A four-peat dynasty in NCAA wrestling is within the grasp of David Taylor, Ed Ruth, James English (the third senior in the starting lineup) and company. A less than favorable draw aside, Penn State, if they and every other team wrestle to seed, would still do enough to bring the 2014 National Title back to Happy Valley (h/t to Jtothep for the projection spreadsheet).
As arguably has been the case these last few years, the biggest enemy of the Nittany Lions may be themselves; at the Big Ten tournament, though Iowa had a very strong showing with bonus points and Minnesota did well in early round. Had there been fewer disappointments (Dylan Alton, I'm looking square in your direction) and more wrestlers wrestled to their high seeds; besides DA, Nico Megaludis and Matt Brown had disappointing finishes a place lower than they reasonably expected--and both Morgan McIntosh and Zain Retherford came in as #1 seeds and lost to the finals to Ohio State wrestlers, but only one of those losses was really expected--and, yes, I'm aware that Jon Gingrich's breaking of Adam Coon helped the team in ways that might not be able to be quantified; but getting pinned twice in the consis still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
All of that being said, realistically only three teams have a shot at de-throning the Nittany Lions next weekend; let's take a look at what these teams have to do in order to have a shot at the title.
In short, the Gophers have to wrestle like they do in duals, rather than like they do in tournaments. They got an outstanding nine wrestlers into the B1G semifinals--and only one made it to the final day with a shot at the title. I'm no mathematician, but I'm going to say that that's not a good percentage.
Minnesota was the only team to beat* Penn State this year in duals, and to be frank, it was the only dual that was even close for the Nittany Lions all year. In order to make an impact in OKC, Tony Nelson needs to build upon his B1G title, and Scott Schiller needs to prove doubters (including us--a #4 seed? Really???) wrong and at least wrestle to that placement. The Gophers have the lineup to go far, as they have deep talent with the Dardanes brothers, Ness, Storley and Steinhaus--but at weights stacked with talent so much at the top (Steiber/Retherford, Maple/Villalonga, Green/DSJ/Dieringer, Perry/Howe, ahem RUUUUUTH) going against powerhouses will be a challenge. Most of their big guns couldn't wrestle to seed at the Big Tens either, so it's unlikely they'll be able to do the same next weekend.
The Hawkeyes come in, on paper, as the third place, but to the untrained eye look in better position to topple the Nittany Lions. They're more capable of scoring bonus points, and they have the talent and mindset to outwrestle their seeds--as proven last week in Madison. The Lions downed them surprisingly with ease in December in Carver-Hawkeye arena, but this may just be a different Iowa squad, and one that's a little tougher.
Without any clear odds-on favorites, the Hawkeyes will look to their returning champ Derek St John to lead the way and get revenge over James Green of Nebraska; they'll also look for a repeat stellar performance from last year's finalist, Tony Ramos--though this year, he doesn't have to go through Steiber for the title. The other seeds doable for the Hawkeyes, in terms of having at least one or two wrestlers wrestle above-seed--and they can do some damage in the wrestlebacks, as shown last weekend with their pinning machines in the first day. Iowa is the most dangerous team for the Nittany Lions in terms of fourpeat title hopes, and lucky for us, Nick Moore is in David Taylor's side of the bracket.
On paper, pre-season (before the scheduling of the Iowa dual), this was the most exciting dual meet on the Nittany Lion schedule. In actuality, though, not so much, as the Pokes couldn't get much going, and the Lions came out on fire after their one loss on the year.
It would take a meltdown by the three Big Ten squads for Ok State to have a shot at the title in their home state, despite superstar Chris Perry's controversial win over Sooner Andrew Howe last week. The Pokes have some stars (besides Perry, there's Tyler Caldwell, Alex Dieringer, and Jon Morrison), but beyond that there's not too much depth--there's no one seeded in the mid seeds, a disappointment for PA-native Josh Kindig. That may be different next year, when they get Chance Marsteller in the lineup.
*Zach Beitz, who didn't even get the call from Cael Sanderson, was gypped in his match in Minneapolis against Chris Dardanes. Don't believe us? Just ask the ref in that match, who admitted he made a bad call, and the match, and thus the dual, should have been won by Penn State. But, no matter; it's this coming weekend that counts.