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Wrestling Preview: No. 1 Penn State vs No. 8 Illinois

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Back on the road in the Prairie State, the Nittany Lions face a very good Illini squad in their only dual this weekend.

It's been two years since Penn State and Illinois have wrestled in a dual meet, much to Nico Megaludis' (and our) chagrin. This year has the Illini fielding one of their most competitive teams, top to bottom, but they match up very well to the Nittany Lions--and this one could be a very good one.

Illinois' record belies their talent, as they've had injuries that have left out some of their top wrestlers in a pretty tough schedule so far this year. They've already faced Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan, with Wisconsin and Nebraska both coming up the next two weeks. Only the end of the season showdowns against Northwestern and a floundering Minnesota squad are gimmes left on their schedule.

This'll be a good one, and it's to be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network--so hang on to your hats, folks, and tune in to watch the domination that is the 2015-2016 Nittany Lions.

How To Watch

What: #1 Penn State (10-0, 5-0 Big Ten) vs #8 Illinois (9-3, 1-3 Big Ten)

Where: Huff Hall/Champaign, IL

When: Saturday, 4pm ET

Audio: Free Jeff "Ironhead" Byers, via GoPSUSports

Video: BTN

Projected Lineups

No. 1 Penn State WT No. 8 Illinois
#4 - Nico Megaludis (Sr., Murraysville, PA) 125 UR - Francis Edelin (Fr., Oak Forest, IL)
#5 - Jordan Conaway (Sr., Abbottstown, PA) 133 #2 - Zane Richards (Jr., Carbondale, IL)

#13 - Jimmy Gulibon (Jr., Derry, PA)

OR Kade Moss (So., South Jordan, UT)

141 UR - Brock Ervin (Fr., Morganfield, KY)
#1 - Zain Retherford (So., Benton, PA) 149 UR - Kyle Langenderfer (So., Mokena, IL)
#3 - Jason Nolf (Fr., Kitanning, PA) 157 #1 - Isaiah Martinez (So.,Lemoore, CA)

#16 - Shakur Rasheed (Fr., Coram, NY)

OR Geno Morelli (Jr., DuBois, PA)

165 #6 - Steven Rodrigues (Sr., Mount Kisco, NY)
#1 - Bo Nickal (Fr., Allen, TX) 174 #5 - Zac Brunson (Jr., Eugene, OR)
#10 - Matt McCutcheon (So., Kiski Area, PA) 184 UR - Jeff Koepke (Sr., Prospect Heights, IL)
#1 - Morgan McIntosh (Sr., Santa Ana, CA) 197 UR - Andre Lee (Fr., Oak Park, IL)

UR - Jan Johnson (Fr., Mohnton, PA)

OR UR - Wes Phipps (So., Grove City, PA)

285 #20 - Brooks Black (So., Dover, PA)

125 LBS

Edelin has been tech falled by Tomasello, Gilman and Youtsey already this Big Ten season. I'm betting that Nico can one up them, and turn the freshman for the pin (though he's thus far been able to stay off his back this season). Apparently I'm in some kind of optimistic mood this week. Also, I'm also disappointed Nico isn't able to take his revenge on (insert adjective here) Delgado, so here's hoping he takes it out on his replacement.

Prediction: Nico by Pin

Score: PSU 6, Illinois 0

133 LBS - Match of the Meet #1

Zane is undefeated on the year, vaulting over Jordan for the number two spot behind Cornell's Nahshon Garrett after defeating Iowa's Cory Clark in sudden victory a few weeks ago. Conaway is very close behind, 17-2 on the season with his sole losses coming to Garrett (who's destroying everyone in his path after moving up a weight) and teammate Jered Cortez at the Nittany Lion Open. Richards is super confident coming into this matchup, but every time I think of Zane I prefer to think about a match that occurred a few years ago.

Regardless of how much better Jordan is this year (this is the weight at which he belongs)--and at this point it's looking like where on the podium he's going to stand, not if he's up there--I think Zane takes this one. But it's closer than Richards anticipates.

Prediction: Richards by Decision

Score: PSU 6, Illinois 3

141 LBS

The transitive property always works in sports, right? By that measure this one's a walkover, as Ervin lost to Michigan State's Gasca last week, who lost to Kade at the Southern Scuffle. But the redshirt freshman grappler did keep it close with OSU's Micah Jordan, and Jimmy's still recovering from an injury. I still like Gulibon in this one (or even Kade, if he's the one who ends up with the nod) as Ervin, a five-time state champ, is just not as experienced to deal with the pressure either one will bring.

Prediction: Jimmy by Decision

Score: PSU 10, Illinois 3

149 LBS

Zain killed it last week, with two majors over two highly ranked opponents. This week, he's back to mauling unranked opponents. Which means...

Bets in the comments for how long Langenderfer lasts.

Prediction: ZPain by Pin

Score: PSU 16, Illinois 3

157 LBS - Match of the Meet #2

Oooh boy. This may be match of the meet 2, but this is the one I'm most looking forward to. Both wrestlers come into this week 20-0 on the year, and both like to score a ton of points--thirteen of Martinez' wins have come by tech fall, and another three by pinfall. This will be the match that slows both of the offensive juggernauts down, and it may just come down to riding time or a stall warning here and there. This one is a true toss up, but in Cael and the coaches I trust--he'll have Jason more than ready, and he'll pull off the win here.

Prediction: Nolf by Decision

Score: PSU 19, Illinois 3

HALFTIME

You'll need it. This one is intense.

165 LBS - Match of the Meet #3

Sheed gives us the best chance to beat a ranked opponent, as evidenced by his pin of Chad Welch. Geno's lack of offense on last Friday night makes me think Shakur's got the upper hand in this weight class (and though the score was low against Northwestern, he constantly was attempting to turn his overmatched opponent--not simply riding him out). Brunson, though, is a two-time NCAA qualifier and Rasheed is not as much under the radar as he was a few weeks ago. Rodrigues only has one loss on the year--to OSU's Jordan--and though he doesn't have any real signature wins, he does have a win over Stanford's Jim Wilson, who beat Shakur earlier in the year. There's that transitive property thing again.

Prediction: Rodrigues by Decision

Score: Penn State 19, Illinois 6

174 LBS - Match of the Meet #4

In some ways, Bo's loss against Indiana was the best thing to happen to his young career; it lowered the expectations of when a loss would happen, and gives him motivation to continue his remarkable redshirt freshman campaign. That campaign continues this week, when he faces his seventh (!!!) top ten opponent on the year. Brunson is undefeated (with a win over Indiana's Nate Jackson, the one guy to beat Bo), but he's only one match removed from a near month-long injury (which helped lead to Illinois' less-than impressive Big Ten record). Bo's impressive year continues, and Brunson will lose for the first time all season--and it won't be as close as the final score indicates.

Prediction: Bo by Decision

Score: PSU 22, Illinois 6

184 LBS

Mouse finally moved up in the rankings this week, jumping from 13 to 10 after his last second win over TJ Dudley last weekend. Koepke was ranked earlier in the year before losses to Iowa's Sammy Brooks and Michigan's Dominic Abounader (coupled with a few early season losses). Mouse is running on confidence now, and he'll win this one with fair ease--though I doubt he'll get bonus.

Prediction: Mouse by Decision

Score: PSU 25, Illinois 6

197 LBS

Lee started the season off well, but has tapered off in the recent weeks--he's lost his last five matches in a row, and Saturday will make it six. Morgan's often hot or cold in his wins this season, and this week I'm expecting to see fiery McIntosh--he'll take advantage of a floundering opponent who was pinned last week by Michigan's Max Huntley.

Prediction: Morg by Pin

Score: PSU 31, Illinois 6

285 LBS

Black has some nice bonus point wins to his credit so far this season--rare for a shaved bear--but also lost to Stoll of Iowa and Coon of Michigan, as well as the now-transferring Buckeye Thomas Haines. Last week, Wes Phipps was the choice to go at this weight both days--and got majored by both his Nebraska and Northwestern opponent. Black was a top ten wrestler in the class of 2013--the number three heavy after Coon and J'Den Cox (who cut down) in Zain and Mouse's class. This is a formidable Pennsylvania opponent for whichever Nittany Lion goes here.

Prediction: Black by Major Decision

Score: PSU 31, Illinois 10