Last year, I correctly predicted the entire ICT playoff bracket in August and made the not-exactly-earth-shattering proclamation that either Chicago or Brown would win national championships. I also got a lot of other stuff wrong. Let’s see how it pans out this time.
Last year’s theme in the predictions was upsets and the lack of a great history player in quizbowl. Both of those things will continue this year, but I suggest that the new theme is a very solid freshman class. Shantanu Jha and Dallas Simons made huge impacts at high levels last time around, and Kurtis Droge and Charlie Dees also proved their bona fides. This time, you’re going to see a group that may not be as immediately relevant at the highest levels, but is deeper and will be responsible for racking up a greater quantity of wins throughout the year.
Your major contenders remain Brown and Chicago, with Harvard, Minnesota, Illinois, MIT, Stanford, and Irvine capable of pulling upsets. Dartmouth drops into rebuilding mode for the time being. Programs like Maryland, Penn, VCU, and UCSD make up a solid third tier, not quite ready to knock off a title contender but still clearly ahead of the masses.
Region-by-region, here’s how things go:
MID-ATLANTIC: Things get way more interesting in the greater DC area as Eric Mukherjee moves to Penn, trailing a U-Haul full of Balz-Schiemann Reaction knowledge behind him, and last year’s respectable Penn team also comes back to form a very solid starting four. Maryland loses solid contributor Jeff Amoros but returns everyone else. VCU will see reduced playing time from Andrew Alexander as he moves to med school, but picks up NAQT CCCT champion George Berry and a gaggle of newly eligible high schoolers taking dual-credit classes. These three teams will contend for all of the titles as the year starts, but as the weeks go on they may be joined by others, such as a reinvigorated UVa, which recruits 140 PPG PACE NSC player Chuhern Hwang to join Will Butler and continues to pine for the return of Leo Wolpert. Swarthmore returns all of their scoring and adds high school nationals standout Ben Geselowitz. Columbia did very well last year at all of the events they played, and will hopefully play more this time. UNC seems to be fading from contention, but they still have the raw talent to get good quickly if they start focusing again. What’s going on at Duke? No one knows. UMBC and George Mason will hopefully show up to things, and Virginia Tech gets both enthusiastic freshman and TJ veteran Harry White, and experienced player and organizer Dan Goff, as motivation to start playing more tournaments. I don’t know if Chris Horng is coming back to Rutgers or not, but he almost had a breakout year last spring and could turn some heads if his improvement continues, especially if he can convince Jeremy Hixson to show up to some tournaments rather than just writing solid packets for every event Rutgers participates in. Princeton seems like it could do well with Kunle and Dan still participating; hopefully last year’s scanty tournament attendance schedule for this team was a fluke. I heard a rumor that the GWU club discovered a heretofore forgotten cache of money, which I hope they will use to attend more events. Also, I see that Dan Puma is going to Loyola-MD so let’s hope he gets a team started there. Does William & Mary still have a team?
MIDWEST: The cold truth is that Chicago and Minnesota are better than Illinois right now. However, both of those teams tend to have less than perfect attendance by their best possible foursome at regular-season events, so who knows where the early winners will come from. As Illinois integrates Ike Jose into the equation and sees what Will Turner can add to a Mike Sorice who knows his championship eligibility window is closing, we very well may see a changing of the pecking order here. Iowa is legit, Carleton is a team of the future, and a bunch of other people in the upper Midwest like playing high school questions and therefore will continue to suck. Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio State are on the same page as Carleton with enough talent to win more games than they lose even in a stacked event, but not enough to challenge the national contenders for at least another year. Michigan State seems likely to attend some more real tournaments this year, so good for them. I don’t know what to expect out of Lawrence, WUSTL, or Truman right now. Carnegie Mellon will do solidly in both Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic events. Chicago B and C are big wild cards; Chicago B pulled off some impressive performances last year (including beating both the 2nd and 3rd place teams at ACF Nationals) and Chicago “C” won DII ICT. The sky’s the limit for the Chicago bench.
NORTHEAST: There’s going to be some changes from last year. Harvard graduates a lot of people and probably can no longer expect its B and C teams to soften up opponents, but its A team will only get better. Dartmouth is temporarily off the radar with the loss of its entire starting four. The big story is the crazy influx of good players to Brown, which may actually get better despite losing Top 10 national player Eric. Not only did grad student Dan Klein prove his mettle while playing on the big stage at ACF Nationals this past year, Brown will also benefit from sophomore Michael Wright’s increased participation and the arrival of blue-chip recruits Ian Eppler, Guy Tabachnick, and Ben Cohen. Jerry will have some tough decisions to make about who plays on the A team at the major tournaments, and hopefully will amuse us all by making them in “Glen Jerry Glen Ross” fashion. Whoever ends up on Brown B will find themselves on a team that can contend for high finishes in the second bracket of nationals or possibly for the second spot behind Minnesota in the undergraduate race. Anyway, Harvard and Brown will win all the tournaments held during the year, with MIT usually finishing third, though Brown B could surprise if the full Brown roster is able to show up to the same event that they aren’t editing. Also, Cornell will still be good and Brandeis will be decent, and Doug Yetman will show up to things for CUNY and do fairly well. Yale is poised for a renaissance, as the iron-fisted dictators who were holding the program back have moved on and newly enlightened people have emerged over the summer as both interested in good quizbowl and obviously talented at several major categories. Paired with grad student pickup Kevin Koai, this team will be nearly unstoppable on music and have a great all-around knowledge base to compete for high finishes.
WEST: Stanford loses Kevin, it’s unknown which tournaments Andrew will play, and this team has perhaps suffered the worst among the contenders from West Coast apathy about actually showing up to tournaments with your full team. Nonetheless, they are a threat to win any tournament they go to when the real A-team lineup comes together. I’m pretty sure everyone comes back to Irvine and this is the year they make their push for an NAQT medal spot, and hopefully get the bad taste of 08 ACF Nationals out of their mouths and return to that event as well. UCSD is really a team to watch, as they pulled some huge upsets and laid down great stats last year and are now adding new grad student Chris Chiego. Caltech seems more enthusiastic about attending tournaments than in the recent past, so hopefully along with UCLA and Pomona they will provide a solid field for events in the southern part of the region. Note, events held in SoCal may be jeopardized by an army of high school players occupying the building to re-enact their favorite Dragonball Z episodes; do not be surprised if the stats from NAQT Sectionals California are just a picture of a shirtless guy vibrating for thirty minutes.
NORTHWEST: Mike Bentley reports that Washington, Gonzaga, and Boise State will continue to send teams to most events. The Renaissance of this region as a quizbowl hotspot continues.
SOUTHEAST: South Carolina won everything in this region last year, returns all of its players, and actually cares about good quizbowl, so I predict for them to win 10 events this time. Vanderbilt adds blue-chip recruit Daichi Ueda. Georgia Tech continues to get serious. Clemson has a huge pool of talent to draw from if they can get organized. Florida always seems to do very well when they show up to things, which is not often. Does Georgia return enough good players to do OK? Maybe. I’m not sure who else in this region has a chance at not sucking, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised before.
SOUTHWEST: I think TAMU has already blinked out and the Texas program is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The future may belong to Rice, whose reborn program includes not only Henry Gorman, the lead scorer of the double national HS champions, but a bunch of other apparently dedicated people coming out of the Texas circuit. With Angelo having moved on to rainier pastures at Portland State, I’m not sure if Tulsa will continue to glue this region together by hosting eighty-five tournaments a year. Hopefully Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and the Chris Romero cabal can keep things going.
CANADA: Canada is a land of both syrup and contrasts. It’s never been more clear that certain people at Western Ontario and Guelph are ready to make the leap into real quizbowl and are prepared to be competitive right off the bat. At the same time, the older generation has openly declared war on all that is good and made clear that they will fight this ambition until red in tooth and claw. Assuming Peter McCorquodale and Eric Smith don’t build towers on the border and try to machine-gun dissidents as they flee southward to ACF Regionals, expect some Canadian teams to contend for titles here and there over the course of the year, and perhaps for the first Canadian participation in ACF Nationals to materialize.
What will happen at ACF Nationals: I fear for what might happen to the physical location of the tournament if Brown finishes second to Chicago for a fourth straight year, so I’ll play Pangloss and say that, while Seth remains Seth (albeit a Seth whose motivation might be dented by having nothing left to prove), and Shantanu will continue to improve, Jerry and friends will pull it off this time, if for no other reason than that they have to get a favorable finals packet eventually. Minnesota, Illinois and Harvard will fight for third place; whether Minnesota has a chance at upsetting one of the top 2 depends more on how seriously Gautam tries to lock down science and the team as a whole takes advantage of the history gap, than on Brendan’s inevitable continued all-around improvement. Minnesota is a lock for a third straight UG title, with Brown B, VCU, and Carnegie Mellon the likely contenders for the other medal spots there.
Over in the ICT department, Brown takes their usual hit on the NAQT format. Chicago is obviously the huge favorite to be in the final here, with Illinois and Minnesota the likely matchup to determine their opponent. I don’t see Harvard finishing third again; Kyle was a real NAQT beast, which Bruce isn’t, and it’s not like anyone else on this team really cares about NAQT either. It’s Minnesota finally winning the UG gold here, with the same teams as above shooting for the lesser UG trophies. Invoking the principle that Chicago always wins and that Illinois has good NAQT abilities on top of their impressive normal standing, I will predict that ICT ends with Chicago defeating Illinois in the final for the third year out of four.
What’s going on in Division II? Not a lot, since it seems that a great deal of this year’s impressive recruiting class is going to be pressed into service on the A team right off the bat. Let’s say that Rice and Vanderbilt will be the teams led by former high school greats who inevitably lose to the unexpected balanced foursome of recruits from the next tier of HS programs at NAQT DII; last year I said that’s what always happens and indeed it happened again. A Brown B team that is also playing for UG placement would be eligible for ACF DII as well, so I’ll predict they win that. I am assuming such a team would play DI at ICT; if they opt for DII they have a nearly sure shot of winning it. I’m not sure what level Anurag will play at for MIT, but he’s quite good and will either help their A team or make their DII team a contender.
Who will win the CCCT? Northeast Alabama brings back its top scorer, so probably them.
Who will win TRASHionals? Probably some old people who like Maxim a lot. Who will win Mike Bentley’s new trash national? I predict the Chicago team that finished third at TRASHionals last year will capitalize on the better questions and better air quality and pull this one off.
Preseason Top 25:
1. Chicago A
2. Brown A
13. Chicago B
15. Brown B
16. South Carolina
18. Carnegie Mellon
25. Chicago C
Last teams out: Swarthmore, Ohio State, Western Ontario, Carleton, Princeton, Toronto
Watch out in six months for: Vanderbilt, Rice, Clemson