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Big 10 SF Matchups Close to Being Decided

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Big 10 SF Matchups Close to Being Decided

Michigan hooker Tommy Hendricks helped spark a win over Notre Dame. Photo Michigan Rugby.

November 11 brings the Big 10 Finals Day to Notre Dame, but there's plenty to be figured out before those eight teams convene in South Bend.

Right now Ohio State leads the Big 10 East with a 2-0 record, having won one of those games (against the Fighting Irish) 16-14 on a last-second penalty kick. OSU also beat Michigan 24-10 and really the Buckeyes' coaches have to be shaking their heads as how close several of their games have been. Are they poised for a place in the final regardless? Maybe, although this past weekend they lost to Indiana 40-19 and that was a bit sobering.

(Games between East and West teams are not counted in the East or West standings). Still, for Ohio State it all comes down to this coming weekend. If they beat Michigan State, they guarantee a home playoff game against the West #2. Lose that game and it's all up in the air.

For their part, Michigan State, win or lose, will have another important game to play a week later when they host rivals Michigan. The Spartans have already beaten Notre Dame, but that won't be enough to vault themselves into 2nd in the East and get a semifinal spot. 

Michigan kept themselves strongly in that conversation about the semifinals. Down 14-0 against Notre Dame with 15 minutes to go, the Wolverines mounted a wild comeback. A long period of pressure forced a yellow card to Notre Dame and, eventually, a try for Michigan to make it 14-5. Moments later, scrumhalf Max Rector scampered over in the corner and converted to make it 14-12.

Notre Dame responded with a penalty goal and then as the game was coming to a close fullback Joe Ounsley (back in the lineup after suffering a broken finger earlier in the season) sliced through from 30 meters out to score and tie the game. Rector converted, and Michigan had a somewhat improbable victory. Notre Dame is now 0-3 and two of those losses came as the result of kicks with time expired, and they have to be shaking their heads about how they can close out a game.

It certainly was a wild one for the Wolverines, and as a result they can still play for 2nd in the East.

In the West, Indiana has been very good, although they actually only have the one in-division game. That was a 28-14 defeat of a vastly improved Wisconsin team. The Hoosiers have turned their early-season losses to Trinity and Navy into lessons learned and they are still the favorite to win the West with games against Illinois and Purdue.

Chasing the Hoosiers are Illinois and Wisconsin. The Badgers have already lost to Indiana but there's still a mathematical way for them to be #1 in the West. More important to the more unified Wisconsin team, which has learned a lot the last few years. Their win last week over Purdue was an odd one as the Badgers scored 31 points in the first half and ... stopped at 31—a good lesson for them in closing out a game.

For Illinois, an early loss to Ohio State and then to Michigan State served to expose some issues, and they have turned it around a bit with wins over McKendree and Purdue.

"We haven’t played to our potential," said Head Coach Martin Russell. "We are prone to unforced errors and if we’re going to get any further we're going to have to be more accurate."

Those errors are basic ones—not catching passes, failing to catch restarts, losing the ball in contact. In addition, Russell said his team, while talented, needs to improve and be more consistent in body position while tackling.

Loosehead prop Jackson Arnold has been excellent for the Illini and he is part of a solid forward pack that include captain and workhorse flanker Nolan Opalski and line-breaking No. 8 Folarin Walter-Johnson.

In the backs Brian Winstead, who moved from fullback to outside flanker, has been very effective.

But they all have a tough job to do to get into the semifinal conversation.

"The next two against Indiana and Wisconsin will determine whether our season is successful or not," said Russell. "Wisconsin is looking much better than they were, and if we don't eliminate those errors, we'll be right up against it.

Big 10 Standings (only in-division games counted)

Big 10 East W L T PF PA PD BT BL Pts
Ohio State 2 0 0 40 24 16 1 0 9
Michigan State 1 0 0 38 26 12 1 0 5
Michigan 1 1 0 29 41 -12 0 0 4
Notre Dame 0 3 0 57 73 -16 1 2 3
Big 10 West W L T PF PA PD BT BL Pts
Indiana 1 0 0 28 14 14 1 0 5
Illinois 1 0 0 47 19 28 1 0 5
Wisconsin 1 1 0 45 50 -5 1 0 5
Purdue 0 2 0 41 78 -37 0 0 0

When the regular season is done, East#1 will host West #2 and West #1 will host East #2. The same crossover semis will happen for the teams chasing 5th place: West #4 at East #3 and East #4 at West #3.

After that, everyone convenes at Notre Dame for the placement games with all eight teams in action. 

Notre Dame are set to be 4th in the East despite the close losses. Ohio State can clinch 1st in the East this weekend while Indiana can clinch a semifinal place with a win over Illinois.