Friday, April 8, 2016

Varsity Cup Round One Preview & Predictions

The first round of the Varsity Cup kicks off this weekend and while there should be a couple of close matches largely this round is traditionally dominated by blowouts. That certainly looks to be the case with Cal hosting Texas and BYU going on the road to Arizona State. But beyond those matches there are a few encounters that could turn out to be nail-biters.

UCLA at Central Washington

We think that this could be the closest match of the first round. Central Washington are the hosts and are favored in the match but they've had a very stop-start rhythm to their season. They've certainly challenged themselves against BYU, Olympic Club, and UVic doing well in each match but maybe not coming up with the result. The Wildcats have some solid players on the squad, including Vili Toluta'u and Aladdin Schirmer if he's available. However, their deadliest weapon could be Seth Halliman. The Eagles 7s player has the ability to be the best player in the tournament and to turnaround matches.

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UCLA have often been lost in the shadow of Cal and St. Mary's but they are arguably the best team in  Southern California. They've been tested with a strong PAC Rugby season and picked up a big win over Utah. If they can get out early then they have a chance otherwise Central Washington will be too strong.

Air Force at Utah

This could be another close encounter and it happens to come on the same side of the bracket as UCLA vs. Central Washington. The Utes have had one of the toughest schedules in the country taking on St. Mary's, Cal, UCLA, and BYU. They did pick up several losses during that stretch but it has without question made the team better. You only had to look at their recent result against BYU and their win in the CRC qualifier bracket to see that. Air Force are a solid team but they did lose to Utah late last year. They could come in and surprise. In the end we think the Utes, playing at home, get the job done.

Clemson at Arkansas State

Last year this was the most memorable match of the Varsity Cup with Clemson coming away with the upset. The Red Wolves aren't in as much turmoil this year even if they have had some roster changes. They look too strong at the moment to fall to Clemson who have had success but also graduated some players from last year's team. They are also without coach Justin Hickey who has moved on.

Notre Dame at Navy

On the surface this looks like it could be close but expect Navy to win going away. The Midshipmen are an underrated side that has made the semi-finals for three straight years. That's a streak that could continue this year as well. Head coach Mike Flanagan deserves credit for putting together a solid program. Notre Dame haven't played a lot of rugby this year and are young. Couple that with going on the road and they are in for a tough haul.

Oklahoma at Army

This is another match that on the surface looks intriguing but when you dig deeper it looks more like an Army win. When comparing the competition each has faced Army has faced more difficult opponents this year and has come away with more wins. They have also challenged themselves outside of Rugby East play with a trip to Utah and a match against Navy. Army are well disciplined and fit and over a grueling match will be able to outlast Oklahoma.

Texas at Cal

Texas may bring a big name to the tournament but they are going to fall big to a Cal side that is prepping for the final.

BYU at Arizona State

Even though BYU has to go on the road in this match it should be another large win.

Penn State at Dartmouth

This has the potential of being one of the best matches in the first round. Dartmouth certainly has been a strong program over the last few years but as have Penn State. The Nittany Lions have lost only one match in the Rugby East schedule and that was a loss to Army last fall. This spring they beat Indiana, Clemson, and the Toronto Nomads while losing to NYAC and Navy. Dartmouth also played Navy in the spring and lost. Dartmouth are missing the difference maker that Madison Hughes was and for that reason Penn State should come away with the win.

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