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The American Collegiate Rugby Championship’s second postseason gets underway tonight, with a series of bowl games being staged over two days. The ACRC struck out last year as a group of teams and conferences committed to fall 15s, and its inaugural campaign climaxed with a knockout playoff tournament won by Kutztown.
In that first year, there was some mix-up, as the Big Ten, which originally was slated to participate in the postseason, ended up not doing so. Champion Indiana said it was unaware of its obligation to participate in the ACRC playoff.
The conversion to a bowl system this year has seen more last-minute scrambles. Originally, the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast runners-up were supposed to play each other. SCRC second-place Alabama never committed, but the bowl bid fell to Mississippi State. Maryland, the ACRL runner-up, chose not to participate, so Western Michigan came in. Mississippi State pulled out, so now Life’s JV (a fill-in’s fill-in’s fill-in) is going up against the Broncos.
The Big Ten will be represented in the competition this go-round, as fourth-place Michigan takes on Kutztown in a David vs. Goliath match-up.
Though the bowl system is stained a bit by the lack of participation from some of the top fall-playing teams, there are still some great pairings. The highest-ranked match features No. 4 Life and No. 8 Army. While Life’s varsity undergrad team has been dormant this fall, its players have been active with Life’s DII men’s club, elite training squad and JV teams. So Life is still the favorite. This meeting will be a clash of styles, as the Running Eagles play a more expansive game, while the Black Knights are as good at smashmouth rugby as anyone.
Army’s had a tremendous first fall back in action, and a win over the Running Eagles would be a tremendous layer of icing on the cake. An Army win would also add heat to the competition between the Varsity Cup and DI-A for the Black Knights’ participation. Army, in its first season as a varsity sport, is still sorting out what its spring will look like, but it’s obvious the competing National Championships both want Army involved. A win over Life would only make the Black Knights more attractive to both.
Clemson versus South Carolina is another great game. The last time they played, the Tigers bounced the Gamecocks from the DI-AA postseason. These in-state rivals have struggled to put together an annual meeting, but when they do cross paths, the rivalry is as palpable as ever. Conference pride, in-state bragging rights and recruiting clout is all on the line in this one, which might prove to be the most compelling bowl game of them all.
There are two more matches which pit conference champions against one another – Stony Brook vs. West Virginia and AIC vs. Bowling Green. The Seawolves won the Empire Conference, and the Mountaineers took the Keystone. Both won their conference titles last year, too, and participated in the ACRC playoff. And both were put to the sword in the first round, Stony Brook by Middlebury and West Virginia by Kutztown. This match-up provides these teams the chance to play what is likely to be a more competitive postseason game.
Last year, Bowling Green advanced to the ACRC playoff as the MAC champ. When Indiana ducked out of the competition, AIC wanted to fill in. The Yellowjackets had finished behind Middlebury in the East Coast. AIC’s vociferous plea to be involved, however, was ignored. A year later, the Yellowjackets are East Coast champs and get their crack at Bowling Green.
AIC is a fifth-year quasi-varsity program with scholarships and paid coaching. Bowling Green is a long-time powerhouse led by the father-son tandem of Roger and Tony Mazzarella. The Falcons embody the traditional collegiate club model, while AIC is part of the new wave of fully-funded programs. Bowling Green has been to multiple final fours. AIC has been trying all fall to collect a big-name scalp, seeing its game with Army canceled due weather and a match with Kutztown go the other way. For all those reasons, plus the fact that the Falcons and Yellowjackets are ranked 18th and 19th, respectively, makes this a game to watch.