The Penn State Nittany Lions dominated the college wrestling scene in 2018-2019, winning their eighth title in nine years and ending the year with three national champions. Two of those champions have now graduated, but head coach Cael Sanderson has put together another strong squad together and will look to add to the trophy collection this year.
The Nittany Lions now enter the 2019-20 season ranked No.1 for the third consecutive time, a ranking that comes as no surprise given the success of the program over the course of the last 12 months. Click or tap here for the full NWCA preseason Top 25.
Can anyone challenge Penn State this season? Iowa and Arizona State are the only other two teams with returning national champions who aren't taking redshirt seasons, and both of those teams hold top 10 rankings in the first NWCA poll of the year, with Iowa in second and Arizona State in eighth. The Ohio State Buckeyes sit at No. 3 with Oklahoma State and Nebraska at spots 4 and 5.
All eyes on the Hawkeyes
Iowa is expected to be the strongest threat against Penn State, and the Hawkeyes earned two first-place votes in the preseason poll. They trail the Nittany Lions by just 11 points in the preseason rankings, and return just as many 2019 champions as the defending champions.
Junior 125-pounder Spencer Lee will look for his third consecutive NCAA title, and his points will play a big role in the ability of the Hawkeyes to challenge Sanderson's team in March. Iowa's 165-pounder Alex Marinelli will also be a title favorite after taking down two-time NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph in the Big Ten tournament and earning the No. 1 seed for last year's tournament. Marinelli finished seventh last year after losses to No. 8 seed and ultimate champ Mekhi Lewis and Lock Haven senior Chance Marsteller, but he'll return for his junior season to chase the title that has eluded him during his first two seasons in the Black and Gold.
If Lee and Marinelli can both end up on top of the podium with several of their teammates picking up All-American honors, this could be Iowa's year. Six Hawkeyes finished in the top eight last year including Lee, Marinelli, Austin DeSanto, Pat Lugo, Kaleb Young and Jacob Warner, and all six will be back looking to score even more points. The Hawkeyes have not won a national title since 2010, but they'll look to mark this tenth anniversary with another one.
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In addition to Iowa and Penn State, four other Big Ten teams earned top 10 spots in the preseason poll, an expected number given the annual success of the conference. Of all of those six teams, Wisconsin made the biggest jump from its 2019 NCAA tournament positioning to its preseason rankings, moving from 21st to sixth, likely as a result of Seth Gross' transfer. Gross won the NCAA title at 133 pounds in 2018 while wrestling for South Dakota State but transferred to wrestle his sixth year for head coach Chris Bono and the Badgers. The graduate student will make his debut for Wisconsin on Friday in the Battle on the Midway in San Diego when Wisconsin wrestles Navy. Along with Gross, the Badgers' lineup also includes retuning All-Americans Trent Hillger and Evan Wick as well as NCAA qualifiers wrestler Tristan Moran and Cole Martin.
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The redshirt effect
The preseason rankings differ slightly from last year's NCAA tournament results, with Iowa jumping Ohio State and Oklahoma State for the second spot, and Michigan dropping from fifth to 19th after announcing the decision to redshirt NCAA All-Americans Myles Amine, Stevan Micic and Logan Massa as well as NCAA qualifier Kanen Storr. The Wolverines, however, aren't the only team to dip in the standings after deciding to redshirt key players from last year's tournament. Rutgers slid from a historic ninth place finish in last year's tournament to outside the Top 25 in the 2019 preseason poll following the graduation of NCAA champion Anthony Ashnault and the redshirting of senior NCAA champion Nick Suriano.
Missouri also dropped several spots, moving from sixth in last year's tournament to ninth to begin this year, following the graduation of Daniel Lewis and the decision to redshirt Jaydin Eierman, who is currently representing the United States at the U23 World Championships. Cornell dropped from seventh to 18th, also a result of the decision to redshirt 141-pound defending champion Yianni Diakomihalis, 184-pound NCAA finalist Max Dean and 125-pound All-American Vito Arujau. These two drops moved Nebraska up from last year's 10th place finish into fifth place, as the Cornhuskers return All-Americans Chad Red, Isaiah White and Mikey Labriola. Virginia Tech, ranked 16th in the preseason poll, dropped five places from its 11th place finish last year as a result of the decision to redshirt Mekhi Lewis.
Several teams made noteworthy jumps from last year's tournament finishes including a Minnesota team that moved up from seventh place at the end of last year to sixth place this year, and the Arizona State Sun Devils who went from No. 12 to No. 8. Arizona State is the top-ranked team in the Pac-12 while No. 11 Lehigh holds the top spot in the EIWA. North Carolina State went from No. 17 in last year's tournament to No. 10, and the Wolfpack still hold to the top spot in what should be a fun and competitive ACC conference.
Dual vs. Tournament
Arizona State, Northwestern and Oklahoma and Old Dominion all earned Top 25 spots despite not being ranked at the end of last season in the dual season standings. All three of these teams finished in the Top 25 at the NCAA tournament, reinforcing that dual performance and team scores differ based on the format of the event. Penn State, however, held first place finishes in both the dual meet season and the tournament standings last season.
See the full Top 25 standings below:
|1||Penn State (12)||(14-0)||348||1|