It's Iowa week, folks. I say Iowa, and the average American thinks of exactly three things: meth mouth, corn fields, and global warming. All correct answers, of course.
But they also have the greatest of all sports - wrestling. So we asked wrestling honcho RossWB from our friends over at the Pants to stop in to kindly answer a few questions. He did. We took turns poking each other with sticks, and ended up with a fun interview. Hope you enjoy.
BSD: You've seen Cael while he coached Iowa State, and now at Penn State. Do you think anything's changed? And while we're on it - what in the hell happened to Iowa State? Did you even enjoy the pasting your Hawks put on them this year?
RossWB: I think he managed to recruit David Taylor and Ed Ruth to wrestle for him. Once-in-a-lifetime talent has a way of making any coach look pretty smart. Obviously recruiting is a big part of coaching, so kudos to Sanderson for getting them to sign on the dotted line and attend Penn State. I'm more interested to see what happens with Penn State after they inevitably graduate -- can Cael keep the dominance rolling? Penn State obviously has lots of good young wrestlers, but I don't see anyone as flat-out dominant as Ruth or Taylor. I'm also curious to see if he can avoid the pitfalls of bad luck and attrition at a particular weight (something that has killed Iowa at 149 for several seasons) or big-time recruits who just don't pan out when they're in the team (something that has hurt Iowa at a few weights in recent seasons).
I always enjoy seeing Iowa demolish Iowa State, although there was a bit more pity mixed in with this year's thrashing. As for what happened... they've struggled mightily to replace Sanderson. His departure (and the wrestlers and commits that departed with him) was a huge blow to the program, but the statute of limitations has probably just about expired on blaming him for their tailspin. Kevin Jackson has been pretty terrible at attracting and developing talent in Ames -- that's their biggest issue right now.
BSD: Where's PSU fall on the BHGP scale of wrestling dislike these days? Have we inched ahead of Goldy or Okie State? Would it help if we beat you this Friday?
RossWB: Ahead of Minnesota? I think so. Ahead of Oklahoma State? Hard to say. That's an old-school hate, a down-to-the-marrow type of hate. A Hatfields and McCoys brand of hate. Penn State is just a little too new to the scene to match that hate. That said, the hate is certainly rising with each trophy Penn State claims and each head-to-head win they score over Iowa (one and counting so far). Check back on this point in a few years.
BSD: What happened to the aggressive, attacking, beat on you for 7 minutes Iowa style? I'm just kidding. But seriously - what happened?
RossWB: I don't know - maybe you can ask Conaway after he wrestles Tony Ramos for seven minutes on Friday. I think it's been a bit of a myth that Iowa has always had 10 little Brands clones running around on the mat. During Iowa's national title three-peat, there were guys like Ryan Morningstar and Jay Borschel and Mark Perry, who weren't always offensive dynamos. Even under Gable there were guys who wrestled different styles than the uber-aggressive, beat on you for seven minutes style. That said, it would be nice to see a few more guys get the lead out (yes, I'm talkin' to you, Bobby Telford and Ethen Lofthouse) in their matches. The lack of offense from some guys on this team has been enormously frustrating.
BSD: I hate Derek St. John's face. But the guy's finished 4th and 2nd, and has just 9 career losses - 4 of those to Taylor and Dake. Putting his face aside, I'm not sure he's in my top 10 of current wrestlers at all weights. Am I undervaluing him?
RossWB: Maybe not, although I think that has more to do with the incredible talent in college wrestling this year than any specific failing on St. John's part. He does appear to be the top of the heap at 157 -- he's looked good against top-10 competition this year and he holds win (from past seasons) over most of the rest of the top-10 -- but I don't think that's a particularly strong weight this year.
I think making pound-for-pound rankings is incredibly difficult (and maybe a bit silly; how do you really compare Matt McDonough to Tony Nelson?), but that being the case, I could still probably rattle off ten wrestlers who are "better" than St. John (whatever that means) this season: McDonough, Logan Stieber, Tony Ramos, Kendric Maple, Jordan Oliver, Kyle Dake, David Taylor, Chris Perry, Ed Ruth, Quentin Wright, Dustin Kilgore, Tony Nelson, and Dom Bradley. Hell, that's 13 wrestlers. Thanks to those Olympic redshirts last year and the presence of some really wonderful talents, there are a lot of really great wrestlers this season. Fortunately, DSJ doesn't need to be one in that top-10 -- he just needs to be the best wrestler at 157 lbs, which is very doable.
BSD: Mark Ballweg. I've seen his matches against Stieber and Dardanes - just above zero offense. But I look at his season and see some decent scoring: 14-3 over Joe Spisak; 15-5 over Anthony Salupo; 9-0 over Dean Pavlou; 8-3 over Feikert at Okie State. Does this guy have more offense than I give him credit for (which is just above zero offense)?
RossWB: I knew it was a mistake to let him watch tapes of Nico Megaludis from last year.
He's been more defensive against ranked opponents, but he certainly has good offense when he uses it. Dardanes wasn't exactly able to stop that double-leg takedown late in the match.
BSD: PSU is favored (by rankings) in four matches: 149, 165, 184, and 197. Pick an upset, and how it happens.
RossWB: It's hard to find an upset for Iowa at those weights, given the quality of the wrestlers PSU has at those weights. Maybe 165 if David Taylor eats some bad pizza at the Wig and Pen before the meet? In all seriousness... once upon a time Ethen Lofthouse only lost to Ed Ruth, 3-2, so on paper that might be Iowa's best shot at an upset. Of course, that was almost two years ago and Ruth has made huge strides since then, while Lofthouse... hasn't. Honestly, gun to my head I might just pick Burak over Wright if I had to pick one upset among these four weights. I don't think he has a great shot (or even a good shot), but I give Moore and Lofthouse no chance at an upset and while Andrew Alton is the weakest of the four PSU wrestlers here, I have zero faith in Mike Kelly (or Brody Grothus) winning right now. Burak has been wrestling much better of late and has a few wins over ranked opponents (Andrew Campolattano, Max Huntley), while Q has a few close wins this season -- maybe the insane atmosphere of Carver-Hawkeye Arena carries Burak to an incredible upset? Probably not, but hey, I gotta pick someone.
BSD: Iowa is favored (by rankings) in six matches: 125, 133, 141, 157, 174, and 285. Pick an upset, and how it happens.
RossWB: I don't think it would be much of an upset if Matt Brown beat Mike Evans at 174 since he's ranked higher than The 'Stache by some services, and I wouldn't be stunned to see Nico or Dylan Alton trip up McD or DSJ, given how close those matches were last season. But I'll go with Jon Gingrich knocking off Bobby Telford at 285. Telford has been unimpressive for the last month or so and was dealing with the flu as of a few weeks ago, so he may not even be at full-strength. Gingrich had a nice win over MSU's Mike McClure a few weeks ago and a close loss to Missouri's Dom Bradley before that, so he does seem to be wrestling at a high level. Considering that it may only take one takedown to win this match, I could certainly see Gingrich being the hoss to get that takedown.
BSD: Predictions / Final score?
RossWB: 19-14 Iowa. As for how we get that score... (cheap plug alert!) my full preview will be on BHGP on Thursday.
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