The College Competitions Committee is tasked with distributing three at-large bids to the DI-AA Round of 16 this spring. 13 DI-AA Conference champions take the other spots. Alex Goff and Pat Clifton discuss which team/conferences they think have a shot at receiving one of the at-large bids.
Alex: In the Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference, Tennessee, Florida and LSU are all extremely solid, and whoever comes second in their playoffs has a legitimate reason to call for an at-large.
Pat: I agree. However, Tennessee and LSU were both picked off in non-conference play -- Tennessee by Maryland and LSU by Texas State and Florida State. It will interesting to see just how much the competitions committee values those games. They were VERY early in the 15s season for Tennessee and LSU, but not for their opponents.
Alex: If I were their coaches, I'd be working up an explanation. However, the question is, who do they send it to?
Pat: They have the emails of the competitions committee members, and if they don't, they wouldn't be hard to find.
The Empire Conference is a bubble conference in my opinion. St. Bonaventure did the league's reputation some favors by going out of league and slaying Bowling Green, a final four team last year. The Bonnies also beat Maryland and Temple in shortened matches.
If the committee puts as much weight on non-conference games as I think they will, and St. Bonaventure doesn't win the Empire playoffs, I think they're in as an at-large.
Stony Brook, which won the East, took 7s very seriously and didn't win any scalps in the non-conference. Iona and Binghamton (the other Empire semifinalists) have underwhelming resumes, too. So, I think, the only team with a shot at an at-large bid in the Empire is St. Bonaventure.
Alex: Absolutely I agree. St. Bonaventure seems to have shown they are a playoff-caliber team. So if they DON'T win the conference, that shows the conference's strength. However, the Upstate New York teams have, historically, not fared well against other teams when there was a Northeast playoffs. So they have that going against them.
The conference I would look to would be Northern California. Their big detraction is their conference is too small - the rules say you have to have seven teams for an automatic bid. OK.
It should be widely accepted that the density of talent in Northern California is solid. The fact that a quasi-varsity and well-funded program in Stanford could only finish third, and Sacramento State, which has about a million very good young high school rugby players on their doorstep, finished second, should tell you something.
Santa Clara, I believe, is a legit program and a legit team. They have talent and good coaching and should get a spot.
Pat: I think Santa Clara is absolutely good enough to not just get an at-large bid, but also win some games in the postseason. However, they didn't play a single non-conference game against another DI-AA team, and that could end up being their downfall. In fact, no one in NorCal played against a DI-AA team out of conference. Perhaps a trip or two to a Pacific Mountain West team would have been wise.
One thing NorCal can hang its hat on is the fact that Stanford had 2011 runners-up UCSB on the ropes in the quarterfinals last year only to be undone by a miraculous comeback. UCSB coach Kevin Battle is on the competitions committee, and he could go to bat for Santa Clara.
Alex: Again the density of NorCal might be at play here. Santa Clara gets to play SFGG, who beat them but at a price, and Cal, who beat them soundly, without having to go very far. But most would agree that the Northern California teams are of a high quality.
Pat: All true, but word is the committee isn't putting a lot of weight on games against non DI-AA opponents, because, for example, it's so difficult to tell what kind of Cal or SFGG lineup Santa Clara would have played.
The Pacific Mountain West finds itself in a similar position as NorCal, in my opinion.
The main difference between the two California leagues being UCSB lost in the final to Davenport last year, and that helps out their street cred a lot.
However, there were not big non-conference matchups against DI-AA opponents played by anyone in this league.
Are UCSB and San Diego State two of the top 16 teams in the country? Yes, without question. But if the committee decides it wants to set the precedent that you need to play DI-AA competition in the non-conference, SDSU or UCSB could be a sacrificial lamb.
Alex: Again with PMW - Southern California, basically, it's hard to argue this isn't a tough league. The argument has always been that the California teams have an advantage because of the weather, but it's not just the weather otherwise teams from Florida would be in the final four all the time, too.
What about ACRL?
Pat: They did play a bunch of DI-AA non-con games, with mixed results. Maryland is essentially a shoe-in to win the league. The Terps only need one more win to do so. Clemson, North Carolina and Wake Forest would be the teams in the running for third.
Clemson scored a big win over Bowling Green, but, in my opinion, it's negated by a loss to South Carolina, which didn't even reach the SEC semifinals. North Carolina lost to BGSU and South Carolina.
Alex: But are you crossing teams off too easily? A loss negates a win? Maybe that's too harsh
Pat: Maybe, but the win over Bowling Green is compromised a bit, in my opinion, because it was the day after Bowling Green beat North Carolina, and the Falcons picked up the two-game series after another team backed out. They picked up those games less than a week before playing them.
Alex's at-large picks: Pacific Mountain West loser (UCSB or SDSU), Santa Clara and the Southeast Collegiate Rugby Conference (Alabama, Florida, LSU or Tennessee).
Pat's at-large picks: The exact same as Alex.