Mention Oklahoma State and Iowa and the conversation immediately turns to collegiate wrestling. The two programs have combined for 57 NCAA Championships – Oklahoma State leads the pack with 34; Iowa’s 23 ranks second on the all-time chart. No. 3? Iowa State’s Cyclones with eight.
OSU has produced a DI-best 141 individual champs; Iowa, at 81, ranks No. 2.
The two teams set an NCAA attendance record in November of 2015 when 42,287 watched the Hawkeyes beat the Cowboys inside Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium. On Sunday, the tradition-rich programs hook up again, only not at a football stadium. This time the two teams square off inside Stillwater’s Gallagher-Iba Arena. It starts a gauntlet of dual meets for Iowa, who square off with Penn State (Jan. 20) and Ohio State (Jan. 27).
The fourth-ranked Hawkeyes (7-0) will be underdogs in plenty of individual matchups and overall against three teams in front of them in the rankings.
“Part of cutting your teeth and going through the process of being the best that you can be, you’re going to have to go through some of these matches,” said Iowa head coach Tom Brands, whose squad has beaten OSU three-straight times. “You’re going to have to saddle up in some of these matches where you might be the underdog.
“But hey, it’s an opportunity. Go get it.”
OSU leads the all-time series 27-21-2. Weather-permitting, the Cowboys (5-0) are hoping for a big, supportive crowd for what most Oklahoma wrestling fans see as the program’s biggest rivalry.
“I think you could say that (it’s bigger than Bedlam), just from the standpoint of the last 25 years of my career, one of the teams to beat was Iowa. We were one of them too, so for that reason it becomes a little bit more of an important dual meet.
“(Last year) was a great experience for our student-athletes. It could have been a lot better of an experience if we could have won. It wasn’t our best effort, but it was a good dual meet and a good show.”
Oklahoma State junior Dean Heil is 0-3 against Iowa.“It means a lot to me,” said Heil, the top-ranked 141-pounder in the country. “I haven’t been on a team to beat them. It doesn’t really matter where you wrestle this dual, it’s going to be a tough match. We have guys who really want to win this dual.”
All 10 of the individual matchups are equally important. A few could be “must-see.”
● Iowa senior Cory Clark, NCAA runner-up at 133 pounds in 2016, was off the mat due to injury in December. He returned last week and is expected to face explosive redshirt-freshman Kaid Brock, undefeated so far in 2016-17.
● OSU senior Anthony Collica is coming off a Southern Scuffle title at 149 pounds. He was fourth at the NCAA Championships last March. Second at the 2016 Championships was Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen. Sorensen won a tough match in Iowa City last time.
● Two young 157-pounders, Iowa’s Michael Kemerer and OSU’s Joe Smith, will square off. Kemerer won a Midlands title in his first try, while Smith, like Clark, missed a lot of the first semester. Smith was an All-American as a freshman.
● Iowa’s Alex Meyer versus Cowboy senior Kyle Crutchmer with Hawkeye Sammy Brooks and OSU senior Nolan Boyd will go back-to-back at 174 and 184 pounds, respectively. If the dual starts at 125 pounds, there is a good chance Hawkeye Sam Stoll and Cowboy Austin Schafer could determine things Sunday afternoon.
Oklahoma State last won an NCAA title in 2006. Iowa earned its last crown in 2010. None of that matters this Sunday.
Where it all started
The Virginia Duals opened for business in 1981 with North Carolina State beating Navy for the inaugural championship. Considered the first major dual-meet tournament, the event has grown from eight college teams and four high schools to 20 college programs in two divisions and 48 high schools in three divisions. Virginia Tech, runner-up to Iowa State in 2016, is the only Virginia school to win the tournament, claiming top honors in 2013. The fifth-ranked Hokies lead a 12-team field this weekend that also includes Arizona State, Oklahoma, Virginia, North Dakota State, Chattanooga, Old Dominion, Kent State, Lock Haven, Bucknell, Campbell, and The Citadel.
Wrestling hits the mats Friday with the finals set for Saturday.
Perfection in January
The list is long of unbeatens (with at least 10 matches) entering the meat of the 2016-17 season. Five freshmen are among that group. They include Penn State’s Nick Suriano (125, 10-0), Oklahoma State’s Kaid Brock (133, 14-0), Iowa’s Michael Kemerer (157, 18-0), Michigan’s Logan Massa (165, 16-0), and Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia (174, 22-0). Most of those with perfect records entering this weekend are known commodities. One, North Dakota State’s Josh Rodriguez, might not be.
Rodriguez, a senior 125-pounder from Guadalupe, California, is 12-0 with 10 bonus-point victories entering this weekend’s Virginia Duals.
Three duals, four days
Missouri is getting plenty of work the first two weeks of January. After a second place finish at the Southern Scuffle, the Tigers traveled to Norman, Oklahoma, where they dropped a dual to the Sooners on Jan. 8. Three starters did not suit up for MU in a 24-18 loss that included a forfeit at 157 pounds. Perhaps head coach Brian Smith was thinking about this weekend as MU (5-2) wrestles at Buffalo on Thursday, at No. 7 Cornell on Sunday, and at Eastern Michigan on Sunday. MU, who dropped to No. 9 in the NWCA/USA Today Coaches Poll, finishes January with duals at home against Central Michigan (Jan. 22) and top-ranked Oklahoma State (Jan. 27).
RELATED: USA Today/NWCA Coaches
● Eighth-ranked Lehigh and Navy will wrestle for the 97th time on Friday. The Mountain Hawks (5-1) own a 49-47 advantage in a series that dates back to 1910. Navy is 6-0 this season.
● Edinboro shut out Bloomsburg, 43-0, last Saturday to move its Eastern Wrestling League winning streak to 19. The Fighting Scots (2-3) last lost an EWL match in 2013, falling to Pittsburgh, now a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Edinboro wrestles at the Pitt Duals this Saturday against Brown, North Carolina, and VMI.
● North Carolina State won a rare weekday dual, beating Duke, 34-6, last Wednesday. Blue Devil heavyweight Jacob Kasper (19-1) continued his nice start, beating Michael Boykin to start the dual. Duke led 6-0 after a Thayer Atkins win at 125, but the Wolfpack won eight straight to improve to 5-1. NCSU has won 28 of its last 30 duals. They wrestle at the Pitt Duals this Saturday.
● Penn State (6-0) hosts No. 11 Rutgers on Friday. The Nittany Lions have won 23 consecutive duals. PSU is at Iowa on Jan. 20.
● No. 17 Stanford (3-1) makes a cross-country trip this weekend, facing Princeton on Saturday and Penn and No. 25 Drexel on Sunday. The Pac-12 released its first set of rankings and four Cardinal athletes – Gabe Townsell (125), Connor Schram (133), Joey McKenna (141), and Josh Marchok (197) – are ranked No. 1.