Preseason rankings: The best players are wearing cardinal

It's finally September, and that means college golf is back. Programs evolve and players come and go, but here's what to expect from the top programs as the year begins:

1. Stanford

Finish in last season’s NCAA Championship: Match play semifinals

The best players are coming to Anne Walker's lineup: Five women on this roster played in the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Small-but-mighty senior Shannon Aubert was built to lead (and will get ample opportunity this season), Swiss Olympian Albane Valenzuela has the heart of a champion and Andrea Lee returns as college golf’s No. 2 player.

2. Duke

Finish in last season’s NCAA Championship: 18

Easy to get hung up on the honor roll here, but two-time Annika Award winner Leona Maguire returns for her senior season along with 2014 NCAA champ Virginia Elena Carta and a new face, Hannah O’Sullivan (new to college golf, anyway – she’s fresh off a professionally amateur gap year that had her traveling worldwide to find the best competition). Hard to say which of these is most promising, and that’s a good problem to have, as long as all three live up to the hype.

3. UCLA

Finish in last season’s NCAA Championship: Failed to qualify

The Bruins bring in one of the top recruits of the 2017 class: Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit. That makes for a nice mix of newness and experience. Lilia Vu, Bethany Wu and Mariel Galdiano are seasoned returners. UCLA squads always seem to have personality – this one gets lots from Wu.

4. Arizona State

Finish in last season’s NCAA Championship: Won

The Sun Devils lose their star in Monica Vaughn, the national champion, but return four others from last year’s title team, plus Spanish National Team standout Raquel Olmos Ros.

5. Arkansas

Finish in last season’s NCAA Championship: Failed to qualify

In the spring of 2014, Dylan Kim helped push Baylor from a middle-of-the-pack team to Big 12 champion and NCAA runner-up. Now that she’s healthy (she had a tumor removed from her leg and redshirted her sophomore season) and in the Razorback lineup, two things are about to happen. She’ll continue to grow under Shauna Estes-Taylor’s thoughtful and deliberate coaching (here’s a program with a strong pipeline to the LPGA), and she’ll help this lineup become one of the best in the country this season. Kim is one of four new players in the lineup for Arkansas, plus experienced returners Maria Fassi, Kaylee Benton, Alana Uriell and Cara Gorlei.

6. Texas

Texas head coach Ryan Murphy with Sophia Schubert, the U.S. Women's Amateur champion. USGA/Steven Gibbons

Texas head coach Ryan Murphy with Sophia Schubert, the U.S. Women's Amateur champion. USGA/Steven Gibbons

Finish in last season’s NCAA Championship: 13

If Sophia Schubert keeps playing the game she had in winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur, then this team is tough. In addition, Texas adds two excellent freshman -- Frenchwoman Agathe Laisne, the European Ladies Amateur champ, and native Texan Kaitlyn Papp, another of 2017’s top juniors. This season could set the Longhorns on a new trajectory.

7. Alabama

Finish in last season’s NCAA Championship: T-14

Cheyenne Knight, Kirsten Gillman and Lauren Stephenson lead this experienced lineup and freshman Angelica Moresco arrives from Italy.

8. Georgia

Finish in last season’s NCAA Championship: Failed to qualify

Georgia ended the year with four players in the top 50, and returns all of them. The class of freshman (Bailey Tardy, Gillian Hollis, Rinko Mitsunaga) that rocketed the Bulldogs up the rankings in 2015-16 is now a trio of juniors. More good news: Another trio of freshmen arrives in Athens this year that could add real depth to this roster.

9. Arizona

Finish in last season’s NCAA Championship: Failed to qualify

Wanasa Zhou and Jessica Vasilic are big losses in leadership and experience but Haley Moore and Krystal Quihuis still provide a strong anchor, and both saw summer successes that provided a window into their respective golf games. Coach Laura Ianello also adds the 2016 Danish Girls champion, Cecilie Bofill.

10. South Carolina

Finish in last season's NCAA Championship: 10

With Katelyn Dambaugh gone (graduation), the Gamecocks will need a new No. 1, but there are plenty of candidates for that. Both Ainhoa Olarra and Ana Pelaez finished last season inside the top 50, plus sophomore Anita Uwadia brings loads of raw talent and a year of experience. New to this roster: Filipino Lois Kaye Go, a youngster who transferred from Boston College and won the Women's Porter Cup over the summer.

THE NEXT 10:

11. USC
12. Florida State
13. Northwestern
14. Oklahoma State
15. Ohio State
16. Texas A&M
17. Auburn
18. Wake Forest
19. Baylor
20. Furman

Editor's note: What's the rationale behind these rankings? There's no formula to preseason lists. I consulted last season's Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, team rosters and summer tournament results, and using personal knowledge and experience, came up with this list. I've been right before...and I've been wrong! Let the season begin.