BOULDER, Colo. – The Big Ten Universities Conference season is at the midway point, and a few familiar faces sit near the top of the BTU standings. Indiana, Ohio State, and Wisconsin each remain undefeated, so there is plenty to play for prior to Nov. 14 BTU Championship.
“When the season started, we thought it might be a five- or six-team race, but a couple of teams graduated more talent than we originally thought,” said Big Ten Commissioner and Ohio State Director of Rugby Tom Rooney. “Illinois lost its fly half in week two, so that hurt. Now, into week four, it does look like a three-team race.”
There are just as many teams in the conference seeking their first victories as there are teams hoping to avoid initial defeats. Iowa, which has been depleted of a wealth of talent due to its large 2015 graduating class, is 0-3. Minnesota and Purdue, likewise, have goose eggs in their win columns. The good news for the Gophers and Boilermakers is that their schedules become much easier the rest of the way through. Iowa does wrap its schedule against Minnesota, but the Hawkeyes must still contend against No. 15 Ohio State and No. 20 Michigan.
Michigan State started the season with an impressive, 65-5, win over Minnesota, and its eight-point loss to Michigan was far from glaring. However, the Spartans’ most recent result, a 77-15 drubbing at the hands of Ohio State, shows Michigan State is at least a year away of getting into the BTU Championship conversation.
Like the Spartans, Illinois sits at 1-2. The Fighting Illini put up a sturdy fight against No. 9 Indiana, and jumped all over Iowa. Even with the crucial loss of captain and fly half Matt Ramsey, Illinois is staring at three winnable games down the stretch, so keep an eye out for the boys from Champaign, Ill.
It would be easy to write off Michigan after it lost to the Hoosiers by 34 points. However, Brandon Sparks’ team is still talented and, at 2-1, the Wolverines aren’t exactly out of the BTU Championship equation. Michigan would still need to fend off Iowa and Illinois, but a win Nov. 7 against rival Ohio State would be a massive result.
As for the three undefeated squads, the Hoosiers are looking the most dangerous.
“Indiana is the cream of the crop,” admitted Rooney. “They are scoring at will on everyone, and that’s even after they bring on subs.”
By luck of the draw, Ohio State and Indiana avoid each other this season. Wisconsin, on the other hand, has four matches remaining, including an Oct. 24 date with Ohio State, and a season-concluding fixture against Indiana. A loss against Ohio State, or Purdue (Oct. 17) and Michigan State (Oct. 31) for that matter, doesn’t knock the Badgers out of contention for the BTU Championship. A setback, however, would make their game against Indiana close to a must-win scenario.
One unique aspect of the Big Ten is its take on the conference’s B-side matches. Unlike most conferences, the BTU tracks its results from its second XV competition, and the programs with the top two B-sides at the end of the regular season play for a title as part of the BTU Championship.
Unsurprisingly, Wisconsin B and Indiana B are both undefeated. That won’t last, as both programs’ second units will go head to head Nov. 7. Also in contention for the B-side title game is an extremely athletic Michigan State side (2-1) and Michigan. The Wolverines’ second XV is 2-1, and its only loss came against 4-0 Indiana.