Come January, when the Iowa football team again goes into hibernation for another nine months, what's a Hawkeye fan to do? Well, pay attention to our
preseason consensus cellar dweller up and coming basketball team... but you could also give a little time to the wrestling team and their quest for a fourth national championship in the last five years. It is the one sport we're really, really good at, after all. In the spirit of our Assume the Position series for football, we bring you A Winner is You!, a weight class-by-weight class breakdown of the Iowa wrestling team, counting down each Thursday (ish) from the weight class we have the most confidence in to the weight class we have absolutely no clue about.
THE KNOWN QUANTITY and THE POSSIBLE OPTIONS
I'm lumping these two categories together this time because the heavyweight picture is, in many ways, very simple for Iowa. There are two options: the grizzled returning veteran (Blake Rasing) and the much-hyped young buck (Bobby Telford). That's not an uncommon situation to see on a wrestling squad; while experience and maturity matter a great deal, sometimes raw talent just can't be denied. Of course, it's not every day that the grizzed veteran sweating his starting spot is also a returning Big Ten champion... but that's exactly the situation we find at work here. It's safe to say that Rasing is the only returning Big Ten champion whose starting job is not assured this season. Matt McDonough is not fretting over making the lineup. Nor are Kellen Russell, Frank Molinaro, or Quentin Wright (to name a few other returning Big Ten champions). But such unpredictability is the hallmark of Big Ten heavyweight wrestling (and Rasing in particular) right now.
Rasing's season started brightly with a 6-1 record over mostly nobodies, but it skidded off the rails at Midlands, where Rasing went 1-2 and was eliminated early. (To be fair to Rasing, his competition for the heavyweight spot in the Iowa roster didn't fare any better: Telford and since-transferred Jordan Johnson also went 1-2.) But things picked up after a 3-1 OT win over Blake Rosholt (a win that secured a dual meet draw for Iowa, preserving the team's epic unbeaten streka): Rasing won five of his remaining seven Big Ten dual meet matches, often with impressive scorelines (12-1, 10-4, 12-3, Pin). He was not just winning, but he was looking impressive -- even dominant, at times -- in doing so. There was no tentative circling or stalling, no waiting until the last thirty seconds of the match to attempt a shot -- he was being aggressive and forceful, pushing the pace and looking to rack up points. He followed that up with a surprising run to a Big Ten championship and the future looked bright for Rasing. As strong as the buzz was around Telford, it seemed inevitable that Iowa fans would have to wait until 2012-2013 to get a glimpse of the Next Big Thing at heavyweight. And then the NCAAs happened. Rasing went 1-2, got bounced long before All-American consideration, and, worst of all, reverted back to his old form of a shaved bear doing a slow dance with another shaved bear. Suddenly the debate was back on.
Telford, for his part, had a pretty sparkling redshirt season: he went 22-4, which included thirteen pins and two other major decision wins. Two of his four losses were DQs at the Kaufman-Brand Open (I'm not sure what the deal was there) and his other two were to legit competition (Michigan State's Mike McClure and American's Ryan Flores). Admittedly, few of his wins were over high-caliber competition, but that's sort of par for the course with guys during a redshirt season. Far more important was the fact that Telford seemed to wrestle "the Iowa way": pushing the pace, taking shots, and displaying a dominating and aggressive attitude. As we saw a year ago in the battle between Tony Ramos and Tyler Clark for the starting spot at 133, aggression and an attacking style can go a long way in earning you a spot on the team. The race only got even tighter when Telford beat Rasing, 2-0, at the wrestle-offs last weekend. That result doesn't guarantee anything, but it does give Telford a leg up in the race to claim the spot. Ultimately, the decision on a starter isn't going to be made for probably a month at least -- I suspect Brands will give both guys opportunities to impress over the early part of the season and their respective performances at Midlands in late December may prove decisive.
THE POTHOLES IN THE ROAD
The depth at this weight is pretty solid: five of last year's eight All-Americans are back this year (and it would seven of eight, but Central Michigan's Jarod Trice and Missouri's Dom Bradley are both redshirting) -- and that doesn't even include some other talented guys (including Penn State's Cameron Wade and the Mad Russian, Oklahoma State's Alan Gelogaev) who failed to attain A-A status a year ago. Rasing went 2-2 against guys in the InterMat Top 10, with both wins coming against Minnesota's Tony Nelson (including one big win in the finals of the Big Ten Tournament). Telford is 0-1 against guys in the top ten, with that aforementioned loss to Flores at last year's Midlands Championships. There's a perception that there's immense parity between the heavyweights and that just about anyone can beat anyone else on a given day, but that wasn't really in effect at last year's NCAA Tournament, which featured a lot of scratch results -- the final four included the #1, #2, #3, and #5 seeds and the winner was the #1 seed (Lehigh's Zach Rey). So despite the low scores and close matches, there really might be a pecking order at heavyweight rather than parity; either way, this figures to a challenging weight for Iowa.
THE REASONABLE EXPECTATION
So what can we expect out of Iowa at this weight? Can we even really make a prediction until we know who the regular starter will be? Even then, how can we make a prediction when we don't know whether "Good Blake" or "Bad Blake" will show up if Rasing gets the nod or how Telford will handle big-time competition? Good questions, all. We'll start with the "easiest" question first -- who wins the spot? For now, I'm putting my marker down on Telford. Yes, Rasing is the defending Big Ten Champion and he has considerable experience and wrestled very well at times last year. But Telford seems like the real deal and I think his aggressive approach and attack-happy (for heavyweights, anyway) style will allow him to overcome his lack of experience and earn the nod here. So what can we expect from him if he does take the starting job? Matching Rasing's Big Ten Championship from a year ago will be a tall order for the redshirt freshman, particularly since five of the InterMat Top 20 hail from the Big Ten -- but I think a top-four finish is attainable. As far as NCAAs go, the big question is whether or not he can bull his way onto the podium and earn All-American status -- and I think he can (albeit at one of the lower spots, like 6-8th).
That said, whoever gets the nod here, Telford or Rasing, needs to produce at a pretty high level. Iowa's three main challengers for an NCAA championship -- Penn State, Oklahoma State, and Minnesota -- all have solid options here (their wrestlers are ranked 3rd, 4th, and 5th by InterMat), so Iowa needs to keep up with the Joneses as best as possible in terms of points here. They can ill afford to concede too many points to those other teams at this weight.
* * *
BONUS! Speaking of wrestle-offs, here were the full results from last weekend's event:
133: Aldon Isenberg DEC (13-9) Matt Gurule
141: Nick Trizzino PIN (2:13) Charlie Joseph
157: Joey Trizzino MAJ DEC (14-0) Stew Gillmor
157: Joe DuCharme DEC (6-4 OT) Patrick Rhoads
133: Tony Ramos DEC (15-8) Aldon Isenberg
133: Tyler Clark DEC (8-2) J.J. Krutsinger
141: Nick Trizzino PIN (1:33) Charlie Joseph
141: Mark Ballweg MAJ DEC (11-2) Nate Moore
149: Jake Ballweg MAJ DEC (13-4) Jake Kadel
149: Brody Grothus DEC (7-1) Ethan Owens
157: Derek St. John MAJ DEC (15-2) Joey Trizzino
157: Michael Kelly DEC (4-2) Joe Charme
165: Nick Moore MAJ DEC (12-3) Walt Gillmor
184: Jeremy Fahler TECH FALL (19-2, 4:40) Josh Haug
HWT: Blake Rasing PIN (1:41) Tom Flood
HWT: Bobby Telford MAJ DEC (9-1) Brodie Ambrose
125: Matt McDonough PIN (4:26) Matt Gurule
133: Tyler Clark DEC (4-2) Tony Ramos
141: Mark Ballweg DEC (2-0) Nick Trizzino
149: Jake Ballweg DEC (9-3) Brody Grothus
157: Derek St. John MAJ DEC (12-4) Michael Kelly
165: Mike Evans DEC (4-2) Nick Moore
174: Ethen Lofthouse TECH FALL (22-7) Kris Klapprodt
184: Jeremy Fahler INJ DEF Vinnie Wagner
197: Tomas Lira PIN (4:43) Josh Haug
HWT: Bobby Telford DEC (2-0) Blake Rasing
There weren't any real surprises here. McDonough and St. John rolled, as expected. By virtue of a lack of other options, Lofthouse and Lira are clearly the men at 174 and 197, respectively. Several other match-ups that we knew were close are obviously still close: Clark-Ramos, Evans-Moore, Telford-Rasing. Those battles aren't going to be settled for weeks and likely not until after Midlands. Their wins here do little more than establish them as slight favorites in those races. The results at 141 and 184 don't say too much about the likely starters, since both projected starters (Montell Marion at 141, Grant Gambrall at 184) sat out for medical reasons. Both guys have been cleared for the season proper, although Gambrall probably won't be up to full capacity for a while given the amount of practice time he's missed. 149 is also up in the air, although it looks like it will come down to Jake Ballweg and Dylan Carew (unless Michael Kelly is actually able to make the cut to 149). There were a few interesting tidbits, though: Nick Trizzino looked very strong and while the deck looks pretty stacked at 141 in both the short- and long-term future, he'll be a name to watch. Fahler looked explosive at 184 and could be in the mix there, post-Gambrall. Grothus apparently looked impressive for a true freshman, too.