(Rankings will be posted in our Premier section first, and then made free at a later date. This Top 25 was originally run Sept. 7)
Who makes up the preseason Top 25? We have a combination of returners and College Premier Division teams who have come back to DI, which should open up the competition and deepen the pool of realistic contenders.
Davenport returns all but two players for their title defense. The varsity program is just entering its third season, as are many of the Panthers. JP Eloff is the best player in DI, and he's joined by possibly the country's hardest working flanker in Ryan Hargraves and an intriguing and emerging talent in Demecus Beach.
However, they do play in the murderer's row of conferences. Miami (OH), Bowling Green and Indiana would be the odds on favorite to win several other DI leagues, but they're all bunched together in the Midwest East. With just 14 DI conferences, it appears there will be two at-large bids to the playoffs. Since the MWEC took two teams to the final four last year, don't be surprised if they get a second bid again.
Dartmouth could appear under-ranked at No. 2, but they lost 20 players to graduation, including the Downer brothers, RUGBYMag All American Charlie Grant, captain Tommy Brothers, Tanner Scott and 7s All American Muhammed Abdool-Shakoor. The entire Big Green front row is graduated, as are many of the backups. That's why Dartmouth isn't No. 1. They could be by season's end because All American Nate Brakeley and AA honorable mentions Paul Jarvis and Derek Fish return.
San Diego State, Tennessee and LSU all could have won DI last season, but all have lost some of the best players their programs have seen. LSU's Bobby Johns and Adam Ducoing headlined an outgoing senior class that will be nearly impossible for the Tigers to replace this year. Benji Goff has left Knoxville for grad school at Life and the Duncan Kelm era has come to an end in San Diego. Tennessee and San Diego State have are also replacing head coaches, though Matt Hawkins is a heck of a grab for the Aztecs.
Matt Sherman's entering his second year at Stanford. He will get started on Cardinal business late because of the World Cup, but he did the same last year due to being hired relatively late, and his team was a miraculous UCSB second-half comeback from a final four appearance. Marcus Henderson is a budding star in Palo Alto, and he could be primed for a breakout.
Why is Miami ranked ahead of Bowling Green? Seniors. The RedHawks have five of them starting, and they're all very good. Miami fell to Bowling Green and Davenport by a combined eight points in league play last year, and they return all the key playmakers.
Other ranked teams who've lost significant playmakers are Florida (DI RUGBYMag All American Darryl Meckley and Corey Penca, plus Matias Groetaers graduates in December), Florida State (Dylan Hamilton), Kansas State (Joe D'Agostino), Loyola Marymount (All American Zachary Fenoglio), Maryland (Sage Winn) and Buffalo (Pat Hughes).
Conversely, Indiana and Middlebury return virtually everyone. DII runners up Middlebury beat a few DI opponents last season with a young squad, including final four participant Harvard.
One of the biggest personnel transactions of the offseason was one that didn't happen. Matias Cima, the Gonzaga star that catapulted Maryland to the first-ever ACRL title, did not transfer to Penn State as rumor suggested. Cima is still a Terp, and his fellow Maryland diaper dandies are a year older.
3 UC Santa Barbara
4 San Diego State
8 Miami (OH)
9 Claremont Colleges
10 Bowling Green
12 Sacramento State
13 South Carolina
16 Oregon State
17 Florida State
19 Loyola Marymount
20 Kansas State
24 Texas State
25 Chico State