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Wrestling is back! A midseason recap and conference preview

Let’s get you caught up on what’s happened and what’s to come

Syndication: The Des Moines Register Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Welcome back! We’re halfway through the wrestling season, and coverage around here has been a little… scarce. So I wanted to get you caught up. Honestly, this whole season has been a little lackluster. I don’t know if that’s my perspective alone; when I stepped away after last season, it was because I knew I wasn’t going to catch much action this year, and I have been right thus far. The good news is, this schedule is about to pick up big time. Or should I say B1G time, because it’s conference dual season!

WE WILL HAVE A WEEKLY ARTICLE STARTING NEXT WEEK AS DUAL SEASON GETS GOING. For now, note that Friday night at 7:00 CST, BTN is covering the Cornell/Ohio State dual, which should do a good job of whetting your appetite in the meantime. If everybody goes, there should be a top 10 wrestler at every weight, and a top 10 showdown at 133 featuring defending national champ Vito Arujau.

Power Rankings

1. Penn State Nittany Lions

Atinat: No surprise here, Penn State is the best team in the conference, and the country, as they were last year and as they were heavily expected to be. It’s been a quiet start to the season for the Nittany Lions, as they’ve only wrestled two duals and haven’t had official team entries into many tournaments. They did also lose 149-pounder Shayne Van Ness to a season-ending injury, which would be big news for earthly teams, but doesn’t mean too much for the otherworldly defending champs. They replace him with Tyler Kasak, a freshman who is bumping up from 141 pounds. He is one of two Nittany Lions to not earn an Intermat ranking, and that’s just because of sample size. The other is 125-pounder Gary Steen, which is a continued weakness for Penn State. Even Superman had his kryptonite.

Penn State opens the new year with a dual meet against Oregon State on Friday, then conference duals against Indiana, Michigan, and Michigan State in the coming weeks. Their “tests” come in February, with Ohio State and Iowa in back-to-back weeks, then Nebraska to close the conference schedule. Anything short of undefeated conference champions would be inconceivable for this team.

Kind of…: I honestly, sincerely, thought PSU was looking at making a run at Iowa’s record of 170 points at the NCAA’s this year, but that was before van Ness’s injury. And part of that was thinking that Robert Howard would make a jump at 125, which doesn’t appear to be happening. As it is, they’re still winning another team title and have probably the two biggest favorites to win a title in Brooks and Starrocci. I like Kerkvliet and Haines to join them, and Truax and Bartlett to at least make the semis. Nagao could as well. That’s 7 of 10 guys scoring at least 12 points toward the team total, and at least 20 more if I’m right about the individual champs. Not much drama this year.

2. Iowa Hawkeyes

Atinat: Iowa is number two in this power ranking, just as they are in Intermat’s dual rankings, likely out of respect for what they’ve done in the past few seasons. But they’re nowhere near as stacked as they have been in previous years. They’re sixth in projected tournament points, and aren’t the strong dual team they’ve been recently. The Hawkeyes are lead by transfers, including top-ranked Real Woods, #2 Jared Franek, #7 Mikey Caliendo, and #8 Victor Voinovich. Iowa is 5-0 in duals, with wins over Iowa State and Oregon State bolstering Iowa’s non-conference schedule.

The story for Iowa this year is definitely more about who isn’t wrestling, though. Nelson Brands, Abe Assad, and Tony Cassioppi are implicated in the state-wide gambling probe, with Brands and Assad’s decisions already final and Cassioppi’s appeal likely ending soon. All three are/were in their final year of eligibility. Cobe Siebrecht is also out. This leaves holes in Iowa’s lineup, specifically at 184 and 285 pounds. Iowa has two true freshmen that can fill those spots, with Gabe Arnold already bumping up to wrestle once at 184 and Ben Kueter soon joining the team now that football season is over. However, Arnold went back down to 174 to wrestle the Soldier Salute, and Brands hasn’t said much about pulling either redshirt.

There’s also the Ferrari question, as the former national champion AJ Ferrari recently officially visited Iowa and wrestled the Soldier Salute with former Hawkeye and current HWC wrestler Alex Marinelli in his corner. However, Ferrari’s last match ended in controversy, as the Texas native needed sudden victory to defeat Iowa’s starter #19 Zach Glazier, and then punched, shoved, and flipped off the Hawkeye en route to a disqualification and defeat. Not a great way to endear himself to the hometown crowd, to say the least. I don’t know how Ferrari’s eligibility works (I assume he can wrestle this year, and has three years of eligibility left), but honestly, I’m not interested in him or his brothers at this point. Middle brother Anthony Ferrari is verbally committed to wrestle for Iowa, but also got into it with a Hawkeye in his final at the Soldier Salute, shoving Caleb Rathjen in the back after falling in the 149-pound championship bout. Youngest brother Angelo is signed to Iowa, and would need a release in order to not join the team next year. I say give it to him if he wants it, because I don’t want those cancers on my team (and they likely already cost Iowa a star freshman in Cody Chittum, who flipped to Iowa State upon Angelo’s signing).

Wow, okay, that was a lot of words for a team that might not even podium this year. That’s partly because it’s my team, but also because, holy cow that’s a lot of drama for half a season. And I barely scratched the surface! Iowa wrestles Nebraska and Minnesota next weekend, then Michigan and Penn State in February. They’ll wrestle Oklahoma State to end the regular season, and I might be able to go.

Kind of…: Lotta drama already competently explained. This is a big year for Tom Brands. Great recruiting class already took a hit losing Chittum. Iowa won’t disappear, but it felt like they had things lined up to be in the team title race in ‘25 or ‘26, but the suspensions and drama could really waylay them. Iowa won’t become the Nebraska football version of wrestling, but they don’t want to become what traditional power Oklahoma State is, either? Wait, were the Ferraris a plant?

3. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Atinat: Good thing the race for second is so competitive this year, because first is locked up. Nebraska is the second in a four-team race for the coveted runner-up position. They’re 3-0 this year in duals, with wins over NDSU, SDSU, and Campbell. They finished second at the Cliff Keen Invitational, failing to defend their title by five points behind Iowa State. They did have a pair of champions in Ridge Lovett (149) and Peyton Robb (157), both of whom are undefeated and considered national title contenders. The Huskers also boast #4 Caleb Smith (West Virginia transfer) at 125 pounds, #6 Brock Hardy at 141 pounds, and #4 Lenny Pinto at 184 pounds, as well as defending B1G champion Silas Allred at 197.

Nebraska wrestles Wyoming and Northern Iowa on Saturday to ring in the new year, then Iowa and Minnesota to start the conference schedule. They have a soft middle of the schedule before finishing with Michigan and Penn State, and a non-con against Arizona State. Nebraska is projected third in tournament points by Intermat, and ranked fourth in dual rankings.

Kind of…: Nebraska is really deep and Lovett and Robb are both title contenders. I personally think they’ll finish second at the B1G tournament, and the January 12 Iowa @ Nebraska dual might be the most exciting one of the year.

4. Michigan Wolverines

Atinat: The Michigan Wovler-cats bring a very competitive lineup into 2024, thanks in part to their superteam assembly with Northwestern. Transfers Michael DeAugustino, Chris Cannon, and Lucas Davision are each all-Americans from Evanston’s B1G team, and they’re joined by former Badger Austin Gomez and Stanford transfer Shane Griffith. Combine that with Will Lewan and Cam Amine, and you get what should be a really top-tier wrestling team. So why are they fourth?

Well, expectations only get you so far. DeAugustino and Cannon were both injured early in the season, but both are expected to return to action (as far as I know). Gomez only recently announced his decision and has not taken the mat for the Maize and Blue yet thus far. Lewan, Amine, and Griffith all took losses to top-ranked guys at CKLV, leaving question marks about whether they can compete for all-American spots yet again (all three were all-Americans last year, but none finished better than the year before). Davison lost to Yonger Bastida of Iowa State in the CKLV final, so only the 0-0 Austin Gomez is undefeated for Michigan. Still, they have a lot of guys who will be wrestling in the bloodrounds, and could be a couple of coin flips between third and tenth at NCAAs. Intermat has them projected in seventh, and ranked tenth in the dual rankings.

A pair of easy duals has Michigan undefeated starting the new year, but they’ll still need to get through SDSU on Thursday before getting into the conference schedule. Maryland and Michigan State shouldn’t pose a threat in their first weekend, but they get Penn State and Rutgers the next weekend, followed by Ohio State, then Iowa, then Nebraska. Talk about a murderer’s row.

Kind of…: Yeah, on paper, this team looks stacked, and Michigan has pretty much been a solid bet the last few years, but…well, Mason Parris scored a lot of team points for the Wolverines. I see them and Iowa duking it out for 3rd with Michigan maybe getting the nod because Brands doesn’t care about 3rd place enough to burn any redshirts.

HWAHSQB: Wolver-cats?? Good one! Seriously though, they’ve got a ton of veteran guys, but that’s not always great in wrestling. It’s hard to stay healthy and in competitive shape for 4-6 years everyone has the scout on these guys by now.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes

Atinat: Ohio State is the first team listed with a loss already on the year, with a puzzling 21-13 defeat to #17 Pittsburgh thanks to upset victories by Colton Camacho and Cole Matthews (I could write a whole article just about Matthews this year). They did place third at CKLV, win their pool at the Collegiate Duals over NC State and UNI, and post a win over Virginia Tech, so the Pitt loss seems to be the exception.

The Buckeyes have ranked wrestlers at every weight, lead by #3 Jesse Mendez (141), #5 Dylan D’Emilio, and #9 Carson Kharchla. They still have a tough match with Cornell in front of them on Saturday, but have maybe the easiest conference schedule that we’ve seen so far with only Michigan, Penn State, and Rutgers expected to test them. With four freshmen and two sophomores in the starting lineup for Ohio State, it’ll be up to the young guys to vault the Buckeyes into a podium finish.

Kind of…: Maybe I’m wrong, but I see a big gap between the top four and the rest of the conference (WrestleState loves OSU, though). Ohio State is probably the best of the rest, but, really, the Buckeyes are gearing up for the next few years. They’re young and talented. They won a team title in 2015 when PSU had a down year (and some Olympic redshirts, IIRC), and they may be positioning themselves to do something similar in ‘26 or so.

T6. Minnesota Gophers/Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Atinat: These two are pretty similar. Neither will compete for a podium finish, and will just be hoping to get some all-Americans. But, both have a ton of wrestlers who have a shot. Rutgers had a competitive dual loss to Virginia Tech, but have five wins over various mid-major programs (including three D1 shutouts, which are impressive regardless of the opponent). They sent a partial lineup to a depleted Midlands, but finished well out of contention as a team and had just one finalist: Dylan Shawver at 133 pounds. They’ll wrestle Penn on Saturday and Rider on Sunday, then start the conference schedule with Indiana and Purdue next week.

Minnesota is 5-0 in dual play, with wins over SDSU and NDSU. They did attend the Soldier Salute, and finished a distant second to Iowa but in front of Columbia, SDSU, North Carolina, and UNI. They had two champions, with co-champions (uncontested) at 184 pounds, and Bennett Tabor at heavyweight. They start their conference schedule with Iowa next week, followed by Nebraska, and then Rutgers. They might not win another dual this month, but they don’t really have any tough opponents next month (sorry HWAHSQB and Kind of…).

Kind of…: Rutgers is a poor man’s Nebraska. Pretty good everywhere so their depth might get them a higher finish than you’d think. Dean Peterson, Dylan Shawver, and the well-traveled Mitch Moore give Rutgers a good chance of starting strong in any dual that kicks off at 125. I think Minnesota is way overrated. Patrick McKee and Isaiah Salazar appear to be the only All-American candidates, and McKee might not have any ligaments left.

HWAHSQB: It can both be true that Minnesota is not going to be very good and they are going to beat Illinois and Wisconsin soundly.

8. Illinois Fighting Illini

HWAHSQB: I think an Illinois squad of guys not wrestling for the team this year would possibly finish higher than one that does with Byrd out due to injury, both the elder Braunagels taking Olympic redshirts, and Kannon Webster potentially redshirting. That being said, Ruth is more aggressive and getting to his offense and looks the part of an All-American and maybe even a potential NCAA/B1G finalist. Luffman has improved in his year off and I think is a borderline AA and Tony Madrigal, Danny Pucino, and Dylan Connell are competent wrestlers that will win some matches and be national qualifiers. The holes at 125, 133 pending Byrd’s return, 149 pending Webster’s RS status, and 165 and 197 are glaring and don’t give me a lot of faith in Poeta returning Illinois to a consistent top half of the B1G program.

9. Maryland Terrapins

Kind of…: I’d put Maryland, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Purdue in a bag and draw them at random (though at least two will finish higher than Minnesota). Dean Hamiti (UW, 165), Lucas Byrd (Ill, 133), and Matt Ramos (Pur, 125) are all appointment viewing. Ramos has the weakest weight, but Purdue has a worse supporting cast. Illinois’ Edmond Ruth is, at this point, probably likely to make a deeper run at 174 than Eric Barnett (Wisconsin) is at 125, but Byrd’s health is a question mark, so, again, put them in a hat and draw. Maryland, YES MARYLAND, may have better depth than any of the other three, but are still lacking at the top end. Can totally see the Terps besting a couple of these teams at the B1G tournament, but getting passed at the NCAA’s.

HWAHSQB: I would throw Purdue in the bottom tier. Outside of Ramos and Joey Blaze, I don’t think Purdue has a third national qualifier. Somebody might make it because the B1G gets so many auto bids, but they aren’t going to score at NCAAs outside of two guys. Ramos is phenomenal so I’ll still tune in, but hopefully they start at 125 so I can do something else after 10 minutes.

Maryland is definitely improving, but only Jaxon Smith is a likely candidate to be wrestling the second day at NCAAs so they might win some duals, but I agree with Kind of on their NCAA success.

Wisconsin and Illinois are not improving, but I think they are still a little better than Maryland and a fair bit better than Purdue.

T10. The Rest

Kind of…: By my count, the rest is Northwestern, Michigan State, and Indiana. And I think it’s correct that these three will be bringing up the rear. If you see an MSU dual on, catch Chase Saldate (157) and Caleb Fish (165). If it’s Indiana, Derek Gilcher (165) and Donnell Washington (174) are your best bets. If Northwestern, then it’s Trevor Chumbley (157) and Troy Fisher (184). All of these guys are capable of winning a couple of matches at nationals, but none of these teams will crack double-digits in team points.

HWAHSQB: I do love watching Donnell Washington, but maybe my favorite watch on these three teams is Layne Malczewski. He’s good and he tries to score all the time and has a lot of different attacks. I don’t think he’s AA caliber, but he has a shot against just about anybody.

Atinat: It also includes Purdue, but Kind of... talked about them above. It’s Matt Ramos as the title-contending veteran, Joey Blaze as the star freshman at 157 pounds, and a bunch of guys that are just trying to make it to NCAAs this year.

Well, there you go. 3000 words on the season that has been and is to come. If you’ve made it this far, I hope you can stick with us for the rest of the 2024 season. I’ll do my best to write when I can, and I’m we’ll have regular wrestling content up to keep you informed on what’s happening on and off the mat in the nation’s premier wrestling conference.

Poll

Who’s finishing second in the Big Ten this year?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    Nebraska
    (21 votes)
  • 31%
    Iowa
    (14 votes)
  • 17%
    Michigan
    (8 votes)
  • 4%
    Ohio State
    (2 votes)
45 votes total Vote Now