The polls were kind of split between Oklahoma State and Penn State for the pre-season #1 rankings. Of course, those pesky Iowa Hawkeyes loomed around as well giving us an early look at the team picture. Last year, Minnesota was the pre-season favorite but their young guys never panned out and the Dardanes ended up being Dardanes. Iowa took the favorite helm all the way to the National Duals when Missouri took six matches from them to essentially create a 6-team toss up in March.
This year Oklahoma State has stumbled out of the gates for the most part, caveat being Kaid Brock & Jojo Smith activated in 2016 (decision already made on Brock). With this and Iowa trying to figure out a few weaknesses, it appears nobody can catch the Nitany Lions as they attempt to stand back on top of the wrestling world. As we head in to the Midlands and the Scuffle, two tournaments sure to swing some rankings, is Penn State that far in front of the pack?
Let's look and buy or sell each weight as improving or going down.
Rankings are Intermat/Flo
125: 4/4 Nico Megaludis
- Buy. Nico should be top 4 in March hand down. We shouldn't be thinking one stumble this year should change that.
133: 6/9 Jordan Conaway
- Sell. Conaway was the 11 seed at 125 last year and took 8th for an All-American finish. I've always liked Conaway but 133 is so stacked in front of him I don't see upward movement. He will probably be fighting in the 8-12 range come March. It's just probably too much to ask to bump a weight and beat these caliber of guys.
141: 6/7 Jimmy Gulibon
- Buy. Gulibon took 6th in the Big Ten after being seeded 3rd but then took 5th at NCAA's. This was at 133 and some fans were worried when he looked out-physicaled by Chisko (Virginia Tech) earlier this year. Tough decision but I'm buying and think another top 6 finish at NCAA's is in the cards in this wide open weight.
149: 1/1 Zain Retherford
- Buy/sell doesn't really work here all that well but I am buying for an even return. I think Zain will continue to get better and even though there are great challengers here, Zain is the favorite to win the weight class until different info presents itself.
157: 3/3 Jason Nolf
- Sell. Nolf is a great and talented freshman but this ranking is bullshit. He beat Brascetta, who to get this ranking who did AA last year. However, Brascetta was unseeded last year for good reason and has wrestled just that one match this year. The major of Walsh (Rider) is impressive, and Nolf is very impressive. However, if I am buying or selling on a 3rd place finish at NCAA's I am going to go conservative here.
165: NR/20 Shakur Rasheed
- Buy. I like the Geno Morelli story. He was the victim in the Pittsburgh singlet at the record breaking dual at the Bryce-Jordan Center who had to wrestle David Taylor. He transferred and walked-on to Penn State because he felt that's where he should be. He won the open at Penn State when the top 4 consisted of all Nittany Lions. Challenge match situations are weird and Rasheed got the start against Rider after Morelli started against Wisconsin and nearly knocked off Isaac Jordan. One of these guys should probably end the year in the 10-15 range but that doesn't really mean a lot of team points at the NCAA's.
174: 5/7 Bo Nickal
- Buy. The freshman phenom out of Texas looks outstanding. He is on my top guys to watch at the Scuffle because it'll be interesting to see where he is. A win over Epperly (Virginia Tech) makes you think that injury free he will be top 5.
184: 13/12 Matt McCutcheon
- Sell. McCutcheon had a couple big wins last year. He beat Abounader (Michigan) and he beat Sammy Brooks (Iowa) at the Big Tens which he's probably never been properly thanked by the Ohio State fans. At NCAA's he also pulled off the upset as the 14 seed beating the 3 seed Stauffer (Arizona State). He finished one win shy of AA status. Erratic behavior is kind of par for the course for talented freshmen. However, everyone returns at 184 and I don't think this is his year.
197: 1/1 Morgan McIntosh
- Buy. McIntosh is the favorite and the buy/sell really doesn't work here again (blame the inept writer). Outside of his loss to Hartmann (Duke) , McIntosh had an incredible March with a beating of Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) and wins over Schiller (Minnesota), J'Den Cox (Missouri), and Burak (Iowa). It's tough competition, but I don't think any of these guys beat a healthy McIntosh in March.
285: NR/NR Jan Johnson
- Sell: The story of Cael plucking a kid off the football team is wonderful. However, this kid was not a heavyweight in high school and listed at 220 on the football roster. We all know Cael has magic, but this may be too much of a miracle. They have been slowly rolling Johnson out with just two matches so far. They have actually thrown out a couple backups listed as 174 lb guys in recent duals. The big problem may be 285 in the Big Ten this year is not like the past couple. This means there will likely only be 6-8 automatic qualifying spots as opposed to the large amounts the past two seasons that allowed guys to get an NCAA birth with just one win. 11 guys from the Big Ten made the NCAA's last year! That likely won't happen this year meaning Penn State will likely not have a full lineup at NCAA's.
Number one rankings is where this thing could fall off. That's a lot of points in the current algorithm so things can go south quickly if there's an injury or upsets. So yes, Penn State is fallible, but who will catch them remains a large question. Can Oklahoma State pull redshirts and get the AA finishes they need to go along with Dieringer's points? Iowa could be dangerous with Sammy Brooks & Sam Stoll having room to move up the rankings. However, Clark & Gilman have a lot of work to make the finals in two incredibly tough weights so I'm not sure on their points in March. Ohio State & Cornell are interesting with their stars, but they need help from somewhere else to compete for a title. Michigan and Missouri have great dual teams but they need some significant magic to get to 100 points.
When you examine Penn State's lineup like this weight by weight it really isn't looking great for the rest of the country. Penn State is a significant favorite no matter what angle you take. It'll be interesting to watch the Southern Scuffle and see if we see any chinks in the armor. If we don't, it's probably the rest of the country fighting for 2nd barring any major injuries.
Thank God they do wrestle the matches though. It'll be a lot of fun to see teams try to chase them down!