College Men

Men's spring preview: Mountain West

New Mexico's James Erkenbeck
New Mexico's James Erkenbeck ( Tracy Wilcox )

Monday, January 28, 2013

In the spring of 2006, New Mexico won its third consecutive Mountain West Conference title. Since then, however, the Lobos have not made their way into the league’s victory lane.

That could change this spring. In fact, based on this past fall, New Mexico will be the team to beat when the nine conference teams gather together to determine the 2013 conference champion the first week in May at the Omni Tucson (Ariz.) National Resort.

You can bet the likes of UNLV, two-time defending champion San Diego State and Colorado State will have plenty of input toward the final outcome and could walk away with the championship hardware. Still, if the Lobos continue what they started in the fall, they will be the ones with the bullseye on their backs.

And rightfully so. The Lobos finished the fall season No. 4 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. Next closest among MWC teams is UNLV at No. 40, followed by San Diego State (58) and Colorado State (60).

New Mexico won its own Tucker Invitational, placed second at Isleworth and tied for second at Royal Oaks to go along with its previous fifth place at the Gopher Invitational and seventh at the Ping/Golfweek Preview.

“We played well against some very good teams in the fall and that’s what we’re going to have to continue doing in the spring,” said New Mexico coach Glen Millican. “I think after what happened in the fall, our guys are going to come back from the break and again be highly motivated for the spring.

“Our goal is to go out and play the best we can play in every tournament,” Millican said. “I know we can do it and I feel the players know they can do it. We have a very good spring schedule and will continue to face some of the best teams in the country so we know we have a challenge ahead of us.”

Heading into the spring season, New Mexico boasts four players in the top 100 of the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings -- senior James Erkenbeck (29), sophomore Gavin Green (36), sophomore Victor Perez (65) and senior Benjamin Bauch (87). Close behind is senior John Catlin (108).

“We have a good mix of young and veteran players this season as well as some very good depth,” Millican said. “All of them have had some measure of success and that shows in the success we’ve had as a team. It’s a good mix and a great group of young men.”

• • •

Where it stands now

Top of the class: New Mexico

Best player this fall: Kevin Penner, UNLV

• • •

Past champions

2008: Colorado State

2009: TCU

2010: Colorado State

2011: San Diego State

2012: San Diego State

• • •

Conference capsules

New Mexico (Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: No. 4)

The Lobos own a 54-12-1 overall record and an equally impressive 29-12-1 mark against top-50 teams. Senior James Erkenbeck led the team in the fall with four top-20 finishes, including a sixth at the Tucker and a T-2 at Isleworth. Fellow seniors Benjamin Bauch and John Catlin had some solid showings with Bauch posting a trio of top-25s.

UNLV (No. 40)

Rebels notched four top-5 finishes in five starts, including solid showings against some pretty good competition at the Preview (T-3) and the Jerry Pate (4th). Senior Kevin Penner leads the team -- and the conference -- with a No. 16 Sagarin ranking. He had four top-10s in the fall with a T-2 at the Preview, T-9 at the Nicklaus, T-6 at Pate and 4th at the Herb Wimberly.

San Diego State (No. 58)

Junior Tom Berry leads the way. After a T-6 at the Huskie, he produced his biggest college win by capturing the Preview title. Sophomore Xander Schauffele has a pair of top-20 including a T-5 at the MacKenzie, while freshman Riccardo Micheini has two top-25s with a T-12 at the Preview.

Colorado State (No. 60)

The Rams placed in the top-6 in five of their six fall starts with a T-4 at the Falcon, second at the Ram Masters, third at Mark Simpson and MacKenzie and sixth at Pacific. Junior Parker Edens has placed in the top-25 five times. Senior Kirby Pettitt finished third at the Ram and won the Simpson.

Fresno State (No. 100)

The Bulldogs are one of two newcomers to the Mountain West neighborhood, along with Nevada. They got off to a decent start with a fourth at St. Mary’s, but then struggled the rest of the fall, placing eighth at the MacKenzie and Warrior Wave and 11th at Pacific.

Nevada (No. 103)

The Wolf Pack finished the fall just under .500 at 25-26-2. Junior Ryan Mulvany, a junior college transfer, paced the team with a trio of top-15 finishes, including a T-3 at Pacific, where he tied with sophomore teammate Taylor Knoll.

Wyoming (No. 142)

The Cowboys came out of the starting gate with a flourish, winning the Battle at the Tetons, but didn’t do much after that, placing 14th at the Falcon, 10th at the Ram, and 13th at the Mark Simpson and Tucker. Junior Eddie Stewart won the Tetons event.

Air Force (No. 152)

After tying for fourth in their own season-opening event, the Falcons tapered off and had just one top-10 in their next three starts. They did close out the fall by tying for first at the Service Academy tournament, but, then again, there were only three teams competing.

Boise State (No. 164)

The Broncos struggled throughout much of the fall with no top-5s, their best a sixth at the Dash Thomas tournament. It was much of a happy ending either as they placed 18th at Kiawah Island. Senior Taeksoo Kim has been a bright spot, however, notching five top-20 showings, including a T4 at Washington State and a T11 at the Ram.

Conference championship

May 3-5, Omni Tucson National Resort, Tucson, Ariz.

Lance Ringler's prediction

New Mexico. With four players ranked inside the top 100, the Lobos are clearly the top team in the league. Ranked No. 4 in the country, New Mexico may have its sights set on bigger prizes, but winning the league title will be a checkpoint and goal for a team hoping to prove itself in the postseason. readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.