Penn State maintained its No. 1 ranking, beating Michigan last weekend. The Wolverines, who beat Ohio State two weekends ago, took an early lead on the Nittany Lions, but the power of Cael Sanderson’s team proved too much over the final six weight classes. In a very competitive Division I wrestling landscape, the fact PSU has won 55 straight duals, frankly, is amazing. Can Ohio State, or anyone out there, challenge PSU in a dual or tournament?
Oklahoma State and Iowa meet Feb. 24 in what could be a thriller in Stillwater, but first the Cowboys travel to Missouri, a winner of 34 straight duals. It is the same cast of characters fighting for position down the stretch. Getting healthy is the top priority for most.
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1 – PENN STATE: Michigan’s Wolverines won three of the first four against the reigning NCAA champions last Friday, but the Nittany Lions won the last six matches including a pin by Bo Nickal to decisively maintain the top spot. PSU (10-0) has won 55 straight dual meets dating back to the end of the 2014-15 campaign and has four wrestlers — Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165), Mark Hall (174), and Nickal (197) — ranked No. 1 currently. Ohio State, this Friday, is up next in what could be a barn-burner from start to finish: 141, 184, and 197 pounds will certainly be ones to watch. The question around State College: Will or can Roman Bravo-Young get back on the mat?
2 – OKLAHOMA STATE: The Cowboys remained unbeaten with a pair of tough victories last weekend, beating Northern Iowa and Lehigh in back-to-back duals a week after taking care of rising Iowa State. Without question, John Smith’s squad has a ton of tournament points available with unbeaten Nick Piccininni (125), rookie Daton Fix (133), All-Americans Kaid Brock (141), Chandler Rogers (165), Joe Smith (174), and Jacobe Smith (184), plus heavyweight Derek White and talented Kaden Gfeller (149). There might still be a few changes in the top part of the lineup over the next month. OSU hosts Air Force this weekend then finishes the dual season with a pair of dandies — at Missouri and at home against rival Iowa.
3 – IOWA: Iowa got by Nebraska last weekend and unfortunately does not dual Penn State or Ohio State this season. The Hawkeyes (11-0) face Maryland, Indiana, and Wisconsin before finishing at Oklahoma State on Feb. 24. Getting all 10 starters on the mat and ready for a postseason run will be key for head coach Tom Brands, who has to like what transfer Austin DeSanto (133) has brought to Iowa City. Along with Spencer Lee (125) and Alex Marinelli (165), the Hawks have a few potential NCAA finalists. Cash Wilcke (184) picked up a big win in the Nebraska dual and will have to finish high in a wide open bracket for Iowa to challenge in Pittsburgh.
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4 – MICHIGAN: Michigan could not follow up its victory over Ohio State two weekends ago inside the Bryce Jordan Center with 16,000 folks watching last weekend. Penn State won the final six bouts to win going away, but the Wolverines’ Logan Massa lost an overtime bout at 165 and Myles Amine hung with Mark Hall at 174 pounds. The Wolverines should sweep its last four duals and head into the Big Ten Championships as one of the favorites with PSU, Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota, and Nebraska. What is required for Michigan to win an NCAA title? First-year coach Sean Bormet has to get something from 125, 141, 184, and 197 pounds. These days it requires finalists and seven or eight All-Americans overall.
5 – OHIO STATE: Is No. 5 too low? Yes. The Buckeyes (9-1) have wrestled a great schedule and it is not done yet with meets against Penn State, Nebraska, and Cornell still remaining. Former national champion Myles Martin (184) and All-Americans Kollin Moore (197) and Joey McKenna (141) are still unbeaten; Micah Jordan (149) is also a big stage contender. That is four potential finalists for head coach Tom Ryan. The supporting cast will have to wrestle above their seeds for OSU to raise the trophy next month.
6 – MINNESOTA: The Gophers have two losses — Oklahoma State and Iowa — and take a four-match win streak into this Friday’s slugfest with Nebraska. The Huskers’ David Jensen took out Sam Stoll last weekend; can he challenge the Gophers’ unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Gable Steveson? Brandon Eggum has a solid dual lineup and big potential tournament points with Ethan Lizak (133), Mitch McKee (141), and Steveson. Getting senior 125-pounder Sean Russell healthy will be key over the next month and also getting improvement from a number of weight classes is a must.
7 – NORTH CAROLINA STATE: Since falling to Ohio State, North Carolina State has won five straight duals, including a 23-17 victory over a good Virginia squad last Friday. The next three meets could be good — at home against Pittsburgh and on the road at North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Pat Popolizio’s Wolfpack, not to be confused with Zach Galifianakis’ group, is steady from top to bottom Jamel Morris (141), Justin Oliver (149), and 2018 NCAA finalist Hayden Hidlay (157) expected to cause some problems in Pittsburgh. Nick Reenan (184) is certainly one to watch down the stretch.
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8 – NEBRASKA: The next two weekends, Mark Manning’s Huskers face Minnesota and Ohio State. It adds to an already brutal schedule that has included Penn State, Iowa, and North Carolina State. NU won four bouts in last weekend’s loss to Iowa, including David Jensen’s 3-0 victory over Sam Stoll at heavyweight and Tyler Berger’s 3-1 decision of Kaleb Young at 157 pounds. In order to improve on eighth or to get inside the top five, NU will have to wrestle well above its seeds at nationals. Expect the Huskers to have a number of All-Americans next month.
9 – VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies hammered Duke last time out, winning an eighth consecutive dual. Veteran Zack Zavatsky (184) joined the 100-win club last weekend and Mitch Moore (141) continues to wrestle well, along with Korbin Myers (133), David McFadden (174) and Tom Sleigh (197). Tech (8-2) finishes the dual campaign against North Carolina (this Friday), Cornell, Virginia and North Carolina State. Battle tested the Hokies will be by the time they host the ACC Championships, March 9.
10 – MISSOURI: The former Big 12 Conference members moved to 14-0 with a win over Northern Illinois; it also marked 34 in a row for head coach Brian Smith. The season finishes at Arizona State (this Friday), at home against Oklahoma State (Feb. 16), and at Iowa State (Feb. 24). Seven straight Mid-American titles are already in the trophy case in Columbia; expect No. 8 in Norfolk, Va., next month. Can Missouri make a run in Pittsburgh? Four straight years inside the top 10 should move to five.
THE NEXT SEVEN – Lehigh, Northwestern, Cornell, Northern Iowa, Iowa State, Rutgers, Princeton
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