- Somehow Penn State had four individual national champions last year and did NOT win the team title. The Nittany Lions are looking to rectify the latter while building on the former.
- Michigan is likely a top-5 team, and probably #3 in the B1G (and maybe #3 in the nation). Interesting mix in the lineup, too.
- Ohio State has fallen off their torrid pace of 2015-2019 (2015 natty; top 3 each year), but is still a likely top-10 squad, even if that counts as a “rebuild.”
- Rutgers is possibly going to be a sneaky good tournament team and has done a fine job adjusting to the post-Ashnault, post-Suriano era.
- Michigan State may have missed their window as a team, but still have some intriguing All-American candidates.
- Maryland still has a wrestling program.
LET’S TAKE A CLOSER LOOK!!!
PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
If you have four champs and that’s not enough to win the team title, what hope is there?
First, Roman Bravo-Young (133), Nick Lee (141), Carter Starocci (174) and Aaron Brooks (184) are all back. None are absolute locks, though Brooks is close. Assume RBY repeats as well, but Jaydin Eierman and Michael Kemerer each get revenge for Iowa. That’s a 16 point swing and Iowa won by 15.5 last March, so now they’re up 31.5. Now way PSU makes that up, right?
Well, Robert Howard (125) was done by Friday morning. If he’s healthy this year, he should be better, and, if not, well frosh phenom Gary Steen might be ready to step in.
Penn State got next to nothing out of their middle weights last year. No qualifier at 149, Brady Berge had a MD and a dec. but then lost and injury defaulted out (be well in retirement Brady), and Joe Lee went 0-2 at 165. My scoring muscles are rusty, but I think that’s THREE points total. Beau Bartlett and Joe Lee are both likely to be improved this year and, oh yeah. Alex Facundo and Shayne Van Ness, two of the top five recruits nationally, might be ready to roll this year. PSU is going to score notably more than 3 points at these three weights this year.
At 197, maybe Michael Beard looks like the guy who struggled in the regular season, or maybe he looks like the guy who was a freshman All-American. Or...Cornell transfer and two-time All-American Max Dean starts and gives PSU a very strong chance at a top-4 finish.
Finally, at heavweight, maybe Greg Kerkvliet only improves from 7th to 5th. Steveson, Parris, Cassioppi, Schultz is a pretty good foursome. Or, maybe Kerkvliet leaps to third.
Bottom line, PSU is stacked. Eierman and Kemerer (if healthy) are both good enough to win titles, but PSU is going to gain net points at 125, 149, 157, 165, 197, and 275. And, frankly, it’s unlikely that Iowa wins both 141 and 174. The Hawkeyes are the defending champs and deserve to start on top. But PSU has a LOT of paths to improving their team performance from last year. They’re my preseason pick to win it all.
And even if they don’t they’re going to win the team title in ‘23, ‘24, and ‘25 at least. You don’t have to like it. I don’t necessarily. And for all the chest-thumping, PSU can morph into Okie State pretty quickly late in matches (I though RBY and Fix were in a body swap movie in last year’s 133 title match), but it’s worked for them and they’re not gonna change just because you want style points. They are your overlords and they might arrive a year earlier than expected.
Michigan won’t crack the Iowa/PSU duopoly, but they could be good enough to edge out Arizona State and Oklahoma State for third nationally.
Stevan Micic (133), Myles Amine (184), and Mason Parris (275) have eight All-American performances (all top 4!) among them, but no titles. Each clearly has national title aspirations this year (or, in Parris’s case, aspirations to be the last guy to lose to Gable Steveson).
Cameron Amine (165) and Princeton transfer Max Brucki (174) are both All-American candidates (Brucki took 4th in 2019)
Jack Medley (125), Drew Mattin (141), Kanen Storr (149), and Will Lewan (157) are all guys you could see still alive in the blood round with a break or two.
174 is dicey (Logan Massa is gone, right? Right?), but Michigan will have a sound lineup pretty much from top to bottom with plenty of tournament scoring potential.
Add it all up, and it’s a team that has a pretty good shot at 3rd nationally. Arizona State is getting a lot of preseason love, and Oklahoma State is pretty stacked, but Michigan is in that mix.
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Look. You think Sammy Sasso (149) is boring and I think Sammy Sasso is boring. And he probably missed his best chance at an individual title last year, now that Yianni Diakomihalis is back. Still, he’s an elite wrestler. You can book him for top-4 finish at worst, and he’s heading up a deep Buckeye lineup that will win plenty of duals, though March may prove a bit tough. Complementing him is Ethan Smith at 174, who should start off in the top eight this year.
Malik Heinselman (125), Anthony Echemendia (133), Dylan D’Emilio (141), Carson Karchla (165), Kaleb Romero (184), Rocky Jordan (or Gavin Hoffman) (197) and Tate Orndorff (275) all are likely to start the season outside the top 10, but each is of NCAA tournament caliber. Karchla and Romero can both realistically dream of All-America status. Heinselman and Ornodorff are both at weights with a glut of relatively equally matched wrestlers in the 6-20 range, and I bet most folks are higher on Orndorff’s chances this year than I am. Keep an eye on Echemendia. He’s got a great story, and his freestyle accomplishments suggest that he could surprise this year so long as he’s healthy.
Still, the Buckeyes look like the classic “better at duals than tournaments” team this year. I would pick them 4th in a B1G dual tournament, but expect Minnesota to outscore them at nationals and wouldn’t be shocked if Nebraska and/or Northwestern did as well.
RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS
Rutgers is probably going to finish in the 12-18 range nationally, but they have a top heavy lineup, which means there is sneaky top 10 potential if they peak at the right time. John Poznanski (184) and Sebastian Rivera (141? 133?) each finished 4th last year. Jackson Turley (174) memorably won four consolation matches to finish 8th as the #26 seed, and Sammy Alvarez (133? 141?) has All-American potential as well. Add in Clarion transfer Greg Bulsak at 197, and Rutgers is worth keeping an eye on come March even if their dual record won’t blow you away.
Seriously, do yourself a favor. Watch Sebastian Rivera wrestle. It might be painful for Northwestern fans, but he’s a treat to watch. He’s a three-time All-American, and the last man to defeat Spencer Lee (he beat Lee twice in 2019 when at 125). He moved up to 133 and won the B1G title in 2020 beating 2018 national champ Seth Gross and 2021 national champ Roman Bravo-Young along the way. Last year he bumped up to 141 and was good enough to take Nick Lee to sudden victory in the regular season (and the 9-3 loss in the NCAA tournament was much closer than the score indicates).
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
For a while last year, Sparty had the “lower half of the conference, but fun to watch, and maybe sneaky good” vibe that Purdue has also had lately. But then, then sneaky good part failed to materialize.
Rayvon Foley (125) was an All-American in 2019, but couldn’t repeat it in ‘21. Cam Caffey looked like an All-American all the way up until he went out in the blood round. Those two need to lead this Spartans squad.
Layne Malczewski (184) flirted with the top 10 last year, but ended up seeded #15 and went 0-2 at nationals. Jacob Tucker (165) has yet to make the tournament, but should this year. Chase Saldate (157) also has that sort of potential. And Caleb Fish (174) is a really intriguing freshman, who could have something to say this year.
If everything breaks right, MSU could be a surprise team this year, and Coffey, Foley, Saldate, and Peyton Omania all have differing vareities of “funk” to their style. Unfortunately, they’re stuck in the B1G. They’re better than Indiana and definitely Maryland, but that might be it. Both those teams are on the schedule, but both on the road. Sparty wrestling fans should prepare for a long year, but hope a couple of guys (probably Finley and/or Caffey) are rounding into form in March.
Get it? Maryland never pins anybody?
Sorry. Laughing about the state of Maryland’s program is pretty played out by this point. And last year’s 3-20 record at the B1G conference tournament (one of those wins was in the championship bracket!) was a marked improvement over 2020’s 0-20 performance.
Still, there doesn’t seem to be an NCAA qualifier on the roster. Jaron Smith (197) is always game, and Michael North (149) might get there down the road, but will have a bumpy freshman year. Zach Schrader (285) transferred in from Cal Baptist, where he posted some fine-looking records. But that was against weak competition and the B1G is as much a meat ginder among the big boys as it is at any weight.
Wrestling is one of the easiest sports for a team to become competitive in a hurry. But that means opening the pocketbook for a splashy coach hire. And Maryland seems unlikely to do that.