And away we go...

Penn State’s decision to redshirt a few – young and old – two seasons ago paid off handsomely with an NCAA team championship last March. It was head coach Cael Sanderson’s fifth in six seasons and the Nittany Lions will not be slowing down any time soon. They have already started their climb from a lower-than-expected preseason ranking.

Oklahoma State has a group of grinders who might be ready to end a dry spell that dates back to 2006. Another OSU, Ohio State, won the tough Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Invitational last weekend with just seven entries. Any team with Kyle Snyder has to be good. Iowa has a powerful trio in Thomas Gilman, Cory Clark, and Brandon Sorensen; But can they get some help? Missouri, with All-World J’Den Cox, is still knocking on the door, along with Virginia Tech. Cornell is good —but so is Nebraska, Michigan, North Carolina State and Lehigh.

In other words, 2016-17 is going to be fun.

RANKINGS

1 – Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have outscored four dual opponents 142-9 and appear to have no weak links. Already with national champion Dean Heil (141) and All-Americans Anthony Collica (149), Joe Smith (157), Kyle Crutchmer (174), and Nolan Boyd (184), head coach John Smith likes the way rookie 133-pounder Kaid Brock and senior heavyweight Austin Schafer have started, Schafer knocking off two-time All-American Michael Kroells of Minnesota in a November dual. Chandler Rogers (165) will try and replace mega-star Alex Dieringer, a bonus-point machine the last four years. The key could be Smith, who has battled the scales and injuries early. Unfortunately, Penn State will not be at the Southern Scuffle, but the two top dogs could square off at the Reno Tournament of Champions, Dec. 18.

2 – Penn State: There is no re-building in Happy Valley, just re-loading. The Nittany Lions whipped No. 10 Lehigh 30-10 last weekend and have another bonus-point machine. National champion Zain Retherford (149) and 2016 NCAA silver medalists Jason Nolf (157) and Bo Nickal (184) have not missed a beat. Nick Suriano (125) appears to be the next talented freshman to step into the lineup and Jered Cortez (133), Jimmy Gulibon (141), and Vincenzo Joseph (165) are going to win a lot of matches. Heavyweight Nick Nevills was injured a year ago; he, along with Matt McCutcheon and whoever goes at 174, could hold PSU’s fortunes. With Retherford, Nolf, and Nickal, go ahead and give Sanderson’s crew at least 60 points to start with in St. Louis. Do the math and the rest of the country knows what it takes.

3 – Ohio State: The Buckeyes won the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Invitational title last weekend with seven entries. Wrestling fans will find out how good this OSU is – at least in December – when they host Missouri on Thursday. Tom Ryan’s lineup starts with national champions Kyle Synder (285), Nathan Tomasello (133), and Myles Martin (174), both with plenty of eligibility left. Bo Jordan is at the top of the list at 174 pounds, while Micah Jordan (149), Jose Rodriguez (125), and Kollin Moore (197) are going to be tough to beat each and every week. How’s this for a stretch? The Buckeyes face Iowa in Iowa City (Jan. 27), host Penn State (Feb. 3), and travel to Nebraska (Feb. 10). There is a lot of football between now and then … and also a lot of wrestling.

4 – Iowa: Tom Brands’ Hawkeyes won a tricky match at South Dakota State last Friday and will most likely hammer in-state rival Iowa State this Saturday. The health of All-American 133-pounder Cory Clark will determine Iowa's chances down the road. No doubt Thomas Gilman will scratch, bite and claw his way to the big stage at 125 pounds, and Brandon Sorenson will do whatever he can to unseat Retherford for the 149-pound trophy. What does Alex Meyer (174), Sammy Brooks (184) and Sam Stoll (285) do in March? Rookies Michael Kemmerer (157) and Alex Marinelli (165) could be pretty salty. Iowa travels to Oklahoma State for a Jan. 15 dual, but before then can answer some questions at the Midlands (Dec. 29-30) and against Michigan on Jan. 6.

5 – Missouri: The best dual of the early season took place Nov. 20 in Columbia, Missouri, where the Tigers held off Virginia Tech 23-19. MU won six bouts, getting a pin from rising star Jaydin Eierman, an undefeated four-time Missouri state champion before joining head coach Brian Smith’s roster. J’Den Cox just wins, collegiately and internationally, and goes in search of a third NCAA title. Few collegiate teams have Olympians suiting up, and Cox leads a talented cast with Lavion Mayes (149), Joey Lavallee (157), Daniel Lewis (165), and Willie Micklus (184) all very high in the rankings. Smith has built a strong program that has reached top 10 status annually. Can they take that next step and reach elite status?

6 – Virginia Tech: Like Missouri, Kevin Dresser has turned the Hokies from an also-ran into a yearly member of the top 15. Joey Dance, champion at 125 pounds in Las Vegas last weekend, anchors the lightweights with Soloman Chishko (149) also very good. The power up-top is going to win Tech a lot of duals in 2016-17 with Zach Epperly (174), Zack Zavatsky (184), Jared Haught (197) and Ty Walz (285) all very capable. The Atlantic Coast Conference is not just a basketball conference with the Hokies and North Carolina State producing a ton of talent. Dresser’s crew might not be tested again until a Jan. 27 dual at Lehigh.

7 – Nebraska: Kick off your weekend with this tasty morsel: Nebraska at North Carolina State on Friday night in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Huskers (5-0) have outscored five opponents 170-27 but expect a closer battle on Friday. Mark Manning does not appear to have a big-time star, just a bunch of tough, hard-nosed, tough-to-move grinders. Seniors T.J. Dudley (184), Tim Lambert (125), Eric Montoya (133), Aaron Studebacker (197), and Collin Jensen (285) have won a lot of Division I matches, while Colton McCrystal (141) and sophomore Tyler Berger (157) are good. Dudley lost to Cornell’s Gabe Dean in the NCAA finals last March. The problem for the Huskers? Too many 6-2 decisions and not enough technical falls in March.

T8 – Cornell: It really doesn’t matter where Cornell is in December because they always show up in March. Head coach Rob Koll’s group is led by the scary Gabe Dean, who entered this season with a 117-6 record and two national titles to his name. Dean secured his third CKLV title last weekend and led the Big Red to a fourth place showing. Brian Realbuto (174), another nasty, mean All-American, was second in Vegas. Dylan Palacio (157), Dalton Macri (125) and Mark Grey (133) will also win a bunch of matches in 2016-17. The Big Red will test Oklahoma State in Stillwater (Dec. 16), then face Oklahoma in Norman two days later and suit up at the Southern Scuffle to start 2017.

T8 – Michigan: Had heavyweight Adam Coon, Domenic Abounader (184) and Alec Pantaleo (149) not redshirted we might be talking about a real contender. Still, the Wolverines are good with rising star Logan Massa coming off a CKLV title and fellow rookies Austin Assad (125), Steve Micic (133) and Myles Amine (174) three to watch. Veteran Brian Murphy (157) is also back. Michigan hosts Minnesota this Sunday and will get a shot at Iowa in Ann Arbor Jan. 6.

Knocking on the door – Illinois, Lehigh, Wisconsin, South Dakota State, Arizona State