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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | February 3, 2022

7 intriguing college wrestling matches you can't miss this weekend

2021 DI wrestling finals: Shane Griffith vs. Jake Wentzel (165 lbs.)

With all 25 of the nation’s top wrestling teams in action this weekend, there’s no shortage of great matches to watch. Between Penn State’s expected clash with No. 6 Ohio State to No. 11 Cornell’s matchup against Ivy League foe No. 20 Princeton on Saturday, this weekend has it all. 

These matches and more will keep the team race exciting and offer new insights into the depth and strength of each of these programs, but, from an individual standpoint, pride and rankings are on the line as well. 

Here’s a list of the seven individual bouts that you won’t want to miss in a jam-packed weekend of college wrestling. 

No. 3 Shane Griffith vs. No. 7 Anthony Valencia | 2 p.m. ET Friday | Pac-12 Insider

After some friendly Twitter trash-talking earlier this week, Stanford will travel south for a fun Pac-12 rivalry dual that features a number of ranked matches, but none more intriguing than the potential 2021 conference championship rematch at 165 pounds between No. 3 Shane Griffith and No. 7 Anthony Valencia. The last time these two athletes met, Valencia delivered Griffith the first loss of his varsity career — two weeks later Griffith would go on to win the NCAA championship and Valencia would finish eighth. 

STANFORD’S HERO: Read more about how Shane Griffith won his 2021 NCAA title 

Fast forward a year, and these two All-Americans are set to meet again to run it back. Both athletes have losses on the season with Griffith dropping matches against Cal Poly’s Evan Wick and Cornell’s Julian Ramirez with Valencia posting just one loss against Wick, but conference standings and seedings will be on the line with this battle. The 165-pound weight class is deep, but both of these guys are in the title conversation, and this match could reveal a lot about what to expect from the defending NCAA champion and defending Pac-12 champion come March. 

From a team standpoint, the Sun Devils have a serious advantage on paper against the Cardinal, but this is a match that Stanford will need to win to stay in the dual. After wrestling under more stable conditions this year than last year, can Griffith earn revenge against his Pac-12 foe? Find out on Friday afternoon.

No. 1 Carter Starocci vs. No. 7 Ethan Smith | 7 p.m. Friday | Big Ten Network

Five hours after Shane Griffith wrestles, another NCAA champion will take the mat as No. 1 Carter Starocci looks to extend his winning streak against Ohio State’s No. 7 Ethan Smith. Starocci comes into this bout fresh off a win against NCAA finalist and Big Ten champion Michael Kemerer in sudden victory, but Smith has an impressive resume of his own. The Buckeye junior is 12-4 on the year, and while he did just take a loss to Kemerer two weeks ago by a score of 6-3, Smith wrestles everyone tough and will likely still put up a fight against Starocci in this first meeting between these two All-Americans. 

PENN STATE CHAMPS: Nick Lee | Roman Bravo-Young | Carter Starocci | Aaron Brooks

The Nittany Lions are significantly favored, with regards to the team score, against the Buckeyes, so while the dual is unlikely to come down to this one weight, a win for Starocci would help him keep his undefeated record alive and hold down that top spot. The Penn State sophomore will want to put on a show for his home fans in the Bryce Jordan-Center — the question will be whether or not Ethan Smith can challenge Starocci and make him feel some pressure on this stage.   

No. 8 Cameron Caffey vs. No. 28 Jaron Smith | 7 p.m. Friday | BTN+

Every weight class offers its own unique set of storylines, and Maryland’s Jaron Smith proved last weekend that 197 pounds is certainly a weight worth following. In front of his home crowd, Smith topped Michigan’s No. 10 Patrick Brucki in sudden victory to claim Maryland’s lone win in the dual and move himself up in the rankings to No. 28. He’ll have another test on his hands this weekend against No. 8 Cameron Caffey, a Big Ten finalist and a Round of 12 finisher at the NCAA tournament, but if he can keep things close with Caffey and push for an upset, he could create an even more significant shuffle in the rankings at this weight.

Caffey, a fifth-year junior for the Spartans, is 21-4 on the year with losses to Penn State’s Michael Beard, Navy’s Jake Koser, Oklahoma’s Jake Woodley and Illinois’ Matt Wroblewski, but he bumped himself up in the rankings after a 3-2 decision against Max Dean two weeks ago. The result remains Dean’s only loss on the year, but it’s one that could have consequences in terms of seeding at the Big Ten tournament. 

TERP TALENT: Maryland’s King Sandoval leads the NCAA in falls

Dean and Smith have not wrestled yet this year, and Smith has also never wrestled Caffey, but both wrestlers have shown flashes of greatness so far this year. Smith holds a 15-7 record for the season with similar loses to Woodly and Koser, as well as Braxton Amos, Tanner Sloan, Alan Clothier and Nino Bonaccorsi, so while Caffey holds the advantage of paper, rankings change every week at 197 pounds.

No. 8 Chad Red vs. No. 11 Stevan Micic | 9 p.m. Friday | Big Ten Network

Speaking of the Big Ten, No. 8 Nebraska will welcome No. 3 Michigan to its home gym late Friday night for a battle between two top-10 teams and a slew of bouts featuring individual stars. While this match will be a barn-burner from 125 to 285 pounds, the most interesting weight of this dual is 141 pounds where NCAA finalist and Olympian Stevan Micic will meet No. 8 Chad Red for the first time in his career and look to put himself back on track after some unexpected losses earlier this year. 

Micic returned this season after two Olympic redshirts during the 2020 and 2021 seasons, and he’s 3-2 on the year so far with losses to Cole Matthews of Pitt and Jake Bergeland of Minnesota. An eighth-year senior for the Wolverines, Micic has impressive experience and a high wrestling IQ, but he’s still finding his footing up a weight at 141 pounds and competing in the collegiate style that he’s moved on from over the past few seasons. Micic unquestionably has the fundamentals to compete with the best of the best in this weight, but he’ll have a unique opponent this weekend in Nebraska’s Chad Red, a funky wrestler with a high pace who pushes even the best of his opponents.

With a record of 9-2 on the year, Chad Red’s only losses have come against North Carolina’s Kizhan Clarke and Northern Colorado’s Andrew Alirez, both wrestlers who compete with a more tactical style and stay patient on the mat. Red hasn’t faced anyone with Micic’s credentials yet this year, but expect this one to be close. The Wolverine has the edge on paper, and his team will likely have the momentum at this point in the dual following Nick Suriano and Dylan Ragusin at 125 and 133 pounds, so Micic will look to carry that energy while Red will be doing everything in his power to keep the Huskers in this dual. 

No. 2 Pat Glory vs. No. 3 Vito Arujau | 1 p.m. Saturday | ESPN+

The Ivy League clash between Princeton and Cornell on Saturday afternoon just might be the dual with the most intense individual matchup, as No. 2 Patrick Glory and No. 3 Vito Arujau are expected to face off for the first time this season in a match that will have conference and national seeding implications. These two athletes have split 1-1 in their previous two meetings, with Arujau taking the first win by fall and Glory reversing the outcome and topping Arujau by decision in their most recent bout.

Glory’s win in that last dual gave him the edge in the rankings, but these two have not wrestled each other in folkstyle since March 2019, and both wrestlers want a chance to show off their improved skillset. Both Glory and Arujau have full confidence in their abilities to win an individual title, and while the winner will likely benefit from a seeding standpoint at the national tournament, much like the winners of all of these high-profiles matches, they are just focused on beating each other and putting points on the board for their team. 

STATE OF THE WEIGHT: Here’s how Arujua and Glory stack up against the best 125-pounders in the country

This match is personal from a team standpoint, too. Princeton beat Cornell 19-13 in their last meeting back in 2020, and that victory elevated the Tigers to their first Ivy League title since 1986, but Cornell outplaced Princeton that same year at the EIWA tournament. The Big Red come into the dual ranked nine spots higher than the Tigers, so another win for Princeton would cause shakeups in the national rankings as well as the EIWA standings. Cornell will be wrestling under new leadership, and head coach Mike Grey continues his strong first year at the helm of this program. Regardless of the outcome, credit belongs to both of these programs for creating this rivalry and building the depth of the Ivy League today. 

No. 4 Jacob Warner vs. No. 22 Braxton Amos | 3:30 p.m. Saturday | Big Ten Network 

Wisconsin’s Braxton Amos entered the season as one of the most hyped true freshmen in the NCAA, and while he’s wrestled well with that pressure and spotlight, he’s taken a few losses, including three recent decision losses last month to Thomas Penola, Eric Schultz, and Greg Bulsak. These results are typical of true freshmen who emerge on the NCAA scene and look to find their place, but wins over Maryland’s Jarron Smith and North Carolina’s Max Shaw prove that Amos is looking like someone who could qualify for the NCAA tournament and continue to improve. He’ll have another test against an elite Big Ten wrestler this weekend though, as he’s set to wrestle No. 4 Jacob Warner in a bout that will allow him to test himself against one of the best in the conference. 

THE AMOS STORY: These true freshman college wrestling contenders have the best chance to win a title this season

Warner, a junior for Iowa, holds an impressive 11-2 record with his losses coming against Yonger Bastida of Iowa State earlier this year and Penn State's Max Dean last week. Warner is big and tough, and he’s physical on the mat, but Amos’ strengths come from his neutral wrestling and his ability to throw opponents by leveraging his Greco background. The intrigue around Amos absolutely comes from his incredible freestyle success last summer, as he won the 2021 Junior World Championships at 97kg, and those credentials have translated well to folkstyle success in the past for previous NCAA champions including Mekhi Lewis and Mark Hall, in particular. 

Warner will still be significantly favored in this match on paper, but the more experience Amos gains in folkstyle competition, the better he will become.

No. 2 Keegan O’Toole vs. No. 10 Travis Wittlake | 2 p.m. Sunday

While the Big Ten steals much of the wrestling spotlight, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Northern Iowa and Oklahoma are forcing fans to pay attention to the Big 12 and keep their eyes of the team race that becomes more competitive every week. In what is expected to be an epic Midwestern showdown, the Cowboys will wrap up this weekend's college wrestling action with a top-15 battle against No. 12 Missouri.

Mizzou is currently 9-3 on the year with losses to Virginia Tech, NC State and South Dakota State, while Oklahoma State is fresh off two losses to Iowa State and Northern Iowa, but there are number of notable individuals on both of those teams that will be competing for top individual honors this year as way. Sophomore Keegan O'Toole of Mizzou has been one of the most impressive competitors at 165 pounds this year, posting a 14-0 record with 80+ percent bonus, a dominance record to shows just how skilled this young star is. O'Toole has just one loss in his entire college career against Jake Wentzel by decision at the NCAA tournament, and he's put himself in a position to compete for a title in the deep 165-pound weight class this year. 

OKLAHOMA STATE LOOKS TO REBOUND: Here's how the Cowboys' losses to UNI and ISU impacted their rankings 

Oklahoma State's Travis Wittlake, though, is not far behind O'Toole, as he's currently 10th in the national rankings but finished fourth in last year's NCAA tournament after dropping the third-place match to his Tiger opponent 4-3. Wittlake has had a solid season, and he showed early signs of greatness in his competitive match with Shane Griffith earlier this year where he fell 3-0 but put the champ in some tough positions. A recent loss to Austin Yant of Northern Iowa dropped Wittlake down in the rankings, but if he's looking for a top-ranked win to help him move up in the standings, he'll have his chance this weekend against a young Missouri wrestler who has his eyes on an NCAA crown. 

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