1.) Hook ’em Horns!: Texas enjoyed one of its best fall seasons in the program’s storied history and finished this fall No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. The Longhorns, after opening with a tie for fifth at Olympia Fields, went on a tear. The John Fields-coached team won the Jerry Pate by 20 shots over Alabama and Clemson; captured the Jack Nicklaus by 16 strokes over host Ohio State; and finished with its most impressive victory, a 26-shot win against one of the strongest fields of the fall at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational.
2.) Year of the Freshman: This much-ballyhooed freshman class, described by insiders and coaches as one of the best in years, has not disappointed through the first three months of the season. Patrick Rodgers, Jordan Spieth, Cheng-Tsung Pan and Justin Thomas – four of Golfweek’s top 5 incoming freshmen – won during their first fall on campus. It seems all of these freshmen are vying for more than just top honors in their class. Now, incredibly, they can factor in the National Player of the Year race, as well.
3.) Oregon and Wong are back: The Pac-12 is loaded with talent. However, entering the year Oregon was an afterthought when it came to listing the top teams. Led by the resurgence of senior Eugene Wong, the Ducks are now back to their winning ways, finishing the fall as the second-ranked team in the country. Oregon started the year with a win at the St. Mary’s Invitational, and followed that up with a victory at The Prestige and a share of the title at the Alister MacKenzie. Two years ago, the Ducks were in the final four at the national championship, but last year were never in the mix to make it to match play. A couple of years ago, many thought the Ducks were title contenders. With most of that team still in Eugene, this could be the year coach Casey Martin sees his seniors fly off into the sunset victorious.
4.) Arkansas pads its win total: With all the preseason hype surrounding Alabama entering the year, it turns out that another SEC foe in red is the one making the most headlines. In five fall events, Arkansas won four times — the Gopher Invitational, Golfweek Conference Challenge, Windon Memorial Classic and Cabo Collegiate. The Razorbacks finished the fall No. 6 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, one of three teams from the SEC ranked in the top 10. They are a legitimate national-title contender.
5.) Player of the fall?: Jordan Spieth finished atop the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, but has he clearly been the best player in the country? This year, several players have played well and are making cases for themselves to be this year’s Player of the Year. Spieth’s teammate, senior Dylan Frittelli, has finished second three times in the fall, and his worst finish was a seventh at the Jack Nicklaus. Oregon’s Eugene Wong won at the Alister MacKenzie, Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers won at Olympia Fields, and Washington’s Chris Williams won the Kikkor Golf Husky Invitational. Keep in mind Peter Uihlein has played sparingly, and UCLA’s Patrick Cantlay missed time as well. The Player of the Year race is wide-open, but it will be a great one to the end.
6.) North Florida shows its potential: Of all the teams in the Sunshine State, it was interesting to see that the Ospreys finished the fall ranked the highest, at No. 5 in the country. Coach Scott Schroeder’s team won twice in the fall, picking up wins at the AutoTrader.com Collegiate and Amelia National Intercollegiate. The Ospreys proved to several of the top teams in the country they can compete when they finished third at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational in October. Sean Dale, who was forced to redshirt last year, is back in the lineup and playing like a Player of the Year candidate. (At the end of the fall, Dale finished No. 9 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings.) To end the fall, Dale won the Amelia National Intercollegiate and has yet to finish worse than 10th at any event this year.
7.) Tough fall for OK State: There was little doubt that Oklahoma State would be weaker than last year’s national semifinalist team. Morgan Hoffmann is gone. So is Kevin Tway. But few could have expected the Cowboys to slip to No. 23 in the final fall rankings. Much of that decline can be attributed to the absence of senior Peter Uihlein, who made only one start in the fall. But coach Mike McGraw will need to draw more from his squad if the Cowboys are to make a run at NCAAs in June.
8.) Auburn’s Nick Clinard continues to impress: When looking at the rankings, some may be surprised to see that it is Auburn, not Alabama, as the top-ranked team in the Cotton State. What Nick Clinard has continued to build at Auburn is quite impressive. At the end of the fall, the Tigers are the third-ranked team in the country with a win at the Carpet Capital Collegiate. Each year, Clinard tries to put his team in the best tournaments across the country, and his players are proving they can play with anyone with the nation’s toughest schedule. The Tigers have yet to finish outside the top 5 at an event, and have four players ranked in the top 80 of the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings.
9.) New Mexico a pleasant surprise: Not many people thought much of New Mexico when the season began, but the Glen Millican-coached Lobos certainly have them thinking now. New Mexico opened with a second at the Mark Simpson, finished fourth at the Golfweek Conference Challenge, second at their own Tucker Invitational, won the Lone State and closed out with a fifth at Royal Oaks. The Lobos are No. 24 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings heading into the spring.
10.) Wichita State cracks the top 25: The biggest shock in the rankings may be found at No. 22 in Wichita State. Led by junior Hunter Sparks, the Shockers have won twice at the WSU Diet Pepsi Shocker Invitational and UTA/Water Chase Invitational, as well as finish third at the VCU Shootout and runner-up at the Herb Wimberly Intercollegiate. In those four events, Sparks has won twice, one title outright, and finished in the top 10 at the other two events. There is no doubt that the Shockers were the first half’s surprise team.
– Asher Wildman, Lance Ringler, Ryan Lavner and Ron Balicki