The quest for another national championship for the Penn State wrestling program begins now.
The 2019 NCAA champions released their 2019-2020 schedule today. It maps out the competition the team will aim to take down on its way to winning a ninth title this decade. Before we get to the must-watch matchups, here is the complete schedule:
Sunday, Nov. 10 vs. Navy (2 p.m.)
Sunday, Nov. 17 at Army-West Point Invite (10 a.m.)
Friday, Nov. 22 at Arizona State (TBA)
Friday, Dec. 6 at Lehigh (TBA)
Sunday, Dec. 6 vs. Penn (2 p.m.)
Friday, Jan. 10 vs. Illinois (TBA)
Sunday, Jan. 12 vs. Northwestern (TBA)
Sunday, Jan. 19 vs. Rutgers (TBA)
Friday, Jan. 24 at Nebraska (TBA)
Friday, Jan. 31 at Iowa (TBA)
Sunday, Feb. 2 vs. Maryland (TBA)
Friday, Feb. 7 at Wisconsin (TBA)
Sunday, Feb. 9 at Minnesota (TBA)
Saturday, Feb. 15 vs. Ohio State (TBA)
Sunday, Feb 23 vs. American (2 p.m.)
Saturday and Sunday, March 7-8 Big Ten Championships (Piscataway, N.J.)
Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 19-21 NCAA Championships (US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.)
LOOKING AHEAD: 7 bold predictions for the 2019-2020 wrestling season
Wooo! New schedule is set, a new year awaits and we are just two months out from Nittany Lion Wrestling! This is PENN STATE. WRESTLING lives here! https://t.co/zUhwSrAkad #PSUwr pic.twitter.com/lmgbUPWP2V— Penn State WRESTLING (@pennstateWREST) September 10, 2019
Here's what you need to know about the teams that will be battling against Penn State and which duals stand out:
Penn State begins its regular season Nov. 10
Penn State will open its season with two military academies, welcoming Navy to Rec Hall on Nov. 10 and traveling to West Point to compete against Army in the Army West Point Invite one week later. The Nittany Lions have never competed in the Army West Point Invite before this year, and they have not wrestled Navy since 2005. Penn State holds a 48-30-7 all-time record against the Midshipmen and has won the last five matchups. Sanderson's team also has a record of dominance in its season-openers having averaged 43.2 points in the first match of the season for the last five years. Two of those five opening matches dating back to 2012 have been against Army, and Penn State defeated the Black Knights 45-3 in 2017 and and 45-0 in 2016. Last year, the Nittany Lions started the year by roaring past Kent State 52-3 and picking up pins in seven of the ten weight classes. With the exception of 149 pounds, Penn State put up the same lineup against Kent State as the team put up in the postseason.
Navy lost its first dual of the 2018-2019 season to Ohio State 28-9 but won the 197 and 125 weight classes. This early season setup allows the Nittany Lions to play with their lineup and assess new talent on the roster.
Head coach Cael Sanderson’s roster will look a little different this year with the graduation of three-time NCAA champions Bo Nickal and Jason Nolf, but the team isn’t without firepower. Last year’s heavyweight NCAA champion Anthony Cassar and former national champions Mark Hall and Vincenzo Joseph return, and all three will look to end their careers on the top of the podium. Add in All-Americans Roman Bravo-Young, Nick Lee and Shakur Rasheed, and this squad is dangerous.
Penn State visits Arizona State on Nov. 22
Penn State will wrestle Arizona State for the second year in a row Nov. 22, but this time the dual will be in Sun Devil territory. Last year’s Penn State-Arizona State dual featured a highly anticipated NCAA finals rematch between 174-pounders Mark Hall and Zahid Valencia with Hall earning redemption against Valencia in Rec Hall. Hall's win at State College prompted the famous air-guitar celebration, which Valencia later modified after beating Hall in the 2019 NCAA finals. With Valencia moving up to 184, this dual will not have the same hype that it did last season, but it will still be Arizona State's biggest test as a team in the fall and should be a great showcase of wrestling talent.
All-American Shakur Rasheed will take on Valencia at 184 if the Penn State lineup plays out as expected. That gives fans an opportunity to see how Rasheed competes against elite opponents after his early exit in the 2019 NCAA tournament. Penn State has beaten Arizona State four times out of the eight times these teams have competed. The Sun Devils have earned three victories and the teams have tied once. Penn State doesn’t have all of its heavy-hitters from last season, but the Nittany Lions are still expected to compete for a national title this year and will be looking for a comfortable win over Arizona State in November.
The Nittany Lions will wrestle two duals in December
The Nittany Lions have just two duals scheduled for December, following a similar trend to last season, but the biggest difference with this year's schedule is the absence of a winter tournament. Penn State will wrestle Lehigh on Dec. 6 and Penn on Dec. 8. Both matches should provide the team with some good reps before the end of the semester. Penn State has wrestled Lehigh in early December for the last three years and beaten them by scores of 42-0, 23-19 and 30-10. The team holds an 70-34-3 record against the EIWA foe and has taken the W in the last nine meetings. The Penn State vs. Penn match two days later will mark the first time these two teams have wrestled each other in ten years and the 25th total time that they've competed against one another. Penn State holds the 21-3 advantage in the all-time series and should be on track for a sizable win over the Quakers.
Without the Southern Scuffle on the schedule, the team will have a break from competition until Big Ten duals start on Jan. 10. Some Penn State wrestlers will likely compete Dec. 20-22 at the U.S. Open as a qualifier for the Olympic Trials in April at State College. Scheduled duals resume in mid-January.
Big Ten duals begin Jan. 10
Penn State has won the Big Ten tournament six times in the last nine years, regaining the crown in 2019 for the first time since 2016. This year's race to the top will be particularly competitive, and nothing is guaranteed for the Nittany Lions when they travel to New Jersey to fight to repeat crowns.
The Big Ten dual schedule for Penn State this year starts with Illinois and Northwestern, two teams that the Nittany Lions should not have a problem against this season.
Illinois went 2-9 last season, finished 11th out of 14 in the Big Ten and took 26th in the NCAA tournament. Penn State took down the Illini 39-9 last season without wrestling Roman Bravo-Young or Shakur Rasheed. The Nittany Lions will be expected to pick up a big win here on Jan. 10 and carry that momentum into another successful dual against Northwestern on Jan. 12. The Wildcats wrestled against Penn State this same weekend last year, and the Nittany Lions prevailed 33-8. Northwestern's stars Sebastian Rivera and Ryan Deakin could have a chance to shine against Penn State in this dual. But the Nittany Lions have power all the way down the lineup and will be expected to pick up a win in this dual, despite possibly struggling against those two Northwestern title contenders.
The intensity of the schedule increases with the Penn State- Rutgers dual Jan. 19 . This will be the first top-10 returning team that Penn State will face in the 2020 season. Rutgers returns four NCAA qualifiers from last year to Penn State's nine and they have just one returning national champ in Nick Suriano, who will be taking an Olympic redshirt and will not wrestle collegiately during at least the first half of the season. Penn State is undefeated against the Scarlet Knights and holds a 20-0 record when competing against its Big Ten opponent. Sanderson's squad should again cruise to a win here and have a set lineup before they face another top-10 returning team in Nebraska on Jan. 24.
Nebraska finished just behind Rutgers in the 2019 NCAA tournament with 51 points and four All-Americans, but they too may struggle to match Penn State's force. NCAA finalist Tyler Berger graduated from the Nebraska lineup, though the Cornhuskers do still return Chad Red at 141 pounds, Isaiah White at 165 pounds and Mikey Labriola at 174 pounds.
Penn State will likely field its own trio of All-Americans in Nick Lee, Vincenzo Joseph and Mark Hall against these three Nebraska stars, making it difficult for the Cornhuskers to score big points. The Nittany Lions beat Nebraska 25-6 last year by only giving up wins at 125 pounds and 184 pounds. Penn State is 9-8-1 against the Cornhuskers.
Penn State in Carver-Hawkeye? Yes, please.
Penn State vs. Iowa on Jan. 31. Mark your calendars because the Hawkeyes could be one of the few teams to threaten Penn State's title run this year and end the Nittany Lion's 59-dual win streak. These two teams did not meet last dual season, and Penn State won the last dual at home in the 2017-2018 season. However, Iowa’s lineup is loaded from top to bottom headlined by two-time national champion Spencer Lee at 125 pounds. Lee could still opt to take an Olympic redshirt this season, but if he wrestles, expect him to score big points.
Penn State has historically struggled to field a national champion-caliber lightweight with last year’s starter failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament. The Nittany Lions will need to find bonus points later in the lineup.
These two teams could have 2019 NCAA rematches between Roman Bravo-Young and Austin DeSanto at 133 pounds and Nick Lee and Max Murin at 141 pounds. There could be a Big Ten finals rematch between Vincenzo Joseph and Alex Marinelli at 165 pounds. Marinelli and Joseph will be the two guys to watch in this dual, assuming they both are healthy at this time in the season and compete. Marinelli beat Jospeh in the last Penn State-Iowa dual 9-6, and he also beat Joseph at the Big Ten championships, but Joseph has two national championships to his name and is always a threat.
Penn State then takes on Maryland at home on Feb. 2, and the last time these two teams wrestled, Penn State took down the Terps 47-3. Penn State has wrestled Maryland 45 times in program history and won 41 of those contests. Maryland will not pose nearly the threat that Iowa does, and Penn State is favored to cruise to program victory No. 42 against the Terps.
Following Maryland, Penn State will travel to Wisconsin on Feb. 7 where all eyes will be on the 133-pound battle between Roman Bravo-Young and 2018 NCAA champion Seth Gross. Wisconsin's Gross sat out last year with an injury and transferred from South Dakota State, where he won his title under then-head coach Chris Bono, to Wisconsin where Bono now runs the Badgers and will be aiming to coach Gross to another title.
Standing in Gross' way is a whole host of 133-pound stars, including last year's eighth-place finisher Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State. The Nittany Lions beat Wisconsin 24-13 last year but took losses at 125 pounds, 141 pounds, 149 pounds and 165 pounds. If Vincenzo Joseph is healthy at 165 pounds, he'll also be one to watch against Wisconsin's Evan Wick, and if Nick Lee can redeem his dual-meet loss to Tristan Moran from last year, Penn State shouldn't have a problem. Wisconsin does have some stars, and a few upsets wins in certain weights could put Penn State in a closer dual than Sanderson would appreciate.
The Penn State- Minnesota dual on Feb. 9 puts Big Ten finalists and NCAA semifinals Gable Steveson and Anthony Cassar back on the mat together. The dual will also feature a battle of All-Americans at 174 pounds and 141 pounds. Minnesota's Mitch McKee finished sixth in last year's tournament while Penn State's Nick Lee took fifth in the same 141 pounds weight class, and Gopher Devin Skatzka also finished behind Penn State All-American Mark Hall at 174 pounds. Penn State has not struggled against Minnesota in the past, but this will be a fun matchup to watch given the amount of All-American talent on the mat.
The big one is in BJC
Penn State and Ohio State have owned the Big Ten for the last decade and their wrestling rivalry runs deep. This year, the two teams will be on the big stage in Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center on Feb. 15 in front of an expected sold-out crowd. This is the same arena that will hold the 2020 Olympic Trials in April, but in February, the BJC will be all about one dual. Ohio State returns All-Americans Luke Pletcher and Kollin Moore, but the team also has a star-studded class of freshman and redshirt freshman that could find their way into the starting lineup this season. Penn State will field competition for Pletcher at 133 with Roman Bravo Young, yet 197 pounds is expected to be Kollin Moore's weight to own all season. With the graduation of Penn State star Bo Nickal, Moore could finally earn his title for the Buckeyes and he could kickstart the second half of that journey with a big win on Penn State turf.
Big ten dual at Penn State on Saturday, Feb. 15 will be contested inside the Bryce Jordan Center.— Ohio State Wrestling (@wrestlingbucks) September 10, 2019
Big dual. Big arena.#GoBucks
The Nittany Lions end their season with a dual against American University on Feb. 23 for the first time in program history. The Eagles finished seventh in the EIWA championship last year and sent four athletes to the NCAA tournament, but did not place any wrestlers on the podium. Penn State should pick up a win here, but American could put up some points at 125 pounds.
The Big 10 Championships are March 7 and 8
Penn State will head into the Big Ten and NCAA tournament looking to defend its titles, but as previously suggested, the Nittany Lions could face threats from Iowa and Ohio State in the conference and Oklahoma State in the national tournament.
The other challenger that could emerge in the Big Ten is Michigan, a team that pushed Penn State in the regular season last year but is not on the dual schedule for this season. Penn State finished last year with four Big Ten champions, five NCAA finalists and three NCAA champions. Two national champs have graduated, but the stage is set for Penn State to chase another title and add to the team’s long list of accolades.