The surprising ups and downs of the still-young college season

University of Tennessee Golf

The surprising ups and downs of the still-young college season

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The surprising ups and downs of the still-young college season

The 2018-19 college golf season is still in its opening weeks, but there has been plenty of action already.

There have been surprises, both good and bad, and even this early in the season those are important to document. There is still so much of the season remaining that any optimism over strong play shouldn’t go overboard and any negativity over a slow start similarly should be kept in check.

With that, here are Golfweek’s winners and losers so far in this very young season.

Winners

Tennessee men: It has been about as strong a start as you could hope for under a new coach. As Golfweek chronicled, the Volunteers have been putting in the work with head coach Brennan Webb, who is in his first season at Tennessee after leaving Middle Tennessee State. It showed when the group won a playoff for the title at the Carpet Capital Collegiate, which boasted a strong field. That statement victory has the team No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and was the first sign that the Vols (who finished last season No. 46) can turn into a national contender this campaign.

Vanderbilt women: The Commodores were 16th in Golfweek’s preseason rankings. Yet they came right out and finished runner-up at the Cougar Classic – beating the likes of Arkansas, Furman and Florida State. Vanderbilt then went out and beat a strong field at the Mason Rudolph Championship, too. Not sure there’s a better resume out there early this season so far.

Virginia women: Another fairytale start for a new coach. Ria Scott left Oregon to take the Virginia job, and in her first event the Cavaliers captured the Mary Fossum Invitational. Virginia was No. 23 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings, but a win like that – beating Michigan State and a Florida squad making waves early – could track Virginia much higher.

Arkansas State men: The Red Wolves have improved mightily with Mike Hagen at the helm, and they took another step with a dominant 12-shot victory at the Golfweek Conference Challenge. Arkansas State was ranked No. 194 for the 2014-15 season. The team jumped 115 spots in the following end-of-season rankings (in Hagen’s first campaign). Another jump is possible, as Arkansas State sits No. 16 with a runner-up and a victory to begin the season.

Losers

Duke women: To be clear, the Blue Devils should excel this season. They did miss an early opportunity, though, at the loaded ANNIKA Intercollegiate. Duke held the lead going into the final round, but a rough closing day plummeted the Blue Devils to fifth. Still every reason to believe Duke is a national title contender, but that finish is something to shore up.

Baylor men: It was just one event, but it was surprising to see Baylor finish 13th in the 14-team field at the OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational. Yes, it was a strong field, but the Bears spent much of last season near the top of the leaderboard. Golfweek’s preseason No. 10 is ranked 62nd early after that performance. With Mike McGraw as head coach, it’s likely the Bears will jump back up quickly. But it was not the start they wanted.

Texas A&M women: Andrea Gaston leaving USC for Texas A&M was the surprise of the summer. Her debut with the Aggies left something to be desired, though, as the team finished sixth of eight in the stroke-play portion at the East/West Challenge and lost both matches in the match-play portion. Gaston should have plenty of success at Texas A&M, so this is likely a minor blip.

Florida men: That loaded Carpet Capital Collegiate did have a surprise finisher near the bottom, as preseason No. 8 Florida placed 13th in the 15-team field. Definitely a tough start for a talented team with realistic national-title aspirations. The good news: It’s just one event. And, per Floridagators.com, head coach J.C. Deacon had this aspirational thought about the showing: “I think this week will end up being the best thing that could have happened to us.” Gwk

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