College Wrestling Season. It's nearly here. The leaves are turning color, the air starts to sting your lungs, and across this fine nation, wrestlers sweat and puke and twist joints, deep within the dungeons of smelly gymnasiums. The weight certifications are nearly all done. Wrestle-offs and intra-squad duals will be taking place. And soon - very soon - Penn State will be wrestling for keeps, working towards capturing its fourth straight national championship.
There are five principle contenders for the team National Championship this year: Penn State, Iowa, Oklahoma State, Minnesota, and Oklahoma. Penn State wrestles all of them this year, except Oklahoma - so we'll have plenty of opportunities to see how the Lions stack up as we fight toward March. Let's preview each weight class (title contending teams in bold font, Big Ten wrestlers with background color):
(Special thanks to Amateur Wrestling News for the pre-season rankings)
|2||Nico Megaludis||Penn State||Jr.|
|7||Nathan Kraisser||North Carolina||So.|
|9||Josh Martinez||Air Force||So.|
|10||Dom Parisi||Appalachian State||Jr.|
|15||Jade Rauser||Utah Valley||So.|
|16||Dylan Peters||Northern Iowa||Fr.|
|18||Jerome Robinson||Old Dominion||Jr.|
|19||Eddie Klimara||Oklahoma State||So.|
The National Favorite: Jesse Delgado, Illinois
The National Contrarian Pick: Nahshon Garrett, Cornell
Our Guy: if Penn State repeats as National Champion, Nico Megaludis will have built a not-insignificant points lead for his teammates, over the other title contending team representatives at this weight.
I love Nico, you love Nico, Nico's freaking tougher than $2 steak. He's a true junior this season, and has never finished lower than 2nd in his two years of competition. Of the top 20 above, he owns at least one win over everyone he's had the opportunity to face, which is a fair portion. He's 12-3 in the last two years against the other 19, with his only loses coming to #1 Delgado (overall, 2-2 record), and #8 Zanetta (overall 2-1). Anything short of a top 3 finish at NCAAs for Nico this year is, frankly, difficult for my Nittany Lion blue tinted glasses to imagine. He has as good of a shot as anyone to take home the title - and a better shot than most.
The Other Team Title Contenders: Minnesota's David Thorn appears to be bumping up a weight, to 133, after placing 7th last season. A quick look at Goldy's roster doesn't yield a clear cut answer to "who goes at 125, and how many points can he score"? That's good for Penn State, because the rest of the Goofers line up is stacked. Okie State's Eddie Klimara finished his season well last year, going 2-2 at NCAAs - a solid result for the freshman. He stands a decent shot of making the podium this year, but starts the year ranked just 19th. The two threats here are Iowa's Corey Clark - a stud RS frosh, who beat Delgado while wrestling unattached at last year's Midlands; and the Sooners' Jarrod Patterson, a senior. Patterson's had disappointing tournaments in the past (including losing to a lower seeded Nico two years ago). He redshirted last season, and will try to go out with a bang this year.
Big Ten Top 3: Delgado, Nico, Clark
PSU NCAA Prediction: I'm cashing in my homer card, and taking Nico to win his first title. 1st.
|4||Jon Morrison||Oklahoma State||Sr.|
|8||Levi Wolfensperger||Northern Iowa||Jr.|
|11||Jimmy Gulibon||Penn State||Fr.|
|16||Joe Roth||Central Michigan||Sr.|
|17||Erik Spjut||Virginia Tech||Sr.|
|18||Devon Lotito||Cal Poly||So.|
The National Favorite: Tony Ramos, Iowa
The National Contrarian Pick: John Morrison, Okie State
Our Guy: redshirt freshman Jimmy Gulibon is projected to take over this spot in the lineup from Jordan Conaway, who fell one win shy of All-American last year (i.e., "the round of 12") as a redshirt freshman himself. Jimmy's gonna have a difficult road, as 133 appears loaded, even with defending champ Logan Stieber bumping up to 141. The 20th ranked guy, Cashe Quiroga, is a former All-American - that's how deep this weight goes. A "round of 12" finish this season from Jimmy might actually be an improvement.
The Other Team Title Contenders: the other squads will look to make back some of that Megaludis points lead at this weight. Iowa's Ramos really turned it on last year, and wrestled like a hammer. The exception to that was when he went against equally talented guys - Ramos had close matches (all wins) against Wisconsin's Graff (twice, including overtime), Okie State's Morrison, and to a lesser extent, Edinboro's AJ Schopp. But in the early rounds, figure Ramos, Morrison, and Oklahoma's Brewer to all register some bonus point victories. Goldy's little Thorn wrestled 125 last year - but he had to be on death's door, after wrestling 133 as a RS frosh three years ago. He might be better this year up a weight, since he doesn't have to wring himself dry to make 125.
Big Ten Top 3: Ramos, Graff, Gulibon
PSU NCAA Prediction: Round of 12
|1||Logan Stieber||Ohio State||Jr.|
|3||Devin Carter||Virginia Tech||Jr.|
|5||Evan Henderson||North Carolina||Jr.|
|7||Richard Durso||Franklin & Marshall||Jr.|
|8||Tyler Small||Kent State||Jr.|
|9||Chris Mecate||Old Dominion||So.|
|10||Joey Lazor||Northern Iowa||Sr.|
|15||Dan Neff||Lock Haven||So.|
|17||Julian Feikert||Oklahoma State||Jr.|
|18||Nathan Pennesi||West Virginia||Sr.|
|20||Justin LaValle||North Dakota State||Sr.|
The National Favorite: Logan Stieber, Ohio State
The National Contrarian Pick: Devin Carter, VaTech
Our Guy: we don't know, exactly, who takes this spot in the lineup, which was vacated by graduated senior Bryan Pearsall. The principle contenders are redshirt freshman Zack Beitz, freshman Kade Moss (a 4x Utah state champ back from a 2-year Mormon mission), and true frosh Zain Retherford. Beitz went 23-11 unattached last season, placing 4th at the National Collegiate Open. He just missed placing at the Southern Scuffle, after getting pulled by the coaches for injury. Kade Moss has talent - but we can't expect him to be another Matt Brown. Even Brown sat for a year after his mission. Retherford is the blue chip recruit, with multiple PA state titles, and a World Cadet Freestyle gold medal on his resume. If I was to guess how this plays out - and, that's what I'm here for, after all - then I'd bet on Beitz as your early season starter, with a decision made following the Southern Scuffle (January). And that decision is not about wrestle-offs, its about whether the Sandersons think they need the extra point or two or three that Retherford might be able to score at NCAAs.
The Other Team Title Contenders: Goldy holds a clear advantage here, with 2x All-American Chris Dardanes starting the season 6th, despite the bump up in weight class (from 133). But it's not a huge advantage. In BSD's opinion, there isn't a ton separating #4 - #18. This isn't a "wide open" class, because the top 3 are rock solid. But after that, we could see a couple of guys from way down the list make the podium. And that might even include guys not in the pre-season top 20 - Penn State's entrant, and Iowa's Josh Dwieza.
Big Ten Top 3: Stieber, Thielke, Dardanes
PSU NCAA Prediction: NCAA Qualifier, 2-2
|2||Scott Sakaguchi||Oregon State||Sr.|
|4||Zach Neibert||Virginia Tech||Sr.|
|9||Andrew Alton||Penn State||Jr.|
|10||Josh Kindig||Oklahoma State||Jr.|
|12||Ian Paddock||Ohio State||Sr.|
|14||Scott Mattingly||Central Michigan||Sr.|
|18||Dylan Cottrell||Appalachian State||Fr.|
The National Favorite: Kendric Maple, Oklahoma
The National Contrarian Pick: N/A
Our Guy: Andrew Alton wrestled injured last year, had off-season surgery, and probably won't return to the lineup until January. If he's healthy, focused, and hungry - he's a great bet to make the podium. We're all pulling for him to rebound from a disappointing sophomore season. Take caution, though: shoulder injuries and wrestling are not a great combination.
The Other Team Title Contenders: OU's Maple is a certified stud, having won last year's 141 title without so much as a scare. He's such a heavy favorite there's not even a decent contrarian pick. #'s 2 - 12....not a lot of separation there, in our opinion. Take any seven from that group, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them as All-Americans at the end of the year. Unfortunately for Iowa, that appears to leave them out of the mix, unless Brody Grothus suddenly turns it on.
Big Ten Top 3: Tsirtsis, Sueflohn/McCauley, Alton
PSU NCAA Prediction: 7th
|1||Derek St. John||Iowa||Sr.|
|2||Alex Dieringer||Oklahoma State||So.|
|3||R.J. Pena||Oregon State||Sr.|
|6||Dylan Alton||Penn State||Jr.|
|11||Nestor Taffur||Boston U.||Sr.|
|12||Ian Miller||Kent State||So.|
|13||Josh Kreimier||Air Force||Sr.|
|17||Ryan Watts||Michigan State||So.|
|18||Luke Smith||Central Michigan||So.|
|20||Tristan Warner||Old Dominion||Jr.|
The National Favorite: DSJ, Iowa OR Alex Dieringer, Okie State - pretty even odds
The National Contrarian Pick: James Green, Nebraska
Our Guy: Dylan, like his twin brother Andrew, wrestled injured, had a disappointing NCAAs, and had off-season surgery. Twins share everything, I guess - including shoulder surgery. If Dylan is healthy come March, then he's standing on the podium, and challenging for a national title.
The Other Team Title Contenders: Derek St. John is your returning champion. Alex Dieringer finished 3rd last year, and won a silver medal in freestyle this summer. They're both making deep tournament runs. The wild card here is Minnesota's Dylan Ness. He used his length, funk, and throws to place twice at 149 lbs. How does that translate here at 157?
Big Ten Top 3: Green, DSJ, Alton
PSU NCAA Prediction: 5th
|1||David Taylor||Penn State||Sr.|
|2||Tyler Caldwell||Oklahoma State||Sr.|
|3||Michael Moreno||Iowa State||Jr.|
|5||Steven Monk||North Dakota State||Sr.|
|8||John Staudenmayer||North Carolina||Jr.|
|18||Chris Moon||Virginia Tech||Jr.|
The National Favorite: David Taylor, Penn State
The National Contrarian Pick: None
Our Guy: David Taylor is a wrecking machine, and has already majored #2 Tyler Caldwell. Expect him to dominate this weight, and try to score bonus point victories in every match this season (a feat he nearly accomplished as a sophomore).
The Other Team Title Contenders: this is the second "hole" weight for both Minnesota and Oklahoma. I've been a long time closet fan of Goldy's Danny Zilverberg - but I liked him a lot more at 149 than up here at 165. He's going to have a hard road to the podium. Iowa's Nick Moore starts the season 10th - but unlike Zilverberg, I'd be surprised if Moore doesn't make the podium.
Big Ten Top 3: Taylor, Moore, Yates
PSU NCAA Prediction: 1st, and the Gorarian, and the Most Outstanding Wrestler
|1||Chris Perry||Oklahoma State||Sr.|
|3||Matt Brown||Penn State||Jr.|
|8||Tanner Weatherman||Iowa State||So.|
|9||Matt Mougin||Northern Illinois||Sr.|
|10||Turtogtokh Luvsandorj||The Citadel||Sr.|
|15||Bryce Hammond||CSU Bakersfield||So.|
|17||Blake Stauffer||Arizona State||So.|
|19||Austin Gabel||Virginia Tech||So.|
The National Favorite: Andrew Howe, Oklahoma OR Chris Perry, Okie State
The National Contrarian Pick: Matt Brown, Penn State OR Logan Storley, Minnesota
Our Guy: this weight could be the key to determining the team national champion - not unlike 2013. Last year, Matt Brown had an excellent March, winning the Big Ten title, and finishing 2nd to Perry at Nationals, after dropping an overtime decision without surrendering a takedown. Another run like that from Hulk Hands will really benefit the team.
The Other Team Title Contenders: The Sooners and Cowpokes have a leg up here, with both Howe (at 165) and Perry as past champions. But since neither are offensive juggernauts like David Taylor, both can be had - and, both have been had. Howe lost to Tyler Caldwell two years ago (he took an Olympic redshirt last year), and Storley (among others) has beaten Perry. Matt Brown has beaten Storley and Iowa's Mike Evans - and he's also lost to both of them, too. Any of the top 6 at this weight holds a legitimate shot at the title. Conversely, if any of the contenders falters at this weight, his team can probably wave goodbye to the team title.
Big Ten Top 3: Brown, Kokesh, Storley
PSU NCAA Prediction: 3rd (and a bit of the homer card here, too)
|1||Ed Ruth||Penn State||Sr.|
|4||Ryan Loder||Northern Iowa||Sr.|
|6||Jake Swartz||Boise State||Sr.|
|11||Kevin Radford||Arizona State||Jr.|
|12||Kenny Courts||Ohio State||So.|
|15||Fred Garcia||Lock Haven||Sr.|
|16||Alex Utley||North Carolina||Jr.|
|17||Craig Kelliher||Central Michigan||Sr.|
|18||Jack Dechow||Old Dominion||Fr.|
|19||Boaz Beard||Iowa State||Sr.|
The National Favorite: Ed Ruth, Penn State
The National Contrarian Pick: None
Our Guy: Ed Ruth has not lost a match in two years. He really hasn't had a close match in that time either. When Ed wants a takedown, Ed generally gets a takedown. When Ed wants to ride out a period, Ed rides out a period. When Ed wants a tilt...you get the idea. He's the fastest 184lber by a wide margin, and probably is the fastest 174, 165, and 157 pounder, while we're at it. His grip must be an other worldly force, because no one stops his two-on-one tilt or his low single. And, of course, if you get too busy thinking about all of that, then he hits you with his cradle - and that's the ballgame. Ebola is the only thing stopping Ed Ruth, and even ebola might not have very good odds.
The Other Team Title Contenders: full confession here - I'm a Steinhaus guy. I love the way he wrestles. He's technical perfection. I just wish he'd try his duck under more often. Steinhaus inexplicably missed the podium last year, and then blew out his knee in the off-season. He's not likely to return until the latter half of the year. But a healthy house of Stein is a good bet for runner-up. Iowa's Lofthouse the Younger, though, will be fighting to be the other finalist (opposite Ruth), and finally solved the Steinhaus defense last year at NCAAs, when Lofty caught Steinhaus looking at the clock. Both Oklahoma and Okie State lose ground at this weight.
Big Ten Top 3: Ruth, Steinhaus, Lofthouse
PSU NCAA Prediction: 1st, and the Hodge Trophy
|1||Taylor Meeks||Oregon State||Jr.|
|3||Kyven Gadson||Iowa State||Jr.|
|4||Blake Rosholt||Oklahoma State||Sr.|
|6||Nick Helfin||Ohio State||Sr.|
|9||Morgan McIntosh||Penn State||So.|
|17||Nick Whitenburg||Eastern Michigan||Sr.|
|18||Kevin Beazley||Old Dominion||Fr.|
The National Favorite: Taylor Meeks, Oregon State
The National Contrarian Pick: Kyven Gadson, Iowa State
Our Guy: welcome back, Morgan McIntosh. Two years ago as a true frosh, Morg opened some eyes by wrestling a few All-Americans very close (and, giving up some head-scratching takedowns in the final seconds to lose). A gimpy knee cut short his first trip to NCAAs. But after a redshirt season, filling out to the full 197lbs, and having just three workout partners in Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner, Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson, and 2x NCAA Champion Quentin Wright - along with Morg's blue chipper background, we're all expecting big things from the redshirt sophomore this year. The top half of the weight is chock full of upperclassmen, but that's every year at 197. Don't be surprised to see Smackintosh climb into the top 4 by the time NCAAs roll around. Morg already owns a freestyle win over pre-season #1 Taylor Meeks. He can get it done this year.
The Other Team Title Contenders: like 174, each of the top 5 squads has a horse in the race with his eyes set high on the podium. Minnesota's Scott Schiller really surprised me with his run at NCAAs last year (5th place) - he had a tough draw. Despite his accolades in freestyle, he isn't the most neutral offense-oriented guy you'll ever see. Apparently he's picked up a few tricks from Goldy's heavy, Nelson. I can't stand Okie State's Rosholt, so I'll simply move along. Oklahoma's Travis Rutt has as good of a shot at winning the title here as anyone, in my opinion, and I'm surprised he's only 5th. Iowa's Burak, like Schiller, made a heck of a run at NCAAs despite struggling to score takedowns. If Burak improves his finishes, he could be dangerous.
Big Ten Top 3: Schiller, McIntosh, Heflin
PSU NCAA Prediction: 4th
|3||Nick Gwiazdowski||N.C. State||So.|
|6||J.T. Felix||Boise State||Sr.|
|9||Austin Marsden||Oklahoma State||So.|
|12||Mike McClure||Michigan State||Sr.|
|13||Jimmy Lawson||Penn State||Jr.|
|14||Kevin Innis||Boston U.||Sr.|
|19||Evan Knutson||North Dakota State||Jr.|
The National Favorite: Tony Nelson, Minnesota
The National Contrarian Pick: Nick Gwiazdowski, NC State
Our Guy: if Jimmy Lawson's last match left half as bad of a taste in his mouth as it left in mine, then Jimmy will come out in 2013/2014 like a hurricane, and make the podium. Jimmy got bow-and-arrowed for the entire 3rd period against Ben freaking Apland. Many an empty beer can was tossed against the wall in frustration during those 2 minutes. But it was Jimmy's first year back to wrestling, after spending 2 years playing defensive tackle for Monmouth (Division II). With the rust knocked off, and a full off-season of training, focus, and dedication, Jimmy could make the podium this year. He has more athletic ability than most (though not all) at this weight.
The Other Team Title Contenders: Nelson is your 2x defending champ, and because of his sprial ride of doom, he figures he starts every match with a two point lead (he gets an escape from bottom, and rides you out from top). He's very athletic, and a full-sized-yet-not-fat 285. That's a tough combination. Iowa's Telford can beat everyone in the top 20 not named Tony Nelson - so he's a good bet to finish high on the podium. Okie State's Marsden is your new starter for the Pokes, taking over for the graduated Gelogaev. But he's a blue chipper. Penn State needs more than 0.5 team points out of Jimmy Lawson this March.
Big Ten Top 3: Nelson, Telford, McMullen
PSU NCAA Prediction: round of 12
Last season Penn State had 5 finalists, 2 champions, and no All-Americans outside of the 5 finalists. Penn State won the team title over Oklahoma State by just 4 team points (123.5 to 119.5). This season, with the NCAA Championships held at Oklahoma City, it's likely to be another down-to-the-wire finish. BSD sees just 3 PSU finalists - but all 3 going home winners. Also, if the predictions are halfway accurate, Penn State finishes with 7 All-Americans, up from 5 last season. This 2013/2014 squad, despite losing 2x champion Quentin Wright, is probably stronger top to bottom, and could very well score more points at NCAAs.
No matter what, it's going to be a fun 5 months finding out.
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