LET'S TALK GRAPPLIN': BSD and BHGP Preview the 2013-14 Wrestling Season (Part 1)

We're talkin' wrestling? We sure are.

Last year, the inimitable bscaff (of Black Shoe Diaries fame) and I previewed the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments; we had such a good time doing so that we decided to get together and give our thoughts on the 2013-14 college wrestling season.  We broke things down weight-by-weight and did things Q&A style.  You can find 125-157 here; our discussion of 165-285 is available on BSD here.

And, yeah, we got a little chatty.  Feel free to grab a beverage now; we'll wait.

125

1) NCAA Champion Jesse Delgado will be back at this weight this season.  What are the odds that he's able to repeat as national champion in Oklahoma City next March?

RB: Delgado is very good, no question, but I don't think his odds of repeating at the NCAAs are that high.  For one thing, recent history is against it.  No 125er has won back-to-back titles since the delightfully-named Joe Dubuque from Indiana in 2005-06.  Some very good wrestlers at this weight weren't able to defend their titles, like Angel Escobedo and Matt McDonough.  But the bigger reason that I don't think Delgado will repeat is that there should be a pretty strong field of contenders at this weight.  I think one of those guys will knock off Delgado at NCAAs.  I'll put his odds of repeating at 20%.

BS: Delgado wrestled like a man on fire at the end of the season.  I think the turning point was his pinfall loss to Nico, at the PSU-Illini dual.  He didn't drop another match the rest of the season.  But I don't want to make the error of recency with a non-PSU guy.  Was the Delgado we saw in his last 10-12 matches the guy we'll see again?  Because the Delgado from his first 15-20 matches last year was not a certified hammer.  And 125 will be stacked this season.  The defending champ makes a really nice target for everyone else in the weight class.  I'll put it at 25%.

2) Who are the main challengers to Delgado this year?

RB: Speaking of those challengers... there are some familiar faces back at this weight, including last year's runner-up (Penn State's Nico Megaludis) and Cornell's Nahshon Garrett, who capped his freshman season with a brilliant run to 3rd place. There's a few key upperclassmen coming off redshirt years, like Pitt's Anthony Zanetta and Oklahoma's Jarrod Patterson.  And there's some redshirt freshmen who could make some serious noise here, like UNI's Dylan Peters and (especially) Iowa's Cory Clark -- who already owns a win over Delgado.

BS: The 2nd, 3rd, and 8th place finishers all return.  Plus, as you noted, you have two more (I think) past AA's returning from redshirt, in Zanetta and Patterson.  And, you have UNC's Kraisser - if he can make weight - who nearly upset Delgado in the quarters last year (finished R12).  Realistically, I think the title contenders top out at five: Delgado, Nico, Garrett, Zanetta, and Patterson.  Of those five, I favor Delgado, Nico, and Garrett, over Patterson and Zanetta.  Could Cory Clark challenge?  I don't see why not - this weight loves freshmen more than any other.  But can he make 125?

3) OK, what about your guy.  Is Nico still the man at 125 for Penn State this year?  Is he ever going to redshirt?  How's he doing to do this year?

BS: If there was a year for Nico to redshirt, this would be it.  Sanderson still has Taylor and Ruth scoring 8 billion points each at the tournament, and he has Conaway - a natural 118/125 - available to step in.  But I doubt Nico takes his shirt, this year or ever.  He is one mentally tough dude, though.  He's improved each year, and I don't see why that would change going into his junior campaign.  A little more neutral offense, and he could hold the hardware at the end.  I've learned not to bet against him at NCAAs.

4) And what about Iowa?  How are they going to replace Matt McDonough this year?

RB: Good question.  It's either going to be Cory Clark or Thomas Gilman.  Both guys were pretty highly-regarded recruits in the 2012 class (especially Gilman) and both put together good records during their redshirt years (although Clark's resume was a bit better).  There's some question about whether or not Clark can still cut down to 125 this season; he spent part of his redshirt season wrestling at 133 and, long term, the plan seems to be for him to succeed Ramos at that weight. Assuming Clark is indeed able to make 125 this season, he seems like the favorite to win the spot, but I expect Gilman to put up

BS: I saw Clark at the Dapper Dan, against Jimmy Gulibon.  He's the real deal.  They were both at 126 back then - and Dapper Dan gives you something like 3 to 5 pounds, since it's after the high school season.  I know he beat Delgado at Midlands, but 125 could be a tough cut all year long.  I don't know Gilman at all, but - come on.  The last time Iowa didn't All-America at 125 (and no, I don't count last year) was 2005/2006 - unseeded Luke Magnani went 1-2 that year.  You have two top guys.  You'll be in great shape.

5) Prediction time: who are the finalists at this weight in the Big Ten Tournament?  Who wins?

RB: I would like to pick Clark here, but until a) he actually wins the job and b) he actually gets some non-redshirt wins under his belt, I'm hesitant to go quite that far.  So I'm going to play it safe and call for a rematch from last year's Big Ten finals, Delgado vs. Nico.  And, sorry, man, but I think Nico's bridesmaid streak continues.

BS: I have no reason, and zero incentive, to not pick Nico and Delgado.  And, yes, I'm burning my homer pick early and taking Nico.  He split with Delgado last year, 2-2.  He was painfully close to a winning takedown against Delgado in the finals, until that funk cradle.  He doesn't tire, he's tough as nails, and he's my personal favorite PSU guy.

6) Prediction time: who are the finalists at this weight in the NCAA Tournament? Who wins?

RB: I'm going to go with Garrett and Delgado, with Garrett preventing Delgado from becoming a 2-time NCAA Champion.

BS: Fun fact: there's one wrestler in this field who has already beaten Delgado and Garrett and Patterson and Zanetta.  His name is Nico Megaludis.  Alright.   I'll knock off my blatant homerism from here out.  Promise.

133

1) First things first: apparently two-time defending NCAA champion Logan Stieber is taking his ginormous legs and moving up to 141 lbs. this season.  How do you feel about that?

RB: It's bittersweet.  I badly wanted to see Ramos topple Stieber and finally claim a title.  I mean, that's the storybook ending, right?  That's the one that you'd script -- that after years of battling the hero's nemesis and getting closer and closer to beating him (my god was that cradle close in Des Moines this past March), the hero of the story finally beats him and is able to claim his long-awaited prize.  So the fact that we won't have a chance to see that story play out is disappointing.  But I'd be lying if I wasn't breathing a sigh of relief at the notion that Tony doesn't have to go through Stieber to get a title this year.  I still believe Tony can beat Stieber, but it wouldn't have been easy and now I won't have to wait for him to prove that.

BS: It sucks.  That's two Stieber-Ramos matches I won't get to see.  And Maple is bumping to 149, so we don't get Stieber-Maple, either.  141 returns all its AAs from last year - and I think Stieber hammers all of them, too.

2) Is this FINALLY the year that Tony Ramos is able to break through and get to the top of the podium?

RB: Yes.  He's been the best 133er not named Logan Stieber the last two years (well, maybe third-best two years ago; Jordan Oliver was no slouch at 133 then, although Tony did beat him) and now Stieber is going up a weight.  There are definitely still some quality wrestlers at 133, but Tony's also beat most of them already.  It won't be a cakewalk for Tony to claim a title at 133, but I think this is finally going to be his year.

BS: Yes.  Ramos improved a ton last year.  He got out from bottom whenever he wanted to get out, including against Stieber.  His neutral offense is on par with the best in this class.  He scores a ton of bonus.  He's controlled his rage just enough.  He's officially a hammer.   Ramos is winning this weight.

3) Who are the biggest obstacles standing in Tony's way?

RB: There are a lot of good wrestlers at 133, but the two biggest threats look like two familiar faces: Tyler Graff (Wisconsin) and Jon Morrison (Oklahoma State).  They were, respectively, Ramos' semifinal and quarterfinal opponents at the NCAA Tournament last year and they've both wrestled him close (primarily by stalling their asses off, but hey -- to paraphrase Walter Sobchak, it's an ethos) in the past.  There's also Edinboro's AJ Schopp and Minnesota's Chris Dardanes; they're fine 133ers, but Ramos has had quite a bit of success against them in the past.  The more intriguing names might be a few upperclassmen coming off redshirts, like Ryan Mango (Stanford), Shelton Mack (Pitt), and Joe Colon (UNI), as well as some freshmen studs, like Zane Richards (Illinois) and Mark Grey (Cornell).

BS: Ramos wrestled some close matches at big moments last year, as you mentioned.  I think those days are behind him.  I think he knows this is his class now, and pushes the pace that much more.  Graff is talented - I think he tech'ed Stieber at team trials? - but Graff wrestled his ass off in the semis against Ramos, and still lost.  He doesn't wrestle with the gas tank that Ramos has.  Ramos is a cut above, in my opinion, and that's not an easy thing for me to write.

4) What's the story with Penn State and this weight?  You've had some issues here ever since Andrew Long had his, uh, issues.  That said, Jordan Conaway did a pretty solid job last year -- is he going to get another crack at this weight or is there someone better ready for action here?

BS: Ah, yes, Andrew Long.  What a freaking shame. Conaway lost in the blood round last year - an outstanding result for him, I thought.  Heckuva freshman campaign.  But I don't think he is making the lineup this year.  Instead, let me introduce you to young Mr. Jimmy Gulibon, who redshirted last season. Jimmy finished 27-7 unattached in his first year of college.  He placed 5th at Southern Scuffle.  He had notable wins over Cornell's fellow redshirt Mark Grey (twice), and UVA's round of 12 guy George DiCamillo.  His losses on the year were to Stanford's redshirting Ryan Mango (6-10); AA Nathan McCormick (by Fall); AA Jon Morrison (5-9); and Lehigh's redshirting soph Mason Beckman (4 freaking times - Beckman is good).  Jimmy, you'll be happy to know, doesn't stop trying to score points.  So you won't be bored watching him, or need to boo him for stalling when PSU shows up at CARVER HAWKEYE ARENA THIS DECEMBER WOOOOOO!

5) Prediction time: who are the finalists at this weight in the Big Ten Tournament?  Who wins?

RB: If Graff stays at 133, I think you can almost write Ramos-Graff in the B1G finals in ink.  They're just a cut above the other guys in the B1G at this weight.  As far as a winner... well, I gotta back tenacious Tony Ramos here.  He's hungry, he's skilled -- and his biggest impediment to claiming a trophy is no longer at this weight.  Based on last year's matches, a Graff-Ramos match isn't going to be any fun to watch, but I'll take Ramos to grind out a win and claim a title.

BS: Ramos.  Then a notch below, Graff.  Then another notch below, Dardanes and Gulibon.

6) Prediction time: who are the finalists at this weight in the NCAA Tournament?  Who wins?

RB: I'm gonna shake things up a little and go with a Ramos-Morrison final in the NCAAs, with another narrow Ramos victory.

BS: I'm staying chalk, despite Morrison wrestling on (well, near) his home mat.  Give me another all Big Ten final, and Ramos taking the cheese over Graff. Last year 125, 133, 157, and 285 were Big Ten vs. Big Ten finals at NCAAs.  141 and 149 were the only NCAA finals without one Big Ten wrestler (a Big Ten guy finished 3rd at both weights).  And it feels like that trend has been growing - there's the Big Ten, emptiness for 10,000 feet, then everyone else.  Maybe I'll do a little fact checking to see if I'm way off base or not.

141

1) 2013 NCAA Champion Kendrick Maple sounds like he's bumping up to 149.  Stieber the younger is redshirting, while Stieber the older appears to be coming here from 133.  So - with all of that out of the way - is anyone in this weight stopping 27-year old Stieber from a 3rd consecutive national title?

BS: That's depressing, "3rd consecutive national title".  But, no, probably not.  Stieber is the very definition of a hammer.  He can beat you on his feet, he can reverse you from bottom, and he'll absolutely maul you from top.  What more do you want?  I don't see anyone hanging with him.

RB: 27-year old Stieber?  Did he go to school with Matt Brown then?  Kidding aside, I think Stieber's biggest threats are likely to come from other new faces at this weight.  Virginia Tech's Devin Carter last wrestled at 133 (where he was one of the few 133ers that seemed as big as Stieber), but after wrestling at 141 during his redshirt year and it looks like he'll be staying there as he comes off his redshirt.  There are also a few blue-chip recruits entering the fray after redshirting as true freshmen a year ago, Northwestern's Jason Tsirtsis, a top recruit in the 2012 class, and Wisconsin's Jesse Thielke, a top recruit in the 2011 class.  Can any of them actually beat Stieber?  Well, I won't go that far.  But I don't think the top returning threats at this weight, Edinboro's Mitchell Port and Citadel's Ugi Khishgnyam, will do any better than them, either.

2) Who becomes a first-time All-American at this weight?

BS: How about Rick Durso, from tiny Franklin and Marshall, nestled among the many gently rolling hills of Lancaster County, PA.  F&M's enrollment sits right around 2,500 or so.  There's zero chance that F&M is Division 1 in anything other than wrestling - unless, perhaps, we're talking about "Amish Mafia".  In any event, Durso gave the younger Stieber all he could handle at NCAAs last year, before bowing out in the blood round.  Not a bad run for his first time there.

RB: Durso's a solid choice, since he was a round-of-12 guy at the NCAA Tournament last year.  But I'm going to follow up on my previous answer and throw down a few more blogbucks on Tsirtsis to make the podium as a redshirt freshman.  His brother, Jason, had a tumultuous and ultimately unsatisfying career at Iowa, but the word is that Jason is better and he certainly entered college with a mountain of accolades.  This is also a fairly weak weight class, which should aid his quest to get on the podium.

3) OK, what about Iowa's guy.  Is Dziewa taking this spot in the lineup?

RB: Yessir, it sounds like Josh Dziewa is gonna be the man here.  Dziewa was a part of Iowa's celebrated 2010 recruiting class (#12 overall, per d1 college wrestling), but he's been forced to sit and wait behind a pair of seniors: Montell Marion in 2011-12 and Mark Ballweg in 2012-13.  This has been a pretty good weight for Iowa in recent years, so Dziewa has a fair amount to live up to here.  Marion, though occasionally exasperating on and off the mat, was a three-time All-American and two-time NCAA finalist, while Ballweg was a R12 guy last year (and might have made the podium if not for a late-season leg injury).  Dziewa took 1st at a few tournaments last year and major decisioned Missouri's Nicholas Hucke (10-2) at the NWCA National Duals.  He then made a surprise move up to 149 for the Big Ten Tournament, where he had a pair of almost got 'im 3-2 losses to Andrew Alton (Penn St) and Caleb Ervin (Illinois),  But really we don't know what he's going to do as "the man" at 141 this year -- he's mostly still just potential; this year we should find out whether or not he can begin to live up to that promise.

4) And what about Penn State?  Who is taking over for Bryan Pearsall?

BS: We might not know this weight until January.  PSU has last year's 66kg (~145lbs) Cadet World Freestyle gold medalist, Zain Retherford, in the wrestling room this year.  He finished high school at 138lbs - and he was a smaller 138 at that.  Chances are that Zain redshirts.  If that's the case, then the message board favorite is redshirt freshman Zack Beitz - if he can still make 141.  Zack went (23-11) last year, unattached as a true freshman.  He made the quarterfinals of the Southern Scuffle, dropped a 2-1 decision there to Citadel's Ugi, and then the coaches pulled him for injury.  He finished the year strong, though, placing high at the National Collegiate Open.  I think, given some more experience, he could score more points at NCAAs than Pearsall did. The sleeper could be Kade Moss.  He'll also be a freshman, and he's just back from a 2-year mission.  But he was a top 100 / top 150 type of recruit when he came out of Utah.  Hard to know how much rust might be there, though.

5) Prediction time: who are the finalists at this weight in the Big Ten Tournament?  Who wins?

BS: Stieber, and.....give me Dardanes, I guess.  He's officially a returning All-American, so, I shouldn't sneeze at that. But all I can think about with this question is that I'm not watching Ramos-Stieber.

RB: Steiber is a no-brainer.  Dardanes is a solid choice and his experience could carry the day, but I'm going to go with Tsirtsis again.  God, it sounds like I'm really in the tank for him, doesn't it?  And he's not even my own guy.  I'm a terrible Iowa fan.

6) Prediction time: who are the finalists at this weight in the NCAA Tournament? Who wins?

BS: I'm taking the aforementioned Ugi**, if only for the fact that I'd love to see a Citadel guy in a final.  He's awfully good from neutral, and with another year in the States, maybe he adds a few more tricks to his mat wrestling.  I'd like to mention Mitchell Port, but everything he does, Stieber already does better.  Freaking Stieber wins again, of course. [**assuming Ugi gets his NCAA eligibility issue ironed out.]

RB: It's funny -- Stieber is a two-time national champion and widely (and fairly) regarded as one of the most dominant wrestlers in college right now, but he's also a split-second (and/or a different ref's decision) away from being a two-time national runner-up.  He took a controversial decision over Jordan Oliver in the finals two years ago and Tony Ramos had him in a pretty good cradle (briefly) in the finals last year.  He's been a dominant wrestler, but his finals wins have been anything but dominant.  That might change this year, though -- I don't see anyone as good as Oliver or Ramos among the available 141ers this year.  It's a shame that Kendric Maple is moving up to 149 because I would have been very intrigued by a Stieber-Maple match-up.  Anyway, that's a very long-winded way of saying -- yes, Stieber's going to win another title.  As far as who he's going to beat... meh. I'd say it will be whoever gets the friendliest draw on the side opposite Stieber; for the hell of it, I'll say Ugi gets it done and rocks Citadel's camo singlet under the spotlight of the NCAA finals.

149

(Ed. Note: The information in this section may be a bit inaccurate; we started this Q&A a few weeks back and since then there have been stories of some notable weight changes that could affect things here, particularly at Minnesota, where Dylan Ness is supposedly moving up to 157.  I haven't seen official confirmation of anything yet, but for now I'd treat the information in this section as somewhat tentative. -- Ross)

1) This weight really cleared out.  The top 3 place winners all graduated.  In addition, VaTech's Brascetta is rumored to be moving to 157, while Nebby's Sueflohn is supposedly going in the opposite direction, towards 141.  The net effect - only 4 of last year's top 12 return.  Is there a clear favorite?

BS: I don't believe there's a clear favorite - at least, not like Jordan Oliver was last season (despite the 2 weight class bump).  OU’s Kendric Maple looks like one of the favorites - he was quick for a 141, so I'm sure that won't change at 149.  And the other "favorite", I think, would have to be Dylan Ness, who made the finals at this weight as a frosh.  He's not afraid to go for the big move, that's for certain.

RB: The top-three returning All-Americans are Ness, Oregon State's Scott Sakaguchi, and Missouri's Drake Houdashelt.  (As an aside, I can't say or write his name without thinking of Hoobastank, which makes me dislike him about 25% more than I would otherwise.)  There's also the defending champion at 141, Kendric Maple, moving up a weight to compete here.  I don't think he's a hands-down, no brainer favorite the way Oliver was a year ago, but I'd still be inclined to take him over that trio of returnees.  Ness' willingness to go for a big move certainly makes him exciting, but it also makes it hard for me to make him a favorite because he too often leaves himself open to counter-attacks from his opponents, which has cost him several matches over the past two seasons.  Until he can wrestle more consistently, I don't trust him to be a for-sure NCAA finalist.

2) Who are the darkhorses at this weight?

BS: Freaking Mizzou's Houdashelt was unseeded last year as a sophomore, beat Alton and Ness in his first two matches, and finished 6th.  I'll have to try to catch some of his matches on Flo, but the guy can obviously wrestle, and he isn't going to get beaten up during the season with Brian Smith as his coach.  My other darkhorse - and he could be a finalist - is Sakaguchi.

RB: If we were judging guys based on recruiting hype, I don't think Destin McCauley would be much of a dark horse -- he was one of the most hyped wrestling recruits of the past several years, mentioned in the same "can't miss" breath as guys like David Taylor and Logan Stieber.  But he spent the last two years at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado and bouncing around one of the most convoluted recruiting stories in recent memory (he was with Minnesota, then Iowa State, flirted several other teams, and is finally at Nebraska.. .for now).  But assuming he hasn't forgotten how to wrestle folkstyle over the last two years, it wouldn't be a surprise if he was able to walk into this weight and quickly establish himself as a top contender.

3) So, uh....this hasn't been Iowa's best weight recently.  What do you see happening here?

RB: Pain. Sadness. Disappointment.  You know -- the usual for Iowa here ever since Brent Metcalf graduated.  Iowa's curse at this weight seems alive and well, since the ship seems to have sailed on the latest, greatest hope for Iowa at this weight, Edwin Cooper (he's not on the 2013-14 roster at the Iowa website, which seems to confirm rumors that he wasn't actually going to make it to Iowa this season).  There are also rumors that Mike Kelly might not be able to make the cut down to 149 any more (let's not forget, he wrestled at 165 for part of his redshirt year); if he can't, this might be Brody Grothus' weight by default, unless Tom Brands is willing to blood another true freshman (Brandon Sorenson).  I don't see that happening, though -- Sorenson looks like the future of this weight, but he's probably not already a significant upgrade on Iowa's other options here this year.

So yeah: Grothus.  He's kind of a homeless man's Dylan Ness.  Like Ness, Grothus is a fan of big moves (especially from upper-body locks).  Unfortunately, it turns out top-level college wrestlers aren't so easy to score on with those techniques. I hope I'm wrong, but if Grothus is the choice here, I don't expect a whole lot more than what we've seen out of this weight the past few years. Alas.

4) So, uh...Penn State really crapped the bed here last year.  What's the prognosis for 2014?

BS: Since NCAAs, we've learned that both Altons wrestled with bum shoulders (supposedly, torn labrums in both cases - same as McDonough?).  And Andrew, the 149er, was also on a bad ankle.  The offseason surgeries reportedly went well, though we’re not likely to see either Alton until January.. That doesn't fully explain the gas tank issues, however.  I don't honestly know what to expect.  Andrew has the talent to make a final - he scores in bunches, and is a freaking pinning machine.  But dang - it's impossible to overlook some bad matches last year as well, despite the injuries.  How much of that was injury, vs. conditioning, vs. desire?  I have no idea.  He could stand atop the podium, or be watching the final day in street clothes.  Again.

RB: I know the Altons are brothers (and twins, right?), but do they have to get the exact same injuries, too?  That's just creepy.

5) Prediction time: who are the finalists at this weight in the Big Ten Tournament?  Who wins?

BS: Fun fact: Eric Grajales was the consensus #2 recruit, behind David Taylor, and ahead of Kyle Dake.  But seriously...you can probably write Goldy's Ness into the final in pen (if he stays at 149).  As for the other Big Ten finalist...look.  I'm not going to jinx things.  Last year I wrote that I was excited to see Andrew Alton wrestle Dylan Ness at the Southern Scuffle.  It didn't happen (booze).  I wrote the same thing about Big Tens - nope (seeding change thanks to Ohio State tanning beds (Tessari)).  And, if they both won their first round matches, I'd finally get to see it at NCAAs - hooray!  Nope (stupid Houdashelt).  So, I'm not going to write Andrew Alton into the final.  Instead, give me --Minnesota's--Wisconsin's--Iowa State’s-- Nebraska's Destin McCauley.  The 39-year old freshman spent the last 18 years at the OTC, and ought to be pretty good.

RB: I'm gonna wait and see if Alton actually has a gas tank this year before predicting him to make the finals.  Grajales is solid (if not exactly as good as the recruiting hype suggested) and I also think Ohio State's Ian Paddock may be able to turn a few heads at this weight, but I have to go with Ness and McCauley as the finalists here, too.  Ness is the top dog at this weight in the Big Ten and McCauley looks poised to knock him off at that perch (or at least try to).  Personally, I'd just like to see an Iowa wrestler win one freaking match at this weight at the Big Ten Tournament this year.

6) Prediction time: who are the finalists at this weight in the NCAA Tournament? Who wins?

BS: Maple is good.  I mean, he's really pretty darn good.  He can score takedowns on everyone.  And if you can only do one thing, that's the one you want, isn't it?  Maple repeats as champ, up one weight, over surprise finalist Sakaguchi.  I'm convinced there's something to be said for missing the Big Ten meat grinder.

RB: With the top three guys cleared out at this weight, I definitely like Maple's odds of moving in and quickly establishing himself as a top guy at this new weight.  So I'm cool with him being one of the NCAA finalists this year.  As for the other one... damn, this is tough.  After what I said earlier, I can't really pick Ness.  And Houdashelt is good, but I just don't trust him to make the finals here, unless the draw really opens up nicely for him. I've given McCauley enough love here already, too.  So, what the hell, I'm gonna jump on your coattails and go with Sakaguchi as well.  He'll probably fatten up his record on the West Coast and avoid the week-in, week-out bloodlettings that the guys in the Big Ten will face, which should help him get a really spiffy record.

157

1) Since this is the first weight since 125 where we have a defending champion wrestling at the same weight this year (Stieber and Maple are also defending champions, of course, but they're each moving up a weight into new territory), so let's ask the same question we asked of Delgado: what odds would you give Derek St. John at repeating as NCAA champion at this weight in 2014?

RB: Look, I would love to go all homer and say 100%, but... I just can't.  I love St. John and he's obviously an excellent wrestler, but his matches are also terrible for my blood pressure.  It seems like he wrestles an unfathomable number of close matches.  He managed to win his last two matches at the NCAA Tournament without recording a single takedown.  I mean, that's kind of perversely amazing, but... it's also probably not the most sustainable path to victory, right?  A lot of St. John's matches are wrestled on the razor's edge and while he's obviously very comfortable (and very good) in that style... it's impossible to look at a guy that wrestles like that and say, "Yeah, he's a lock to repeat."  I trust him to win more of those insanely close matches than anyone else -- he has tremendous defense, outstanding scrambling skills,and the ability to put on a mean ride (just ask Jason Welch if he's still picking pieces of the Wells Fargo mat out of his hair) -- but his style and propensity for so many close matches makes the possibility of an upset pretty good.  Odds-wise, I'd go 40% on a repeat for St. John.

BS: Let me count the ways I hate DSJ.  Nope - not enough time.  Instead I'll just summarize it as, "a lot".  That notwithstanding, when you finish 4th, 2nd, and 1st in three trips to Nationals, well, that ain't luck.  At some point I have to admit that it doesn't matter that he wrestles close matches, and guts out the win at the end, against everyone not named Dake, Taylor, or knee injury.  Maybe I've finally reached that point heading into his senior season.  Through junior seasons, he's a better wrestler than Kellen Russell.  Or, at least, more successful.  But I didn't figure Russell for a clear favorite his senior year, either.  I'll call it 25% (though, it's probably better than that).

2) Does this weight have the deepest crop of legitimate challengers for an NCAA title of any weight class this year?

RB: Yes, and a lot of this comes down to the fact that there is no outstanding alpha dog at this weight.  St. John is the defending champion here, but as noted above, he's hardly the destroyer of worlds and crusher of souls that guys like Logan Stieber, David Taylor, or Ed Ruth are.  St. John is the top dog in this pack, but the pack is nipping at his heels.  Half of last year's All-Americans are gone (including NCAA runner-up Jason Welch), but there are some serious threats among the All-Americans who are returning (Alex Dieringer, R.J. Pena, James Green) -- and a few worthy challengers among those who didn't make the podium (Dylan Alton, Joey Napoli, Josh Demas).  Pena, Green, and Demas all own wins over St. John, and while Pena and Demas' wins came during DSJ's wrestling-on-one-leg run in 2012, a healthy DSJ still struggled with Demas last year.  Green beat DSJ in the Big Ten semifinals last year and is (in some ways) a match-up nightmare for St. John: a quick, explosive athlete capable of lightning-fast attacks that pierce St. John's defense.  (Of course, in other ways, he's also a very good opponent for St. John, since his cardio isn't particularly strong and leaves him prone to give up points late in matches.)  Alton and Dieringer have never beaten St. John, but Alton has a trio of preposterously close losses (two in sudden victory and one with a reversal in the closing seconds) and Dieringer took St. John to the brink in the NCAA semifinals last year.  That's a pretty long list of guys who could very plausibly beat St. John, defending champion or not.

BS: James Green, Dylan Alton, Josh Demas, Alex Dieringer, and RJ Pena were all basically within a takedown of the champ last year.  Joey Napoli, last year's 3-seed, is not as awful as his 0-2 performance would suggest.  And there's probably some whiz kid freshman that I'm forgetting, too.  So what's that total - 7 or 8 total contenders?  I'm not sure even 174 runs that deep.

3) Who could be a surprise (or at least first-time) All-American at this weight?

RB: I'd like to say Ohio's Spartak "Sparty" Chino, purely for his wonderfully wacky name.  But how about Lehigh's Joey Napoli?  He actually hasn't been an NCAA All-Amerian yet.  I think he's too good to not be an All-American at least once.  He flamed out last year (failed to even make the Round-of-12) and he was mashed by St. John in their only encounter last year (6-0), but he has some good wins (he beat Dylan Alton and Virginia Tech's Jesse Dong last year) and generally just seems good enough to grab one of the spots on the podium this year.

BS: Does Ohio State's Josh Demas stay at 157, or is he bumping up?  If he stays here at 157, I'm putting him on the podium for the first time.  He's sneaky good, and seemed to pick up a lot of confidence late last season.  He got mauled by James Fleming's front headlock choke-out move in the round of 12 last year.  But I don't see anything like that stopping him this year

4) Dylan Alton was great here as a redshirt freshman, but his performance took a step back last year.  Was that just because of injury?  What kind of rebound performance are you expecting out of him this year?

BS: Dylan had a 2-point lead in the 3rd period of his quarterfinal against Jason Welch, a guy Alton had beaten their previous two meetings.  Some funk from The Goonies' "Sloth" look-alike, and Dylan went to the round of 12, where he got destroyed by James Green - a guy Dylan had never lost to in four previous matches.  So yes, it sucked.   I have a soft spot for both Altons, because too many moronic PSU fans whine about them not being national champs by now.  Dylan has the talent.  He finished 3rd that freshman year, and he's been heartbreakingly close to DSJ, finally notching his first takedown against him at the dual.  Maybe with a restful summer and some good health, he can get back into that top 3-4 position.

5) Prediction time -- who are the finalists at this weight at the Big Ten Tournament?  Who wins?

RB: With Jason Welch's graduation, I think the fantastic four at this weight in the Big Ten is down to a terrific trio: St. John, Alton, and Green.  Whoever gets the side of the draw without the other two from that power trio will get a nice break at the Big Ten Tournament.  The advantage there probably goes to Alton, since Penn State doesn't face Nebraska or Iowa this year, although if DSJ can run the table in the Big Ten and beat Green, I think he'll get the nod for the #1 seed here.  Either way, I expect a tense, bite-your-nails off Big Ten final.  I'll go with St. John vs. Alton, with another razor-thin DSJ win.

BS: To be the best, you gotta beat the best!  Woooooo!   Woooooo!  And, Woooooo!  /Ric Flair gif'd.

Damn - I almost forgot that DSJ didn't even make the Big Ten final last year.  No matter.  Give me DSJ.  But the guy most likely to trip him up (again) might be Nebby's James Green, who had an ass-kicker of a time at freestyle this summer..  But, surprisingly, Green did that down at 149lbs.  Crazy, right?  Dude doesn't look like a 149-er.  And that's with the new freestyle rules, where gas tanks are suddenly required.  Maybe Green turned the corner?

6) Prediction time -- who are the finalists at this weight at the NCAA Tournament?  Who wins?

RB: Again, seeding will be key here.  For St. John, a worst-case scenario might be getting the #1 seed but having Green get the #4 seed, given that Green might be St. John's most dangerous opponent.  But the ranks at 157 are loaded with enough landmines that there's probably no "easy" path for any of the challengers.  I'm leaning St. John vs. Dieringer in the finals; Dieringer looked damn tough in the NCAA semis last year and he seems poised to take another step forward this year.  As for the winner, well, allow me to cash in my homer chips and peg St. John as the winner again here.

BS: Dylan Alton and DSJ meet again - for 3rd place.  I'm pushing my entire stack of chips (both of them) into the center of the table for the two guys who killed it at freestyle this summer:  Green, and Alex Dieringer.  Dieringer is a freaking horse, by the way, in addition to being talented.  I'm impressed he can make 157.  I'm making him my favorite.

(Again, part two of our preview is on BSD here.  And my weight-by-weight breakdowns of the Iowa team will begin arriving soon, too.)

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