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It's almost time for the D1AA fall playoffs, and we're not only outlining which teams will (or could) make the field but also which one should win the tournament.
Primer For The Confused
USA Rugby's D1AA division holds a playoff in November and December each year, crowning a fall champion. Then there's a playoff in the spring, crowning another champion. Ideally (and as happened last May), the two winners face off for the all-everything D1AA title. Last year, Notre Dame College beat UC Davis in that fall versus spring final.
In each playoff, there will be eight teams, and they play a quarterfinal/semifinal weekend on Nov. 18-19 to set up the final on Dec. 4.
Here are the likely participants and how we think they'll do:
Chesapeake Champion — Mary Washington has clinched.
SCRC Champion — That's going to come down to this coming weekend, with Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama in a conference final four.
Mid-Atlantic Champion — With the quarterfinals done, St. Joe's, West Chester, Rowan, and Temple are left.
MAC — There's an ongoing question right now about the top four, but right now it's Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Cincinnati, and Louisville set for the playoffs.
All fall we were talking about Lindenwood-Belleville as a likely independent team and a possible title contender. But the recent issues regarding the school ruling that its rugby team was not in good standing could derail that. Oddly, after self-reporting that the team broke school rules on its players' course load, the school is now appealing USA Rugby's initial decision that five of its games are forfeit. So, yes, the school self-reported and now is appealing the penalty.
Expect Lindenwood-Belleville to not get an at-large bid as a result, but AIC, which has applied for a spot, should get into the field. The Yellowjackets should have done enough to earn an invitation after beating UMass, UNH, and NEC and lost to Notre Dame College and Iona.
So with four conference champions, and, likely, one independent, there's room for three more teams. And basically that's going to come down who finishes second in various conferences.
Chesapeake: James Madison and Virginia Tech will likely be the teams playing each other for second place and a spot in the D1AA playoffs.
MAC: This is always a competitive tournament, and with defending champion Bowling Green having finished second last fall, it would be kind of a no-brainer to make the No. 2 team in the MAC a playoff team. Our money is on Western Michigan.
Mid-Atlantic: The playoffs for this conference will be interesting, but while we think St. Joseph's will win the conference, there probably won't be a spot for the MARC runner-up.
SCRC: Like the MAC, this is a very competitive conference. Right now Kentucky is the favorite to win the conference, and it's going to be either South Carolina or Tennessee in second.
Here's Your 8
Mary Washington, Kentucky, St. Joe's, Bowling Green, AIC, Western Michigan, James Madison or Virginia Tech (can't decide), and South Carolina or Tennessee (also, can't decide).
Western Michigan could be an upset special and get past a conference champ to the semifinals.
We like a Mary Washington vs. Kentucky final. After that, who knows?