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The path for the lone nationally-open qualifier for the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship is paved, with 24 teams lined up to vie for a chance to play live on NBC at PPL Park in Philadelphia in May. The field has teams from all different divisions – Varsity Cup, DI-A, DI-AA, DII and NSCRO – and varying levels of 7s experience and achievement.

The college division at the LVI hasn’t been a qualifier since 2012, when Life beat Utah in a thrilling final in front of tens of thousands of fans inside Sam Boyd Stadium. That year, the CRC Qualifier was the crown jewel of the LVI. It may be again this year, with the championship match once more set for the stadium and a bid to the CRC on the line.

Coincidentally, 2012 was also the same year Arkansas State last lost a 7s match. The Red Wolves are two-time defending champs of USA Rugby’s college 7s national championships, having won in 2012 and 2013. (The tournament wasn’t played in 2014.) Arkansas State is extremely talented, with Zinzan Elan-Puttick, Michael Baska and Gavin Brown all expected to make big contributions in Sin City.

Ranked No. 1 in our College 7s Top 25, Arkansas State is the favorite to claim a spot in the CRC. AIC (No. 5), Kutztown (No. 6), Dartmouth (No. 8), Notre Dame College (No. 12), Utah (No. 14), Lindenwood (No. 19) and Stony Brook (No. 24) are other ranked teams set to appear in Vegas.

Unranked teams that should be considered dangerous are St. Joe’s, Miami (OH), Bowling Green, Air Force, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Wheeling Jesuit. Along with Elan-Puttick, Baska and Brown, players to watch are James Madison’s Tim Katz, Kutztown’s Nu Aiava, Jordan Ghyzel and Robert Stortz, Utah's Tonata Lauti, AIC’s Christian Adams and Jihad Khabir, and Lindenwood’s Cam Wyper and Mickey Bateman.

All six pool winners will advance to the Cup Quarterfinals on Friday, as well as the top two second-place teams. That makes the pools with two legitimate contenders extremely competitive.

In Pool A, St. Joe’s and James Madison are probably the favorites, but Creighton has surprised before at the LVI. In Pool B, Kutztown is expected to dominate. In Pool C, Dartmouth should be the favorite, even sans star Madison Hughes, who ought to be captaining the Eagles on the weekend. Air Force is no slouch. In Pool F, Arkansas State should roll. It’s in pools D and E where drama is most potential.

Lindenwood, Bowling Green, Notre Dame College and Oklahoma all have 7s chops in Pool D. Lindenwood is a talented varsity program making a run at the CRC. Morgan Findlay won’t likely be back thanks to a Lisfranc injury suffered over the summer, but the Lions are talented and deep. Bowling Green won the Bowl at the inaugural CRC and has appeared at Nationals. NDC is another varsity setup, and the Falcons did well in East Coast 7s competitions last spring. The Sooners are CRC vets, but recent turnover makes them a questionmark.

In Pool F, there’s Utah, winners of the inaugural CRC and runners-up at the LVI in 2012. The Utes are rebuilding their 7s program but talented. AIC won the inaugural ACRC 7s championship in the fall and have loaded up on 7s-oriented players, and Wheeling Jesuit is another varsity program with Tal Bayer, who trail blazed high school 7s with Hyde, on the coaching staff.

Pool APool BPool C
St. Joe'sKutztownAir Force
James MadisonMiami (OH)Georgetown
Lewis and ClarkBuffaloPitt
Pool DPool EPool F
LindenwoodUtahArkansas State
Bowling GreenAmerican Int'l CollegeStony Brook
Notre Dame CollegeClaremont CollegesNotre Dame
OklahomaWheeling JesuitWittenburg