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Friday, April 15, 2016

DI-A & DI-AA Playoffs First Round Preview & Predictions


It's a very busy weekend in college rugby. In addition to the Varsity Cup quarterfinals the first rounds of the DI-A and DI-AA playoffs will also take place. We preview both.

DI-A

The first round of the DI-A playoffs should see a couple of straightforward matches while two others could be close.

Davenport vs. San Diego State

The Panthers will be disappointed to finish third in the Mid-South given some of their close matches. They have lost some key players recently but at the same time have built up success that could see them go far. They are expected to win this first round over San Diego State even though they have to travel. That said, don't expect them to walk over an SDSU team that is underrated and produces great players. Steve Tomasin and Kalei Konrad have both come from the school.

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Arizona vs. LSU

This is one of the toss-up matches. Arizona haven't exactly excelled this spring but at the same time they have played some of the best teams in college rugby. They will be missing some players to Junior All-American duty but the program has built depth in recent years. LSU aren't a team to be counted out. They have plenty of strong players themselves and they have blown through the competition this year. Plus, they're hosting. We think that will give them enough of an edge to win.

Cal Poly vs. Air Force

This is the other toss-up match. Cal Poly have sat in the shadow of St. Mary's and Cal for awhile but they are no slouches themselves. They recruit well and have given a scare to some of the top teams. They will be very organized as they head to Colorado Springs to play Air Force. The Zoomies are coming off their close defeat to Utah in the Varsity Cup. Air Force will have to feel like they don't want to drop for a second week in a row. Playing at altitude and with their conditions they should have an edge that we think puts them over the top.

Wheeling Jesuit vs. Lindenwood

Wheeling Jesuit have had a good year but Lindenwood have something to prove this year. The Lions will miss a couple of players and their coach to Junior World Rugby Trophy duty but they have the depth to beat Wheeling Jesuit.

DI-AA

A couple of teams have already advanced out the the Round of 16. Middle Tennessee State beat Florida International earlier while Notre Dame College beat Bowling Green 52-21 in a mid-week match to move on. Arkansas had a bye this round.

Utah State vs. Washington

We're calling this one the TIAR since our founder and editor Curtis Reed graduated from both schools. Utah State have played a makeshift season this year but have been winning. The Aggies have benefited from a burgeoning program and one that has more and more players coming to it with previous rugby experience. That is paying dividends. While they may not have been able to beat the likes of Utah Valley in last year's DI-AA invitational alongside the Varsity Cup they have a high level of rugby and will be tough to beat.

Washington come into the match having made it through the NCRC playoffs. They finished second in the regular season and had to beat rivals Washington State to make the final against Western Washington. The Vikings had beaten the Huskies during the regular season but the Huskies were able to exact revenge when it matter. They too are a program on the rise with more rugby players coming in with experience. You can expect both teams to be physical and to play attacking rugby.

Delaware vs. AIC

This is arguably the most high-profile of the DI-AA matches this weekend. AIC haven't played much 15s this spring while they focus on 7s. However, they have the talent to compete with almost anyone in the country and are expected to make the DI-AA final. Delaware are a rebuilding program that has their legacy of success but needs to build up the numbers once again. They will want to show they haven't fallen too far behind so expect them to come out firing but ultimately fall to a strong AIC team.

Harvard vs. James Madison

The temptation is to go with Harvard here given that they are hot coming of the Ivy season. However, they still finished second to Dartmouth in the regular season and are going up against  James Madison team that has been very underrated in recent seasons. James Madison is an excellent 7s team and with their speedsters we think that translates into 15s success here.

USC vs. UC-Davis

USC, like any team in California, will have kids that know how to play the game. However, UC-Davis are the defending champions and they are hungry to get back on top. Right now the Aggies are simply too much to stop and could easily be the team to make it to the final out of the West.

Sacramento State vs. Cal State Long Beach

This should be a great battle between two strong teams. Sacramento State finished second to UC-Davis in the PAC West but gave them some battles. Long Beach finished first in the Gold Coast Conference yet again. They have great players but haven't been able to get over the hump. This is the year we think they do it and they advance to the next round.

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