Top-ranked Iowa (10-0) travels to Minneapolis to face No. 2 Minnesota (10-0) on Friday night. Expect a powder keg when these two Big Ten rivals hook up for the 100th time. The Hawkeyes own a 70-28-1 advantage in the series dating back to 1921 and will try to avenge last season’s loss to the Gophers in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Since an 18-14 dual win against Ohio State, Iowa has outscored Oklahoma State, Illinois, and Northwestern 93-22.
The Gophers are coming off back-to-back nail-biters, beating reigning NCAA king Penn State 17-16 on Sunday in State College and holding off Illinois 20-19 in Minneapolis on January 18.
“I don’t know if it gets much bigger than this,” Hawkeye coach Tom Brands said. “This is what it is all about this time of year. We have to be ready to go, and I am sure they feel the same way.”
Friday’s winner will, as far as dual rankings go, give us a legitimate No. 1. The USA Today/NWCA Coaches' poll and WIN Magazine put the Hawkeyes at the top while Intermat lists the Gophers in the top spot.
There are a number of tasty matchups, with 133, 174, and 197 pounds leading the pack.
Top-ranked Chris Dardanes (17-0) is expected to meet No. 4 Cory Clark (16-2) at 133 in what will be a slugfest that might remind some of a 1950s middleweight boxing bloodbath. Two senior All-Americans, Mike Evans (17-0) of Iowa and UM's Logan Storley (20-2), are expected to square off at 174 in what could very well be the NCAA final this March. Iowa’s unbeaten Nathan Burak (13-0) and Gopher All-American Scott Schiller (13-3) go at 197.
Seven of the 15 NCAA Championships in the twenty-first century have gone to either Iowa or Minnesota. Team titles will be of little significance Friday night, however. The task at hand will be to beat a rival in a head-to-head dual meet.
IA vs. MN wrestling will be "Two titans going at it." Tom Brands and the Hawkeyes spoke with the media Tuesday: http://t.co/r0jfWGutsh— Hawkeye Wrestling (@Hawks_Wrestling) January 27, 2015
It takes a talented freshman to reach the top of the rankings before February. Yes, the three four-time NCAA champions come to mind, along with Ohio State’s Logan Stieber. Throw in Northwestern’s Jason Tsirtsis and Missouri’s J’Den Cox from just last March. But, history shows, rookies do not often win national titles at the Division I level. That being said, there is a good crop of newbie talent that will make their runs come March in St. Louis.
Iowa redshirt freshman Brandon Sorensen (24-2) continued his roll through the nation’s best 149-pounders with an overtime victory against Tsirtsis last Friday. It was Tsirtsis’s first loss in 40 matches. Sorensen already owns wins against All-Americans Josh Kindig of Oklahoma State and Hunter Stieber of Ohio State.
“His success isn’t a surprise to him or us, we know what’s under the hood,” said Iowa’s Brands of Sorenson, the squad’s leader in victories.
Another Big Ten wrestler, Illinois’s Isaiah Martinez, remained unbeaten at 157 pounds with a victory against three-time All-American James Green. Martinez (22-0) used a third-period ride-out to win 2-0 against the Husker senior.
“Once you get passed the skill set … we are pretty even … it came down to toughness, the guy who had the better lungs,” Martinez said after the victory.
Keeping with the Big Ten theme, Ohio State 165-pounder Bo Jordan is adding to his credentials. Jordan, a four-time Ohio State champion, was 23-0 during a redshirt season in 2013-14 and is unbeaten at 11-0 entering this weekend.
Best of the best
The nation’s best wrestler is annually awarded the Hodge Trophy. Some years the decision is easy, but this season it will be very difficult.
Here’s a top five through three weeks in January:
Earning bonus points is never easy for the big boys. Yet, Gwiazdowski, a very active 285-pounder, has won 16 of 22 matches this season by at least a major decision, and Cox, already 61-2 for his young career, has picked up bonus in 14 of 23 wins at 197 pounds.
It should be noted that the Hodge winner has come from either the Big Ten or Big 12 Conference 10 of the past 11 years.
Two-time NCAA champion Jesse Delgado was injured Nov. 9 and has not been in the Illini lineup since. Delgado, a 125-pounder, is 93-13 for his career, winning 59 of his past 64 matches and is expected to suit up against Maryland on Friday night.
“I am ready to go,” Delgado said. “I’ve been wrestling since I was a young kid and it’s something I like to do, so I am excited to get back out there.”
♦ Reigning Division II champion Notre Dame (Ohio) dropped an 18-16 dual to neighbor Lake Erie (Ohio) on Sunday. Evan Rosborough’s sudden victory win at 197 pounds and Noah Hosking, weighing much less than the 285-pound limit, won 3-0 in the final bout to clinch it for the No. 15 Storm.
♦ Pittsburgh, in its first year of competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013-14, went 8-0. After two league victories this season, the No. 10 Panthers fell to No. 14 Virginia on Sunday 17-16. Major decisions by All-Americans George DiCamillo and Nick Sulzer provided the difference. The Cavaliers have won 32 consecutive home duals.
♦ Division III power Wartburg moved its winning streak to 179 against IIAC opponents, outscoring Buena Vista, Dubuque, and Central 121-11 on Saturday.
♦ Old buddies Princeton and Cornell will meet for the 68th time in Ithaca, New York, on Friday. The two Ivy League schools first wrestled as part of the 1907-08 season. The Big Red have won 66 consecutive meets against Ivy League foes and hold a 52-15 all-time series advantage against the Tigers, who last beat Cornell during the 1985-86 campaign.
♦ This week’s USA Today/NWCA Division I Coaches Poll lists 11 Big Ten teams among the top 25. The remaining 14 spots are divided among 7 conferences with the ACC and EIWA each at three.