After a dominating performance at the Northern Illinois Huskie Open on Sept. 13, the men’s cross country team travels to Chicago, Ill. to participate in the Sean Earl Loyola Lakefront Invitational.The victory at NIU came almost too easily as the Badgers toyed with the competition through mud and humidity to stake their claim as a legitimate National Championship contender. The Badgers opted to get a taste of the future, as they used four freshmen and two sophomores among their seven runners, choosing to rest three time All-American runners Stu Eagon and Matt Withrow. With five of last year’s top seven runners returning and a virtually limitless supply of elite recruits coming up the pipeline, the program appears primed to extend its astounding streak of 10 straight Big Ten championships. UW head coach Mick Byrne expects his promising young talent to lead the way in the opening stages of the meet this weekend.“We’re going to give some of the young guys a shot so they can step up next year when Withrow, Eagan, [Chris] Wagner graduate,” said Byrne.Another reason for the early infusion of youth is to rest up this year’s anchors in anticipation for a grueling November. Before the highly anticipated Big Ten meet, as well as the regional and national meets, Wisconsin hopes its younger runners will gain experience from the preliminary meets.Byrne is no stranger to national prominence; he helped lead Iona University to top five national finishes each of the last three years, but he understands the expectations to win are even more pressing here in Madison. He listed winning the Big Ten as his primary goal at this stage.“Everything we do between now and then will be geared toward [winning the Big Ten],” said Byrne.The Big Ten championship streak will not come easily this year in what looks to be a competitive conference. Wisconsin enters the year as winners of the last nine conference championships, but challengers Minnesota and Michigan will not make it easy. “If you look at what Michigan did at Iona without their top guy, you know they’ll be good, and you know Minnesota also will be pretty good,” Byrne said.The Badgers enter the season No. 6 in the USTFCCCA preliminary national rankings. Oregon is No. 1, followed by Oklahoma State, Colorado, Byrne’s former team Iona and Alabama. Joining the Badgers in the top 10 are Big Ten foes No. 8 Michigan and No. 9 Minnesota. Michigan’s victory at the Iona’s Big Apple over some very formidable competition — including top 25 teams Pittsburgh and Iona — appears to be a good indication of the competition the Badgers will be facing in the Big Ten. Even more evidence for a close finish is the fact that even though the Badgers currently rank higher nationally than Michigan, the Wolverines hold the top spot in the USTFCCCA Great Lakes regional rankings.