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The qualification season for the inaugural USA Rugby college 7s national championship is half way over, with seven of the automatic bids already earned. Seven more will be doled out over the course of the next three weekends. That leaves 10 at-large bids to be granted by the college competitions committee, which will be advised by Eagles 7s coach Al Caravelli and a stable of scouts.
Qualification tournaments in
gold. Non qualifiers in silver.
*Indicates incomplete standings
I'll go tournament by tournament and tell you my favorite to win the remaining qualifiers.
Pacific 7s Palo Alto, Calif. Oct 22
Utah has to be the pick, right? Thretton Palamo is a definite no-go, as is Don Pati, who is attempting to make the Eagles squad for the Pan-Am Games.
Utah graduated lots of talent outside of those guys, too, but Tonata and Lopeti Lauti, AJ Tuineau and Danny James should be enough to propel the Utes past a Cal-less field.
Stanford's Marcus Henderson has remained under many people's radar, but Cardinal coach Matt Sherman is extremely high on the speedy wing/fullback. Sherman says he may be an Eagle prospect some day, and I say he should be on every coach's scouting report this weekend.
UCLA is legit, too, and Colorado has won the Denver 7s college title the past two years, so the Buffs shouldn't be taken lightly.
Mountain 7s Glendale, Colo. Oct. 22
BYU is the obvious choice. Haven't seen the Cougars play 7s, but their level of athleticism far outshines that of any team in this tournament.
Ryan Roundy is expected to be on the roster. Can you imagine tackling that guy in the open field? Dylan Lubbe's skills also translate well to 7s, like those of Shaun Davies.
Plus, a number of exciting players are fresh off mission, and former NFL running back Vai Sikahema's son is now a Cougar.
Air Force isn't new to 7s, having played at Denver 7s the past couple of summers and in the CRC qualifier in February, but they've yet to prove their 7s mettle. The Falcons would appear to be BYU's top competition.
Wyoming is also set to play in Glendale, but they're facing a ton of injuries. Colorado State is an unknown, and the rest of the field is comprised of DII teams.
Delaware 7s Newark, Del. Oct. 29
This is a tossup between Delaware and Kutztown. They duked it out inside Sam Boyd Stadium in February in the CRC qualifier semifinals. Kutztown won, barely.
Both have undersized sparkplugs as leaders (Jimmy Kowalski for Delaware and Tim Acker for Kutztown). Since KU won the first meeting, I'll pick them, but I don't want to pick either.
California 7s Moraga, Calif.
This should be a good one. San Diego State is coached by Eagle 7s captain Matt Hawkins and has a history of being a very good 7s team, but Duncan Kelm has graduated. Cal was twice the favorite to win the CRC, but twice didn't fulfill expectations. Oh yeah, Eagles 7s coach Al Caravelli's son Kyle plays at Cal, too. St. Mary's won a warmup tournament at Cal Poly, but defeated the Mustangs by a single point in the tournament final.
My head wants me to pick Cal, but my gut tells me the 7s pitch is where the Gaels finally get the best of the Bears. Chad Clark is dynamite in 7s, and an advantage at scrumhalf can go a long way on that mighty big field, so St. Mary's is the pick.
East Coast Rugby Conference Amesbury, Mass. Nov.
None of these teams are known commodities. Boston College competed in the CRC last year, but didn't do so hot. Northeastern is absolutely trampling the 15s conference right now, but are they even concerned with 7s? Middlbury's Brian Sirkia could be the best 7s player in the league, but does he have enough help? Blindly, I'll take the Maddogs since they seem unbeatable in 15s conference play.
Ivy League Boston Nov. 5-6
Dartmouth is the clear favorite, even though the Big Green aren't even the defending Ivy 7s champs. The crazy thing about it is, if Dartmouth wins and turns down the automatic bid to nationals, as expected, the bid doesn't fall to the second-place team. It becomes an at-large to be doled out by the competitions committee. So if the Big Green win, it's possible no Ivy league team will be invited to nationals.
Empire Conference Long
Island, NY Nov.
Host Stony Brook is the only team I've seen play, at the CRC qualifier in Las Vegas in February, but they were impressive. Some of their guys have club 7s experience with Long Island, too, and that can't hurt. Expect the Seawolves to do well in this one, though the Empire West is a much better 15s division.