In less than 24 hours, the 2013 Skyd College Tour officially starts and the workday can’t end soon enough! The University of Alabama’s T-Town Throwdown 9 is set to provide action showcasing a slew of sleepers along with the favorite out of the Southeast region. With beautiful fields, low winds and temperatures in the 60s, Tuscaloosa is rolling out the red carpet for 20 College Open teams looking to put themselves on the map.
The Top 2
The Dogs are in the House
2012 was quite the year for the Central Florida Dogs of War. After making short work of the competition at T-Town Throwdown 8, UCF made their first appearance on the national scene at Warm-Up: A Florida Affair. The Dogs of War started the weekend by bringing Pittsburgh to the brink before losing 14-16, but bounced back to upset Carleton and Wisconsin on a way to a runner-up finish (losing again to En Sabah Nur in the finals). Central Florida continued their tear through the season, taking the Trouble in Vegas crown, placing second at College Easterns and making their first ever trip to Nationals. The Dogs were competitive in Boulder, making it all the way to quarters before running into a CUT team that was simply better at throwing in the wind.
Central Florida returns to T-Town, this time a squad full of nationals veterans rather than hopeful qualifiers. With a massive target on their back, it will be interesting to see if achieving the goal of nationals leaves the Dog’s overconfident. Questionable fall results along with the losses of Ryan Nations, Matt Reedy as well as both 2012 captains Quint Wharton and Kyle Bettis has made some feel uneasy about the powerhouse squad. Taking a closer look at their roster, it appears that most of the UCF 2012 is back for another run. Names like Mike Hickson, Mischa Freystaetter, John Best and Mike Ogren send shivers down the spine of anyone matching up across the line while lesser known players such as Jeremy Langdon, Daniel Jakob, Alex Bullock and Brawley Adams will have larger roles and may become household names.
Finally and possibly most important is the return of the 2012 Skyd All-American Coach of the Year, Andrew Roca. Last spring UCF’s coach did what most wouldn’t dare try: change the overall team strategy midway through the season. After looking predictable on offense early on, Roca placed more power in handlers Best and Nations and began to use the full width of the field. Furthermore, by not running only through Freystaetter it became harder for teams to game plan against the Dogs of War. If you’re at Tuscaloosa this weekend, you’ll be sure to see Roca pacing up and down the sideline, chanting his credo:
What wins games?! Defense! Who wins games?! Dogs!
Tide’s Real Good
Seeded second overall is the host team: Yellow Hammer from the University of Alabama. Last year, T-Town TD and captain Brian Moore spoke about how 2013 was going to be Yellow Hammer’s season. Alabama certainly went through ups and downs last year, but their building year ended on a positive note with a 9th place finish at Southeast Regionals. Early last season, Yellow Hammer seemed to have timing issues in tight scenarios leaving Moore with fellow standout cutters Michael Venezia and Matt Hardman to carry a large portion of the load.
In an earlier conversation, Moore pointed out that Yellow Hammer only graduated one player after the 2012 campaign. While this removes the issue of early season gelling, a full year of experience for the young handling core should make for a completely different showing this time around at T-Town. Alabama has also made a key off-season addition in veteran Tanasi handler Charles Browning whose age, experience, throws and ability to be a field general has helped transform Yellow Hammer into more of a competitive unit. Add a full summer of Tanasi experience for Moore, Browning and Venezia and the Tide is beginning to look like a true competitor on paper.
Thus far Alabama has performed well, taking down Florida and Tennessee at CCC’s in the fall. However, the now veteran squad will need to do more than take care of business against regional competition. If Yellow Hammer has the ability to play at a consistently high level they may have what it takes to earn the relatively weak Southeast region another bid to the show in Madison. With power pools sporting 5 SE teams, Alabama must not falter against out of region opponents Harding, Indiana and Oklahoma.
There are high hopes for the boys from Tuscaloosa, but big games will come down to whether or not the entire roster can contribute in pressure situations. Defensive playmakers Austin Taylor and Preston Thompson bring their raw athleticism to the table while the calm presences of Daniel Gilstrap and Travis Midkiff will supplement Browning on offense. Will it be enough to take down Central Florida? That remains to be seen. Can Alabama show that they are ready to take the leap into the upper tier of competition? I think the Tide will roll.
The Best of the Rest
Rounding out the top four this weekend are Harding Apocalypse and LSU. The former finished in semifinals last year at T-Town and was a strong contender for the D-III crown as the regular season came to a close. A surprise falter at regionals saw Rice taking the slot over the Apocalypse. Although, with them almost taking down Claremont at 2011 D-III Nationals, coming back from behind to beat Alabama last year in prequarters of T-Town 8 and almost doing the same to Ohio State in semis, one should never sleep on Harding. Despite losing Tyler Samuel, Ryan Rummage and Jarron Sharp, Harding retains the deep throws of Tucker Bankston and the all around talent of Taren Goins whom their offense typically runs through. First year player Zach Auala adds his NCAA experience as Harding’s goalie as well as his 6’5″ frame to the fray.
After a disappointing series performance that ended without a trip to Regionals, LSU is looking to rebound for the 2013 campaign. With a decent performance at CCC’s in November, Louisiana State has been revitalized with some young talent. Impact freshman Travis Vermaelen, Brian Mart, Dave Melancon and Zack Fruge all come in with HS Nationals experience under their belt while Garrett Yetman, who unfortunately won’t be at T-Town this weekend, spent time with the USA U-19 team this past summer. Young talents like these in addition to play-makers Dylan Schroeder, Chris Leyoub, Dylan Shannon, captain Andy Farmer and sophmore standout Tyler Bourgeois make LSU strong across the board. LSU will also have the benefit of a coaching presence this weekend as a reoccurring knee injury has sidelined captain Tim Lala.
Ever since Tanasi first boomed, everyone has been waiting for Tennessee to dazzle and make the jump onto the National scene. While experience and disc skills are apparent, Agent Orange tends to play down to their competition leading to long games and sometimes loses to lesser opponents. Tennessee, who has shown the ability to take down top regional rivals like Georgia (see 2012 South Appalachian D-1 Conference Championships), had a poor CCC’s – taking fourth in their pool and failing to qualify for Sunday’s championship bracket. At the end of the day, fall results mean nothing and with Richey Ward, Matt Pirckle and their 2012 Callahan nominee Matt Ractliffe returning (according to their score reporter page), Tennessee still has what it takes to compete.
- Out of the Great Lakes region, the Indiana Hoosiermamas are making the trip down to Tuscaloosa and are seeded sixth overall (third in Pool B). Formerly a contender to qualify for Nationals, Indiana has not been the same force since Ed Wu (formerly of Chicago Machine) and Jesse Roehm (Johnny Bravo) graduated.
- If Player Pierce (Bluegrass Revolution) is back, Tennessee-Chattanooga has a strong shot of finding themselves playing meaningful games deep into Sunday.
- The surprise team of T-Town Throwdown 8, Auburn, find themselves seeded at the top of Pool C with a solid chance of moving up after Saturday. A team certainly on the rise, Auburn is coming off a regionals qualifying year which included wins over Alabama, Tennessee and LSU. Top defensive units have issues slowing down this squad’s inside break heavy horizontal stack offense which wastes no inch of field space.
T-Town Throwdown will again help to provide an exciting start to Skyd’s College Tour, showcasing a lot of unknown talent from the South Central, Great Lakes and Southeast regions. Be sure to follow the action all weekend long on Twitter: @Skyd_ZackSmith and tune in to some live audio play-by-play of the finals on Sunday (and possibly a round on Saturday).
The countdown to Madison begins!