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Could there be a preview of the DI National Championship this weekend? Well, if top-ranked Bowling Green, champs of the Midwest East, or #6 Buffalo, champs of New York State, who meet in Cleveland Saturday, are to see each other in the National playoffs beginning April 30, it will be for the title, as they are on polar ends of the bracket.

For that reason, plus a few others, the main one being proximity (Cleveland is about a three-hour drive from both campuses), this friendly ought to be a quality one as both teams shed their winter coats to begin playoff preparation.

BGSU freshman standout Max Narewski

“We had played them in the past,” said Bowling Green’s Roger Mazzarella, “and when (coach Mike Hodgins) moved there from Brockport, I thought ‘Hey, he’s trying to build up the program there, we’re both MAC teams, both high ranked, and there’s not a chance of seeing each other until the final four, let’s see if we can get something together, so I contacted him, and he was very willing to have the game right off the bat.”

Because the spring season is often tournament time for college programs already eliminated from postseason contention, playoff-bound teams are usually left having to either travel long distances for good collegiate competition or spar men’s clubs. Saturday provides a rare chance for two title contenders to warm their shoulders on each other.

“We need a couple tune-up games before playoffs, and we just want to really kind of benchmark ourselves against the best teams, so this is going to give us a good indication of where we’re at,” said Hodgins. “We’re definitely ready to play some games.”

Bowling Green played their first 15s match of 2011 last weekend, scrimmaging the Detroit Tradesmen. Buffalo played theirs Feb. 20 against St. Joe’s, but have been idle since, practicing a few times a week at the Buffalo Bills indoor facility.

“The break’s been a good chance to get everybody healthy,” said Hodgins, “but we also know we need some good, quality games before the playoffs.”

Though the next time Buffalo and BGSU could bump heads after Saturday would be for the national title, neither coach intends to play it close to the vest this weekend.

“They’re just going to play. Tony’s going to have them go out and do whatever he would plan on having them do anyhow,” said Mazzarella of his son Tony, BGSU’s head coach. “This early in the season, whatever plays he wants to stick in, whatever things he wants to emphasize, whatever didn’t look good last week he’s going to make sure they look good this week, and it’s not really going to matter who the opponent is.”

“We’re going to play like we always play. We’re just going to play our game. There’s no secrets in rugby these days, and Cleveland this weekend could be 30 degrees and muddy, and the finals in May could be a sunny day on a dry track, so I guess you need to be able to play more than one game to go all the way through.”

There’s nothing more than bragging rights and confidence at stake Saturday, but if you’re planning on putting together a bracket pool for the DI playoffs, this would be one to pay attention to. (Hint: RUGBYMag.com may be running a bracket pool this spring)

ROCCO MAUER UPDATE:
The Bowling Green star finds out next week when his exact return date is.