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D1A Games This Weekend: Picks And Previews

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D1A Games This Weekend: Picks And Previews

Arizona made it to the D1A quarterfinals last year. They are looking for another step. David Barpal photo.

February brings a little more busy group of games in D1A with Central Washington at Arizona the highlight.

Both Arizona and CWU are just barely into their seasons. Arizona beat San Diego State convincingly in the Wildcats' opening clash last week (see it again on FTF) and looked very good in doing it. Meanwhile, Central Washington beat Western Washington 63-3 in a game where the Wildcats fielded a pretty young group. The older, more experienced players scrimmaged with the Seattle Saracens, thus giving all of the players some time on the field.

This is a departure from the last two years, when CWU had gone to Northern California in early January to play UC Davis and Saint Mary's. Head Coach Todd Thornley concluded that going on that trip, and losing by large margins to Saint Mary's when his team was significantly undercooked, was a bad idea.

"We want to play tough competition but the way we were doing it we were back for a couple of days and on the bus to California," said Thornley. "It was pretty brutal. We decided we needed more time to focus on the basics and how we approach the game. We needed to work on winning good ball at set piece and then maybe adding a layer to what we do."

There was a confidence aspect to it, as well. With CWU playing as an independent, every game matters in the rankings (it does for all teams but even more so for independent teams). Losing a game so early ran the risk of shaking the CWU confidence as they looked ahead to a season that might not change anything.

More time together, and then the game with WWU, has been a more measured preparation. Of course, as captain Cole Zarcone says below, Arizona will not be an easy prospect, and he expects a tough encounter. Central is just more ready for it. (If you don't see the video, just refresh the page.)

Cole Zarcone Of Central Washington Looks At 2020 Prep from Goff Rugby Report on Vimeo.

As for Arizona, they also welcome the challenge. 

We're excited about it," said Duffy, who added that after last year's tight D1A playoff game between the two, Duffy and Thornley committed to play each other over the next two years.  "This is a non-conference game but for every game counts. We played them in a playoff game last year so this makes a lot of sense for us."

Duffy said Arizona has changed much of how it plays rugby. The coaching staff did a heavy audit on their program last year, and decided to make some shifts. Certainly they are a little more measured, patient, and physical up front.

"I think we’ve done some good things, but we want to be great," he said. "That's nothing against any of the previous teams. They’ve helped us get here. But now we want to take that next step."

Bringing in players such as James Rivers, a tall freshman lock who played in Hong Kong, has allowed Duffy to move the powerful Bronson Teles to flanker.

"That's his natural position and that's where he projects," said Duffy.

So this will be a different CWU Wildcats team and a different Arizona Wildcats team. But expect it to be just as competitive.

California Conference

The Gaels had a challenging tour of Japan and now come back to face a Cal Poly team still smarting from being beaten by UCLA. The Mustangs have to pick themselves up, now, but Saint Mary's has been firing nicely throughout their usually active preseason.

Two of the teams that Saint Mary's already beat are Santa Clara and UC Davis. Both have been working hard since then, and while Davis were slammed 137-0 by Cal last week, which can't have been fun. Santa Clara Head Coach Paul Keeler is excited about Anton Viera at No. 8 and the leadership of tighthead prop Eshaan Kaul. But his difficulty is how many players on the Broncos don't have a lot of rugby experience when they come to the school.

See more of what Keeler has to say about this on the FTF This Week in College Rugby show.

UC Santa Barbara is also in action in the California Conference visiting Grand Canyon. GCU beat Cal Poly in its conference opener and will need this home win if they are to think seriously about some rankings help.

Red River

A&M hosts LSU and LSU has some depth issues. But the Tigers' three fall losses were all competitive, and with Jack Webster leading the team well at center they are looking for a bit of revenge. Freshman George Mercer has emerged as a force in the tight five and he represents some interesting new blood on a team with a new coach in Franny Mayer LSU will be an improved side.

The Aggies, meanwhile, can bounce back from a humbling loss to BYU and take some control in the Red River. (We had the wrong schedule here and Oklahoma actually hosts Lindenwood.)

Non-Conference

And finally, Cal faces San Diego State. Cal steamrolled Davis last week and will be favored here, too. Head Coach Jack Clark will probably shake thins up in terms of the lineup and see who else can put his hand up for a starting spot in later games.

SD State can point to its doggedness last week against Arizona, but they need the ball as well.

Here are the games and our picks:

Date Away   Home Conference Out Picks
2/1/20 Central Washington at Arizona Non Conference Arizona by 12
2/1/20 Cal Poly at Saint Mary's California Conf. Saint Mary's by 30 
2/1/20 UC Davis at Santa Clara California Conf. Santa Clara by 5
2/1/20 UC Santa Barbara at Grand Canyon California Conf. GCU by 20
2/1/20 LSU at Texas A&M Red River A&M by 15
2/1/20 North Texas at Texas Tech Red River UNT by 6
2/1/20 Lindenwood at Oklahoma Non Conference  
2/1/20 Cal at San Diego State Non Conference Cal by a lot