After much debate, the results are in for the inaugural Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference Pre-Season Poll. It was a close seeding, though rounding out the top three in the West are Louisiana State, Auburn, and Alabama, with Tennessee, Florida, and South Carolina expected to sweep the East.
All twelve members were asked to predict what they thought the SCRC standings would look like prior to the conference championship on April 15th, 2012. The inclusion of two former Premier Division teams has expectations high for each, though several teams are looking to prove themselves in the inaugural season. The following is the complete vote for both divisions:
1. Louisiana State
5. Mississippi State
6. Arkansas (N/A)
3. South Carolina
Louisiana State had its ups and downs last fall, with a few key players getting hit by the “injury bug,” though the Tigers are confident in their recovery and are ready to take to the pitch. "Although we have a lot of young, new players, we have a group of competitive athletes with proven toughness," said Inside Center Marc Dunn on graduating nine of their starters. Following a third place showing in last fall’s Southeastern Olympic Sevens Rugby Championship, the Tigers are well on their way of regaining that competitive edge. Louisiana State is also transitioning well with new Head Coach Bob Causey at the helm, following longtime head Coach Scott McLean’s retirement. Some have called this the “New LSU Rugby,” though there is no argument that the former Premier Division squad will do well this season.
Auburn’s backline may be fairly new to college level play, though the Tigers have always proven themselves to be a consistent contender in the West. Auburn is excited to be a part of the Southeastern Conference, though they are especially excited to have a new head coach for the first time in many years in former player David Bess. Not only will the Tigers have new leadership at the helm, they will also benefit from a well experienced pack that they intend to use this year. Auburn looks forward to their home field advantage against Louisiana State for a possible upset in the West.
Alabama, the 2007 Deep South Champions and winners of last fall’s Dixie Classic Tournament, are counting on strong leadership and experienced players to carry them through the season. The depth chart for the Crimson Tide has improved greatly this past year with more and more players finding their way to try line. Their strength is in the pack, though do not overlook the experience of their backline. Alabama looks forward to their match ups against in-state rival Auburn to prove who truly is the best team in the state.
Mississippi is very excited to compete in their first ever Division I season as a member of the SCRC. The Rebels have a somewhat young team, boasting only three seniors, and a handful of very good juniors. Fifth year senior and South select side player Brad Yandle and “team workhorse” senior Kaan Onay will be heading up the backline as the two centers in the midfield. Mississippi has some promising freshmen and has seen some great crowds at recent matches. “Our close loss in the fall against Alabama has given us the perspective that we need to meet our goals in the future,” said Brad Yandle. “This year you will see a level of rugby in Ole Miss that far exceeds the league's expectations.” Hotty Toddy!
Mississippi State has struggled in recent years, and as one of the smaller teams in the conference, their numbers may hurt them temporarily in the SCRC. The Bulldogs look to beat expectations with a committed group of players that are looking to chip away at the football mentality of Starksville. Coaches are looking to flyhalf Jeff Pilgrim to lead the backline and scrumhalf Corey Outlaw to use his athleticism to open up their game. ”This will be a year for State to find its identity and determine where we stack up against the rest of the SCRC” said Backs Coach Renaldo Arroyo.
Tennessee is the consensus choice to claim the Eastern title. With seven national tournament appearances, two South Territory championships and four Southeastern Tournament championships, the SCRC expects great things this season. The Vols took the top spot in last fall’s Southeastern Olympic Sevens Rugby Championship and were invited to the USA Rugby Collegiate Olympic Rugby Championship where they finished in the top tier. After a successful season in last year’s Premier Division, Tennessee will be returning to its old stomping grounds for what is expected to be great competition moving forward.
Florida has long been a competitive force in the South and is currently the South DI defending champs. The 4th ranked Gators catapulted to the Round of 8 last year before dropping a close match to Boling Green. If seven-a-side rugby is any indicator to how well Florida will perform this year, its SCRC opponents better be prepared. The Gators earned second place in last fall’s Southeastern Olympic Sevens Rugby Championship and were invited to the USA Rugby Collegiate Olympic Rugby Championship where it earned wins against well-established programs. Looking ahead, the Gators will be heading to Philadelphia in June to participate in the CRC Sevens tournament on NBC.
South Carolina finished strong last fall with a 9-0 record, including 6-0 in regulation match play. Highlights from the season include defeating long-time ACRL rivals Clemson and North Carolina and winning the Palmetto State Championship. The Gamecocks have been nationally ranked the last few years, currently sitting at 11th in RugbyMag’s Top 25. With the core of the team returning this spring, joined by a strong freshman class, South Carolina looks to continue their success in the SCRC matrix with much of its tougher competition, Tennessee and Florida, traveling to Columbia.
Georgia has recruited heavily in the off season and now joins South Carolina in promoting three full sides each weekend. The Bulldogs have a lot to bark about with a top tier finish in last fall’s Southeastern Olympic Sevens Rugby Championship, as well as wins last spring against in-state ACRL rival Georgia Tech and neighboring SCRC rival South Carolina. “In preparation for the SCRC matrix these past few weeks, our team has been scrimmaging with a newfound enthusiasm,” said Georgia Team President Stephen Turnbull. “The introduction of sevens has truly improved our backline, and we feel if we do well against Florida & South Carolina, winning being the ultimate goal, that we have reached the next level for our program.” Georgia is scheduled to host Florida for their first match.
Vanderbilt makes their move to Division I this year as they look to encounter much stiffer competition in the SCRC. While the Commodores are no stranger to the likes of Auburn, Ole Miss, and Alabama, they will now have to compete favorably against well-established DI opponents Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia all on the road if they hope to move into the upper tier of the SCRC. Visiting teams would be well advised not to take a trip to Nashville lightly, though. As defending champions of the Division II Southeastern Conference, Vanderbilt may pull a surprising upset or two and cause a shakeup in the standings.
Kentucky, like their counterpart in the West, has struggled in recent years, and as one of the smaller teams in the conference, their numbers may also hurt them temporarily in the SCRC. While many believe the past is a good indicator of future performance, the Wildcats are looking to turn those expectations upside down. Kentucky has successfully made the transition to Division I, and with an increased focus on organization and leadership, they may just have the pieces in place for a successful season. The Wildcats are looking for some home field magic as they are set to host Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia this season.
The Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference is a USA Rugby Men's Collegiate Division I rugby conference featuring teams from the universities in the Southeastern Conference. The inaugural conference competition features the traditional East / West Divisional contest with a 4 team championship playoff weekend. The winner of the SCRC will play in the USA Rugby Division I national championships round of 16 on April 28th. For more information, please visit www.SoutheasternRugby.org