The Big Ten has its first full slate of games this weekend, with four contests on the docket. 0-1 Purdue travels to Indiana in a rivalry match, 0-1 Michigan State and Ohio State try to rebound from rough starts to the season in Columbus, Ohio, traditional rivals Wisconsin and 1-0 Minnesota meet in Madison, Wisc., and Illinois travels to Iowa.
Indiana vs. Purdue
Purdue entered the season with a young team that didn’t have much in the way of expectations, but they put up a competitive performance last week against Michigan, who has had an impressive start to the season. The Boilermakers managed a bonus point in the five-point loss, which caught the attention of Indiana.
The Hoosiers have dominated the rivalry with Purdue recently, and they expect to get a win Saturday. Indiana is welcoming Sopa Enari back as the head coach. He coached the Hoosiers during previous successful stints, and he’s back at the helm this season after Marcus Hurley stepped down.
The coaching change shouldn’t slow the Hoosiers much, though, as they return almost their entire team, which was rich with young talent last year, and add a few more seasoned freshman from powerhouse high school program Cathedral. One of the frosh who will contribute immediately is Bryce Campbell, who will play in the centers with brother Jacob.
With their outstanding recruiting class from last season a year older, and another handful of promising players, Indiana has high hopes for this season.
“Winning the Big Ten outright is our goal 100-percent. We hope to come out on top of all of our games and win convincingly,” Hoosier Sam Zivot said.
Step one to that goal is beating Purdue Saturday.
Minnesota vs. Wisconsin
Minnesota and Wisconsin are long-time rugby rivals, with Wisconsin often being the only thing standing between the Gophers and a conference or division title. The Badgers have owned the series the last several years, beating Wisconsin twice in regular season play last season and once each of the previous three seasons.
The Gophers enter this rendition of the rivalry coming off a road win over Michigan State last week, while Wisconsin hasn’t tested itself against DI competition yet this fall.
The Badgers lost some pop in their lineup in departing players Joel Cohen, Tom Hemmings and Zach Arostegui. Hemmings, especially, accounted for an awful lot of tries last season.
Michigan State vs. Ohio State
The Buckeyes are hungry for some success this fall. They’re 1-2 in non-conference games, having lost a heart breaker to Buffalo, beaten Vanderbilt big and been dismantled by Penn State.
The Buckeyes will be playing without standout Santino Cua again Saturday. He was injured during summer 7s, but is due back in a few weeks. Standing in for him at No. 8 is senior David Stauder, a workhorse and excellent lineout operator. Ohio State also lost some punch in the backline over the offseason, especially center Nevin Heard and a four-year starter at fullback, Kyle Harmon. But a crop of freshmen backs from two of Ohio’s top high school programs – Moeller and St Edward’s – should help fill the void.
Michigan State has also had a dearth of early success this fall, losing 29-17 at home to Minnesota last week.
Illinois vs. Iowa
It’s the season opener for both the Illini and the Hawkeyes. Illinois has played an in-conference preseason friendly, a 42-11 loss to Indiana. Iowa had a preseason match with rival Iowa State, emerging victorious 22-19.
Iowa will miss hard-charging prop Cameron Heyward, who gave teams fits last season. He has graduated early and is now playing with Palmer. The Hawkeyes do return, however, No. 8 and captain Danny Watson. His fitness is a strength. Center David Ryberg and flyhalf Taylor Young scored a lot of tries for Iowa last year, and they’re back. CJ Nwonye will anchor the tight five, and his brother, Ezeugo, could well see time at prop, too.
Illinois had a potent backline attack last year, and two of the Illini’s top try scorers are back in center John Hugulet and Martin Giannetti. Also back is senior scrumhalf Ian Fleming, an elusive and quick runner, and junior prop John Heaney, who provides physicality in attack and defense.