With this weekend’s fixture between Hertfordshire and Swansea in the books, it’s time to look back on the first half of the 2016/17 BUCS season, starting with the Premier North.
Going into the season, the Premier North was widely perceived as a two-horse race, with Durham looking to take Stirling’s divisional crown. However, some pre-season buzz built around Derby – who had supplemented a strong team from 2015/16 with the recruitment of several American scholars – and it proved justified as the Braves stunned the Clansmen in the season opener.
That result initially sent shockwaves around the league, introducing Derby as title contenders for the first time, but also set the benchmark that Premier North was going to be an ultra-competitive division, with several contenders for the top spot.
Despite some scares, Durham remains the team to beat at the mid-point of the season. Three of their four wins have come by a margin of a touchdown or less – the only anomaly being the 44-28 win at Stirling – showing that while they aren’t blowing anyone away just yet, there is a real winning attitude developing in the North East. Dom Bona is starting to put up video game numbers at quarterback, while Chaz Dawson has proved a playmaker on both sides of the ball. With the quality of players they have available, the Saints enter 2017 as National Championship favourites.
Stirling’s start to the season has been a real mixed bag, sitting at 2-2 at the halfway stage with little hope of gaining the top seed. After that surprise loss in Derby, they’ve done little to dispel the suggestion that they’re not championship material this season, with a narrow overtime win against Loughborough bookended followed by the Durham loss. A pre-Christmas roast of NTU shows that there’s life in the Clan yet though, particularly if Ash Hopkinson continues his MVP-calibre season in the defensive backfield – the Sheffield-native has eight picks in four games so far – and Conner Rimmington can keep pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Derby’s momentum was curtailed firstly by the lack of an ambulance crew for their clash against NTU, and then by a Loughborough side that have been a surprisingly disruptive force so far in 2016/17. They gained some buzz back after going toe to toe with Durham in the final game before the break, but their defence – historically the strong point of Braves squads – has to find a way of conceding fewer points if they are to mount a challenge on the post-season.
Loughborough have been the flies in the ointment thus far this season. Having been firmly pegged as relegation candidates in the pre-season, the Students overachieved in pushing Durham and Stirling close – the latter going into overtime – before taking old rivals Derby apart in one of the shock results of the year. A win over NTU means that not only is their relegation fate in their own hands going into the Christmas break, but also their play-off chances. Another win or two down the stretch should mean they avoid traveling to the top seeds from the Premier South.
NTU are firmly entrenched at the foot of the table as we break for the festive period. It’s been a cruel introduction to the top flight for the Renegades, having been in with a chance until deep in the fourth quarter in each and every game. Their maiden Premier Division win remains elusive, but they will certainly believe that they can break that duck by the season’s end.
The Premier North returns from its winter hibernation in on January 29th, with Durham hosting Loughborough and NTU welcoming Stirling to Clifton.
Happy Holidays, football fans!