Playoff contenders or pretenders?

D1A Rugby: Playoff contenders or pretenders?
Photo Credit: Kalli Ann Photography (right)

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – The 2017 D1A Rugby Playoffs are still two months away, but teams are already jockeying for position within their conference standings and in the Canterbury D1A Top 20 with an eye towards earning one of 12 postseason spots.

Four teams that didn’t compete in the 2016 Playoffs are examined as potential contenders or pretenders for this springs 12-team D1A National Championship field.


Baylor
The Bears showed tremendous improvement during the 2015-16 season in Mason Hering’s first season as Baylor’s head coach. The growth has continued in Waco, Texas, with the Bears off to a 4-1 start in the Red River Conference.

Being three games over .500 has Baylor in terrific position to represent the North Division in the Red River Championship game. Still, a closer look at the Bears’ point differential and its reason enough they haven’t been able to break into the Top 20. Baylor’s four conference wins have been by an average of just four points, while its 37-0 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma leave it with a -21 point differential.

Avenging their shutout loss to the Sooners at the Feb. 18 rematch will go a long way in getting the Bears into the conference title game and a place in the Playoffs.

 

Colorado State
The Rams looked like a shoo-in for the 2017 Playoffs while it was carving up their West Conference schedule. Colorado State was in the conference’s driver seat after its defeat of Air Force, but the team was found to have used an ineligible player during its win over in-state rival Colorado. The incidental miss usage of a player negated its bonus point win and dropped Colorado State to second in the West standings behind the Zoomies.

Without a conference title to its name, the Rams will need an at-large bid into the Playoffs. Currently ranked No. 12, Colorado State is in good shape to make its return to the postseason. Still, the Rams odds of playing playoff footy will be further solidified if they win most of its spring contests that includes fixtures against University of Denver, Utah State, Wyoming and a trip to Provo, Utah to play No. 4 BYU.


Santa Clara
The Broncos were not only a Playoff team in 2014, but beat Colorado State handedly in the opening round to reach the Quarterfinals. A lack of depth has hindered Santa Clara from matching that success in recent years, but don’t count out the Broncos in 2017.

A season opening loss on the road to Arizona, 43-17, did generate much buzz for the Broncos. Arizona’s recent 47-8 beat down of Top 20-ranked UCLA, however, makes Santa Clara’s defeat to the Wildcats less of a black eye.

One-side losses to Cal and Saint Mary’s have followed its loss to Arizona, but those are results that just about every team in the country have grown accustom to. The results of California Conference games against Cal Poly and San Diego State will ultimately determine if Santa Clara can break into the Playoff picture.

 

Wisconsin
Like most teams out of the Big Ten, Wisconsin uses its spring semester to predominantly focus on sevens. It’s unsure if the Badgers are interested in putting their name in the D1A Playoff hat, but if they do then they’ve got a good chance to make the field.

Wisconsin’s lone loss of the season is to seventh-ranked Indiana, 39-17. The Badgers inability to keep its game against a Hoosier team playing without All-American center Bryce Campbell caused them to drop a few spots in the rankings. While it carries a favorable winning percentage, Wisconsin’s best victory of the season is probably its four-point win over unranked Ohio State. Still, if the Badgers have interest in playing 15s in the spring, the opportunity is likely there for them.


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