The marquee game in the Big Ten this week pits rivals Michigan and Ohio State against one another in Ann Arbor, Mich. It’s big, not just because of the rivalry, but because the Wolverines are 3-0 and the Buckeyes 3-1.
The two teams atop the league table at the end of the conference season make the Big Ten Championship Game. Right now, it appears as though one of those teams is going to be Indiana, who sits at 4-0. If Michigan wins Saturday, the championship game is all but the Wolverines’ to play in. If Ohio State wins, it will make for a dramatic season’s end.
The Buckeyes are in a must-win situation, because of their one loss, to Wisconsin, last month. In order to make the Championship Game, they need to beat Michigan Saturday and Indiana Nov. 2. If Ohio State does that, it would likely create a three-way tie with Michigan at the end of the season.
Michigan can eliminate the complication by beating the Buckeyes, something the Wolverines, for all intents and purposes, haven’t really ever done. Michigan didn’t become a fully collegiate-eligible team, the way we think of college teams today, until 2000. Since then, the Wolverines have mostly played in DII. In the modern era of college rugby, a fully eligible, collegiate Michigan team has never beaten Ohio State’s top side in an 80-minute contest. In their first Big Ten clash last season, Ohio State won 45-17.
Though Michigan is having a banner year, with non-conference wins over Notre Dame and Wheeling Jesuit and a hot start to the Big Ten season, the Wolverines might be up against it Saturday. And they haven’t been in a game that went down to the wire in a month.
“I’m not worried about that. We’ve had enough, and enough last spring and such, that they’re pretty comfortable being in those close games. That’s fun for us,” said Michigan coach Matt Trenary.
“I think Illinois is a better team than people think, and we played well against a pretty good opponent (a 41-20 victory), so I think we’re ready for another tight game, if that’s what it ends up being. I think the guys would enjoy either one – a tight game so everybody’s in it – or a lopsided game just because of who you’re playing.”