start the spring ranked 25th in the country, and it will be interesting to see how this young team progresses throughout the spring.
  4. After another disappointing campaign in 2009-2010, during which failed Notre Dame failed to reach the postseason, the Fighting Irish were nearly perfect throughout the fall. Last season, Notre Dame finished the year ranked 87th and failed to make it to the postseason, but this year the Irish have found their way into the top 30, at No. 26. In its first four tournaments of the fall, Notre Dame finished runner-up in each. However, at the Saint Mary’s Invitational, its last event of the fall, Notre Dame finally got over the hump and won the event by 20 strokes over St. Mary’s. There is no doubt the Irish are a top team this fall with their consistent play, but how much higher can this team climb the rankings? Will the luck be on the Irish’s side this spring?
  5. One team that instantly has become a Cinderella to watch is North Texas. Coach Brad Stracke has quietly built a top-30 program (now 29th in the country after the fall season). Last year, North Texas finished 79th in the country, and was just another solid team among many in Texas. This year, the Mean Green may be the team to beat in the Lone Star State. UNT finished the fall with a head-to-head record of 38-3, and that included a win at the UTA/Waterchase Invitational. North Texas will have a couple of more chances to solidify its ranking at events such as the Seminole Intercollegiate and Hawkeye Invitational. This spring, let’s see if UNT can finish the year as the highest-ranked team from Texas. Most likely, it’s a long shot, but it still will be fun to watch.

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