Column by John Lohn, Swimming World senior writer
CRANBURY, New Jersey. February 1. AS the collegiate dual-meet season comes to a close, the hype concerning the upcoming conference championships and, eventually, the NCAA Championships will rapidly build momentum. Debates will rage concerning the favorite to walk away with titles in March. Here's a glimpse at some of the top storylines as we enter this highly entertaining portion of the college campaign:
** Is this the season the University of Georgia returns to the top of the heap at the NCAA Women's Champs, a position the Bulldogs have not occupied since winning the title in 2005. Last season, Jack Bauerle's squad came up 11 points shy of California, which captured its first championship. It certainly looks like Georgia has the firepower to capture its fifth crown since 1999.
Aside from having Olympian Allison Schmitt as its headliner, Georgia boasts a lineup that is heavy on depth. The Bulldogs may not have the most event champs come March, but their ability to score all over the map could return the school to a familiar place.
**Unlike last season, when the techsuit controversy was part of the equation, this year's NCAA Championships should be free of any assertions that one team has an advantage over the others. That's a positive development, especially after there were some questions last year following Auburn's triumph in the men's championship meet.
Before the Jaked suit became known as one of the two fastest on the planet (Arena had the other), Auburn wore the suit at the NCAA Champs and went on to prevail over Texas, which was clad in the Speedo LZR. The Tigers very well may have won the crown without the Jaked suits, but it's a shame that there was any controversy whatsoever. At least this season, there should be no questions concerning the top spot.
**A year ago, eight men dipped under 19 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle – four in the championship final, a pair in the consolation final and two in preliminaries. Don't count on seeing that many sub-19s this time around, thanks to the return of the textile jammer as the suit of demand. There's a chance no man will break the barrier, although we'll say Cal's Nathan Adrian gets the job done in defending his status as the top sprinter in the college ranks.
**With Austin Staab leaving the Stanford program for personal reasons, the Cardinal likely saw their chance at capturing the NCAA championship go by the wayside. Staab was the go-to guy for Stanford and the defending champion in the 100 butterfly. While Staab's absence will be felt in individual events, it will be an equally big issue in the all-important relays, where Staab was counted on in everything but the 200 medley relay in 2009.
Beyond the NCAA Championships, there are questions whether Stanford will be able to continue its ridiculous string of dominance in the Pac-10 Conference. Skip Kenney has led the Cardinal to every conference title since 1982, but Arizona and California feature rosters that could make things interesting in early March, when the Pac-10 determines its 2010 champ.
**When Kim Brackin took over as the University of Texas women's coach, she immediately started to bring in premier recruits and build an impressive assemblage of talent in Austin. If it's not this season, Brackin will eventually guide Texas to an NCAA title and join Teri McKeever as a woman to guide a program to a national championship.
**If the Texas men outscore the opposition at the NCAA Championships, it would move coach Eddie Reese into double digits for the number of titles he's won. Reese currently sits on nine crowns, his first arriving in 1981 and his last in 2002.