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The Syllabus: 'Is the spring here yet?' edition

A bit of a change of pace this week since there's not much change in my Fab Five. I'm going to post my "Fascinating" Five, the five programs that I'm most curious regarding how they'll perform this spring. Ladies first …

Women

Duke logo.gif1. Duke
It's been 22 months and counting now since the Blue Devils last won a college tournament, an eternity to fans of the five-time NCAA champions. This season, the squad has yet to even post a top-five finish, with fellow coaches' appearing to give Dan Brooks' squad the benefit of the doubt with them ranked 14th in the final fall Golf World/NGCA poll. The good news is that with Lindy Duncan the folks in Durham have a No. 1 player who can carry the team to victory on the right week. But for them to be a legitimate contender come the postseason, another player (or two) has to emerge. Laetitia Beck and Aleja Cangrejo have both shown signs they're ready to take that step. Now would be a good time to go ahead and do it.
First spring event: Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge, Palos Verdes CC, Palos Verdes, Calif., Feb. 13-15


Purdue logo.gif2. Purdue
No one said replacing the likes of Numa Gulyanamitta, Maude-Aimee LeBlanc and Thea Hoffmeister, the anchors to Boilermakers' teams that won the NCAA title in 2010 and finished second in 2011, was going to be easy. But the transition turned out to be a lot more difficult than many imaged when Purdue finished last at the Mason Rudolph Fall Preview and T-12 at the Windy City. Just as amazing as the slow start was the abrupt about face to end the fall, a 14-stroke victory at the Landfall tradition. Devon Brouse's squad has a All-American caliber player in Laura Gonzalez-Escallon and a possible hidden gem in Paula Reto. Which team, however, will appear this spring?
First spring event: Lady Puerto Rico Classic, Rio Mar Beach Resort, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Feb. 12-14

Vanderbilt logo.gif3. Vanderbilt
Greg Allen
always seem to have a smile on his face, but his grin seemed wider during last month's NGCA coaches' convention in Las Vegas. Perhaps it's because his squad seems to have its most depth since Allen came to Nashville in 2007. That, combined with the fact that the NCAA Championship will be held on Vandy's home course suggests that the No. 5 ranked team in the final fall coaches' poll could make for a very interesting May. Senior Marina Alex has regained the confidence that earned her first-team All-American honors as a sophomore and junior Lauren Stratton has become one of the big surprises of the 2011-12 season. While winless in the fall, Vandy looks to be on the verge of big things.
First spring event: Central District Invitational, River Wilderness GC, Parrish, Fla., Feb. 20-21

Wake Forest logo 2008-09 season.gif4. Wake Forest
I'm curious to see just how senior Cheyenne Woods wraps up her college career, and if she can help a young Demon Deacons squad (three freshmen and a sophomore cracking the lineup) find its way after finishing the fall out of the top 25. The reigning ACC champion, Woods had two top-10 finishes in the fall and three top-16s. She's still got much to play for even as she begins the nostalgic final semester in school (see Tweet of the Week).
First spring event: Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge, Palos Verdes CC, Palos Verdes, Calif., Feb. 13-15

Oregon logo.gif5. Oregon
The Ducks quietly had themselves a solid fall season, with three top-five finishes helping them jump from unranked in August to No. 19 in November. Freshman Casey Isagawa (and her 72.25 stroke average) became a spark for a group that has some sass (just follow them on Twitter at @OregonWGolf). Just how good is this group? It's going to be tough to hang with UCLA, USC, Arizona State and the like in the Pac-12, but it will be interesting to see just where they'll shake out. Meanwhile, the last appearance at nationals for the school was 2000, a drought that should end this spring.  
First spring event: Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge, Palos Verdes CC, Palos Verdes, Calif., Feb. 13-15


Men
North Florida logo.gif1. North Florida
Are the Ospreys this year's version of Augusta State? A No. 7 ranking in the final fall Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll suggests they have that potential. Three starters—Sean Dale, Kevin Phelan and Kevin Aylwin—had 72.17 stroke averages or better as the squad won twice and racked up four top-five finishes in four starts. Their spring schedule isn't so difficult as to make a continuation of the fall impossible and if they should have some momentum entering the postseason, things could get fairly interesting.
First spring event: JU Invitational, TPC Sawgrass (Players Course), Jan. 30-31

Florida logo.gif2. Florida
Despite a victory at The Bake at the Ocean Course, it was an unusual fall for the Gators, who fell out of the top 25 in the Golf World/Nike Golf poll for the first time since it restarted in 2001. Perhaps team turnover (seniors Bank Vongvanij and Andres Echavarria leaving, and USC transfer T.J. Vogel arriving) can explain inconsistency in play, with the team finishing no better than seventh in its other three starts. Vogel looked to be feeling comfortable, however, toward the end of the semester, and Tommy Mou and Tyler McCumber are too talented to not turn things around and get Gators back into the ranking. Plus, Buddy Alexander is the consummate motivator and will no doubt be working hard to get things back to normal in Gainesville. 
First spring event: JU Invitational, TPC Sawgrass (Players Course), Jan. 30-31

Georgia logo 2008-09.gif3. Georgia
Similar to their SEC rivals, the Bulldogs lost an impressive amount of talent and experience with Russell Henley, Harris English and Hudson Swafford's departures. So it is that Chris Haack finds his squad out of the top 25 for the first time in more than a decade as well. There is reason to believe, however, that the spring will be sunnier. British Amateur champion Bryden Macpherson has stepped up nicely and the UGa roster will gain some depth with Michigan transfer Joey Garber (who had four top-10s as a freshman last season) and early high school enrollee Lee McCoy landing in Athens this month
First spring event: Puerto Rico Shootout, Rio Mar Beach Resort, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Feb. 19-21

UNLV school logo 2009-10.gif4. UNLV
With all due respect to Dwaine Knight, who is as personable as any college coach, the Rebels haven't fielded a top-10 caliber team since the mid-2000s. But the Vegas crew, led by senior Derek Ernst, was a pleasant surprise this fall, winning three times to jump from unranked in the preseason to No. 13 in the final fall poll. Is there more to come? 
First spring event: John Burns Intercollegiate, Turtle Bay Resort, Turtle Bay, Hawaii, Feb. 16-18

USC logo.gif5. USC
A victory at the Gifford Collegiate gave the Trojans some momentum heading into the spring, which they're probably going to need it. As I wrote earlier this month, the 12th-ranked team in the country has by far the toughest schedule of any top 25 school this spring as they face teams ranked in the top 10 25 times in their seven tournaments. I'm fascinated to see how this relatively young squad (Steve Lim, who led the team with a 71.22 average in the fall, is the lone season) handles the daunting road ahead, and whether it steels them for the Pac-12 Championship and NCAA postseason. Says here that the might take some lumps but it will help them be a factor at Riviera CC come nationals.
First spring event: Amer Ari Invitational, Waikoloa GC (Kings Course), Waikoloa, Hawaii, Feb. 1-3
 


STAT OF THE WEEK
*
252
Consecutive matches won by Connecticut's Trinity College in squash before being defeated Jan. 17 by Yale, ending the longest winning streak in the history of intercollegiate athletics. Trinity's last defeat came during the 1997-98 season.

*I know it's not about golf, but it's pretty remarkable and college related and, in the absence of college golf being played at this moment, made for a neat tidbit.



TWEET OF THE WEEK
Tweet of the week:1-19-2012.jpg—Wake Forest senior Cheyenne Woods as she begins the final semester of college.



RANDOM THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
When was the last time you were waiting on a fax to be sent to you?


WHAT TO WATCH FOR
* Any coach who thinks that college golf recruiting has its challenges needs only to read about some of the movement by high school football players during this final weeks before college football's signing day (Feb. 1) to realize it could be a whole lot worse.

Gunner Kiel, a blue-chip quarterback from Columbus, Ind., is just one example. Having made a verbal commitment to play at the University of Indiana, he changed his mind last fall, and in December announced he would instead be headed for LSU. That is, until this past weekend, when he changed his mind again and decided to go to Notre Dame. He enrolled in South Bend earlier this week so if he decides to change his mind yet again, he's going to have to transfer and sit out a year of football.

Should you fault Kiel, a teenager who has so many eyes watching him already that making a smart decision can be difficult? Maybe, maybe not. But it seems like prospective student athletes in football hem and haw a lot about their college choices even after supposedly making up their minds. If college golf coaches had to waiting on the whims of high schoolers as much as football coaches, they would all be going prematurely gray.

Worse still is the "flipping" of players that college football coaches do for recruits who have made verbal commitments to programs. Ohio State's Urban Meyer is an example, having taken the Buckeyes head football job in November and then working on swaying recruits throughout the Midwest to rethinking going to other colleges and reconsider going to OSU. It's worked in many instances (he has gotten players previously committed to Penn State, Michigan and Notre Dame among others) and isn't illegal by any means. But imagine you as a college golf coach if you had to keep constantly looking around to see if other coaches were still talking to a prospective student athlete who have made verbal commitments to your program. How much tougher would your job be?

That's not to say that junior golfers haven't decommited before signing national letters of intent, or that coaches don't still correspond with high schoolers even when they've made verbal commitments to play at another school. But the day when college golf starts to see these things become more common practices is the day when I don't want to cover it any more.


* The NCAA Convention wrapped up last week in Indianapolis with the Division I Board of Directors holding off on votes for several recruiting measures, tabling these proposal until a working group charged with looking at recruiting overall gets a chance to present its long-term findings next month.

Additionally, the BOD requested a modified proposal regarding the $2,000 cost of attendance stipend that had been passed last fall but was being reviewed again through an override petition in hopes of seeing something at its April meeting.

That said, a few other items with an impact on college golf were voted on.

Proposal 2011-88, which sought to allow schools participating in the Topy Cup match in Japan to begin practicing five days prior to the first practice round of the tournament, was approved. This would also allow some schools who are on the quarter system and begin classes in late September, well after the early September event, to participate in the event without having to file for a waiver regarding when they can start their season.

Proposal 2011-91, which would allow the NCAA men's championship to begin the final day of competition when it's held on Sunday before noon, was approved as well. The previous restriction created the potential for scheduling issues should bad weather become a factor during the final day.

Additionally, a proposal that would have eliminated the ability for teams to take foreign tours was rejected by the Board of Directors.


* As the USC women attempt to win a third NCAA title this fall, they're going to have to do it without Cyna Rodriguez. Trojans coach Andrea Gaston confirmed that junior from the Philippines will not play the remainder of the 2011-12 season. Rodriguez sat out the fall semester for academic reasons. The Trojans open up their spring schedule at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge next month.
 
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