2021 ACL Bag Brawl Preview

Ladies and gentlemen, it's almost time for the 2021 ACL Bag Brawl! The third ACL National event of the season is appropriately named, in my opinion, because as we enter the second half of the ACL season, the stakes get higher and the pressure amplifies. This added intensity really turns up the heat on the boards and we, as fans, should expect a good ol' fashioned metaphorical brawl as players look to either continue strong starts to the year or make a much needed comeback. This year's Bag Brawl will take place at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort in Las Vegas, NV April 30 - May 2. 

The Title Contenders

Sticking with the Bag Brawl theme, we always first have to talk about the title fights and belt winners. Cornhole's heavyweight champions would certainly have to be Daymon Dennis in Pro Singles and Jamie Graham/Matt Guy in Pro Doubles. Both sit atop the ACL rankings in their respective divisions, but have reached the apex in two different ways. Dennis, for starters, really flashed his dominating potential at the 2021 Kickoff Battle. Everyone was blown away by his 10.07 Points-Per-Round (PPR) average and 42 4-Bag-Percentage (4B%). People were actually so surprised by these numbers that many pinned Dennis to stumble in Kansas. What is funny to me is that even though he finished a measly 5th, his PPR actually went up in Pro Singles compared to Wichita (10.07 vs. 10.13). Did his Differential-Per-Round drop by 0.48? Yes, that was to be at least somewhat expected, but I don't think anyone pegged Dennis to be this good this year, and he should continue to be a focal point for people to watch this year. Graham and Guy, alternatively, have almost felt like they've fallen into the #1 ranking. Don't get me wrong, these two have been very good, but on the main stage can we collectively say they've been great yet? Eh. Just for comparison sake, across all Pro Doubles Matt Guy has a 9.94 PPR and a 1.55 DPR (excuse me, what?!). Jamie Graham has a 9.60 PPR and a 0.57 DPR. On the main stage? Guy has a 9.41 PPR and a -0.05 DPR and Graham has a 8.76 PPR and a -1.59 DPR (ouch). As you can see, that's a significant dropoff from what they are doing leading up to the Pro Doubles playoff. Many people will read this and say that that's bad news for Graham and Guy. Personally? I think it's the complete opposite. They are currently the #1 team in the country without even playing well in the biggest moments. To me, that is a PROBLEM for every other team in the Pro Division. Once these heavyweights figure out the big game chemistry, watch out.

You don't have to be #1 in the country to be considered a title contender, so let's chat about some other MVP level candidates. First, you have to look at Cody Henderson. His four finishes across Pro Singles and Pro Doubles so far this season have been 2nd, 5th, 3rd, and 5th. There has not been a player more consistent this year than Henderson, simple as that. What is so funny to me about Henderson's consistency is that he does not play much outside of National Pro events. In fact, Henderson hasn't played a single ACL tournament besides a National since November. As a player that could never reach to ultimate level in the sport years ago, I could not be more jealous of that level of mental composure and focus. Speaking of focus, you can't talk MVP without discussing Trey Burchfield. If statistics trump record for you when selecting the best player in a sport, then you have to be a fan of what Trey Burchfield has done this season. He is 0.01 DPR points away from holding the ACL Pro Division Triple Crown, which would be leading the entire sport in PPR, DPR, and 4B%. As an aside, that DPR crown currently belongs to Bret Guy, who by definition of the statistic has outscored opponents at a higher rate than any other Pro in the country, and is partnered with the best doubles player in the world, Erick Davis, talk about unfair. Back to Burchfield, his 10.48 PPR and 49.65% 4B% in Kansas is honestly sickening, and when I really think about it, it shocks me that he did not win that event. However, he ran into my final current MVP candidate in Steven Bernacet. We hyped Bernacet coming into the year after sweeping Level 1 Singles and Level 1 Doubles at the first ACL Open of the season (and is still the only player to sweep so far this season). Bernacet's 27 in a row to begin the Pro Singles final match against Burchfield was the single longest streak in a single game in ACL broadcast history. The key for me when watching Bernacet in Vegas is going to be how he now handles the pressure of being a #1 seed in a bracket. He can no longer go through the Pro Division as a dark horse, and people will bring there best against him. Only time will tell if Bernacet is a one hit wonder or a legitimate MVP contender on top of his likely Rookie of the Year award. 

The Middleweights

I know the boxing and MMA fans are rolling their eyes because middleweight doesn't have anything to do with skill level but just go with it! This category of players includes those that I believe have been labeled "average" or "above-average" for the first half of the season and should be pegged for a strong performance in Vegas. The first two are a stretch to be even called above-average but I'm highlighting them because I think they are ready for a playoff berth: Matthew Stout and Ryan Smith. Let's start with the former NCCC Champion, Stout. People remember Stout's performance in Kansas because he hit those 25 of 26 bags against Jay Rubin in his Pro Singles bracket finals but ultimately came up short because he surrendered such a large early-game lead. However, Stout's performance at the Kickoff Battle was actually more impressive. He was second in PPR at that event (10.03), only coming up short to the winner of that event, Daymon Dennis. Stout has shown that he is not just a great doubles player alongside Allan Rockwell, he is ready to make a Pro Singles Statement. Then you have Ryan Smith, who is making an incredible case for a Comeback Player of the Year award. Back in 2019, Ryan Smith emerged as a superstar. Because of some personal issues and obstacles, Smith had a difficult 2020 and many of us thought he had lost "it". Well, now halfway through 2021, Smith sits at #5 in the country in Pro Singles, with only MVP candidates ahead of him and he's tied with Brevon Valdivia and Jamie Graham. I love that Ryan Smith is playing this season with a chip on his shoulder, sometimes that's the best motivator out there.

Alright, let's be honest with ourselves, did any of us think Ty Lopez and Pedro Zazueta Jr would be ranked #10 in the country right now? Or think that they would have just won one of the toughest ACL Opens of the season? Sure some members of the Lopez and Zazueta fan clubs would have said yes, but many of us would not. I love the fire I get to see when I watch Lopez play, and I think it perfectly balances with Zazueta's demeanor. This team really feels like a perfect combination of veteran experience and young-gun flare. Moving on to another surprising name, do you have any idea who leads the entire league in Pro Doubles DPR and 4B%? I'll give you a hint, he just came off of a 3rd place finish at one of the toughest Opens in Quad Cities. Yep, none other than Reynolds Bags' own Jeff Reynolds. All of the new school cornhole talent had no idea that Jeff Reynolds played cornhole before he started making bags. Reynolds will surprise every person he plays on the boards with how good he really is. Jordan Power is another name to keep an eye on, particularly because of his performance in Kansas in the Pro Blind Draw. Power finished his blind draw bracket with a 10.63 PPR and an outrageous 1.87 DPR. I mean c'mon. Power still has the luxury of flying under the radar...for now. This third National is the perfect place for him to take advantage.

The Forgotten Flyweights

For whatever reason, these next few players have completely fallen off most fans' radar. Mike Harvey/James Washington as well as Dalton Mcklem/Kyle Malone missed the last National because of weather travel complications. That means they will enter this next event as a bottom-tier seed. For me, if they can get an opening round win against a top team, they will continue to cruise through their brackets. Point blank, Mcklem and Malone are winners and Mike Harvey is one of the best prospects to enter the division over the past two seasons. Maya Cupp is a sneaky top 15 player statistically in Pro Singles but is ranked #121. That tells me she's playing well but is having tough draws and poor timing on her strong performances. Odds are, those event out. If you combine that with how well her and Allison Peters have been playing in Women's Doubles, I think those two are set up to get over the metaphorical hump in that event. Rosie Streker has been completely forgotten about by most fans, given her poor performance with Sam Finley at the Kickoff Battle and then missing the Cornhole Mania due to COVID-19. People, let's not forget that Rosie Streker and Sam Finley are former World Champions in Women's Doubles. Is the female talent at the top level the best it's ever been? Yes, but the second you count out Finley and Streker is the second you get in trouble.

Additional top 10 players or teams that just don't seem to have a ton of buzz coming into this event, which makes you wonder, why not: Jordan Camba/James Baldwin (getting away from a 9 am doubles start will help), Josh Groce/AJ Sims (former World Champs ready for a breakout?), Duncan Clemmer/Brandon Jones (can the young kids from the Carolinas get that one win on the big stage?), Brevon Valdivia (is anyone having a better and strangely quieter year than Valdivia?).

Trey's Takes

Pro Singles

1st - Matt Guy

2nd - Ryan Smith

t-3rd - Erick Davis

t-3rd - Matthew Stout

Pro Doubles

1st -  Burchfield/King

2nd - Guy/Davis

t-3rd - Clemmer/Jones

t-3rd -  Malone/Mcklem

Pro Women's Doubles

1st - Peters/Cupp

2nd - Finley/Streker

3rd - Renner/Cassidy

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