Alex Goff and Pat Clifton of RUGBYMag.com look at the pools for the men's USA Rugby Collegiate 7s Championships and make their picks:
Well that was like laying a giant egg, wasn’t it?
After a lot of complaints, most legitimate, and a lot of questions, most of them now answered, the new USA Rugby Collegiate 7s Championships is set to go off with the teams all picked and everything.
We can perhaps not worry anymore about who’s in and who’s out (the score seems to be three automatic qualifiers and four at-large invitees demurred, and we got a few last-minute changes), and worry now about who’s going to win the thing.
… Who is going to win the thing?
Goff: It is easy to dismiss Arkansas, third in the SCRC 7s, and easy to assume Arkansas State, second in the South and full of talent, will roll. But this is a very difficult pool to pick. These pages have been complimentary of Central Washington, and with very good reason. They play as a team, and with guys like Tim Stanfill and Patrick Blair, have the right mix of talent, too. And Air Force … well they have some runners for sure.
This pool will likely come down to CWU v ASU, and we’re going to pick the team we’ve seen more good 7s from, and that’s Central Washington.
Clifton: Alex is right. This pool is up to Central Washington and Arkansas State to screw up. Arkansas has some speed in Jeremy Marshall-Johnson and Tom Hanify, but they're really small, and Air Force could knock off any team in the 24-team field, but ASU and CWU are too talented.
To that end, Arkansas State is more talented. Paul Benade, Shaun Potgieter and Zac Mizell are all very good, and they've spent some time together. However, CWU has played more 7s and proven they're among the best in the nation. I gotta go with CWU, but if Dylan Carrion is healthy for the Red Wolves, I change my mind.
Goff: Another intriguing group, but it’s really, really hard to think anyone has the combination of athleticism, power, talent and coaching that Life has.
Clifton: Cal Poly is pretty athletic and can play, but they don't have the level of athlete Life does. Texas and Wisconsin will be very well coached, disciplined sides who could stage an upset, but the Running Eagles are the clear favorites.
Goff: Really? You have to ask? St. Mary’s all the way. Chad Clark, Garrett Brewer (the guy with the hair), Joe Brophy … all are superb. No disrespect to the other teams, which will work hard and unveil some impressive play, but the Gaels will steamroll this pool.
Clifton: NC State is the defending ACI champion. Can't dismiss them yet, and UW-Milwaukee has some guys who play for Milwaukee's 7s team, which is usually quite good. St. Mary's, though, is probably too talented for them all.
San Diego State
Goff: An intriguingly competitive pool, it will end up falling, we think, to San Diego State. Tennessee has an outstanding 7s tradition, and Stony Brook and Oklahoma both have played well at times, but SD State’s depth of talent is too great.
Clifton: This is an utter toss-up. Literally any team can win this pool. Oklahoma lost a lot off the CRC team, but have a lot back, and an exciting addition or two. Michael Al-Jiboori is a physical specimen, but quite green. Joe Bach is both a physical specimen and experienced. If he can bring the Denver Barbarian (he played for them in the summer) mentality, and channel his inner Mark Bokhoven, OU could come out on top. They're my pick, but I'm not confident.
Goff: Kutztown has terrific defense and has been playing serious 7s for quite some time, now. So they should be favored. But overlook UC Davis at your peril, and the same also goes for the Florida teams. This is the pool that could end up with two or more teams at 2-1.
Clifton: UC Davis and Kutztown are both really, really good, but when they played in Las Vegas, Tim Acker (Kutztown) was the difference. He is an absolute sparkplug, and the Bears have a 6-7 guy that can move better than you think. They're physical and they're playing with a chip on their shoulder, almost always. KU should win this pool, and could win the whole thing.
Goff: Yes Texas A&M has the home crowd, but Miami is another team that’s been playing 7s in one way or another for a long time. That experience, combined with the type of talent they have and their approach in the 15s game puts them as a favorite. But don’t forget that Colorado won the Pacific 7s, beating Utah, UCLA and others to win. Colorado is certainly for real.
Clifton: This is the pool of death. Three teams could win, and Virginia isn't one of them. There are very good players on all of these teams: Luke Lehman for CU, Connor Mills and Brian Guillen for A&M and Mike Pelligalli and Luke Markovich for Miami. Because of Miami's dominant performances over very respectable teams like Davenport and Bowling Green, and the fact that Miami is the main feeder for the 1823 men's team, I like the Reds. However, the Buffs are my dark-horse pick to win it all.
How the Knockout Rounds Work
The six pool winners plus the two best second-place teams make it to the quarterfinals.
This is where it gets tough making a prediction, because the teams we might think are the best two or three second-place teams may not qualify, because that decision will almost certainly come down to points difference.
It won’t necessarily be the best #2 that makes it, but the #2 that is able to score big in its two wins.
So we figure pool winners to be:
Central Washington, Life, St. Mary’s, San Diego State, Kutztown or UC Davis, and Miami or Colorado.
By that logic we’d figure that whoever doesn’t win Pool E or Pool F should take the wild card spots, but Cal Poly has an excellent chance to run up the score, as does NC State. Arkansas State shouldn’t be counted out, either.
So we’re hedging, but only a little. St. Mary’s over Kutztown in the final. You heard it here first.