2014-15 College Quizbowl Midseason Preview

The following is a mid-season preview of the top 25 teams in college quizbowl, per the mid-season poll run by Mike Cheyne; it also draws on an IRC discussion hosted thereafter by Dan Puma and Saajid Moyen. The results from today’s ONGOING ACF Regionals sites are not included, so it will serve best as a checkpoint for where teams seemed to be before ACF Regionals.


The first few teams in this preview will regularly make the playoffs in their regions, but almost certainly won’t make top bracket at nationals, absent extreme rapid changes. Some may be able to engineer themselves to make a run at Undergraduate or Division II titles, depending on whether they have the eligible players to pull that off.

25. Chicago B (22), -3, highest: #22

Prospective lineup: Marianna Zhang, Athena Kern, Jason Zhou, one of {James Lasker, Michael Coates}


Though the Chicago club is perhaps at a relative minimum size compared to the large 20+ person contingents of the Teitler era, and the relative parity of its A and B teams from the 2012-13 season has also passed, it still fields a B team that ought not be ignored. Several of the new recruits, including ex-Hunter lit player Marianna Zhang and ex-Penn B scientist James Lasker, have stuck with the game and combine to perform decently at regular-difficulty events. There is still some fluidity in this team’s lineup until the A team is settled, and since many of this team’s members are not eligible for Division II, it will likely look very different at this year’s NAQT events; as is virtually always the case, Chicago should put together a good team for Division II out of the people still eligible to play it.


24. MIT B (29), unranked, highest: #19

Prospective lineup: Saumil Bandhopadhyay, Oliver Ren, Julian Fuchs, Bryce Hwang


The Beavers have been stealthily assembling a lineup of talented freshmen and sophomores with which to rebuild after the Eltinge-Gurram duo moves on. Of particular note this year are a trio of freshman Californians who have all adjusted decently enough both to the college game and to the East Coast: Julian Fuchs, formerly of Davis; Oliver Ren, formerly of Canyon Crest Academy, and Bryce Hwang, formerly of Foothill, who put up a respectable 46 PPG at DEES. There is some fluidity on these lineups — most notably, an MIT C team tied for third with an 8-3 finish at PADAWAN this past October — but at any rate, this school should be able to find its best set of four soon enough, and put together another solid Division II top-bracket team with little trouble.


23. Stanford B (31), unranked, highest: #19

Prospective lineup: four of {Nathan Weiser, Ian Torres, Jialin Ding, Alex Freed, Tabitha Walker}


Over the past two years, Stanford has built up an impressive stable of former high school stars who have stuck around for the college game. Current word is that a team of Nathan Weiser (captain and lead scorer of LASA A ‘14), Alex Freed (also LASA A ‘14), Ian Torres (of the third-place Loyola ‘13 team) and Jialin Ding (“geo-beast” and 2013 PACE NSC champion with Ladue) will play together at this year’s Division II ICT, at which it is likely to be an unstoppable juggernaut akin to sophomore-Benji Nguyen’s team in 2013. Many of the players in this stable are quite decent at regular-difficulty college questions already, if Penn Bowl is any indicator, and should have promising futures if they continue to stay serious about college quizbowl over time, though it’s a bit premature to predict even a middle bracket finish from this team at ACF Nationals.


22. William and Mary (39), unranked, highest: #19

Prospective lineup: Sean Smiley, three of {Chris Miller, Alex Frey, James Cole, Jonathan Leidenhemmer}


In his second year of law school, Sean Smiley has managed to assemble quite a respectable team at Mr. Jefferson’s other university (the one he attended), helping end a half-decade of stagnation in Williamsburg. Atop Smiley’s generalism, which was good for 58 points per game across a lower-bracket weekend of last year’s ACF Nationals, this team boasts not one, but TWO National History Bee champions in its ranks, now that Alex Frey (St. Joseph’s HS class of 2012) is back in action and freshman Jonathan “Leadin Hammer” Liedenheimer has matriculated. Their banner victory of the year thus far — over a McPeak-less Maryland team at DEES — is unlikely to be repeated, but the combination of Smiley’s familiarity with past quizbowl answers and some genuine specialty knowledge at least up to the regular-difficulty early clue level should help them defend a spot in the 20s range at either national, and get several tossups off teams that finish higher.


21. Northwestern (54), -5, highest: #15

Prospective lineup: Dylan Minarik


Kevin Malis seems to be largely finished with quizbowl, leaving Dylan Minarik as the sole force bringing in points for Northwestern. Minarik is a dedicated, solid top-20-or-so individual player, and can consistently win more games than he loses on college sets up to regular difficulty, but it is hard to imagine him punching through against more fully-stocked teams at either national tournament. That said, he is only a sophomore, and may be able to pull in a current high school player or train a new-to-quizbowl college novice with the aim of rising above this ranking in future years.


20. Dartmouth (75), -3, highest: #16

Prospective lineup: Will Alston, Charles Jang


After spending a term doing his best Francisco Pizarro imitation in Peru, Will Alston has returned to the home country to quizbowl again. The retirement of Nick Jensen from active play makes it unclear what his team lineup will be, but in any event Alston and his signature can-do attitude will be getting between 80 and 100 percent of the points this team can manage in a crowded Northeast circuit. An interesting unfolding story will be the extent to which Will has become a regular-difficulty generalist outside of his renowned narrow specialty categories, a process possibly helped along by his prolific writing and editing for for ICCS, PADAWAN, DEES, and Penn Bowl this past fall (for which his 100+ questions included painting, religion, philosophy, and music).



These teams are unlikely to make it to the top bracket of either national without an extreme stroke of luck, but they are strong enough to command respect regionally and could well upset a team or two which finishes higher than they do.


19. Brown (98), +5, highest: #16, lowest: #23

Prospective lineup: Lloyd Sy, Abid Haseeb, Rohith Nagari, Kirun Sankaran


After a rocky year or two in which the legacy of Jerry Vinokurov’s graduate-student days looked in doubt, it seems that Brown’s team remains, and is a respectable regional contender in an admittedly very stacked region. Lloyd Sy has retained his impressive generalism at lower difficulties over the past two and a half years, and is still good for 55-60 points per game at regular difficulty. Along with Ohioan metaphysician Kirun Sankaran, the new addition which really makes this team pop is Rohith Nagari, a sophomore whose early buzzes on science and mythology reportedly remind Eric Mukherjee of an early undergraduate Eric Mukherjee.


All that having been said, it remains a black mark on this team’s ambitions that no member of the current Brown team has ever attended an ICT or ACF Nationals, with plans to do so in the future seemingly up in the air. The last year in which this school attended either tournament was 2012. In order to be taken seriously — indeed, in order to know how to prepare for next school year, when their whole bench returns and their top-bracket prospects become brighter — Sy and co. need to start making plans now to attend at least one national this year, and start assembling the resources it takes to travel to one in advance.


18. Berkeley A (116), same, highest: #16

Prospective lineup: Ankit Aggarwal, Aseem Keyal, Nicholas Karas,


Recent incarnations of the Berkeley quizbowl team have surpassed even mid-2000s UChicago as the largest college quizbowl team in existence, with the capacity to field an I team (as in: A, B, C, all the way down to I) at its own site of ACF Fall in November. With such a large and ever-rotating stable of decent players to choose from, it’s unclear who exactly will stand in for the departed Tanay Kothari on any given Saturday. It’s pretty certain that Ankit Aggarwal is still good, and former Westview High School star Aseem Keyal is also making waves at regular difficulty, but picking the correct third and fourth players will be important in seeing if (or when) they will break out of the range of nationals finishes they’ve retained for the past two years. This team is taking full advantage of, and contributing heavily to, a West Coast circuit which is much more vibrant this year than in the recent past; the creation of an A team as strong as Stanford or UCSD out of their absurdly large number of farm teams still seems like a multi-year project.


17. Minnesota (125), +4, highest: #11, lowest: #21

Prospective lineup: Shan Kothari, Jason Asher, Peter Estall, Han Li


Now that Mike “Funk Master Flex” Cheyne has ascended to the ranks of the professoriate at the Morris branch campus, all members of the 2007-2013 power era of Minnesota Quizbowl have now moved on. But their replacements, the delinquent duo of Ph.D-seeking Michigan State alum Shan Kothari and potential beast frosh Jason Asher, haven’t disappointed yet. At their major outing of the fall semester, PADAWAN, they managed to upset a Schindler/Ray Chicago team on their way to a third place finish above Illinois. More generally, Kothari’s deep pockets of philosophy, social science and music knowledge at all difficulties and Asher’s across-the-board low-level generalism complement each other well and give them hope for scoring key upsets at either national. The rate at which they power tossups seems quite low at present, and this team is traveling less often than Minnesotas of the past seven years or so, but Kothari and Asher are only in their first of what could well be four years as a duo. This is only the beginning.


16. North Carolina (133), same, highest: #15, lowest: #20

Prospective lineup: Natan Holtzman, Zihan Zheng, Ryan Rosenberg


If Ryan Rosenberg is to be believed, three members of the UNC team have forsaken Chapel Hill to study abroad in DC this spring, aligning this team even more strongly with the ever-distinct “Mid-Atlantic” rather than the purported “Southeast.” This team managed a pretty balanced attack against Adam Silverman’s Georgia Tech at the Southeast Penn Bowl mirror, at which it split its games against that team 2-1 to take second place and outdid them on points per bonus with 19.38. If last year’s Nationals statistics are any indication, that changes as difficulty increases and Holtzman scales up best among the trio; further success in their new Mid-Atlantic home base will depend on all three familiarizing themselves with more regular- and high-difficulty material.



For the past few years, the NAQT Intercollegiate Tournament has only allowed 8 teams to advance to the playoffs; ACF Nationals has a more lenient 12-team top bracket. The set of teams with a very good shot at making either or both of those playoffs is, to get straight to the point, larger than 12. As such, some matches determining the playoff tier will be very fierce as teams on the verge of making it have to face off against one another for a limited number of spots. Some of these teams will find themselves on the outside looking in come March; a lot will depend on comparative levels of dedication, which are difficult to measure this far out.

15. Georgia Tech (167), -3, highest: #11, lowest: #18

Prospective lineup: Adam Silverman, Alex Liu


Christmas comes three seasons early to Atlanta this year, and guess what NAQT has put in the city’s metaphorical stocking? The 2015 Intercollegiate Championship Tournament! The lack of travel distance to at least one national championship should come as a relief to this year’s Georgia Tech team, for whom competitive opportunities in the Southeast have dwindled at the same time that Adam Silverman et al. established themselves as the dominant force in the area. As an individual Silverman remains quite strong, with the ability to consistently power 2-3 regular difficulty tossups per game and particular specialties in chemistry, chem-ish biology, and chem-ish physics. But a very small bench of inexperienced supporting players, a lack of challenging local competitors, and a need to develop secondary specialties at the nationals level are genuine and major obstacles to his attempts at making the top bracket. It remains to be seen whether those factors will change or be overcome, and if so, where within the lower top bracket or upper middle bracket Georgia Tech will finish.

14. Illinois (193), +5, highest: #9, lowest: #21

Prospective lineup: Andrew Wang, Tristan Willey, Alex Fregeau, Chinmay Kansara


UIUC has thus far defied expectations that it would slide down the rankings after several high-profile players graduated. This year has seen several breakout performances this far from junior and team captain Andrew Wang, who has emerged from the shadows of the departed Billy Busse and Aaron Rosenberg as a strong team captain and generalist in his own right. At tournaments such as Penn Bowl and PADAWAN, Wang (a biochemist by trade) put up about as many powers as Adam Silverman, and he’s by no means a one-man show; he has a fair amount of backup from former small school star Tristan Willey among others. There’s much work to be done before the Illini can give their upstate rivals at UChicago a scare or an upset, but they are very much a regional power in the upper Midwest as it stands, and are in a solid place from which to disprove the naysayers.


13. Alberta (206), same, highest: #7, lowest: #16

Prospective lineup: Trevor Davis, Sinan Ulusoy, John Yoon, Mitchell Schultze


Trevor Davis and Sinan Ulusoy are both back and probably as good as last year! After finishing 12th at ACF Nationals last year, and taking editing gigs on Regionals 2015 and VCU Open 2014 science respectively to keep them refreshed, a similar performance should be expected at either national from the Canadian Wonder Twins this year, provided that their schedules overlap and they can both attend. Given their increasing graduate school obligations and the distances involved in flying to every event that isn’t online, it is noteworthy that Trevor and Sinan are having more difficulties playing the same tournaments as a duo these days; if they are unable to do so at either national (as was the case at ICT last year) it will drop their standing for sure. That said, it seems as though a third player, Mitchell Schultze, is emerging as a mid-level scorer at least on Sinan-only incarnations of this team, and could help them finish strong either way.


11. TIE–WUSTL and Yale (216), Yale -1, WUSTL +4, highest for Yale: #9, lowest: #15; highest for WUSTL: #8, lowest: #15

Prospective lineup (WUStL): Richard Yu the Great, Charles Hang, Seth Ebner, Tirth Patel

Prospective lineup (Yale): Jacob Reed, Grace Liu, Nick Wawrykow, Isaac Kirk-Davidoff


Because these two teams tied in the mid-season poll, this entry will be presented as a GRUDGE MATCH in which the Washington University in St. Louis and Yale squads are directly compared and contrasted.


Both of these teams are primarily a one-two punch with a lot of depth in specialty areas and basic coverage across most of the board. On WashU, junior Richard Yu and super-super-senior Charles Hang provide most of the scoring, with a core strength in history (Hang has reportedly spent much of the past few years listening to “hundreds of history audiobooks”) and the areas of mythology and real-life science study that Yu brings to the table. By contrast, Grace Liu and Jacob Reed reach their greatest depth in fine arts; ex-beast-frosh Reed is utterly dominant on music (second only to John Lawrence among active players, and not by much) and the pair has auxiliary specialties in visual art, literature, and mythology. In both cases, the pair hasn’t played together much — on Yale, a Liu-only team played at PADAWAN and Dees, and a Reed-only team is going to have to play Regionals; at WashU, Hang was not enrolled for much of last year, and a consistent Yu-Hang teamup is something of a new experience for both of them, despite some tournaments together during Yu’s freshman year. In both cases, it remains an open question how the team is going to cover all categories at basic Nationals-level proficiency, and what their full roster will contribute on top of the major duo. WashU seems to have a dependable third player in Seth Ebner,  (EDIT: and an occasional fourth in medical student and bio/chem player Tirth Patel), whereas Yale is still deciding which players work best from their decently-sized stable; depending on the division that angry young man Isaac Kirk-Davidoff chooses to play in, his current events and trash knowledge may be useful. And in Yale’s case, any foundation they build up this year will serve them well next year, when they return everybody and a shot at the top bracket is much more guaranteed. In a hypothetical match between the teams, it’s hard to say who would win, given their non-overlapping category specialties; a lot will come down to developing across-the-board generalism to pick up unexpected tossups and middle/hard parts.


There are two more asides worth noting about these teams, which involve their contention for titles other than the overall championship. Given its specialties, WashU may well be a contender for the top 3 or 4 spots at this year’s College History Bowl, along with Penn, Maryland, and UVA. And Yale is all-undergraduate, making it a viable contender for the UG title at ACF Nationals against its regional bete noire, Harvard.


10. UCSD (241), +4, highest: #7, lowest: #13

Prospective lineup: Auroni Gupta, Jason Cheng, Rohit Mande


Well-regarded generalist Auroni Gupta, or “Mrs. Gupta” to those who love him,  has been a prolific writer and editor in his two years away from active college quizbowl play, and it’s kept him in good shape for this year. He has continued with his heavy question writing regimen by producing George Oppen, this year’s pre-Nationals hard tournament, and head-editing the PACE National Scholastic Championship, one of the most rigorous contests high school teams can enter. If Gupta stays sharp and his teammates all chip in, this team becomes a very dangerous top-bracket contender at either national, and could certainly upset a top tier team at either event. The world outside the West Coast circuit is less sure what the specialty areas of Gupta’s teammates are, but if the numbers at Penn Bowl are any indication, they’re an important part of the scoring picture.


9. Harvard A (251), same, highest: #7, lowest: #13

Prospective lineup: Will Holub-Moorman, Sriram Pendyala, Mark Arildsen, Raynor Kuang


After the departure of its main generalist, Stephen Liu, this year’s Harvard team is much more compartmentalized into subject area specialists who draw on real-life interest in the categories they buzz on. Captain Will Holub-Moorman is primarily into literature and fine arts, having become a capable enough music player in rivalry with his former high school teammate Jacob Reed; Sriram “SRIIIRAAAM” Pendyala is armed to the teeth with science clues, and Mark Arildsen does much of the history and general knowledge. It’s hard to say between its hosting of Penn Bowl and its shorthanded rosters/no-shows at other events, but it seems for now that this team has settled on Raynor Kuang, a buzzer-aggressive chemist whose primary area of quizbowl study is in literature clues, for its fourth player. Given how little we’ve seen of them thus far, it’s hard to know whether these disparate knowledge bases and play styles will cohere into a whole which is less than, the same as, or greater than the sum of its parts. In either event, they have a strong foundation to build from — a team on which Pendyala and Holub-Moorman rotated Arildsen, Kuang, and geobeast Vimal Konduri into spots 3 and 4 got 21.58 points per bonus at PADAWAN. As was the case last year, Harvard is very likely to make it into the top bracket or to just miss it on account of difficult prelim seeding.


This year’s Crazy Cantabs are also all undergraduates, making this lineup a likely contender for the Undergraduate title at either national. In order to secure it, their main competitor is once again likely to be the Yale Bulldogs, a rivalry which is currently much more evenly-matched than those two schools’ recent history on the football field.


8. Columbia A (255), same, highest: #5, lowest: #13

Prospective lineup: Ben Zhang, Aidan Mehigan, Jonathan Xu, Rafael Krichevsky


While a lot is still unclear due to various short-handednesses of lineups at the events thus far, the rough equilibrium in the Northeast seems to have put Columbia vying for MIT at the top, with Harvard and Yale competing right below. At Columbia, star freshman Ben Zhang has acquitted himself pretty well thus far, averaging just over one power per game with teammates who are no slouches themselves. With at least four very solid players to pick from, this team can contend for a top bracket finish at nationals. However, this team has also had trouble scaling to nationals-level difficulty in the past and it remains to be seen if they have changed in that regard. Another mystery which remains for the Lions is whether their law student and social science expert from last year, Alex Gerten, will be returning; in either event they probably ought to make a contingency plan without him. This is another team that can expect to return everybody going into 2015-16; however, they should not rest comfortably on that fact if they want to perform as best they can this spring.


7. MIT A (271), +4, highest: #6, lowest: #10

Prospective lineup: Neil Gurram, Stephen Eltinge, Anderson Wang, Mia Nussbaum?


Neil Gurram, now going for a master’s degree which might last two years, has proven himself consistently to be a capable generalist on regular difficulty questions. His most frequent teammate, the often-underheralded science player Stephen Eltinge, will be beefing up further by writing all much of the science for George Oppen as well. There has historically some fluidity in the third and fourth players that MIT chooses to field; while Anderson Wang is almost always their third, linguistics graduate student Mia Nussbaum is often unable to attend tournaments and the bench of possible supporting players runs very deep. Developing a consistent third and fourth player into specialty contributors at all difficulty levels will help this team pull ahead, as Columbia, Harvard, and Yale are all hot on its heels.



Both of the next two teams are well-rounded enough to be immortalized on the Top Four chart on QBWiki at one or both nationals this year – if they can avoid the others stepping on their toes. Absent some extremely rough seeding, each of these teams is almost certain to make the playoff pool at both national championships, and should win at least some games there. It’s also plausible that these teams will act as “spoilers” to contenders, delivering upsets which affect the course of the tournament even if they themselves do not make the championship picture. While it’s not out of the question that one team in this pair might find itself on the finals stage when the dust from the playoffs settles, it seems fair to say that they are very long-shot contenders for an actual title, and would have to put in a disproportionate amount of effort to change that.


6. Michigan (307), -2, highest: #4, lowest: #7

Prospective lineup: Will “The Thrill” Nediger, Siddhant Dogra, Kenji Golimlim, Todd Maslyk


This year’s Blue Wolverines return every member of their 2013-14 squad, and seems to be well on its way to a very similar finish at this year’s nationals. Will Nediger seems to be holding firm at lower difficulties and promises once again to scale and do much better at the more difficult answer lines that flummox other players at hard events. His teammates, including the NAQT-category-centri Kenji Golimlim and Latin maven Todd Maslyk, have increased their share of scoring over the past year as well. A distinguishing feature of this year’s Michigan team, which helps them with consistency, is their very conservative, laid-back playing style; in the words on one commentator, they seem to “let the tossups come to them” instead of “going after the tossups” with aggressive guesses or lateral thought.


That said, it seems as though this team has slid behind Stanford and Maryland by virtue of staying in the same place as their rivals have improved. Relatively full Michigan lineups are having a hard time holding off just the Ray/Schindler duo from shorthanded Chicago and even losing to that shorthanded Chicago team at DEES. Their bonus conversion seems to be, if anything, slightly down from previous years, if PADAWAN is any indication. Nediger’s graduate program is leaving him relatively little time to focus on studying more quizbowl topics independently. It seems unlikely that this year’s squad will recreate the mid-2000s Zeke Berdichevsky/Adam Kemezis glory days, but a large amount of how much they do below that depends on what the re-dedicated Dogra, Golimlim, and Maslyk bring to the table. If those two can combine to average above 30 points per game at either national, then Michigan is more likely to enter the championship contender picture in earnest.


5. Stanford A (314), same, highest: #4, lowest: #10

Prospective lineup: Stephen Liu, Benji Nguyen, Nikhil Desai, Austin Brownlow


After a decent top-bracket finish at last year’s ACF Nationals, the current incarnation of the Stanford team promises to the best run since the Yaphe era through this year’s top brackets. After four years in rather Grinchly surroundings, Stephen-Liu-Who is in back in his home state of California, and has already ascended to lead this team in scoring. Liu may well be the best visual arts player in the country, and he also supplements his years of quizbowl generalism with a strong secondary specialty in European history. Benji Nguyen (who focuses primarily on lit, philosophy, and social science) and Austin Brownlow (who despite his curricular studies in electricla engineering assures the world that he also handles American history, world myth, and religion) appear to be two of the most improved players in the country this year; both have greatly improved their power percentages despite playing with one of the top players in the game. And Nikhil Desai remains strong in the sciences. Stanford dominates this year’s revived west coast circuit, though it remains to be seen how they’ll do against the East Coast powers. That should change when they (minus Nguyen, whose term abroad in Turkey ends the week before ICT) make their pilgrimage to the Mecca of quizbowl, College Park, MD, to play George Oppen against one of the strongest non-Chicago Open fields in recent memory.


A challenge they have now is that they are relatively scattered; with Benji in Asia Minor for the term before ICT, Nikhil doing more research for credit, and Stephen often buried under a flood of court cases, they’re not often in the same room at the same time learning to play as a team. Functionality and cohesiveness will be important for an attempt to break into the top four. Even so, per a recent discussion, Brownlow has hinted that this team has something of a “two-year plan” in the works. Odds are high that Nguyen returns next year to complete a Master’s degree, which would mean this entire team is a mere trial run for the 2015-16 year, when several high-profile graduations affect many of their rivals. If they don’t quite scrape their way into the title contention this year, be warned that they almost certainly will next year, when the Cardinal’s title run really takes off.



There were three teams in this category last time, and now there are four.

4. Maryland A (317), +2, highest: #3, lowest: #8

Prospective lineup: Jordan Brownstein, Chris Manners, Brian McPeak, Dan Puma


Though Chris Ray has now departed for windier climes, this team has acquitted itself quite well in his absence, upsetting Penn to clinch a disadvantaged final at PADAWAN and delivering UVA its first loss of the year by a razor-thin 15-point margin at Penn Bowl. The rise of Jordan “The Red Viper of College Park” Brownstein to dominance, particularly on American and British literature and history, has already been well noted. Less frequently noted is the surge in scoring from Brian McPeak, who has upped his scoring to 35-40 points per game on regular questions and branched out into non-science categories such as religion and philosophy atop his usual physics and math specialties. Chris Manners and Dan Puma provide continued support on lit, history, and arts for this team, and Puma in particular could be something of a secret weapon at ICT, where his extensive trash and movies knowledge will give the Terrapins an extra edge.


This team makes no secret of its ambitions to win a national title before three-fourths of its lineup graduates this May, and it will be interesting to see how much trouble they raise for other contenders in their quest for it. By contrast with Michigan, with whom they’ve swapped rankings since the last poll, this team does tend to play very aggressively and “go after” tossups, sometimes to the point of negging itself out by going for the guess. And it is worth noting that while Maryland seems to be as good as (or better than) every team but UVA at getting tossups early, its bonus conversion is as of yet the lowest of any title contender, though it’s unclear how much effect that has on swinging close matches on high-difficulty questions.


A literal reading of the NAQT ICT undergraduate eligibility rules (in which a player must compete in their fourth “distinct” year of competition to become ineligible) mean that Dan Puma (who competed at ICT in 2011, 2012, and 2014, only three distinct years thus far) is still eligible for an Undergraduate title there. If that is indeed the case, Maryland should run away with the UG title at ICT with little trouble. They will not be eligible for it at ACF in any case, leaving Harvard, Yale, and Illinois as the main competitors for the Undergraduate title at that event.


3. Chicago A (347), same, highest: #2, lowest, #4

Prospective lineup: John Lawrence, Chris Ray, Max Schindler, one of {James Lasker, Michael Coates}


Without its lead scorer, John Lawrence, this year’s incarnation of the Chicago juggernaut has been able to hold Michigan’s full lineup to within a single-tossup margin at PADAWAN and DEES. The full Chicago lineup, therefore, seems to be utterly unbeatable in its region, rivaled only by teams from the mid-Atlantic which it hasn’t played yet. Over the course of the past year or so, Max Schindler has been curbing his negging and  reinventing himself as a science player, a necessary shift intended to help this team counteract of Brian McPeak and Tommy Casalaspi (to say nothing of The Big Bad Eric) on their rivals’ squads. While still relatively high-neg, Chris Ray has already improved his tossup numbers beyond the baseline he set at Maryland. Those two supplement the ever-unflappable and extremely low-neg John Lawrence, whose extreme depth in literature (cf. victory at Gorilla Lit 2014) and fine arts has recently expanded out to include a top-level philosophy specialty and more areas of history and religion. Striking the right balance between aggressiveness and discipline will be an issue for this team as it seeks to increase its power rate to match UVA’s.


Chicago also has yet to make an important choice regarding their fourth player, who may well have to consistently chip in a tossup or two to take them over the edge. At present, it seems that Michael Coates, whose niche areas are largely geography, history, and current events, and James Lasker, who can get buzzes in science, jazz, and Catholcism, are each capable of getting about 10 points per game alongside the LawRaySchind trio. Their eventual choice of fourth player, and the results of their clashes against Penn, Maryland, and UVA at George Oppen should reveal a lot about the proper ordering of the top four. At present, Chicago seems to be more dedicated to an intense improvement regimen than either Penn or UVA; it’s unclear how much they will have to ratchet it up to overtake one or both of those teams or even get within range to deliver them a loss.


2. Penn A (357), same, highest: #2, lowest: #3

Prospective lineup: Eric Mukherjee, Saajid Moyen, Patrick Liao, Chris Chiego


This is the last year of undergraduate for Saajid Moyen and Patrick Liao, who both took very quickly to the task of rebuilding a title-competitive team around grizzled veteran Eric Mukherjee upon entering college quizbowl in the fall of 2011. And that triumvirate has done pretty well for itself, with Mukherjee leadng by far in scoring and the other two providing support for several 3rd and 4th place finishes at ICT and Nationals. But that most pasta-like of teams, Penn A, hasn’t yet made it to a national finals match. Though Mukherjee has some more time left in his (intensifying) academic program after Saajid and Patrick graduate this spring, it remains the case that this is the last, best, shot he will have at a championship.


Perhaps sensing the pressure to deliver, Moyen seems to have grown into a real second player for this team, pulling off the early buzzes on literature, fine arts, and other areas that it needs to retain its edge. Eric, of course, remains Eric- almost certainly the second best player in today’s college game. When combined with Patrick’s history prowess, this team has an especially formidable command of the history distribution, to say nothing of its known science strengths. It seems that for their fourth spot, Penn has let Dallas Simons float off into the world of graduate classics education, replacing him with former UGA and UCSD standout Chris Chiego. Chiego’s political studies give him deep pockets of knowledge in American history, social science, and current events, and his hobby interest in the world’s geologic formations will also prove quite handy for handling the increased geography distribution at ICT. Chiego is midway through a demanding Ph. D program, and will have to look ahead at his schedule to ensure that he can attend nationals; losing a critical fourth player at the last minute will almost certainly squelch the Quakers’ long-stoked national title ambitions.


This team has not defeated a full Virginia lineup since the spring of 2013, almost two years ago, or ranked ahead of UVA at any tournament since 2013 ACF Nationals. Is this the year they make a final push to overtake UVA and finally satisfy their championship ambitions? It will most likely come down to whether Eric’s supporting cast can deliver in the clutch against other Top Teams, and on whether Chicago can rage-study with enough intensity to overtake Team MukherJid’s statistical upper hand.


1. Virginia A (375, all first place votes), same

Prospective lineup: Matt Bollinger, Tommy Casalaspi, JR Roach, Daniel Hothem


The War of the Two Matts has been over for more than a semester now, and the resulting Pax Bollingeriana continues. (Is it a coincidence that his current forums avatar is a statue of Emperor Augustus?) At the one tournament he played this fall, the main site of Penn Bowl, Bollinger got an astonishing 78 powers across fourteen rounds of play, almost certainly a record-setting amount for the college game. When flanked by now duly-established science specialist Tommy Casalaspi and the extra history and current events gains from JR Roach, it is very difficult to imagine many teams with an earnest shot at matching UVA’s statistics or even upsetting them.  If the departures of Dennis Loo and Evan Adams made this year’s Cavaliers any weaker than last year’s triple-Triple Crown winners, it isn’t by much, and statistically speaking they are still at the top of the heap with a decent gap in powers per game and points per bonus between them and the next teams down the list.


There are some winds blowing around this seemingly-invincible armada, however. For one thing, it is unclear how much more time Bollinger has available to stay keyed-in to quizbowl and maintaining his current position of dominance, given a rather demanding and non-quizbowl-related course load at Virginia’s School of Commerce. The prospective plans for Western Albemarle High School senior Eric Xu to dual-enroll at UVA did not come to pass, leaving it unclear who the fourth player on this team will be; options include the long-inactive Daniel Hothem, current B-team lead ringer and perennial tournament director Josh Duncan, or an empty chair. We also know now that UVA is beatable, because they have been beaten — having dropped the first match in a tense final with Maryland at Penn Bowl. Despite all that, though, UVA remains the overwhelming favorite, with perhaps a 90-95 percent chance of winning either national versus a 5-10 percent chance of anyone else prevailing. We’ll see in Atlanta and Ann Arbor which other potential contenders are willing to take up the challenge in earnest and how far tenacity and perseverance can take them.