It almost seems too cut and dried.

The University of Colorado men's cross country team won the NCAA team championship last season and the Buffaloes return all but their eighth runner, their alternate, from that squad.

CU also will bring back 2012 All-American Jake Hurysz, who was injured and missed last season.

So naturally, the Buffs are the national favorite, right?

Despite the rosy preseason picture, legendary coach Mark Wetmore has been around too long to perceive it as a slam dunk that the Buffs will repeat.

"Our sport is a little unlike most other sports in that a program can have a completely different team and an entirely different roster than they had a year ago," Wetmore said. "It's not impossible to not make the NCAA Championships one year and have a contending year the next. It's just the way our sport works."

Translation: There could be a dark-horse squad receiving little preseason notoriety that could end up blowing away the field on the strength of a few new runners.

CU's athletes are remaining confident but not boastful about the Buffs' prospects.

"We hoping to have the same team, if not better, so we like our chances of being competitive," said junior Connor Winter, a captain this season. "We haven't made any expectations or goals as to whether we'll defend our title. We know we're going to have a target on our back, but we know we have talent.


"If everyone stays healthy and we train well, we'll see how it goes."

In addition to Hurysz, Colorado returns four All-Americans from last season: Pierce Murphy, Morgan Pearson, Ben Saarel and Blake Theroux. Saarel recorded CU's top finish at nationals last season, placing eighth as a true freshman.

The men's national title last season marked CU's sixth under Wetmore and first since 2006. Wetmore was named Men's National Coach of The Year for the second time, and also has earned the honor twice as the women's coach.

For all the accolades the legendary coach has accomplished, this one is perhaps most telling: He is the only coach in NCAA annals to have guided a team to four separate titles. That's having both an individual and a team champ in each gender.

The Buffs' women's squad finished seventh in the nation last season and will have to replace All-American and top runner Shalaya Kipp. But the cupboard is hardly bare.

Junior Carrie Verdon is a budding star, and sophomores Erin Clark and Melanie Nun aren't far behind. Nun is a graduate of Legacy High School and is CU's top returning placer from nationals last season, where she finished 68th. In addition, juniors Madeline Alm and Jenny DeSouchet gained key experience last season.

"They can be very good again," Wetmore said. "They finished seventh last year and they can be better than that."

Wetmore said the women's incoming freshman class has no superstars but is solid. He said a top-four national finish isn't out of the question.

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CU cross country schedule

Note: All times Mountain

Aug. 30 — Alumni Time Trial (Boulder), 8:30 a.m.

Sept. 5 — Colorado State Invitational (Fort Collins), 6 p.m.

Oct. 4 — Rocky Mountain Shootout (Boulder), 9 a.m.

Oct. 18 — NCAA Pre-Nationals (Terre Haute, Ind.), All Day; Santa Clara Invitational (Sunnyville, Calif.), All Day

Oct. 31 — Pac-12 Championships (Oakland, Calif.), 10:40 a.m.

Nov. 14 — NCAA Regionals (Albuquerque, N.M.), All Day

Nov. 22 — NCAA Championships (Terre Haute, Ind.), 9 a.m.