BOULDER, Colo. – The Big Ten has been through seven weeks of hard-fought rugby, with big blowouts and surprising finishes, but the final two teams that will face off for the Big Ten Universities Championship have yet to be decided. Four teams have played well enough this season to have their names in contention for the two spots: Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. This weekend, Indiana will play Wisconsin and Michigan will take on Ohio State, and the top two teams will separate from the pack.
There are a multitude of scenarios that can take place this weekend, something that could occupy a good hour of one’s time just sitting and speculating what could happen. Points in the standings, which teams earn by winning a match (4 points), scoring at least four tries (1 point), or losing a match by seven points or fewer (1 point), is the first deciding factor on getting into the championship match
Indiana has the best chance at making the championship match, currently sitting at 25 points. If it can notch a win over Wisconsin, it will have 29 points, a mark that no other team can hit. The Hoosiers have been able to get a bonus point in every conference match this season, the only match they didn’t receive the additional point was their nonconference win against Davenport.
Both Ohio State and Wisconsin have 22 points, plus a tie with each other, which makes this weekend even more interesting. If both teams win, they will have 26 points and will both play in the championship game should Indiana not earn a bonus point in a defeat, a rematch of last year. If the Hoosiers are able to get the bonus point, it will come down to a three-way tie break. Indiana will advance due to beating Wisconsin in its head-to-head encounter, but the Ohio State-versus-Wisconsin match was a wash. This means it comes down to point differential, which is also close. With an Ohio State win and a Wisconsin loss, the Buckeyes will make it to the title bout.
The Badgers are going to have a tough challenge this weekend in the Hoosiers, and will need to play a stellar match if they want to defend their title in the championship match this season. They will need to find a way to slow down one of the best back lines in the nation, which is led by the trio of Bryce Campbell Jake Hidalgo, and . This Hoosier trio has combined for a total of 23 tries on the season, and the Badgers’ Crass brothers will need to pick up their production if they hope to keep up with Indiana. They were good on defense against Ohio State, but weren’t able to produce much on offense. Dane Fleck has been playing great for Wisconsin, scoring a hat trick against Michigan State, and it will need him to continue his hot streak this weekend.
Michigan will have to have a lot of things go its way if the Wolverines want to get into the championship match, but anything is possible. They are currently sitting at 19 points after their win against Illinois, only three back from Ohio State and Wisconsin. First, the Wolverines need Indiana to beat Wisconsin, and beating them by more than seven would be best. Michigan would then need to beat Ohio State, and get a bonus point if Wisconsin is able to, as well. The Wolverines, if able to get into the championship match, will have to play Indiana, a team they lost to earlier in the season.
“The leaders of the team have done a great job of rallying the men,” said Michigan Head Coach Brandon Sparks. “They have created a great culture that everyone has bought into, and they are very honest with themselves and hold each other accountable. With a young squad like we have, this dictated how this season was going to go after that lost.”
Michigan bounced back well, winning three consecutive matches, but this weekend will provide it with the biggest challenge since Indiana. It will need to find an answer to Jojo Eramo, who has scored a conference-high 12 tries this season. The Buckeyes are also efficient on defense, able to hold Wisconsin to only 18 points in their last match. The Wolverines will need their whole squad to be on point for the entire 80 minutes if they want to win. Chening Duker and Matt Kasten will need to continue to score tries, something the pair has excelled at in recent weeks, and fly half Zack Burns will have a heavy task in trying to conduct the defense to stop Eramo.
The Big Ten Championship matchup will be decided this Saturday. Michigan is fighting to redeem its loss to Indiana, Ohio State wants another crack at Wisconsin, which wants to defend its championship, and Indiana looks to move on from its past. Whatever happens this weekend, it has the makings to be an exciting finish.