In this last week's issue of Golf World, I took a very early look at what might be in store for the 2008-09 college season. I run the risk of leaving a lot of egg on my face by trying something like this so long before the fall, but a little bit of runny yoke on my nose hasn't stopped me before so why should it stop me now.
To add to what I wrote in the magazine, I wanted to take a closer look at various programs entering the season. Lets look at the men's side and get a idea of who some of the top squads will be next fall. (Monday, I'll do the same for the women). As always, if you've got a better idea on who to watch, send in your comment.
My VERY, VERY, VERY early top 10 for the 2008-09 season:
1. Southern California (NCAA finish: 3rd)
It's going to take a little time for the Trojans to get over the disappointment of not only losing the NCAA title to UCLA but dropped into third place (albeit by one stroke) over the final nine holes at Purdue's Kampen Course. The bitter memory, however, could become a huge motivational tool come next season as all five starters (Jamie Lovemark, Rory Hie, Tom Glissmeyer, Matthew Giles and Tim Sluiter) return to a squad. Each earned some form of GCAA All-American honor last year, offer a glimpse of their collective talent.
2. Georgia (T-8)
The Bulldogs may have overachieved this past season after losing two first-team All-Americans, and like USC return all five starters from nationals. Harris English and Russell Henley had impressive freshman campaigns, and Adam Mitchell remains one of the most underrated players in the college game. Hudson Swafford, who hits the ball as far as anyone in the college game, had his name on the leader board for a while at nationals, and__Brian Harman__ embarks on his senior year knowing he has a little something to prove before he departs from Athens.
- Oklahoma State (4th)
Another team that doesn't lose any player from its starting five at nationals--bringing back recent U.S. Open participants Rickie Fowler and Kevin Tway among others. What makes the Cowboys particularly intriguing, however, is the trio of incoming freshmen set to arrive in Stillwater. Peter Uihlein is a two-time AJGA player of the year and Morgan Hoffman joins him as a first-team All-American in high school. Sean Einhaus might be the sleeper having played on the German national team the past few years.
4. UCLA (Win)
The NCAA champions will have to replace medalist Kevin Chappell--no small feat--but, like OSU, have a talented threesome of top juniors (Gregor Main,Mauricio Azcue and Alex Shi Yup Kim) coming to Westwood in the fall. As I wrote in the magazine, the interesting wildcard will be Philip Francis, the former U.S. Junior champion who didn't live up to the hype that accompanied him to school this past year as a freshman. Questions of just how comfortable he was in L.A. have led to continued speculation that he might transfer somewhere closer to his Scottsdale, Ariz., home after admittedly having a tough time making the transition from being home-schooled to a sprawling college campus. If he were to feel more comfortable during his sophomore year, his production could help the Bruins not miss a beat in their title defense.
5. Stanford (2nd)
With All-American Joseph Bramlett sidelined all spring with an injured wrist, the Cardinal nearly pulled off the first repeat by an NCAA winner in more than two decades. If Bramlett can come back healthy, the Cardinal again be a title contender thanks to talented young players Sihwan Kim, Jordan Cox and Steve Ziegler. Look for incoming freshman David Chung to have a immediate impact too, helping to offset Rob Grube's graduation.
6. Clemson (5th)
For all the talent the Tigers have, they haven't won a team title since April 2006. Yet playing in the final group at NCAA Championship suggests the team is ready finally to live up to its potential. Kyle Stanley is a rock in the No. 1 position. If David May,Sam Saunders and Philip Mollica can step up, Clemson should return to the top 10.
7. Florida State (DNP)
For all the strides the Seminoles made a year ago--winning their first ACC title--failing to advance to nationals was pretty big blow. The mental baggage won't affect blue-chip recruit Wesley Graham, who will be leaned on to replace departing All-American Jonas Blixt, but how the rest of the team handles it will be interesting.
8. Florida (11th)
Entering his senior year, I think Billy Horschel appreciates the fact a big season will not only help him increase his value when he turns pro but elevate his college career to a new level. The addition of Lion Kim will help shore up a line-up that has lacked some consistency if not depth.
9. Alabama (T-8)
For all the strides the Crimson Tide program has made in the last few years--winning its first SEC title since 1979, grabbing the No. 1 ranking--this coming season will prove whether the program has arrived as a consistent national power. Four seniors who helped the team win six times last year are departing, led by first-team All-American Michael Thompson. Replacing them are some talented junior players in __Bud Cauley__and Lee Knox, but that's an awful lot of experience to lose in one fell swoop.
10. Georgia Tech (DNP)
The Yellow Jackets never seemed to get things clicking last year--their best finish was a third-place showing--which manifested itself in the team ending its perfect streak of advancing from regionals to nationals. Working in their favor, however, is that Cameron Tringale and Chesson Hadley are back and arguably as good a 1-2 punch as any in college golf.