The now top ranked Penn State wrestling team will welcome the returning NCAA champion hawkeyes to Rec Hall on Sunday. Anticipation for this match has been at a fever pitch since December, with tickets selling out for the match over a month before the dual. Additional standing room only tickets sold out in under an hour. Needless to say it should be a very exciting atmosphere for this dual. A white out has also been declared a first for the wrestling team.
For those not familiar with wrestling you may wonder why all the excitement and why this match matters so much. Well quite honestly in the grand scheme of things it doesn't. The dual match results have no impact on the post season and the aspirations of this team. The individual matches themselves will matter and there certainly will be some key individual matches. In fact on rankings alone you could argue the match against Wisconsin in a few weeks is far more important to the season than this dual meet. It's true this will be Penn State's first match as the country's top team, but as you may have gathered that also means very little. Especially not with over a month to go in the season.
So why care about this match, the answer is simple, quite frankly Iowa is college wrestling. Many Penn State fans see this match as a changing of the guard in the Big Ten and on the National scene. To be one of the elite, you have to beat the elite and that has always been Iowa. Since winning their first title in 1975 they've won 23 of the last 35 National titles, including the last 3 straight. Their 23 total puts them seconds behind Oklahoma State. By comparison Penn State has won 1 title it came in 1953, Penn State can lay claim however to being the only team in the east to win an NCAA title. Something Cornell looks to challenge this year. Oh not to mention Iowa has also won a staggering 34 Big Ten titles. In that time they've also basically owned Penn State going 24 - 6 - 2, they've also lost just three times in Rec Hall in 14 trips.
That should put things in perspective a bit for those new to college wrestling. There's plenty of reasons to be excited about this team. But there is still a long way to go for the program to be established as one of the elite. There's no reason that can't start this year however.
On top of the history there is Cael's history. He is arguably the greatest wrestler in NCAA history, the only counter argument is Dan Gable who built the hawkeye program. Gable also wrestled for Iowa State and compiled a record of 181 - 1 with his lone loss unfortunately coming in his final bout. It was a feat that no one thought could be duplicated until Cael pulled it off nearly 30 years later. You could argue which is the best wrestler this country has produced until your blue in the face but in my opinion Gable wins that one hands down. Dan had an international career that is as extensive and even more impressive than his college one. He won the the 1972 olympics without giving up a single point, which is extremely difficult in freestyle wrestling and unimaginable on the olympic stage. Gable is more than just the father of Iowa wrestling however, he is and should be credited as one of the fathers of modern wrestling. Gable's achievements as a coach and athlete helped to bring wrestling to the "mainstream". Like Iowa or not he should be cherished as a legend of the sport much the same way the Penn State faithful cherish and worship Joe Paterno. There's a good documentary about Gable out called Dan Gable: Competitor Extreme that documents his career and what motivated him, it's extremely moving. We actually used to watch it before big matches in junior high, on vhs, I'd assume there is a dvd version now. If your interested in getting to know more about wrestling I highly recommend checking it out.
Cael's similar career at Iowa State by nature made him a rival and villain for most Iowa fans. The comparisons to Gable only added fuel to that fire. He isn't exactly best friends with the coaching staff at Iowa, to put it mildly, who have a very different style to Cael's usually calm demeanor. Cael wants to beat Iowa he's made that very clear, and the battle between the coaches could add an extremely interesting subplot to this match.
Iowa is in a bit of a rebuilding year this year, but will still be a force in the postseason.They remind me a bit of Penn State last year as they have the nations top recruiting class red shirting this year and waiting in the wings for next year. Despite that rebuilding they still bring a 71 match winning streak into the weekend. The streak will likely be 72 when they reach Happy Valley as they are a prohibitive favorite over Northwestern on Friday. As usual for Iowa teams they wrestle tough at every weight and fight for every last point. While fans have gotten used to seeing the team put up gaudy scores this year, you won't see that this week. Bonus points will be extremely hard to come by for the Nittany Lions.
Also for those who haven't heard the Big Ten Network has decided to move up the airing of this bout to a same day tape delay. It will be airing at 9:30 on Sunday, I highly recommend checking it out for anyone who didn't land a ticket to the match.
Continue on after the break for a weight by weight breakdown of the dual.
125: #11 Brad Pataky or Eric Caschera vs #2 Matt McDonough
I think it's highly unlikely that we'll see Pataky out there against McDonough, no sense risking his bum knee in a situation where he is likely to take a sound beating. McDonough is the returning NCAA champ at 125 and has just one loss on the year to Northwestern's Brandon Precin. I think he'll pin Caschera without any problems, against Pataky I think he'll win comfortably and with Pataky dinged up I think the opportunity for a major is certainly there.
Matt McDonough by fall
133: #5 Andrew Long vs Tyler Clark or #10 Tony Ramos
This match certainly has some intrigue as Long is an Iowa native and is a former roommate with the Hawkeyes Tyler Clark who is also an Iowa State transfer. On paper this is a toss up bout but I've been impressed with Long thus far and I think he'll beat either Clark or Ramos. I think bonus points are extremely unlikely here as both Ramos and Clark will wrestle tough as will most of the hawkeyes.
Long by decision
141: #5 Andrew Alton vs #15 Mark Ballweg or Montell Marion
Marion isn't listed on the official release but the rumor has been that this would be his first match back after Iowa reinstated him at the beginning of the month. Marion is a talented wrestler and the NCAA runner up but I think it's unlikely a Marion who hasn't wrestled all year will be able to beat Andrew Alton who is wrestling really tough right now. Ballweg is scrappy but I don't think he's at Alton's level at this point. We won't see Alton pick up fall number 17 this weekend but I think he'll pick up a comfortable decision against either opponent.
Andrew Alton by decision
149: #5 Frank Molinaro vs Matt Ballweg
Ballweg isn't quite as talented as his younger brother and he should really be no match for Frank. He is a fighter as are all the hawkeyes so I'd be surprised if he gets blown out by Frank. But I think this is one of Penn State's better chances for bonus points in the dual.
Molinaro by major decision
157: #2 David Taylor vs #14 Derek St. John
St John is an extremely talented freshman for Hawkeyes, and he could be an All American this season, but as we know David Taylor is an extraordinary freshman. St. John will give Taylor some problems with this height and reach, and I think the match will be close through the first period. But I expect Taylor to turn it on late and will win the match by a fairly wide margin. The matches I've seen of St. John lately he seems to wear down a bit late in matches.
Taylor by major decision
165: Jake Kemerer vs #14 Aaron Janssen
Kemerer is coming off a good confidence boosting win on Sunday against Indiana. On paper this match seems like it favors Iowa but I think it's basically a swing match that could go either way. I think winning this match would go a long way for Jake and his confidence. Not too mention silencing a lot of his critics, who have been getting quite loud of late, unnecessarily in my opinion. But I think Janssen's experience will be the difference in this match. I think the first takedown will be key in this match. If Jake gets it I think he will have the confidence to pull out the win, and could get the upset.
Janssen by decision
174: #2 Ed Ruth vs #13 Ethan Lofthouse
This match up clearly favors Ruth but Lofthouse will be a tough test for him. Ruth hasn't wrestled too many tough matches since the southern scuffle. He's also been fairly sloppy of late despite still putting up big results, he won't get away with that against Lofthouse. I see Ed being to quick and too much for Lofthouse, but Ethan will put up a good enough fight to keep this to a regular decision.
Ruth by decision
184: #6 Quentin Wright vs #16 Grant Gambrall
A lot of people are picking an upset here and there is some history as Gambrall did beat Quentin once in the past. But I don't see it. Granted Quentin has been a little rusty in his return from his shoulder injury, but he rarely gets beat in Rec Hall, and I think he'll be very sharp for this match. I expect to see Wright come out very aggressive early to get the crowd into it. Don't be surprised if Wright picks up a big throw at the beginning of the match. I think he'll cruise to a comfortable decision.
Wright by decision
197: Nick Ruggear vs #14 Luke Lofthouse
A complete mismatch, that's the best way to describe this match. Ruggear has really seemed to struggle since returning from injury and I think Lofthouse, who in case you're wondering is actually the uncle not the brother of the other Lofthouse on the team, will win this match handily. I think Ruggear puts up enough of a fight to limit too much damage, but this a major decision at least for Iowa, hopefully for Penn State that's all it is.
Lofthouse by major decision
Hwt: #5 Cameron Wade vs Blake Raising
Wade has been wrestling very well of late but this could be a horrible match up for him. Raising is a leaner, lanky athletic heavyweight, the exact type that tends to give Wade fits. He's not quite as bad as Erekson Iowa's last heavyweight who was a lot quicker than wade but it could still be a bad match. Wade is a bit more stocky and barrel chested compared to Raising. I do see a good chance for Wade to dominate from the top position in this match due to not only his skill but his body make up. If he can get Raising flattened out and keep his weight back on his hips instead of getting too high he should be able to dominate. However from neutral I think Blake's length and athleticism gives him the upper hand. Although from what I've see of Blake so far which admittedly is limited he appears to be more of a defensive counter wrestler. Which as long as Wade can stay relaxed and wrestle his match and not try to force the action that should work to his advantage.
Wade by decision
Final Score Penn State 23 Iowa 13
I think Penn State is clearly the favorite in this match on paper but as we know they don't wrestle the matches on paper. One or two of the close matches go the other way and this certainly could tighten up. And I have to be honest here I'd be quite surprised if Penn State gets more extra team points than what I've picked here. Even the two points is a lot against an Iowa team that will fight for every point. Penn State can not afford to come out flat like they did against Pittsburgh or have the mental lapses like they had against Kent State. Iowa will take advantage and they will pull out upsets. But with the crowd that will be packed into rec hall, stature Iowa has in the sport I don't think that will be an issue. Also be sure to watch the battle of the coaches as that could provide an interesting side story to the dual.