All posts by Matthew Jackson

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.

REGIONAL CONTENDERS

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).

 

POTENTIAL UPSET DELIVERERS

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.

 

TOP BRACKET CONTENDERS

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.

 

THE LONG SHOTS

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.

 

THE CONTENDERS

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.

2014-15 College Season Preview

***UPDATED TO REFLECT POLL CHANGES 9/14***

The following season preview draws on a preseason poll carried out on the forums, and on an IRC discussion rundown of each of the teams on that poll. As such, it does not represent the opinion of any one person, the official views of hsquizbowl.org, or anything like that. Special thanks to Mike Cheyne for running the poll and discussion, and to Dan Puma for his considerable contributions. Additional disclaimer here that this preview is based only on publicly-known information and the best conjectures we have about whether players will or won’t keep playing. A lot might, and plenty definitely will, change when teams begin to actually play this year’s tournaments, where everything of ultimate significance actually happens.  

REGIONAL CONTENDERS

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. Cornell (postseason ranking: 25; change: 0)

Possible lineup: Sean McBride

Cornell loses its longtime star Tejas Raje, and Ian Lenhoff leaves campus halfway through the year; their young hotshot Matt Moschella has also apparently moved on. In exchange, they gain a fearsome high school graduate in Sean McBride, the lead scorer and science specialist from last year’s High Tech A team. McBride should already be well-prepared for collegiate science questions and able to make a dent in other categories; if he and other younger members of this team stay involved, this team should start its rebuilding phase on a good foot.

 

24. Brown (postseason ranking: unranked)

Possible lineup: Daniel Brach-Neufeld, Abid Haseeb, Rohith Nagari, Lloyd Sy

While longtime graduate students Daniel Klein and Justin Byrd seem to be moving on, the trio of Daniel Brach-Neufeld, Abid Haseeb, and Lloyd Sy returns for its third year. Many commentators have serious doubts about Brown – they play in a very stacked region, where they’re likely to face Columbia, Yale, Harvard, MIT, and possibly Penn or Dartmouth any given Saturday, to say nothing of powerful B-teams. What’s more, none of the returning undergraduates has ever attended a collegiate national championship. If Sy and co. don’t  prove the naysayers wrong and prepare for an eventual showing at either ICT or ACF this year, they will rapidly lose this ranking.

 

23. Maryland B (postseason ranking: 19; change: down 4)

Possible lineup: Arun Chonai, Gaurav Kandlikar, Sohan Vartak

As Isaac Hirsch moves on to funnier climes and some members of this team move up to Maryland A, it’s less likely that Maryland B will be as frequent a regional top-bracket presence this year as it was last year. Nonetheless, the Maryland quizbowl team returns a rather large stable of returning experienced players. That said, the title of “second best B team in the country” is very much up for grabs. While this team was discussed, the names of two unranked teams were brought up as potential top-25 material: Harvard B (returns Stephen Morrison, Artur Meller, Vimal Konduri; gains Mason Hale from Loudoun County HS) and Stanford B (returns James Bradbury and Ian Torres; gains a boatload of talented freshmen; see “Stanford” below).

 

22. Chicago B (postseason ranking: 22; change: 0)

Possible lineup: four of {James Lasker, Marianna Zhang, Athena Kern, Bess Goodfellow, James Kiselik}

Though much of last year’s Chicago B (including Doug Graebner, Ben Gammage, and Connie Prater) is lost to graduation, the university predictably picks up several new players with which to reload. Among those are James Lasker (formerly of Penn, bio/chem/astro specialist), Marianna Zhang (formerly of Hunter College High School, generalist with lit specialty), and Athena Kern (formerly of Dunbar High School). Though it’s unclear which set of people will be slotted in here or what categories they’ll know, Chicago B plays every tournament seriously every year, and there’s no reason to expect that to change.

 

21. Minnesota (postseason ranking: unranked)

Possible lineup: Shan Kothari, Jason Asher

With the ascension of Dr. Mike Cheyne to the professoriat, Minnesota loses the last member of its 2011 championship squad, pushing the Golden Gophers into a near-total rebuilding mode. That said, The U has two very solid blocks with which to begin the rebuilding process: Shan Kothari, who carries his deep pockets of science, arts, philosophy, and social science knowledge over from Michigan State, and Jason Asher, the lead scorer from last year’s successful Stevenson High School team.

 

20. Northwestern (postseason ranking: unranked)

Possible lineup: Dylan Minarik, Kevin Malis

Though noted Broadway superfan Dan Donohue has taken his bow and exited stage right, Northwestern returns its two lead scorers, who combined for a respectable 62.41 points per game at ACF Nationals. Minarik in particular has shown himself to be a solid low-level generalist at last year’s Division II ICT; he is in a good place to build on that generalist ability and do more damage at higher difficulties if he puts in the effort.

 

19. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (postseason ranking: 8; change: down 11)

Possible lineup: Alex Pandya, Andrew Wang, Tristan Willey

It’s a serious rebuilding year for Illinois as they lose Austin Listerud, Billy Busse, and Aaron Rosenberg. The remaining members of the Academic Buzzer Team, led by Tristan Willey and budding biochemist Andrew Wang, should put up respectable performances regionally, though they may have trouble fending off local rivals Chicago B and Northwestern as the season continues and all three try to climb the regional ladder.

 

18. University of California, Berkeley (postseason ranking: 21; change: up 3)

Possible lineup: Ankit Aggarwal, Nicholas Karas, Ilyas Bayramov, Ben Gammage

Last year’s Berkeley team, led by ex-Bellarministers Ankit Aggarwal and Tanay Kothari, finished 20th at ICT and 15th at ACF. Tanay, having graduated early in three years, will not be back, leaving Aggarwal in charge of picking three teammates from a relatively large stable of decent players and niche specialists. These may now include Ben Gammage, a long-time Chicago B mainstay who will be attending Berkeley for grad school in mathematics. It’s very hard to imagine this team defeating Stanford regionally, and with little other competition in their area, it seems likely that their national finishes will about match last year’s at best. That said, Berkeley’s long-term prospects may look brighter; their work on building up the Bay Area high school circuit will almost certainly reap large dividends for them as more strong high school players matriculate in the years to come.

 

17. Dartmouth (postseason ranking: 17; change: 0)

Possible lineup: Will Alston, Charles Jang, Caleb Amponsah

After no-showing for the second day of ACF Nationals last spring, it seems clear that Nick Jensen will not be returning to play quizbowl for Dartmouth during his senior year, taking his literature, bio/chem, and fine arts scoring with him. Effective leadership turns to noted barbarian enthusiast Will Alston, who will have to become a much more far-reaching generalist and effective team leader after spending the whole fall semester studying abroad. This team will not do as well as last year, and may not even make playoffs in crowded Northeast fields. Though Alston’s unwavering can-do attitude should at least keep them in attendance for the duration of next spring’s tournaments, he will have to rely on improving himself, rather than holding out hope that inactive or long-gone players will return.

 

16. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (postseason ranking: 23; change: up 7)

Possible lineup: Ryan Rosenberg, Zihan Zheng, Natan Holtzman, Kisan Thakkar

The relatively young UNC team – returning in its entirety for this upcoming year – has been extremely dominant on low-level questions such as ACF Fall and Division II SCT for the past two years. They’ve now largely outgrown that difficulty level, now that Rosenberg and Holtzman are juniors and Zihan Zheng is a sophomore – and seem plenty interested in continuing to attend local tournaments and both nationals. As this team’s three returning players become more specialized with age, they ‘ll need to remember how it felt crushing foes on easy questions as a motivator to learn to crush foes on regular-difficulty questions. The top of the second bracket may be all this team can hope for at nationals this year, but they may as well start preparing now for an even stronger showing in 2015-16.

 

PLAYOFF CONTENDERS

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. Washington University in St. Louis (postseason ranking: 24; change: up 9)

Possible lineup: Richard Yu, Seth Ebner, Charles Hang?

Richard Yu has established himself as a very strong individual player, using his knowledge that scales well in history and biology in particular to earn All-Star awards at both ICT and ACF Nationals last year. That said, he has had a very small and inconstant supporting cast over the past year, a trend which is likely to continue. While Yu is likely to keep distinguishing himself individually, he will have to start training his teammates more seriously for his team to put the “[h]ustl[e]” in “WUStL”, and perhaps take its first crack at a playoff run. Rumor has it that long-time presence Charles Hang might be returning after a year of leave, which would help this team’s chances somewhat; after many years at the same skill level, though, Hang would very much be playing second fiddle.

 

14. University of California, San Diego (postseason ranking: unranked)

Possible lineup: Auroni Gupta, Jason Cheng

After two years of semi-retirement spent largely writing and editing questions at all difficulty levels, including many HSAPQ sets and last year’s ACF Nationals, Auroni Gupta returns to the collegiate fray for 2014-15. All that writing should allow him to resume active play on a very strong footing, though it remains to be seen whether it’ll be enough to propel the UCSD team to the top bracket. Expect this ranking to be higher by the end of the year, and expect Gupta’s team to perform about as well as last year’s MCTC, if not slightly better, for similar reasons – producing George Oppen, this year’s “nationals prep” event, can’t hurt UCSD’s chances.

 

13. Alberta (postseason ranking: 15, change: up 2)

Pissible lineup: Trevor Davis, Sinan Ulusoy

Alberta spreads its wings to fly to tournaments once more, returning both of its star players as Sinan continues his medical education and Trevor goes for a big bad Ph.D. Relatively little changes here; we can expect a similar bottom-of-the-top-bracket finish from this team if both Davis and Ulusoy are able to attend nationals again, or a top-of-the-second bracket finish if they have a rough weekend.

 

 

12. Georgia Tech (postseason ranking: 14 ; change: up 2)

Possible lineup: Adam Silverman, Alex Liu

Adam Silverman’s situation at Georgia Tech is in many ways quite similar to Richard Yu’s at WashU; he is no slouch individually (69.28 PP20H in last year’s ICT prelims), and has a particular strength in chemistry which few other teams in this section share. But he often plays on 2- or 3-person teams with teammates who vary from weekend to weekend and score far less than he goes. And of those teammates, it’s unclear whether some, such as Brian Owen or Mostafa Bhuiyan, will even return next year. This team isn’t helped by the relative lack of tournament hosts and competitive opponents in the Southeast, which may dwindle even further next year. As such, most of this team’s ability to move upwards depends on whether Silverman stays motivated to step up his game outside of his science specialties. Otherwise, they should win most Southeast tournaments handily and do about the same nationally. [Sidenote: This team was also unable to attend ACF Nationals last year, making it difficult to predict how they might do on that format compared to ICT; with ICT a few minutes away in downtown Atlanta this year, it may well be easier for them to attend both nationals and duke it out for certain.]

 

11. MIT (postseason ranking: 11, change: 0)

Possible lineup: Neil Gurram, Stephen Eltinge, two of {Max Timmons, Mia Nussbaum, Cory Smith, Anderson Wang, Sam Spaulding}

There’s a good reason why four teams from the Northeast are all listed in a row here. After two major graduations (Matt Jackson from Yale and Stephen Liu from Harvard), there’s a very high-level parity at the top of that region, in which several teams are all reasonable competitors for regional dominance but none seem prepared to break into the top tier nationally (counting Penn as “mid-Atlantic” rather than “Northeast” for the purposes of this assessment). There will be no easy victor in the four-way struggle for local supremacy.

 

First on that list is MIT, a team which graduated nobody from last year’s 10th-place ICT finish (Neil Gurram is entering his fifth year in a combination bachelor’s/master’s program). Gurram’s across-the-board generalism has held up decently for several years now; between him and Stephen Eltinge, this team has extra [albeit unsurprising] edge at science questions, and a large stable of decent players to choose from as thirds or fourths to cover gaps in subjects such as literature or fine arts. Interestingly, Neil Gurram has thus far never attended an ACF Nationals, so it’s hard to say how well this team would do (or if they plan on doing) on high-difficulty ACF format and distribution.

 

10. Yale (postseason ranking: 2; change: down 8)

Possible lineup: Jacob Reed, Grace Liu, Nick Wawrykow, one of {Jacob Wasserman, Mitchell Weldon, Isaac Kirk-Davidoff}

Despite losing half of its lineup (and two thirds of its scoring) from last year, Yale stays strong. The returning comedy duo of Jacob Reed and Grace Liu takes the reins, with a large stock of other young players to choose from for support as they rebuild. It seems clear from MFT and MUT statistics that the Liu-Reed effort retains excellent across-the-board generalist ability and high power rates at regular-minus difficulty. Above that, a lot comes down to how well they can supplement their specialized humanities knowledge – focused in literature, fine arts, and mythology —  with the categories that Jackson’s ghost leaves behind (history, religion, philosophy, social science). It also remains unclear how well this team’s pockets of straight-outta-classroom science learning can be expanded into consistent buzzes in that category, an important ingredient for filling the Ashvin-sized hole in its aspirations (and hearts). Yale’s team will be all-undergrad next year, and will likely be Harvard’s main competition as it seeks to defend the Undergraduate titles it picked up from ICT and Nats last year. (Dan Puma, while still completing his bachelor’s degree next year, graduated high school in 2009 and is in his fifth year of college quizbowl, rendering Maryland ineligible for the UG title if he plays for them.)

 

9. Harvard (postseason ranking: 7; change: down 2)

Possible lineup: Mark Arildsen, Will Holub-Moorman, Sriram Pendyala, one of {Raynor Kuang, Vimal Konduri}

Harvard, after much gnashing of waitlisted teeth, loses their long-time captain Stephen Liu to another school whose mascot is a shade of red. But Liu’s entire former supporting cast returns, and is certainly gunning for success in the “good quizbowl schools with adjectives for mascots” rankings. Will Holub-Moorman has been improving rapidly over the past season, especially at literature, and should be prepared to take the helm come October; Sriram “SRIIIIRAAAAM” Pendyala has a pretty thorough command of chemistry and physics, and Mark Arildsen brings in military history and all sorts of unpredictable (but excited) buzzes. The likely fourth for this year’s Harvard A, fresh off their reigning NAQT Division II championship team, is lit player Raynor Kuang, though he will have to attend more regular tournaments throughout the year and adjust his notoriously high-neg playing style to get adjusted to higher difficulties; geobeast Vimal Konduri might also be slotted in here. At any rate, this team shouldn’t lose much even as it replaces its previous best player, and is likely to compete for the Undergraduate title once nationals season rolls around.

 

8. Columbia (postseason ranking: 16; change: up 8)

Possible lineup: four of {Aidan Mehigan, Rafael Krichevsky, Jonathan Xu, Alex Gerten, Ben Zhang}

Now emancipated from their ACF-Nationals-hosting yoke, Columbia returns everyone from their 12th-place ICT finish last year, and gains high school hot-shot Ben Zhang, perhaps the best individual player to have graduated high school in 2014. Because college quizbowl teams can only field four players at once, someone is likely to get bumped off; the identity of the bumpee is likely to be determined by which subjects Zhang starts to learn at a collegiate level and how he adjusts to becoming a team player. (In high school he had a particular fondness for biology and mythology; if that interest in life sciences continues, Xu may be the one who gets the axe.) That said, Columbia also returns a pretty decent B team, so the person among these five who doesn’t continue with the A-team may well get Columbia B into later top-25 polls this school year.

 

7. Minneapolis Community and Technical College (postseason ranking: 10; change: up 3)

Possible lineup: Rob Carson, Bernadette Spencer

The Carson-Spencer duo soldiers on for a third year representing MCTC. Carson retains his humanities generalism, with particular strengths in literature and fine arts, and Spencer’s specialties in philosophy, Christian stuff, and social science bring in some additional points. They didn’t make the top bracket of ICT last year, largely due to an incredibly (and mistakenly) stacked prelim bracket; it remains to be seen whether they can make it this year, but they’ll sure come close if they don’t. [Note: This team is presumably competing in ICT only; Carson is signed on as an editor for ACF Nationals 2015.]

 

TITLE CONTENDING PICTURE: THE LONG SHOTS

Each of the next three teams is 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 set 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. Maryland A (postseason ranking: 7; change: up 1)

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

In a sure sign of the End Times, Chris Ray has completed his studies at Maryland and will be moving on next year. It will be quite a shift for Maryland to adjust now that a player who has been a steady part of their lineup (and their karaoke night life) for over half a decade is now gone. That said, it’s impossible to ignore the rapid rise of Jordan “The Viper” Brownstein, a “very polite” “beast” who, in his freshman year and first year of serious quizbowl, greatly outscored Ray in Ray’s strongest category at College History Bowl and led his team to a 3rd-place finish at Chicago Open. By most accounts, Brownstein’s knowledge base scales to arbitrarily high difficulties, but only in literature and history (and sometimes painting). This means that for now a lot of Maryland’s success depends on ensuring adequate category coverage with its three other players. They’ll likely take Brian McPeak for science, and Dan Puma and Chris Manners for further history, lit, religion, and trash. All three of those players are in their last year at Maryland, so they’ll have to make this year count and seriously defend their niches before the Terrapins do a more thorough reloading of Brownstein’s supporting cast in 2015-16.

 

Even with solid support, a lot of Maryland’s future trajectory depends on how much Brownstein is willing (or able) to develop quizbowl generalism and start recognizing recurring clues outside his categories. Often, for specialist-y star players who didn’t play in high school, this happens on its own with increased question exposure (cf. Lawrence, John) or with increased question writing obligations (such as the ones Brownstein has taken on for SUBMIT, HSAPQ, VCU Open, the upcoming ACF Fall, and a potential packet-sub tournament this spring).

 

5. Stanford (postseason ranking: 13; change: up 8)

Possible lineup: Stephen Liu, Benji Nguyen, two of {Austin Brownlow, Nikhil Desai, Nathan Weiser}

It’s finally settled that former Harvard captain Stephen Liu will be going to Stanford for law school, where he is likely to attend nationals even if he doesn’t play everything throughout the year. Liu’s near-total dominance of visual arts questions and his high-level humanities generalism (including secondary specialties in European history and contemporary literature) are a godsend for senior Benji Nguyen, who was already leading this team to West Coast victories and to the ACF top bracket last year, but has had some trouble scaling to higher difficulties. Stanford also gets former Louisville science player Austin Brownlow and their pick of extremely strong incoming high school players; if even two of {Alex Freed, Nathan Weiser, Tabitha Walker, Jialin Ding} stay involved, they have a perhaps unparalleled shot at the Division II ICT title. With many good players in their stable (sciencer Nikhil Desai and current events beast James Bradbury are both still enrolled) and little competition in their region, this team may have a hard time picking the strongest possible set of four and training them accordingly for inter-team dynamics, covering all categories, etc. But a Top Four finish certainly isn’t out of the question if they make the best of a very good hand.

 

4. Michigan (postseason ranking: 6; change: up 2)

Possible lineup: Will Nediger, Siddhant Dogra, Todd Maslyk

Michigan is another known quantity which returns everyone from last year’s 6th-place finishes at both ICT and Nats. Most of this team’s scoring comes from big word enthusiast Will Nediger, whose skill at literature questions only seems to increase as the titles and countries get obscurer. Todd Maslyk and rising sophomore Siddhant Dogra provided 15-20 ppg each on categories Nediger doesn’t specialize in, such as science and geography, and there’s no reason to suggest they won’t again. That said, if they continue to play too dependably at the same level of intensity, they won’t be able to pack the punch they need to break into the crowd of true contenders. Michigan pulled off no upsets at either national last year (i.e. they lost every game they played against teams which ended up finishing above them); retaining a laid-back attitude is likely to cost them again if they’re looking to re-enter the championship picture.

 

TITLE CONTENDING PICTURE: THE FAVORITES

The top three teams from this year’s pre-season poll are all known quantities, captained by seasoned veterans who have been in the “title-contending” picture for three years or more. Odds are very high that the finals at this year’s championships (if there are finals) will be played between two of these three teams; the chances that at least one of them wins at least one title this year approach statistical certainty. Because the relative strengths and weaknesses of these teams (or the matchups between them) may not be known to a broader audience, these profiles will be longer and more detailed.

 

3. Chicago A (postseason ranking: 4; change: up 1)

Possible lineup: John Lawrence, Max Schindler, Chris Ray, Michael Coates

This year’s Chicago team is largely a three-man effort. First among equals in this year’s triumvirate is captain and second-year Ph.D student John Lawrence, who brings back his best-in-the-game dominance on music questions, his wide and deep command of literature and visual arts knowledge, his Anglophilia, and his inflexible will to win. The second returning player, Max Schindler, sailed into college as the best high school player from the class of 2013, but has yet to carve out his niche or have a breakout collegiate performance alongside strong teammates. Barging into Hyde Park for the first time this year is long-time Maryland stalwart Chris Ray, whose well-known skill at history and trash has been balanced out lately by a more thoroughgoing generalism and a willingness to buzz in on any category if it seems necessary.

 

At first glance, subtracting their previous history, social science, and geography specialists (Marshall Steinbaum and Charles Tian) to add “Christ Ray” seems like a bad bargain if this team plans to finish higher than last year — though Ray’s knowledge base extends more broadly, he did not get as many powers at the latest ICT or at College History Bowl as the Steinbaum-Tian combination. What’s more, Chris and Max both have a reputation for a gunslinging, high-neg play style. This team almost definitely starts the year with a lower raw knowledge level than UVA or Penn, especially in science (though both Ray and Schindler can successfully buzz on high-difficulty questions in that category, Ray more so in life sciences and Schindler more so in physics and math). That said, no one has a better track record for living up to team-improvement hype than John Lawrence, whose own icy-conservative play strategy and taskmaster-like approach to building up teammates earned him two ACF titles while at Yale. If this trio can gel well, they should be in much better shape by the time ICT rolls around, even though their key opponents have outmatched them on paper thus far. They’ll also want a fourth player who makes real contributions; as of now that person looks to be Michael Coates, who provides extra oomph in history and current events.

 

The scoring trajectory of Schindler will be a very good indicator of whether this team has a shot at a title in 2015. Given his relative youth, Max is presumably much farther from his “peak” than the more experienced players on either side of him, and more plastic/mutable in his play style and areas of focus. He showed in high school that he could hunker down and master the game of quizbowl at that level with enough hyperzealous dedication. Can he do it again now that the difficulty ceiling is far higher? Quizbowl history is full of dominant sophomore showings, including the breakout 2006-07 season of Eric Mukherjee, and more recently the championship-leading 2012 performances of Matts Bollinger and Jackson. Given the likely strength of Chicago’s opponents next year, Schindler may need to aspire to join that caravan and triple or quadruple his powers/early buzzes to get his team into top shape.

 

2. University of Pennsylvania (postseason ranking: 3; change: up 1)

Possible lineup: Eric Mukherjee, Saajid Moyen, Patrick Liao, Dallas Simons

Penn returns the same lineup it used to make the top four at both nationals in 2013 (3rd at ICT, 4th at ACF) and 2014 (3rd at both ICT and ACF), and it’s known pretty well by now how it operates. Eric Mukherjee uses his dominance in the three major sciences, buttressed by years of generalist experience and secondary specialties in mythology and world history, to serve as a fearsome lead scorer. Saajid Moyen provides backup on literature, fine arts, math, and computer science; Patrick Liao improves their edge at (particularly military) history and all things Canada; last but not least, Dallas Simons rounds them out by mopping up classics and geography. Saajid and Patrick are now in their last year of undergrad. That makes it likely in turn that this is the best – probably last – chance for long-time stars Dallas Simons and Eric Mukherjee to pick up a long-desired national title, even though the latter two will both be in their graduate programs for longer.

 

The big question for Penn this year is whether they can take their already-high level of play up another level, or whether they will stay as-is. After many years, Mukherjee is likely at or near a “plateau” at which his skill is unlikely to improve, and Simons is no longer actively studying to improve outside his specialty areas. And the strength of the other two hasn’t changed much over the past two years; Moyen has improved incrementally at ACF from year to year, while Liao has stayed basically the same. One or both of Penn’s seniors has to hit the books and occupy a true second-seat role, perhaps looking to fellow 2015er Tommy Casalaspi (18.24 PPG at ACF Nationals 2013; 34.21 PPG a year later) for inspiration. This team rises or falls with the strength and dedication of its supporting cast.

 

Due to geography, Penn gets more matches during the year against UVA than Chicago, and needs to throw itself at all of them full-bore without losing heart. Penn has to retain faith in itself that it can earnestly turn the tables — and get realistic about what that will take from Liao and Moyen — or else it almost certainly won’t do so.

 

1. Virginia (postseason ranking: 1; change: 0)

Possible lineup: Matt Bollinger, Tommy Casalaspi, Eric Xu

The University of Virginia Cavaliers, reigning champions at both NAQT and ACF, set historic standards for greatness in 2014, cracking an unreal 21+ points per bonus and winning all but one game across both. In August, having earned his bachelor’s degree, Bollinger shocked the college quizbowl world by announcing that he would be returning to UVA for a single-year Master’s program in the 2014-15 season. It’s an understatement to say that this change of plans leaves everyone else scrambling. With UVA, the question isn’t so much “Can they win?” as “Can anyone else stop them?” If their statistics without Adams and Loo look anything like last year’s, any other team will have to seriously redouble its efforts to even come close. (And they’re likely to look very similar indeed: the Bollinger/Casalaspi duo got 75% of their team’s tossup points at ICT and 84.9% of their team’s tossup points at ACF. Bollinger as an individual got a strictly greater number of powers than any non-UVA team in the ICT field last year; the team with the second-most powers, Yale, got 53 across the tournament to his 54.)

 

Bollinger is by far the best active history player in the game, and is very good at literature, RMP, and fine arts to boot (particularly anything “classics” in any of those categories). Tommy Casalaspi broke out of his well-known lit specialty last year by becoming a dominant science player as well, second only to Mukherjee on chemistry and physics questions; he also provides many of this team’s music and film buzzes. Beyond those two, dual-enrolled high school senior Eric Xu, also of Western Albemarle High School just west of Charlottesville, will almost certainly become a part of the picture (an experience which Casalaspi once had, earning an ICT undergraduate title with VCU while dual-enrolled at Maggie Walker Governor’s School). Their most likely option for a fourth seat, if they need one, is Caslaspi’s former high school teammate JR Roach, who has been less active in college but can still, if this past VCU open is any indication, get deep specialist buzzes in European history and current events.

 

Key questions for this team are (1) how quickly they can fill in the subjects they delegated to Evan Adams  for three years running (2) whether they can regain the advantage on trash questions that Adams, Loo, and David Seal once gave them (3) whether either of those concerns matters at all if they can just prepare to power everything that isn’t an Evan Adams thing or a trash thing regardless. If Mattb and Tommy continue to improve, or even if they stay the same but find two other people who add about 20 reliable tossup points per game, this team may well be the first team since Chicago 2007 to be utterly unbeatable at both national tournaments. (Latest update from Bollinger is that he is not planning on actively putting in work to improve this year, though Casalaspi absolutely is.) It remains to be seen whether other possible contenders will see this team’s prospects and resign themselves to defeat, or stand up and declare “Not if I have anything to say about it!”

 

Others can take solace in this, at least: Before UVA 2014, no one knew that numbers like UVA 2014’s were possible. Now that the records have been broken and everyone knows that the ceiling is much higher than they thought, numbers like UVA 2014’s are going to be necessary to win collegiate titles for the foreseeable future – after all, at least one team every year will be studying hard enough to attain them. The seven months between now and ICT leave plenty of time for other contenders to set new goals accordingly.