The college season resumes this week, and there’s plenty of intrigue heading into the spring.
We’ll start with the men’s side.
To little surprise, Oklahoma State concluded the fall at No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. The Cowboys are the defending national champions, and that 2017-18 campaign was dominant to the tune of 10 overall wins for one of the great teams in the history of college golf.
The follow-up squad may well be on its way to similar accolades. Oklahoma State won twice in the fall and boasts the top ranking by a fair margin. The squad also holds the top two players in the country: No. 1 Viktor Hovland and No. 2 Matt Wolff.
The Cowboys are certainly the national title favorites heading into the spring. But everything is far from decided. For one, Oklahoma State won’t have the advantage of hosting the NCAA Championship as it did last year. The 2019 championship will be contested at The Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Ark., with Arkansas the host.
The challengers also are formidable.
Second-ranked Duke has rocketed into title contention since a surprise run to the semifinals at last year’s NCAAs. The Blue Devils haven’t slowed down since, and they proved last year they know how to peak for big events.
Georgia Tech is year-in, year-out one of college golf’s top teams, and that is true again as the Yellow Jackets clock in at No. 3. And this group also has a bit of unfinished business to settle, as Georgia Tech failed to make it out of regionals as a No. 1 seed last year. Their motivation is high.
USC, another annual contender, sits at No. 4. Defending national runner-up Alabama, also an annual contender, is ranked fifth, but the Crimson Tide will have to make up for its best player, Davis Riley , turning pro after the fall.
SMU is an intriguing team, having jumped from No. 87 for the 2017-18 campaign to No. 9 this season. That’s due in large part to the influx of supreme young talent, including former top-ranked junior player Noah Goodwin .
Don’t sleep on the hosts, either. Arkansas sits at No. 13 and boasts players such as Mason Overstreet (the runner-up at the 2017 NCAA Championship) and freshman Julian Perico (one of the top prospects in the Class of 2018 who already has won his first college event).
The women’s side is no less intriguing.
USC has employed a young roster – its top five players consist of a freshman and four sophomores – in earning the No. 1 spot heading into the spring. The Trojans are doing it under first-year head coach Justin Silverstein , the former USC women’s and men’s assistant who took over for the legendary Andrea Gaston after she left to become head coach at Texas A&M.
A reliance on young players is nothing new for the Trojans, who made it to the semis at NCAAs last year despite starting three first-semester freshmen.
The quintet at Nos. 2-6 is closely bunched behind USC. Texas leads that pack followed by Vanderbilt, Florida, Stanford, then Duke. It’s no surprise to see the Longhorns, Gators, Cardinal and Blue Devils near the top, but the Commodores opened a few eyes by jumping from No. 25 at the end of last season to No. 3.
And don’t discount the NCAA host on the women’s side. Arkansas comes in at No. 7 and boasts Maria Fassi , the reigning ANNIKA Award winner. Defending national champion Arizona lurks at No. 11.
The spring also provides an opportunity to see if some top programs can regroup, especially those who lost players who turned pro. Eighth-ranked UCLA will lose star Lilia Vu, as she is set to join the pro ranks after earning her LPGA card through Q-Series.
Alabama, meanwhile, may be ranked 19th, but the Crimson Tide was hampered in the fall by key players missing events as LPGA Q-Series beckoned. It will be even tougher in the spring with two of the team’s best players, Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman , having earned their LPGA cards and deciding to turn pro.
There is no shortage of storylines in college golf this season. We’re ready for the spring. Gwk