Kicking off the spring rankings is always difficult, as teams are at different stages of their seasons in January. There is some awkwardness as split-season teams that performed well in the fall and are now idle merge with spring-league teams that are just ramping up. So a mix of results and historical strength is needed early on.
The rankings reconcile these inconsistencies by starting with last year’s final placing, and allocating slots to those conferences and their current leaders – with one exception. And it’s a big one: BYU. After three years in DI Elite, the Cougars have rejoined Division I and will be a top contender for the title. BYU is an independent team, and the March 9 game against DI Elite Central Washington will serve as a good barometer. The Cougars won the teams’ fall match 35-26 in Provo. Its record reflects (non-tournament) games against DI teams.
The spring rankings then pick up with the 2018 final placing: 1. Pacific Mountain West, 2. Florida, 3. Pacific Mountain West, 4. Mason-Dixon. By the second week of February, all of the DI conferences will be active and the rearrangements will rely on weekend results.
Two of those top-four spots go to the Pacific Mountain Rugby Conference (PMRC) West, which is home to all three spring champions. Current titleholder Chico State has defeated Humboldt and Stanford in January, and former champ UC Davis (’16, ’17) shut out Cal last weekend. Stanford is also on the board, because the PMRC West is that strong.
The DI/DII hybrid Florida conference is really just the University of Central Florida when it comes to the post-season conversation. UCF finished at an all-time high – spring runner-up – last year but will miss the influence of players like Cortney Kuehl, who after graduation went on tour with the 15s Eagles in November.
Midway through the Mason-Dixon matrix season, there are three legitimate contenders for the conference title. Virginia Tech is undefeated in the North and counted a 38-17 win over UVA among its fall victories. UVA is well familiar with the demands of the post-season and will be looking forward to the Feb. 23 rematch against the Hokies, as well as an Ireland spring break tour.
Equally appealing is DI newcomer Queens University, which beat Clemson, NC State, USC and UNC 261-5 in fall matrix matches. The Royals are in their second season ever and that’s why they are conservatively listed at No. 11. If the team shows consistency in the spring, then the North Carolina team certainly has the potential to advance upward.
Same goes for Washington State, the traditional leader in the PMRC North, which finished fourth in the conference overall last year (dropping a heart-breaker to UC Davis before besting Oregon State). But the Cougars did not attend the spring regional championship in 2018, forfeiting its berth when it was revealed that a trip to Provo, Utah, and opening-round game against then-DI Elite BYU were up next. When one considers that DI Elite teams beat DI teams by an average of 97 points last year, one can sympathize with WSU’s decision and also understand why that combined playoff structure was abandoned this year going forward.
Washington State kicked off its season last weekend with a 24-10 win over Oregon State, and enters the rankings at No. 10. Pacific Desert leaders Grand Canyon and UC Santa Barbara sit in front of the Cougars, courtesy of two convincing league wins apiece. On Dec. 1, UCSB traveled to UC Davis for a 72-17 pre-season win. That result isn’t factored into the rankings – like all non-league games, save BYU – but it does pique interest.
Remember: This first ranking is a starting point, and there’s great potential for movement every week.