Do the math and it appears there are three who will battle for the 2017 NCAA championship: Penn State, Ohio State and Oklahoma State. But, as coaches will tell you, there is very little math involved in a wrestling match except for the final score after seven minutes and the sum total after six sessions and three days.
The Nittany Lions have won five of the last six titles and head to St. Louis as a bit of a wounded animal after losing 125-pounder Nick Suriano and the Big Ten trophy to Ohio State. Without question, over three days in St. Louis there will be plenty of roller-coaster moments. If the “Big Three” do not bring their best, Iowa or Virginia Tech could certainly join the fray. The final Division I Power Rankings before the national tournament could easily have a three-way tie at the top.
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1 – Oklahoma State: In 2001, Minnesota’s Golden Gophers won the NCAA championship with 10 All-Americans. That team did not have a finalist, but scored 138.5 points to outdistance Iowa by 13 points and Oklahoma State by 23. After a record-setting performance at the Big 12 Championships, the Cowboys showed they have plenty of finalist potential, led by 2016 NCAA champion Dean Heil. And for the 34-time NCAA champions to get by Penn State and Ohio State, 10 All-Americans might be what it takes.
2 – Ohio State: After whipping Oklahoma State last month, Penn State looked like the team to beat in St. Louis. Head coach Cael Sanderson’s squad still might be, but Ohio State showed they have a ton of tournament firepower by winning the rugged Big Ten title in Bloomington, Indiana, over the weekend. Points will come from NCAA champions Nathan Tomasello, Myles Martin and Kyle Snyder, along with rookie 197-pounder Kollin Moore and the two Jordans, Micah and Bo. The Buckeyes will win the title if they put six inside the top four; that is certainly a possibility.
3 – Penn State: A late-season injury to 125-pound stud Nick Suriano brings Penn State back to the pack. Still, national champion Zain Retherford and NCAA finalists Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal are a good place to start. How will freshmen Vincenzo Joseph and Mark Hall perform in their first big show and can heavyweight Nick Nevills cause trouble in the 285-pound bracket? PSU has done it with bonus points and putting wrestlers on Saturday night’s raised mat. In order to win a sixth in seven years, PSU might need its high flyers to go above and beyond.
T-4 – Iowa: The Hawkeyes were third-best at the Big Ten Championships and will head to St. Louis as the “best of the rest.” That being said, Thomas Gilman, Cory Clark, Brandon Sorenson, Michael Kemmerer and Sammy Brooks could all wrestle in Saturday night’s finals. Iowa’s hopes rest in a tournament filled with upsets where the winner has five, six or seven All-Americans. If scoring 125 points is necessary, Iowa might not qualify.
T-4 – Virginia Tech: With Kevin Dresser announcing his move to Iowa State, Tony Robie led the Hokies to a dominant showing at the ACC Championships. The Hokies take seven to St. Louis and, like Iowa, will need some help from the field to battle for top honors. Joey Dance and Ty Walz are capable of winning titles, and the other five Hokies could all finish in the top eight.
6 – Cornell: The Big Red qualified six for the NCAAs, and all six could make noise in St. Louis. Gabe Dean may be the best of the 330 individuals in the tournament; he goes for his third NCAA title. Brian Realbuto and Dylan Palacio are also title contenders for another Cornell squad that figures to battle for a top-eight finish.
7 – Nebraska: Head coach Mark Manning’s group was fourth at the Big Tens and is one of the 10 best heading into the final tournament of 2016-17. All-American candidates include Tim Lambert, Eric Montoya, Tyler Berger, T.J. Dudley and Aaron Studebaker, meaning the Huskers could easily find themselves in the top five. NU was eighth in 2016 and ninth in 2015.
8 – Missouri: The Tigers had six champions, and after dropping a dual to Northern Iowa late in the season, routed the field to win a sixth straight conference championship. J’Den Cox became a four-time MAC champion; the two-time NCAA champion will get support from Daniel Lewis, Joey Lavallee and Lavion Mayes in St. Louis. Eight qualified for St. Louis, so if Brian Smith’s group is to challenge, all eight will need to score.
Best of the rest
Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Lehigh, NC State, Oklahoma, Arizona State, Edinboro.