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Stan Becton | NCAA.com | March 29, 2022

How the first USTFCCCA rankings predict the women's champion

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The national ratings index from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) gives a glimpse at the best teams every week leading up to the Division I outdoor championships. When the first rankings are revealed each year, it brings excitement and anticipation. But how likely is it that the first rankings are a true indicator of who will win that year's championship?

We took a look at the history of the women's rankings and here's what we found.

How the first USTFCCCA rankings predict the champion

For the sake of this article LSU's 2012 title is not recognized because its participation in the championships was vacated by the NCAA Committee on infractions

The history of the rankings

To understand the correlation between the USTFCCCA rankings and the national champion, one must first understand the history of the rankings.

The USTFCCCA began its outdoor track and field season rankings in 2008. The first rankings came during the preseason for outdoor track and field, a tradition that would continue through 2019.

Then the 2020 outdoor track and field season got canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a year's absence, the rankings returned in 2021 and for the first time, the USTFCCCA began the season with Week 1 rankings rather than preseason rankings. In 2022, Week 1 again kicked off the season's rankings.

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Behind the first No. 1

With each year's initial rankings comes a team ranked in the top spot. But how is the first No.1 picked? 

From the rankings from 2008-19 — back when the first rankings were still in the preseason — it's concluded that the first No. 1 team in the country was determined based on the prior season's finish in the championships and returning talent.

Three times, including the latter two years of Texas A&M's three-peat from 2009-11, was the defending champion named preseason No. 1. Another three times, the preseason No. 1 was the previous year's runner-up. In fact, every preseason No. 1 finished within the top four of NCAA championship scoring in the year prior.

It wasn't until 2022's Week 1 ranking that Texas broke the mold, jumping from its seventh-place finish a year before.

Year First No. 1 Prior Year Finish
2008 LSU Runner-up
2009 Texas A&M Third
2010 Texas A&M Champion
2011 Texas A&M Champion
2013 Kansas Fourth
2014 Texas A&M Runner-up
2015 Texas A&M Third
2016 LSU Fourth
2017 Oregon Runner-up
2018 Arkansas Third
2019 Southern California Champion
2021 LSU N/A

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What does it all mean?

It means that the team selected to the No. 1 spot in the first rankings of the season more often than not has a proven track record of success. The first teams to land the top spot in the rankings deserve it, but that doesn't always mean they can go wire to wire.

Where were the champions ranked to start the season?

Never has a team won the women's outdoor track and field championship after starting the season ranked outside of the top four. In seven out of the 12 eligible years through Mar. 29, 2022, the year's women's outdoor champion started the season ranked first overall.

That means 58 percent of the time the first USTFCCCA rankings will let you know who the national champion will be, simply by looking at the No. 1 team. However, the No. 2 team in the first rankings has NEVER won the national championship. Only once has the No. 3 team to start the season, 2016 Arkansas, won the title, while the No. 4 team has won the title an impressive four times since the USTFCCCA rankings began.

Year Champion Initial Ranking
2008 LSU 1
2009 Texas A&M 1
2010 Texas A&M 1
2011 Texas A&M 1
2013 Kansas 1
2014 Texas A&M 1
2015 Oregon 4
2016 Arkansas 3
2017 Oregon 1
2018 Southern California 4
2019 Arkansas 4
2021 Southern California 4

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What happened to the No. 1s that didn't win the title?

Five times the teams ranked No. 1 in the first ranking did not win the title. The No. 1 team has not won the title in any of the last three years and all five have come in the last six years, with Oregon's 2017 season being the lone outlier. Listed below are the preseason No. 1's to not win the title and where they finished at the championships.

YEAR First No. 1 Championship finish
2015 Texas A&M Third
2016 LSU Sixth
2018 Arkansas Eleventh
2019 Southern California Runner-up
2021 LSU Sixth

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What does history say for the 2022 season?

The history of the first USTFCCCA rankings is good news for Texas after landing the top spot in the 2022 Week 1 rankings. If the Longhorns win the 2022 title, the first USTFCCCA rankings will have predicted the national champion 61.5 percent of the time. Of course, Texas could also finish like the five teams to not go wire to wire.

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The ranking's history is not so good news for Texas Tech, sitting second in the season's first national ratings index. Meanwhile, LSU and Texas A&M could rise to the top, ranking third and fourth, respectively. The Aggies were 2021's runner-up after all.

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