MCLA National Championships Preview + Picks!
Look ma, we made it! After a grueling campaign that saw the rise and fall of plenty of programs, we have reached the MCLA National Championships.
While you might not agree with the brackets (I, for one, do not), they have arrived, and two of the thirty-two total teams will be crowned champions. With that on the agenda, let’s take a look at the first round of MCLA Nationals!
MCLA National Championships – DI
#1 BYU vs #16 Michigan State
This is the most controversial matchup of the entire tournament. Not because of who is playing, but because of who isn’t. Miami (Ohio) was slotted in here originally as the GRLC champion…until they weren’t. The MCLA removed them from the tournament and gave their spot away to Florida State.
More on that later. As far as the matchup goes, BYU is a surprise #1 overall, and will be facing off against CCLA champs Michigan State. The Spartans have mostly failed to produce in their ranked matchups, and BYU is scary good right now. Fear the Cougars.
Prediction: BYU 17, Michigan State 7
#2 Grand Canyon vs #15 Northeastern
Northeastern loses a seeding spot due to the changes, and will now play the Lopes. Grand Canyon, meanwhile, must be surprised to find themselves the two-seed, after having been ranked #1 in the polls and having won the SLC this weekend. Northeastern won the PCLL, outlasting UConn and Boston College both. Making nationals is huge for the Huskies. That said, beating GCU will be way tougher.
Prediction: Grand Canyon 16, Northeastern 8
#3 Colorado vs #14 Florida State
Having initially been the odd team out for the at-large bids, Miami’s loss is the Seminoles gain. That said, their seeding pits them against RMLC runner-up Colorado, who will present the biggest challenge of the season for FSU. The Buffs will likely be (understandably) upset about a seeding change that replaces their original opponent with a team that spent a good chunk of the year in the top ten. Forget the seeds, folks: this is a tough, tough game for Colorado.
Prediction: Colorado 15, Florida State 12
#4 Georgia Tech vs #13 SMU
The surprises keep coming! Despite the return of Texas to national prominence, SMU’s brutal schedule this season must have prepared the Mustangs for tourney play, as they repeated as the LSA champions. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, fought off an unusually strong SELC conference to take the automatic bid, and they’ll begin their hunt for another semifinal appearance as the four.
SMU will look to do better this time around at nationals, but Georgia Tech already won this matchup once this year, 14-9. SMU has improved since then, and I think they’ll make it closer this time around.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 12, SMU 9
#5 Cal Poly vs #12 Virginia Tech
Strong SELC tournament play allowed the Hokies to edge Florida State for the final at-large bid. Cal Poly, meanwhile, managed to win the WCLL and beat Cal for a second time, yet finds itself drawing a far more difficult matchup due to lower seeding. The Mustangs’ offense has really come alive to complement its stellar defense. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, boats a balanced squad of its own. Given strong offenses on both sides, this likely comes down to defense, where Cal Poly has the edge. This could be closer than anticipated, though.
Prediction: Cal Poly 10, VT 7
#6 California vs #11 Oregon
After being the longest-running #1 in the polls, those two losses to Cal Poly knocked Cal down to the six-seed. That has to be scary for the opponent they get. However, Oregon might be the hotter team right now. After a weird midseason dip, dropping games to Boise State and SMU, Oregon came roaring back to not just win the PNCLL, but do so in dominating fashion, ending rival Oregon State’s run at the top and returning to nationals for the first time since 2013. I have loved Cal’s chances all season long…until now. Call me crazy, but this is my upset pick. Come tournament time, it’s hard to bet against the team with momentum.
Prediction: Oregon 14, Cal 13 (OT)
#7 Arizona State vs #10 Colorado State
This is a rematch of a fantastic February game, which the Rams won by one despite a furious fourth-quarter comeback by the Sun Devils. In Orange County, the Sun Devils are the higher seed, but will have to find a way through a Colorado State defense that already shut them down once this season. ASU was a goal away from the SLC title, while CSU lost in the RMLC semis. I’m taking ASU here for the same reason I took Oregon above.
Prediction: Arizona State 10, Colorado State 8
#8 Utah vs #9 Chapman
The biggest week one game comes back to us. Poetic, isn’t it? Beating Chapman in their opener put Utah on the map this year, but they’ll face a Panthers team that has since gotten reigning POTY Dylan Garner back. Utah has been hard to peg down this season. They won the RMLC in the regular season, then lost to Texas and Boise State. Which team will show up in Orange County? The safe money is probably on Chapman to get revenge in a game they’ll be highly motivated for, and in their own town.
Prediction: Chapman 15, Utah 10
Ryder’s Division I National Champion
Cal Poly: Despite my wholehearted defense of Grand Canyon as the team I think deserved the one-seed, I still think that Cal Poly will win the national championship. Their defense has always been good enough to do so, and their offense has really turned things around as the season went on.
They beat Cal twice in the last month, and Cal was #1 for a long time for a reason. Their schedule won’t be as easy due to their lower seeding, but this is a seasoned team full of players who know what it takes to make it to a final. It’s the Mustangs’ time to shine.
I wanted to take a moment here before discussing the D-II bracket to talk about the D-I bracket for a second. Namely, I wanted to complain about the way the committee did things.
First of all, the handling of the GRLC situation was terrible. While it appears that Miami of Ohio was removed for a legitimate ineligibility issue in the GRLC, the details were not properly released.
According to Alex Siegal of the SLC Network, Miami’s coach was unaware of the decision, and players found out via social media that they would not be going to nationals. It’s a heartbreaking situation for the team, who should have been attending the first nationals in history. Regardless of wrongdoing, to not tell the program in advance of the decision is simply unacceptable on behalf of the MCLA.
On to seeding. I understand that strength-of-schedule comes greatly into play, but seeding Utah #8 seems strange to me. The Utes finished the season losing three straight, and their resume includes losses to Boise State and Texas. They did not win their conference. Compare that to Oregon (11-2, PNCLL champs) or Chapman (whose numbers early in the year were greatly affected by injury) seems wrong to me. Winning your conference should matter.
Finally, I’d like to talk about BYU. They were my preseason favorite to win it all. They are a fantastic squad, with an offense that nobody wants to face and a defense that can cause nightmares. However, they were sixth in the latest poll. Yes, they won their conference. So did Grand Canyon, who has been #1. Sure, BYU won the head-to-head. But that was months ago. That was the only loss for Grand Canyon all year. BYU lost four times, including a loss to a UNLV team that will not be at nationals. BYU is a great team. Probably a top five team. All that said, they should not be the #1 seed.
MCLA National Championships DII
#1 St. Thomas vs #16 Missouri State
The defending champions take on Missouri State in the first round, and it’s hard not to feel bad for Missouri State. Getting to Nationals is a great feat, but having to play a powerhouse like the Tommies so far from home is a challenge that is practically impossible to overcome. St. Thomas is just on another level.
Prediction: St. Thomas 23, Missouri State 2
#2 Concordia-Irvine vs #15 Louisiana-Lafayette
Welcome newcomer ULL, who will be making their first appearance at Nationals! The Ragin’ Cajuns (who have my vote for best mascot at Nationals) would have made it last year, were it not for the lack of an auto-bid for the LSA in 2016. They finally get their shot.
Meanwhile, 2015 runner-up and 2017 SLC champs Concordia-Irvine look to finally get over the hump and take home the title this year. ULL has a great offense, but they haven’t played anyone like the Eagles.
Prediction: Concordia-Irvine 20, Louisiana-Lafayette 5
#3 Sierra Nevada vs #14 Palm Beach Atlantic
The WCLL champs have never been seeded so well at nationals before. It’s a testament to just how good the Eagles have been in 2017. This is a team that only lost by two to Cal Poly, the D-I powerhouse. The only D-II teams to beat the Eagles this year are the two seeded above them. Palm Beach Atlantic, meanwhile, snags the final at-large bid in D-II, having lost out on the SELC crown. The Sailfish are a bit of a weird pick to me, but they have a solid resume nonetheless. Also, Sailfish are a way more original mascot than Eagles. Too bad that won’t help on the field.
Prediction: Sierra Nevada 15, Palm Beach Atlantic 6
#4 Dayton vs #13 Montana
The last time Montana participated in the D-II bracket, they won the whole enchilada. That was a decade ago, and the PNCLL champs will have their hands full this time around against the CCLA-winning Flyers.
Dayton hasn’t been on fire recently (3-3 in their last 6), which could give the Griz a chance to claw through. However, they’re still Dayton, and the Flyers are still a high-quality team. No upset here, but I think it might be closer than anticipated.
Prediction: Dayton 15, Montana 12
#5 Grand Valley State vs #12 Bridgewater State
The Lakers are probably cursing the Flyers, who stole the CCLA away from them and gave them a far tougher matchup in the first round. Bridgewater, the PCLL champs for 2017, beat Dayton to kick off the season, and could spell trouble for the Lakers, should GVSU be unfocused or looking ahead. The Lakers, last year’s runner-up, are likely to be far hungrier than they are unfocused, and will likely take this one.
Prediction: Grand Valley State 10, Bridgewater State 6
#6 North Dakota State vs #11 Metro State
Metro State sounds like the fake college out of a movie, but they’re also the RMLC champions for 2017, and another name on the list of first-timers at nationals. A hearty congrats to the Roadrunners! Their first-ever playoff game will pit them against NDSU, yet another powerhouse UMLC entrant.
The Bison are fresh off a pair of losses, but have still proven plenty of times over the course of 2017 to be a team that should be feared. The Roadrunners have an offense capable of giving the Bison fits, but the Bison offense is probably still the superior one.
Prediction: North Dakota State 16, Metro State 7
#7 St. Johns vs #10 Cal State Fullerton
St. Johns is a team with a losing record, but a losing record in the UMLC is apparently worthy of a top seed these days. In this case, it’s enough to get a matchup with the SLC runner-up, Cal State Fullerton. The Johnnies are a team with a strong offense whose defense does not always show up. This could spell trouble, as the Titans have been held to single-digit goals only one time in their twelve games played. Call me a traditionalist, but I take the team with the winning record, against my better judgement.
Prediction: Cal State Fullerton 13, St. Johns 11
#8 Minnesota-Duluth vs #9 Florida Gulf Coast
Ever since Dunk City, I love seeing FGCU in any bracket. The Eagles (what is it with D-II teams and Eagles?) fly into Orange County as the reigning SELC champs, where they will face yet another UMLC team in Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs sport an 8-5 record, but an 0-2 record against St. Johns that sends them down a peg.
This game provides them with a rematch against a team they narrowly escaped once this year, beating FGCU 6-5 after a 4Q comeback that featured a 3-0 run. It’s really hard to beat a team twice, but the Bulldogs are the only D-II team to have beaten St. Thomas, and I want that rematch to happen!
Prediction: Minnesota-Duluth 7, Florida Gulf Coast 5
Ryder’s Division II National Champion
St. Thomas: Betting against the Tommies is a fool’s errand. This team is an absolutely powerhouse. They eat Division II titles for breakfast. Earning the one-seed again helps them avoid a few difficult matchups, and will help their depth out in the long run.
A potential rematch against Minnesota-Duluth in round two is a huge task for the Tommies, but if they can survive that, they can survive anything.