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FIVE DAYS OF WRESTLEMAS: 125/133 PREVIEW

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Pr-pr-preview time!

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.

125

2015-16 Depth Chart and Eligibility Remaining
WRESTLER ELIG HT 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
125
Thomas Gilman JR(RS) 5-5
Perez Perez FR 5-5

THE KNOWN QUANTITY

Thomas Gilman arrived at Iowa as one of the most celebrated members of Iowa's top-rated recruiting class in 2012 (#16 overall, per d1collegewrestling), and after a year spent redshirting while Matt McDonough wrapped up his celebrated Iowa career, he split time with fellow 2012 recruit Cory Clark at 125 lbs during the 2013-14 season.  Clark went 16-3 overall that season, but his struggles during the dual meet season (highlighted by a shocking pinfall loss to Minnesota's unranked Sam Brancale) led to Clark getting the nod for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments that year. When Clark moved up to 133 lbs last year, 125 was free for Gilman to take over and he put together an impressive sophomore season, going 31-6 overall, 15-2 in dual meets.  He cut down on the head-scratching losses (although a 3-1 loss to Chattanooga's Sean Boyle at National Duals was still a bit puzzling and getting ambushed by West Virginia's Zeke Moisey was disappointing) and recorded some impressive wins, including a victory over Ohio State's Nathan Tomasello, the eventual B1G/NCAA champion, a win over #3 Joey Dance (avenging an earlier loss at Midlands), and a pair of wins over #2 Nahshon Garrett.

THE POSSIBLE OPTIONS

Perez Perez has a wonderful name, but he's also a true freshman who's going to be taking a redshirt this season. If something happens to Gilman, Iowa is going to have some definite issues at this weight this year.  (In fairness, they had a solid-looking back-up, but Philip Laux transferred to Northwestern this past summer.)

THE POTHOLES IN THE ROAD

Including Gilman, six of last year's All-Americans (top-8 finishers at the NCAA Tournament) are back at this weight -- and a seventh (Garrett) is up a weight (133).  On top of all that returning talent, Penn State's Nico Megaludis (a two-time NCAA runner-up) is also back after redshirting for the 2014-15 season.  There's a good argument to be made that 125 will be the deepest and most competitive weight in the nation this season.

That said, Gilman is capable of going toe-to-toe with any of them -- he has wins over everyone else in the top-7 except Megaludis and Moisey.  The Big Ten will be an especially daunting battlefield for 125ers: between Gilman, Tomasello, Megaludis, and Michigan's Conor Youtsey, the conference can claim fout of the top five wrestlers at the weight.  Tomasello and Megaludis look like the biggest threats to Gilman's hopes of getting atop the podium at the Big Ten or NCAA Tournaments -- both are cagey, strong wrestlers with tremendous defensive skill sets that make it very difficult to score on them.

THE KEY MATCHES

11/14/15: #7 Eddie Klimara, Oklahoma State (non-conference dual; Iowa City, IA)
1/10/16: #14 Dominick Malone, Northwestern (B1G dual; Evanston, IL)
1/24/16: #12 Tim Lambert, Nebraska (B1G dual; Lincoln, NE)
1/29/16: #18 Ethan Lizak, Minnesota (B1G dual; Iowa City, IA)

125 is a deep and talented weight this year, but that isn't reflected on Gilman's schedule -- outside of Klimara in the opener, Gilman may not see another top-10 opponent until the Big Ten Tournament (depending on how the season shakes out and who he runs into at Midlands, of course).  That should help him put together a very gaudy record heading into the big tournaments at the end of the year, but it may not give him much on-the-mat experience against the guys he'll need to defeat to claim top honors.

THE REASONABLE EXPECTATION

Gilman has displayed an impressive and diverse repertoire of offensive attacks in his matches against lesser opponents, frequently turning matches into takedown clinics with repeated leg attacks.  His offensive well has run dry in his matches wither other top wrestlers, though, and while their strong defensive skills are part of the explanation, Gilman (like many Iowa wrestlers in recent years) also seems a bit too tentative in those matches, and too unwilling to let loose with his offense.  If he can overcome that hesitation and bring his offense to bear more consistently, the sky's the limit for Gilman and the top of the podium could await.  But if he wrestles more tentative, low-scoring matches that come down to which wrestler can get the single takedown, his odds of winning it all will be very much up in the air.  He's very capable of winning matches like that... but his odds of losing those matches are also much higher.  Gilman should be a top-3 finisher at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments -- with the potential for more if everything clicks.

133

2015-16 Depth Chart and Eligibility Remaining
WRESTLER ELIG HT 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
133
Cory Clark JR(RS) 5-6
Paul Glynn FR 5-8


THE KNOWN QUANTITY

Like Gilman, Clark was a member of Iowa's top-rated 2012 recruiting class, although he was slightly lower-rated (#23, per d1cw) than his fellow lightweight.  Clark and Gilman battled for the starting spot in 2013-14, with Clark initially winning the job before some struggles at Midlands opened the door for Gilman.  Gilman's own struggles re-opened the door for Clark and he took charge for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, finishing 4th and 5th, respectively.  With the departure of Tony Ramos, Clark moved up to 133 and entrenched himself as the man at that weight.  Clark's season started brilliantly -- he went 14-0 and won a title at Midlands -- but went off the rails a bit in January and February, when he traded wins and losses over a 10-match stretch.  He ended the regular season on a 5-match winning streak, including three dominant wins over Top-20 opponents.  He got tripped up by #1 Chris Dardanes in the Big Ten Tournament, though, and had to settle for a 3rd place finish.  He saved his best for last, though, making the NCAA Tournament finals at 133, before dropping an 11-8 decision to Oklahoma's Cory Brewer. As an NCAA runner-up, Clark is Iowa's highest returning finisher from a year ago.  He went 30-6 overall, 13-4 in dual meets.

THE POSSIBLE OPTIONS

Like 125, the options at this weight are pretty sparse.  There's true freshman Paul Glynn out of Bettendorf and... well, that's about it.  Iowa's worked to replenish the talent pool at 125 and 133 in their recent recruiting (more on that shortly), but for now it's the Gilman and Clark show down low.

THE POTHOLES IN THE ROAD

Five of eight All-Americans from a year ago are back this year, including Brewer, the defending national champion. There was some offseason talk of him moving up to 141 lbs (he looked absolutely massive at 133 last season), but for now he seems to be staying put at the weight he dominated at the NCAA Tournament last year.  One returning All-American did move up a weight -- Penn State's Jimmy Gulibon.  Given Nahshon Garrett's move up from 125 lbs, though, the number of returning All-Americans at this weight is still six.  Brewer and Garrett should be the biggest threats nationally (along with Lehigh's Mason Beckman, who finished 8th a year ago), but the Big Ten is also pretty loaded at this weight.  The departures of Dardanes (graduation) and Gulibon (move to 141) eases things somewhat, but Wisconsin's Ryan Taylor, Ohio State's Johnni DiJulius, Michigan's Rossi Bruno, Illinois' Zane Richards, and Penn State's Jordan Conaway will all be quality opponents in the Big Ten.  DiJulius handed Clark his first loss last year (although Clark also avenged that loss with two wins over DiJulius at the Big Ten Tournament) and Taylor defeated Clark when both were at 125 lbs two seasons ago.

THE KEY MATCHES

11/29/15: #8 Earl Hall, Iowa State (non-conference dual; Ames, IA)
12/10/15: #20 Anthony Giraldo, Rutgers (B1G dual; Iowa City, IA)
1/8/16: #13 Zane Richards, Illinois (B1G dual; Champaign, IL)
1/15/16: #3 Ryan Taylor, Wisconsin (B1G dual; Madison, WI)
1/24/16: #12 Eric Montoya, Nebraska (B1G dual; Lincoln, NE)

The most intriguing match for Clark looks like the showdown with Taylor in January -- that should be a match-up of Top-5 wrestlers and could play a key role in seeding for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.  Beyond that, Clark has a handful of matches against top-20 opponents, but only one other top-10 opponent (ISU's Hall).  Clark is 4-0 lifetime versus Hall and the matches have been getting more one-sided (Clark won 8-7 and 10-4 two years ago; he won 8-3 and 7-1 over Hall last year).  Richards did beat Clark via 6-5 decision last year during Clark's slump (Clark also beat him 4-2 in the Midlands final and 8-2 in the Big Ten Tournament).

THE REASONABLE EXPECTATION

Clark is Iowa's best opportunity to win a national championship in 2016.  If he wrestles the way he did at the end of last season, a championship is very attainable.  Clark's biggest problem has come against opponents who are simply bigger and stronger than he is -- both Dardanes and Brewer were able to outhorse him at times.  Dardanes is gone, but Clark may still have to get by Brewer to claim a title -- he showed an ability to get at Brewer's legs and finish takedowns in their title match last year, but he also made some sloppy shots and put himself in poor positions that Brewer was able to capitalize on.  If Clark wrestles a smarter, more disciplined match, it's not absurd to think that he can best Brewer in a rematch.  Clark should be wrestling in the 133 lb finals at both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments -- anything less than that would be a disappointment.  And he's very capable of winning both of those matches, too.