The last two years saw a cancelled national championship tournament, an abbreviated season, and one of the odder Olympics ever. Now, we get back to wrestling as it was intended. Iowa returns as defending National Champions for the first time in a decade, Nebraska and Minnesota both had top 10 seasons last year, and Wisconsin looks to return to form as they welcome top recruit Braxton Amos into the fold. Here we go.
The Iowa Hawkeyes
After the 2020 season saw their long-awaited return to the top delayed by a global pandemic, the Hawkeyes stormed into 2021 looking to right wrongs. They worked their way through five dominant dual wins before illnesses caused the remained of their dual schedule to be cancelled. Still, Iowa came into the Big Ten tournament with a full head of steam, and crowned four individual champions in route to a conference title. Their 35.5 point margin of victory was the largest in over a decade. NCAAs started well, and the Hawkeyes had seven all-Americans and three finalists, but only Spencer Lee wore the black and gold on top the podium for Iowa. Returning their entire lineup, Iowa looks to repeat and bring home their 25th national title.
All ten returning wrestlers for Iowa should be eyeing all-American honors at the least, with Lee (125), Eierman (141), Marinelli (165), and Kemerer (174) all set to compete for individual titles. There isn’t too much to say about this Hawkeye team that hasn’t already been said. With ten returning starters, you know exactly what you’re going to get, and that’s the toughest top-to-bottom lineup in the country.
Iowa’s non-conference schedule is a brief one, starting with home duals against Princeton on November 19th and Oregon State November 17th, then traveling to Ames to take on the Cyclones on December 5th. They will compete in the reiteration of the National Duals in December along with Penn State, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Mizzou, and several others. Then comes the conference schedule.
Quickly circle @Ohio State, vs Penn State, and @Nebraska as can’t miss action. On February 12th, a week before Nebraska, Iowa will be traveling to Stillwater for some late season non-con fun against Oklahoma State, and you won’t want to miss that either. The conference tournament is March 5th and 6th, and the Hawkeyes will look to repeat their national title March 17th to the 19th.
The Gophers are returning sixth-place finisher Brayton Lee, third-place Pat McKee, and National Champion Gable Steveson, who will compete this year before starting his WWE career. Steveson won an Olympic Gold over the summer is easily the most well-known piece of this Minnesota team, but they return all but two of their national qualifiers from a year ago. Though they lose Jake Allar and Owen Webster, they add Wisconsin transfer Jared Krattiger. The Gophers finished seventh in points in the national tournament a year ago, and look to improve over the course of their season.
A home opener against Oklahoma State is a bold move, and I’m here for it. The Gophers have chosen the Cliff Keen as their major preseason tournament, but they’ve also added the UNI Open a week later. Starting the conference season at Iowa, the Gophers will be nothing if not battle tested. Home duals against Northwestern, Nebraska, and Wisconsin within just two weeks is as good a reason as any to buy season tickets if you’re in Minnesota, and finishing the season in Minneapolis against Ohio State is a fitting finale to this schedule.
Minnesota is going to lose a couple of duals. But they’re going to go into March a very well-prepared team. Look for them to finish top five in Detroit at the end of this year.
Only Chad Red and Mikey Labriola earned All-American honors for the Cornhuskers last year, a disappointing end after a third-place finish at Big Tens just prior. Still, Nebraska has a talented roster, and could be competing for a top five finish at the end of the season. Eight of their nine national qualifiers return from last year, with only Caleb Licking missing. He will likely be replaced by one of the best names in wrestling, Brock Hardy.
Nebraska non-con consists of a few warmups, North Carolina, the Cliff Keen Invitational, South Dakota State, and then a mid-season trip to Corvallis to see Oregon State. Their conference schedule is road-heavy early, but ends with visits from Michigan, Illinois, and Iowa in consecutive weeks, interrupted by a trip to State College two days after the Michigan dual. Iowa at Nebraska is going to be a top five dual nationally for the season, and the Huskers will absolutely give Iowa everything they’ve got. If Iowa handles Penn State, they could bring a 30-dual conference win streak into what could be a 1v2 matchup.
Nebraska should be eyeing six all-Americans, and have a few dark horse title contenders. There’s no reason they can’t finish on the podium in March.
Wisconsin had a relative down year last year, but they bring in this year one of the hottest recruits the country has seen since Spencer Lee. Braxton Amos, of Mineral Wells, West Virginia, won the National Wrestling Hall of Fame’s Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award in 2020 after an undefeated three-year high school career where he did not surrender a single offensive point. You can see his full accolades here, but let’s just agree he’s really good at wrestling. Most recently, he won a bronze medal in Greco-Roman and a gold in Freestyle at the Junior World Wrestling Championships. He was an alternate for the Olympic Greco-Roman team in Tokyo. He is expected to wrestle at 197 pounds, where his biggest competition may be last year’s freshman champion, Oklahoma State’s AJ Ferrari.
Joining him in the Wisconsin lineup are returning national qualifier Kyle Burwick at 133 pounds, and last year’s sixth place finisher at heavyweight, Trent Hillger. Also on the roster is Iowa State transfer Austin Gomez, who was a national qualifier in 2019.
This season?— Wisconsin Wrestling (@BadgerWrestling) September 15, 2021
Six home duals at the UW Field House. Back at full power and we're here for it all!
️ Full Schedule: https://t.co/qIDN5KwoUy
️ Buy Season Tickets: https://t.co/7Q3bwKXqa0 pic.twitter.com/IoRH1w72TQ
Wisconsin will have a quiet preseason before heading to Midlands at the end of December. Home duals against Northwestern and Rutgers should be winnable before a trip northwest to Minneapolis tests the Badgers on the road. A home dual against Nebraska will give Wisconsin an opportunity to make a statement, before two easier road duals against Purdue and Maryland lead into the showdown in Carver-Hawkeye. They’ll finish their conference schedule at home against Illinois before heading to West Gym to take on the Northern Iowa Panthers, and then hosting Cornell (who did not wrestle last year) to end the season. Wisconsin should be able to improve upon their performance from last year, and a realistic goal is something like five qualifiers, three All-Americans.
If you are a fan of these teams, let us know in the comments how you expect them to do. You’ve probably paid attention to the offseason than I have. If you’re a fan of these schools, but don’t watch a lot of wrestling, this is a good year to get starter. All four of these school have serious upsides. Well, Iowa can’t really get more “up,” but if you’re an Iowa fan and you’re not already watching wrestling, you must have something against Tom Brands or something.