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FIVE DAYS OF WRESTLEMAS: 174/184 PREVIEW

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The most critical weights for Iowa?

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015-16 Iowa wrestling season officially gets underway on Saturday with one of the biggest events of the season: Grapple at the Gridiron, the outdoor dual meet between Iowa and Oklahoma State that's expected to the biggest crowd ever for a collegiate dual meet.  We're declaring that event WRESTLEMAS, so to get you up to speed for that event and for the season to come, welcome to FIVE DAYS OF WRESTLEMAS, a series of previews about the Iowa wrestlers -- as well as some of their most significant opponents -- as they try to bring some more championship hardware back to Iowa City.

Previously:

174

2015-16 Depth Chart and Eligibility Remaining
WRESTLER ELIG HT 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
174
Alex Meyer JR (RS) 6-0
Faraan Brantley SO (RS) 6-0
Trevor Graves SO (RS) 6-1
Logan McQuillen SO (RS) 5-11
Jake Turk SO (RS) 5-11

THE KNOWN QUANTITY

It's not often that you can lose a three-time All-American at a weight and have a replacement that you feel every bit as good about, but that's the case at 174 lbs, where Alex Meyer is in line to replace Mike Evans (and his mansome 'stache). Meyer was quite possibly the best back-up in the nation last year (ignoring studs who were redshirting, like Nico Megaludis at Penn State), he simply couldn't crack the lineup because of the quality of the guy ahead on him on the depth chart.  Evans could be frustrating to watch at times (take a shot!), but he was successful, even if three consecutive 6th place finishes at the NCAA Tournament aren't quite what people hoped to see from him, given his buzz as a high school recruit and his on-the-mat success at various times during his career.

But it's Meyer's turn now.  Meyers saw action last year and went 18-3, with one of those losses coming against Evans (at the Luther Open) and another coming when he wrestled up a weight against Missouri's Willie Miklus (a former teammate of Meyer's at Southeast Polk, strangely enough), who was an All-America at 184.  (Meyer's other loss was a bit of a head scratcher against Wisconsin's Frank Cousins.)  Meyer also beat Northwestern's Johnny Sebastian and Oklahoma State's Jordan Rogers (both touted recruits),  as well as Oklahoma State's Kyle Crutchmer (current #4 in the rankings), Illinois' Zac Brunson (currently #8), and Virginia' Blaise Butler (currently #7).  Meyer certainly has some quality wins on his resume.

Meyer's wins over Brunson and Butler both involved furious comebacks (Meyer beat Brunson with a pin with just two seconds remaining), which speaks to his greatest strengths and weaknesses.  Meyer has a tremendous motor and will fight to the bitter end of a match, often wearing out his opponents along the way.  But the reason he needed to make those furious comebacks in the first place was because he started slowly and dug himself early holes.  It didn't cost him against Brunson or Butler last year, but falling behind regularly is definitely not a winning gameplan in the long term.  The next step for Meyer is hitting the gas from the opening whistle and turning thrilling last-minute wins into dominant wins.

THE POSSIBLE OPTIONS

It's really Meyer or bust here. Trevor Graves went 0-2 last year, Faraan Brantley didn't wrestle at all last season, and Logan McQuillen went 2-6 at 165 lbs last year.  Jake Turk is the older brother of Iowa 141er Vince Turk; he transferred to Iowa in the off-season after redshirting last year and going 10-12 in 2013-14.  Maybe one of these guys will develop into a quality option for Iowa in time, but for now there's no one pushing Meyer for this spot.

THE POTHOLES IN THE ROAD

174 is in a strange state: the "Gang of Four" in the Big Ten that dominated the weight for the last four years (Evans, Penn State's Matt Brown, Minnesota's Logan Storley, and Nebraska's Robert Kokesh) has finally graduated, a year after Oklahoma State's Chris Perry and Oklahoma's Andrew Howe departed the scene.  That's left a big vacuum at the top of this weight.  Just two of last year's eight All Americans are back this year, Virginia Tech's Zach Epperly (7th last year) and Crutchmer (5th last year).  Butler and Brunson, Meyer's two most notable victories a season ago, are both back this year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the void at the top of 174 has attracted wrestlers from other weights, most notably Ohio State's Bo Jordan (3rd at 165 last year) and Cornell's Brian Realbuto (2nd at 157 last year).  Jordan was a force at 165 last year and if he adapts to his new weight as well as expected, he'll be favored to bring home a title this year.

THE KEY MATCHES

11/14/15: #4 Kyle Crutchmer, Oklahoma State (non-conference dual; Iowa City, IA)
11/29/15: #16 Lelund Weatherspoon, Iowa State (non-conference dual; Ames, IA)
1/8/16: #8 Zac Brunson, Illinois (B1G dual; Champaign, IL)
1/15/16: #10 Ricky Robertson, Wisconsin (B1G dual; Madison, WI)
2/5/16: #15 Nate Jackson, Indiana (B1G dual; Iowa City, IA)

The Big Ten is reasonably deep at this weight, with 7 of the top 20 wrestlers, including Meyer.  He won't get to face the presumptive top dog, Jordan, nor one of the most intriguing names at the weight (Penn State's Bo Nickal, a touted recruit making his debut), but he'll see several of the others, including Brunson, Robertson, and Jackson.  An early showdown with Crutchmer is a virtual top-5 clash and a win could get Meyer's season off to a tremendous start.

THE REASONABLE EXPECTATION

This a funny weight to figure out. During the offseason it seemed like it could go any of several directions -- it wasn't even that hard to imagine Meyer standing atop the podium in March, given his success last year against several of the guys who looked like his biggest challengers.  Jordan's move into the weight alters that calculus somewhat (as does Realbuto's move, although I'm curious to see if making a two-weight jump has any ill effects on him).  That said, Meyer still has plenty of potential to finish highly this year.  Evans finished 3rd at the Big Ten Tournament and 6th at the NCAA Tournament -- I think Meyer can (and will) improve on both of those finishes.  I'll call for a spot in the finals at the Big Ten Tournament and a top-4 finish at the NCAA Tournament.

184

2015-16 Depth Chart and Eligibility Remaining
WRESTLER ELIG HT 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
184
Sammy Brooks JR (RS) 6-0
Mitch Bowman FR (RS) 6-2
Cash Wilcke FR 5-11

THE KNOWN QUANTITY

Sammy Brooks is yet another member of Iowa's celebrated 2012 recruiting class, a group that's contributing at least 40% of Iowa's starting lineup this season. He made his full debut as a redshirt sophomore last year, taking over the 184 lb starting spot from Ethen Lofthouse and enduring a somewhat up and down season.  He finished 29-7, highlighted by a 3rd place finish at Midlands, where he beat three Top-20 opponents.  But he also suffered a few painful losses during the regular season, like a come-from-ahead loss to Oklahoma State's Nolan Boyd.  His shock defeat against Penn State's Matt McCutcheon was a key result in Iowa only tying Ohio State for the Big T en Championship last year, rather than winning outright, though he did battle back to finish 3rd at the Big Ten Tournament.  Brooks ran into a tough draw in the NCAA Tournament -- #1 Gabe Dean (Cornell) and then #3 Blake Stauffer (Arizona State).  He dropped both matches and finished in the Round of 12, just shy of All America status.

Brooks was frequently one of Iowa's most entertaining wrestlers a year ago, mixing big upper body throws with quick leg attacks and displaying some tremendous tilt skills on the mat to rack up near fall points (and even a few pins). He was one of Iowa's better bonus point wrestlers, recording seven pins, three technical falls, and eight major decisions among his 29 total wins.  Like several Iowa wrestlers, though, his offensive well seemed to run dry against tougher opponents and he wrestled more tentatively and cautiously in those matches, usually to his detriment.  Obviously tougher opponents have better defenses and are harder to score on, but Iowa wrestlers aren't going to score more points (and win more matches) until they stop wrestling so cautiously and take more chances on offense.  Brooks has some of the best offense of any wrestler on the team, so hopefully he leads the way on that front this year.

THE POSSIBLE OPTIONS

The primary backup to Brooks is Mitch Bowman, who went 17-8 while wrestling unattached during his redshirt season. None of those wins (or losses) came against notable opponents, so it's hard to know what his level is right now.  Hopefully he continues to develop and improve behind Brooks for the next few years.

THE POTHOLES IN THE ROAD

Wild but true: every single All American at this weight from the 184 lb class from last year's NCAA Tournament is back, including defending NCAA Champion Gabe Dean from Cornell.  Dean is the top dog at this weight, but he probably isn't as far ahead of his challengers as Isaiah Martinez is at 157 or Alex Dieringer is at 165. He's still going to be damn hard to unseat from the top of the podium, though -- Dean has rock-solid defense, strong mat skills, and a some good shots (when he uses 'em).  This is also maybe the most nationally diverse weight, with 6 of the top 10 hailing from different conferences.  That includes Edinboro's Vic Avery at #2 (EWL), Arizona State's Blake Stauffer at #3 (Pac-12), Lehigh's Nathaniel Brown at #4 (EIWA), Ohio State's Kenny Courts at #5 (Big Ten), North Dakota State's Hayden Zillmer at #6 (WWC), Old Dominion's Jack Dechow at #7 (MAC), Missouri's Miklus at #8 (MAC), Princeton's Abram Ayala at #9 (EIWA), and Nebraska's TJ Dudley at #10 (Big Ten).  The Big Ten also includes a few wrestlers outside the Top 20 who defeated Brooks last year (Penn State's Matt McCutcheon at #14, Michigan's Dominic Abounader at #13).  So there's no shortage of contenders at this weight...

THE KEY MATCHES

11/14/15: #15 Jordan Rogers, Oklahoma State (non-conference dual; Iowa City, IA)
1/8/16: #19 Jeff Koepke, Illinois (B1G dual; Champaign, IL)
1/24/16: #10 T.J. Dudley, Nebraska (B1G dual; Lincoln, NE)

...but Brooks isn't going to see many of those opponents during his season (though hopefully a few turn up at Midlands). That should mean that Brooks winds up with a glitzy record and a lot of bonus point wins, but it's unclear how high he'll be able to move in the rankings without actually recording wins over some of the guys ranked ahead of him.

THE REASONABLE EXPECTATION

Brooks has tremendous potential and he flashed it at times last year -- when he's rolling, he can be a whirling dervish of offensive attacks that racks up points in a hurry.  But that Brooks didn't show up all the time last year and he particularly struggled later in the season (to be fair, he was also dealing with some nagging injuries at that time as well).  We just need to see Brooks put it all together and do it consistently.  The Big Ten isn't as strong at this weight as it is several others and there's no clear stud, so I think Brooks has an excellent chance of making the Big Ten finals here.  As far as the NCAA Tournament goes... I think Brooks makes it on the podium this year -- he was a bit unlucky not to last year -- but how high he finishes is dependent on how much he improves this year.