COLUMBUS, Ohio – Fifteenth-ranked Ohio State hosts #18 Fighting Illini in Columbus on Saturday in one of the two Big Ten Universities (BTU) conference semifinals going on this weekend.
The winner of the semis will advance to the BTU championship game on April 13 and will keep their D1A postseason hopes alive.
It’s been five months since a Big Ten team played in a league game but the rust is likely to come flying off in the heat of D1A competition.
Ohio State Head Coach, Ron Bowers, summed up what the semis and eventual conference championship means to all of the teams in the BTU, saying, “Everyone in the Big Ten knows what a Big Ten Championship means.”
The Fighting Illini may be the favorites in many peoples’ minds having gone 4-1 in the regular season (Ohio State was 3-1-1), but as with any good postseason matchup, you can throw records out the window. But for fun, let’s take a quick look.
Illinois is coming out of the Big Ten West, perhaps a softer division than Ohio State’s East. But current form is the name of the game, and it seems to be Illinois who has been winning lately.
Ohio State fell to two good teams in preparation for the semifinals, a 15-55 loss to Bowling Green and a 27-38 loss to Notre Dame. Illinois had a decent pre-playoff schedule (they won the college division of a 10s tournament in Chicago, let’s call it the Apple Juice 10s), but it wasn’t as rigorous as OSU’s.
The two OSU losses were substantial, but Ohio State wasn’t at full strength and Bowers expects a much stronger performance from his team this week. The Buckeyes get standout second rower David Stauder back from a foot injury and a few other key pieces back. Freshman flyhalf Taylor Hurff carries a heavy load leading OSU’s backs and Bowers is looking for the young pivot to step up in the big game.
The Buckeyes want to keep the pace of the game up and not get sucked into the contact area that Illinois excels at. Moving the ball wide and keeping it away from the Illini’s bruising pack would be a decent game plan for Ohio State.
The winner of the BTU championship secures a spot in the play-in on April 20, the first step towards the D1A quarterfinals on April 27.