Penn State vs. Ohio State. These two teams have combined for the last nine NCAA championships, and they'll both be battling for a team trophy again this year. The Nittany Lions are currently ranked second in the NWCA rankings after losses to No. 5 Arizona State and No. 1 Iowa while Ohio State is ranked No. 6 with losses to No. 7 Virginia Tech, No. 1 Iowa and No. 4 Nebraska.
The Buckeyes have a chance to upset the Nittany Lions if everything goes their way, but they'll need to win both of the unranked matchups at 125 and 157 pounds as well the key matchup at 141 pounds and the two matchups where they have the ranked advantage in 149 and 197 pounds.
This will be a fun dual to watch across all ten weight classes, but there are three matchups in particular that we're most excited about this Saturday.
141 pounds: Luke Pletcher vs. Nick Lee
No. 1 Luke Pletcher vs. No. 2 Nick Lee is perhaps the most anticipated matchup of the year so far, as these two undefeated powerhouse athletes will look to keep their Hodge Trophy hopes alive by stopping an equally dominant competitor. They've never met in college, as Lee has wrestled 141 pounds his last two seasons as a starter and Pletcher's been down a weight class at 133 where he was a two-time fourth-place finisher at the NCAA tournament.
Since moving up to 141 pounds, however, Pletcher has been on a tear for the Buckeyes holding a 23-0 record and bonusing over 60% of his competitors. He earned major decisions over No. 7 Tristan Moran and No. 8 Chad Red, earned a tech fall over No. 9 Mitch Moore and has wins over No. 3 Real Woods, No. 4 Mitch McKee and No. 5 Dom Demas. Nick Lee, however, is the competitor he's been most excited about.
"He's been doing great," Pletcher said. "He's looking good. I've been thinking about this for a long time. I knew he was going to be the heavy-hitter, and [I] can't wait."
Lee, a man of few words, didn't add too much context on his upcoming match against Pletcher in a recent interview with Penn State's Mitch Gerber, but he did acknowledge the hype and told Gerber that he will approach Saturday in a routine manner.
"I'm just going to be the best that I can be, just like any other match," Lee said.
The Nittany Lion junior's routine, however, is nearly perfect. Head coach Cael Sanderson said in an interview with Trackwrestling after the Penn State dual with Iowa that his focused 141-pounder does "everything right."
“He works hard every day, he eats right, he gets his nine-and-a-quarter hours of sleep every night, he’s just clockwork, and when you do the right thing and are coachable, you get better," Sanderson said.
And that's exactly what Lee has done. His best win this year came most recently with a pin over No. 4 McKee in the first period, and he, like Pletcher, also has a major decision over No. 7 Moran and No. 8 Red. Lee is also a multiple-time All-American, like Pletcher, with a fourth and fifth-place finish in the last two years. This year, he's a title favorite, and if he can beat Pletcher in front of the Penn State fans at the Bryce Jordan Center, he will be the title favorite heading into a potential rematch with Pletcher at the Big Ten and national tournaments.
This match could decide the dual, and the sold-out crowd at the Bryce-Jordan Center will no doubt have its eyes glued on these two 141-pound athletes.
184 pounds: Rocky Jordan vs. Aaron Brooks
Jumping up to 184 pounds, Penn State and Ohio State are both expected to send out freshman athletes as Brooks will make his Bryce-Jordan Center debut, and Jordan will compete against Penn State for the first time in his Buckeye career. Both athletes have outperformed expectations this year and have set themselves up for what could be a critical team matchup.
Brooks, a Maryland native, had his redshirt pulled back in December against Lehigh and has won all but one of his eight duals. His own loss came against 2019 All-American Taylor Venz, but his best win came over No. 9 Abe Assad in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Now, in this home arena, Brooks will no doubt be ready to face an opponent with a last name well known in the city of Columbus: Rocky Jordan.
Jordan, whose brothers Micah and Bo combined for seven Ohio State All-American honors, is currently ranked No. 12, but he has a key win over Venz that could be concerning for the Penn State freshman. With a 27-6 record, Jordan has 22 more matches under his belt that Brooks, but he's also taken those six losses, four of which came against unranked wrestlers. A win over Brooks would be key for Jordan ahead of the Big Ten tournament, and this outcome could also swing the dual in favor of the Buckeyes.
Brooks has shown little weakness this season and looks to only be improving, but Jordan is rolling around in the same room as the No. 1 ranked 197-pounder every day and still fresh on the college scene with lots of potential.
This is a battle of the youth, but under the bright lights in State College, both will be expected to wrestle like veterans.
285: Gary Traub vs. Seth Nevills
The Gas Tank is coming to Bryce-Jordan Center. Ohio State's heavyweight fan-favorite Gary Traub has had himself a season so far, posting a 19-6 record across the Buckeye's tough schedule. His worst loss came against national qualifier David Jensen, and his only other losses have come against top guys including No. 1 Gable Steveson, No. 3 Anthony Cassioppi, No. 5 Trent Hillger, No. 6 Tanner Hall and No. 8 Demetrius Thomas. Traub may not be ranked in the top 20, but he's beloved in Columbus and is the highlight of every dual at the Covelli Center.
HEAVYWEIGHT LEADERS: No. 1 Steveson will wrestle No. 3 Cassioppi this weekend
In State College, however, Seth Nevills is the man. Stepping in to replace a national champion is never an easy task, but Nevills has done so with confidence and poise as he holds as a 12-2 record with his only losses coming against No. 1 Steveson and No. 3 Cassioppi. Twice the dual has come down to Nevills, and twice the true freshman heavyweight has found a way to win.
If the dual comes down to Nevills vs. The Gas Tank, get ready for a wild one. Nevills is still young, and his only ranked win this year has been against No. 16 Christian Lance, but in an arena full of Nittany Lions supporters, the pressure will be on him to step up and hold off Traub, potentially for the Penn Stat dual meet win.
It's a little unfair to the rest of the Penn State and Ohio State lineup to limit this preview to just three duals, but the hype for these three, in particular, is so dramatic, that it's important to give them their time in the spotlight. Penn State's Roman Bravo-Young's matchup against Jordan Decatur at 133 pounds, however, will also be one to watch, as the Nittany Lion has shown off top-notch skills in his previous duals and comes into this battle with a 15-1 record after a tight loss to No. 1 Seth Gross. Decatur was also ranked at points throughout the year but has since fallen out of the Top 20.
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The 125 and 157-pound matches will likely feature two unranked wrestlers as either Dylan Koontz or Malik Heinselman will wrestle Penn State's Brandon Meredith at the lightweight and either Elijah Cleary or Quinn Kinner will be expected to take on Bo Pipher or Brady Berge at 157 pounds. Pipher has wrestled all but one of Penn State's duals this year as Berge has been out with an injury.
The Nittany Lions have the advantage at 165 and 175 pounds as No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph will take on No. 16 Ethan Smith and No. 2 Mark Hall will wrestle No. 7 Kaleb Romero. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, will have their two No. 1 ranked guys Sammy Sasso and Kollin Moore wrestle significantly lower-ranked athletes in unranked 149-pound probables of Jarod Verkleeren vs. Luke Gardner and No. 19 Shakur Rasheed at 197 pounds. If all the ranked duals end up as decisions based on rankings, the Nittany Lions would have a 15-9 lead with the two unranked matchups up in the air. Ohio State winning both of the unranked duals ties the match.
Folks, this one will come down to upsets and bonus points.