Editor’s note: Third in a series of articles examining how each BYU program will stack up against its new conference foes. Today’s program: men’s cross-country. 

BYU is coming off its eighth-straight West Coast Conference title last fall, wrapping up the program’s tenure in the conference having won 10 of 12 championships. In fact, the BYU men haven’t finished lower than second in a conference championship since 1981.

BYU also finished third at the NCAA championships in 2022, the Cougars’ best finish since winning the program’s first national title in 2019, making it seven straight years of placing seventh or better at nationals. BYU also boasts four individual national champions: current head coach Ed Eyestone (1984); Josh Rohatinsky (2006); and Conner Mantz (2020, 2021). The four champions tie for fifth-most by a single school.

Entering the 2023 season, the Cougars will again be a force, thanks in part to the return of Casey Clinger. The American Fork native took seventh at nationals last year and has earned All-America recognition each of the four years he’s competed — thanks to an extra year of eligibility from the pandemic. Clinger will look to become BYU’s first five-time cross-country All-American in addition to contending for national and conference titles.

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Two other All-Americans, Brandon Garnica and Christian Allen, have graduated, but Clinger won’t be without help this year. Junior twin brothers Creed and Davin Thompson also each claimed All-America honors last season and are back. All-Region and All-WCC honorees Joey Nokes and Kenneth Rooks return and Aidan Troutner and Lucas Bons also have experience and will look to compete regularly this season.

Big 12 men’s cross-country

Since 2016, the Big 12 race has been a three-horse contest: Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Texas have gone one-two-three in some order every year since that time. Last year, it was OSU winning the Big 12 title, followed by ISU and UT.

On the other end of the spectrum, TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma have consistently finished at the bottom of the conference the last few seasons; in addition, West Virginia does not have a team.

Oklahoma State went on to finish second at nationals, with Texas placing 18th last season. The year before at the 2021 NCAA meet, Iowa State took second, Oklahoma State third, and Texas 14th (BYU placed seventh).

By way of comparison, here are the number of top-10 finishes by Big 12 teams at the NCAA championships since 2000:

  1. Oklahoma State: 13 (won in 2009, 2010, 2012).
  2. BYU: 12 (won in 2019).
  3. Iowa State: 5.
  4. Oklahoma: 3.
  5. Texas: 3.

In fact, BYU and/or Oklahoma State has finished in the top 10 at the NCAA championships every year but one since 2004.

How will BYU fare?

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BYU has been an elite cross-country program for years, and most of its new conference opponents will not be able to keep up. It’s unlikely any longtime Big 12 teams will take a leap, and newcomers Houston (last qualified for nationals in 1980), Cincinnati (last qualified in 1970) and UCF (no men’s program) are nonfactors for now, leaving the usual suspects left to compete for the Big 12 title.

Oklahoma State will be a national championship contender again this year as it returns all but one of its participants from last year’s national meet, where the Cowboys lost the title in a tiebreaker with Northern Arizona. Consider how the Cowboys’ and Cougars’ returnees’ times compared at the 2022 NCAA Championships:

Oklahoma State — BYU

  • Alex Maier – 04:39.7 — Casey Clinger – 04:39.8.
  • Fouad Messaoudi – 04:41.7 — Davin Thompson – 04:44.6.
  • Victor Shitsama – 04:44.7 — Creed Thompson – 04:44.9.
  • Rory Leonard – 04:44.7 — Aidan Troutner – 04:46.9.
  • Ryan Schoppe – 04:47.8 — Joey Nokes – 04:47.8.

As you can see, it’s difficult to know who will come out on top this year, not only based on these times but with how much can change year to year. Perhaps because BYU lost two All-Americans and Oklahoma State lost just one, you give the nod to the Cowboys for now. But this year will certainly jumpstart what could be a long, fierce rivalry.

BYU cross-country runners compete in the 2022 NCAA championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where they finished third. | BYU Photo
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