Of the top four teams, only Iowa has been taken to the wire in a dual meet, by longtime rival Iowa State. The meat of the dual schedule is yet to come, but there have been some very competitive meets thus far. Injuries continue to hamper lineups across the country with a few more notables forced to hang up the shoes for 2018-19. Ohio State out-wrestled the field at the annual Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational and the Reno Tournament of Champions, Midlands, and Southern Scuffle will finish 2018 and provide plenty of fodder for what should be a very entertaining month of January. Coaches, fans, and wrestlers are hoping the injury bug takes a long nap after being so busy the first two months of the 2018-19 campaign.
1 – PENN STATE: The Nittany Lions have wrestled three duals and outscored opponents, 136-3, among them a banged-up Lehigh squad on Dec. 2. Wrestling fans already knew Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall, and Bo Nickal were good. The question is, how good can Roman Bravo-Young, Shakur Rasheed, Anthony Cassar, and the rest of this star-studded cast be? This Penn State squad might be the best of coach Cael Sanderson’s long list of great teams. Arizona State invades Rec Hall this Friday. Will we see another Zahid Valencia-Hall classic?
2 – OHIO STATE: Tom Ryan’s group is already battle-tested with dual wins over Arizona State and a good Wisconsin team, plus a tournament title at the CKLV two weekends ago. Two — Myles Martin and Kollin Moore — got warmed up by wrestling at the U23 World Championships. Like last March in Cleveland, Ohio State is one of the few with the firepower to challenge for top honors this March in Pittsburgh. The Buckeyes get a long rest, not hitting the mat again until a Jan. 6 dual with North Carolina State.
3 – OKLAHOMA STATE: Yet to be challenged, the 34-time NCAA champions whipped up on old rival Oklahoma, 41-2, last Sunday. OSU got senior All-American 197-pound Preston Weigel back on the mat for the first time since early November, and it appears early-season injuries are not slowing down this team. Rookie Kaden Gfeller is unbeaten at 149 pounds, giving coach John Smith two top-notch guys at the weight class. The Cowboys head to the Reno TOC and could butt heads with the Nittany Lions at the Scuffle to start the new year.
4 – IOWA: The rivalry with Iowa State has not been much of a rivalry of late, but the rebuilding Cyclones took Iowa to the wire. Thanks in part to senior heavyweight Sam Stoll, wrestling his first match of the season, the Hawks remained unbeaten and followed it up with a solid win over Lehigh. With talented Cash Wilcke at 184 pounds and rising star Jacob Warner at 197 pounds, veteran Mitch Bowman is making the move to 174 to strengthen an already good lineup. Is another Midlands title up next?
5 – MICHIGAN: All-American Myles Amine led Michigan at the CKLV, but the Wolverines were fifth, leaving two prominent starters on the sidelines. First-year boss Sean Bormet watched his team hammer Indiana to finish the first semester schedule. UM starts the new year with a trip west and duals with Oregon State and Arizona State.
6 – NORTH CAROLINA STATE: Old Dominion nearly gave the Wolfpack a surprising setback, but Pat Popolizio’s group escaped Norfolk with a rare Tuesday night victory. The ACC kings will have to be better this Sunday when Nebraska visits Raleigh for a Sunday matinee.
7 – MISSOURI: The Tigers were second to Ohio State in Las Vegas and moved to 4-0 in duals with a 48-0 shutout of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville last Sunday. The loss of All-American 149-pounder Grant Leeth to injury is not good, but the Tigers have quality in the room. Buffalo visits Columbia this Sunday.
8 – CORNELL: One of the better duals of the weekend pits Cornell and Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. The Big Red (2-0) took a partial squad to Las Vegas and finished well behind the leaders. The team that rallied to beat West Virginia in mid-November will look a lot different come second semester, as is usually the case with the Ivy League’s top mat program.
9 – MINNESOTA: The Gophers continue to show they are a program moving back into the national conversation. A sixth place finish in Vegas included a championship for rising star Gable Steveson, an athletic freshman who scores points like some great heavyweights of the past. A busy first semester finishes in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., at the South Beach Duals. Who can blame Minnesotans for wanting to spend late December in the warm state of Florida?
10 – WISCONSIN: The Badgers, under first-year head coach Chris Bono, lost for the first time in seven starts last Sunday, falling to No. 2 Ohio State, 23-13. “I’m proud of our first semester, the way we’ve come, the way we’ve built this program,” Bono said. “We’ve been sky high all semester and this was our first setback. I’m very excited to see how we come back after the break and compete, and then it’s time to get ready for the brutal Big Ten season and the NCAA tournament.”
Next five – Nebraska, Arizona State, Lehigh, North Carolina, Virginia Tech