Ringler: Men’s college golf season a must-watch

The upcoming men’s college golf season has a different feel to it this year.

To me, it’s much like an anticipated new fall-season drama on network television. For the most part, there will be many new storylines while many of the characters are going to be names that have not seen a lot of headlines.

What should be no longer is Alabama and California garnering much of the talk during the year, which is what we have seen the past two seasons.

We can project that the likes of Texas and Oklahoma State will be at the forefront each time they tee it up. But we also have reason to believe that Illinois, a northern-climate school, could be one of the best, if not the best.

Head coach Mike Small has put his team in the national spotlight many times before, even playing in the national championship match two years ago, losing to Alabama. But never have we given serious consideration to a team in the North to be preseason No. 1. We did this year.

Illinois is the only team in the country to return three players from last year that all finished the season ranked in the top 52. That trio of Brian Campbell, Charlie Danielson and Thomas Detry, along with a couple of newcomers who were among the best in the 2014 recruiting class, could make this team one we talk about all year long.

While Illinois might top the list of teams with returning talent at the top of the lineup, there were several teams that return an entire lineup from a year ago: Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Clemson, Arizona State, UNLV, San Diego State, Texas Tech and Iowa State.

These teams should all shine at some point this year and don’t be surprised if any one of these teams become the story at some point. However, two of those teams, in particular, interest me: Vanderbilt and Arizona State.

Scott Limbaugh is entering his third season with the Commodores. Spending five years as the assistant coach at Alabama, Limbaugh was a vital part in helping head coach Jay Seawell build Alabama into a national power. Limbaugh was there at Riviera when Alabama lost to Texas, but was hired that summer at Vanderbilt. He missed out on Alabama’s consecutive championships the next two seasons, which now surely leaves him hungry for one of his own at Vanderbilt.

Arizona State head coach Tim Mickelson, who enters his fourth year with the Sun Devils, has had the team on a steady rise and appears to have his best squad yet. Led by eagle-making machine Jon Rahm, the Sun Devils will be noticed this year.

As for the players, there are returners that we are familiar with. Georgia Tech senior Ollie Schniederjans and Alabama sophomore Robby Shelton are preseason favorites to be college golf’s player of the year. But, both are the leaders of their team that will require their very best efforts to see their team make a serious run.

We also know plenty about Oklahoma State’s Wyndham Clark, Virginia Tech’s Scott Vincent and Virginia’s Denny McCarthy. But a few other names that may challenge those expected to be at the top. Look for USC’s Rico Hoey, LSU’s Stewart Jolly and South Florida’s Chase Koepka to challenge each time out.

And we can’t forget about the rookies. Texas’ Scottie Scheffler and Texas A&M’s Cameron Champ should transition from junior to college golf very comfortably.

With the opening weekend of college golf now in the rear view mirror, its now full throttle into the fall season. Eight action-packed weeks of college golf will make this new season a must-watch.

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