Thanks to the cruel and unknowable machinations of the Delanybot 9000, this year wrestling fans have been denied a chance to see the signature dual of the Big Ten season: Iowa versus Penn State. It's become the biggest dual in the Big Ten (and the nation) since Cael Sanderson decamped from Ames to State College, attracted top-notch talent in bushels, and won four of the last five national championships. In fact, Iowa and Penn State have combined to win seven of the last eight national titles (Ohio State broke the duopoly last year) and are two of the favorites to win this year's title -- they've been ranked #1 or #2 in the polls ever since Iowa beat then-#1 Oklahoma State at the Grapple on the Gridiron event to kick off the season back in November. But in reality we'll have to wait until the Big Ten Tournament in Iowa City a month from now to see who the better team is and even then it will come in a tournament format; several Iowa-Penn State showdowns are likely at that event, but they're not guaranteed the way they would be at a dual meet.
The fact that this dual meet isn't actually happening has rankled ever since the 2015-16 schedule was released, so BHGP and our blog buddies at Black Shoe Diaries decided to do something about it and envision a better reality -- one where Iowa and Penn State actually do settle things on the mat to determine who really is the best dual meet team in the Big Ten. You can find BSD's breakdown of our hypothetical dual meet over on their corner of these here interwebs. We're choosing to place the dual this weekend for a few reasons. One, it would be an epic way to wrap up the Big Ten regular season. Two, Iowa and Penn State's actual opponents this weekend -- Montana State-Northern and Michigan State -- suck. So you're damn right we'd trade those duals for this clash of the titans.
BSD set their hypothetical dual at the Bryce Jordan Center, which hey, this is a fantasy -- they can set it wherever they want. ("Iowa versus Penn State... ON THE MOOOOOON~!") But PSU got to host last year's Iowa-Penn State dual too and while the inner workings of the Delanybot 9000 are unknowable and it's possible that Iowa would have been sent back to the BJC for this dual for the second year in a row, it strikes me as fairer for Iowa to be the host site this year. Also, Iowa needs all the advantages they can get in this dual, so you're damn right we're claiming home mat advantage.
And in this hypothetical matchup, Brands and Sanderson have unilaterally agreed to end the match at 149, because what's better than ending a dual meet between the #1 and #2 teams with a match-up between the #1 and #2 wrestlers at a given weight? Now that's a main event. So without further ado...
157: #18 Edwin Cooper, Jr. (SR, 13-6) vs. #1 Jason Nolf (RS FR, 23-0)
From a tactical standpoint, starting the dual at 157 rather than 125 puts Iowa at a disadvantage. Instead of leading off with (arguably) their best wrestler, Iowa instead sends out one of their weaker wrestlers -- against one of Penn State's best and one of three #1-ranked wrestlers on their team. Nolf has been a buzzsaw this year -- 22 of his 23 wins have come with bonus points including 10 falls and 7 technical falls. That includes a stunning pinfall win over then-#1 Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) a few weeks ago. Coop is going to be in damage limitation mode here. I think he can avoid getting pinned, but that's about it.
PREDICTION: Nolf via TECH FALL (PSU 5-0)
165: UR Patrick Rhoads (SR, 9-8) vs. #17 Shakur Rasheed (RS FR, 14-6) or UR Geno Morelli (JR, 16-6)
Iowa has had a back and forth rotation at this weight for much of the season, but Patrick Rhoads has been the favored wrestler the last few weeks -- and he's responded with a pair of wins -- so let's give him the nod here. 165 has also been a weight with some uncertainty for PSU, but their two main guys here (Rasheed and Morelli) have both been pretty decent. Morelli isn't ranked because Rasheed is, but Morelli would likely be ranked in the same neighborhood as Rasheed if he was ranked. Rhoads has been close to beating a few ranked opponents this year -- he lost by only a point to #11 Tanner Weatherman (Iowa State) and #8 Anthony Perrotti (Rutgers) and a had a pair of close losses to #14 Austin Wilson (Nebraska) -- but he hasn't been able to get over that hump so far this year. This is one of Iowa's better upset opportunities in the dual and it would be nice to see a little "CHA Magic" carry Rhoads over the top... but that's not the result I expect to see here.
PREDICTION: Rasheed/Morelli via DEC (PSU 8-0)
174: #10 Alex Meyer (JR, 19-2) vs. #1 Bo Nickal (RS FR, 23-1)
Down 8-0 after the first two matches, Iowa is badly in need of a win to recharge the crowd and boost their hopes of winning the dual. Before the season began, this match-up looked like a match-up of potential Big Ten -- and maybe even NCAA -- championship contenders. Nickal has affirmed those expectations and held onto the #1 ranking at a weight lacking established top guys, while Meyer has scuffled through the season with a slew of close, ugly wins. He's fresh off his signature win of the season -- an 8-7 win over #11 Nate Jackson (Indiana) -- which gives some reason for optimism here. But Nickal has simply been much, much more consistent over the course of the season. I see him getting a few early takedowns and Meyer battling back but coming up short.
PREDICTION: Nickal via DEC (PSU 11-0)
184: #11 Sammy Brooks (JR, 19-2) vs. #6 Matt McCutcheon (SO, 13-2)
Down three matches and 11-0 on the scoreboard, Iowa really needs a win to turn things around. Enter: Sammy Brooks. Brooks picked up the key win in Iowa's tight dual meet triumph over Oklahoma State at the Grapple on the Gridiron event, recording a tech fall that ended up providing Iowa with their margin of victory for the dual. Brooks and McCutcheon split two matches last year (technically Brooks went 2-1, but one of those wins came via medical forfeit), with Brooks taking a 7-1 win at the dual meet and McCutcheon taking the rematch 6-4 in sudden victory in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. That match may have cost Iowa a Big Ten title last year and it did damage Sammy's seed at the NCAA Tournament, which hurt his ability to earn All-America honors. Brooks and McCutcheon are both improved from a year ago, but I think Brooks' extra motivation -- and McCutcheon's balky knee -- gives Sammy the edge here and gets Iowa on the board.
PREDICTION: Brooks via DEC (PSU 11-3)
197: #4 Nathan Burak (SR, 18-1) vs. #1 Morgan McIntosh (SR, 21-0)
Burak has been one of Iowa's best wrestlers this season, racing out to an 18-1 record and earning bonus points at a better clip (58% of his wins) than he ever has in the past. Unfortunately, McIntosh is his white whale -- Burak has a lifetime record of 0-4 against McIntosh. Worse, he's never even scored a takedown on him. That's a problem. As much as I love Burak and as much as I like the way he's been wrestling this year, there's just no way I can pick him to win here. He has to show that he can actually score on McIntosh before I tab him to win a match against his nemesis.
PREDICTION: McIntosh via DEC (PSU 14-3)
INTERMISSION! Iowa fans blearily line up to get their soft serve, shellshocked by the Penn State onslaught to start the dual. The one thing that gives the Iowa fans hope? The match-ups get much more favorable for Iowa in the back half of the dual, as three of the Hawkeyes' four best wrestlers (Gilman, Clark, and Sorensen) will all be in action, as well as a weight where Iowa has a sizable advantage (285). Could the comeback be on?
285: #7 Sam Stoll (RS FR, 19-2) vs. UR Jan Johnson (FR, 1-8)
At 14-3 through five matches, things look pretty bleak for Iowa. But fear not -- the next few match-ups look much more favorable for Iowa. That favorable run starts at heavyweight which features the biggest mismatch of the dual meet by far. Sam Stoll has been one of the best surprises of this Iowa season, putting up a 19-2 record and recording a team-best 8 pins so far this year in his redshirt freshman campaign, his first as a starter for Iowa. Meanwhile, Penn State had a blue chip redshirt freshman heavyweight of their own this year, but Nick Nevills has been forced to miss the season to date with an injury. PSU has no other heavyweights on the roster, which has led to Jan Johnson, an undersized football player, being pressed into service at this weight. He's... struggled, as evidenced by that 1-8 record. This weight is a huge advantage for Iowa and they need to capitalize with bonus points. Johnson has kept some of his losses to simple decisions, but he's also been pinned once and just lost via major decision and technical fall to two All-America caliber wrestlers, #4 Adam Coon (Michigan) and #2 Kyle Snyder (Ohio State). Stoll looks like an All-America contender in his own right, so he needs to keep the points flowing in this matchup. In fact, what Iowa could really use from him is a pin. I think Iowa's best pinner feeds off the energy of the home crowd and puts Johnson on his back.
PREDICTION: Stoll via FALL (PSU 14-9)
125: #2 Thomas Gilman (JR, 19-0) vs. #4 Nico Megaludis (SR, 21-2)
The first half of the dual featured several match-ups between ranked wrestlers, including two Top 10 clashes (174, 197), but business really picks up in the second half of the dual, with three Top 5 throwdowns, the first of which features #2 Gilman and #4 Megaludis clashing at 125 lbs. Nico is 1-0 lifetime against Gilman, thanks to a 4-1 win in this dual two years ago, but Gilman has improved by leaps and bounds since then. Of course, Nico's also improved and this looks like a very low-scoring, cagey encounter. I think it's tied 1-1 after three periods, with Gilman hitting a high-crotch for the winning takedown in sudden victory. For the second match in a row, the CHA crowd erupts.
PREDICTION: Gilman via DEC (PSU 14-12)
133: #3 Cory Clark (JR, 16-1) vs. #5 Jordan Conaway (SR, 19-3)
133 was a house (weight?) of horrors for Penn State when Tony Ramos manned this weight -- he went 4-0 against Penn State opponents with four pins in those wins. He loved steamrolling a Nittany Lion into the mat. Cory Clark hasn't had quite as much success against PSU opponents -- he's 1-2 against the boys in blue, losing 5-2 to Nico Megaludis two years ago and splitting a pair of decisions (an 8-5 loss and a 7-5 win) with Jimmy Gulibon last year. Conaway is a tough out and a tenacious wrestler who will come after Clark until the final whistle. But Clark has looked better and better in recent weeks and I think his defense will be too good for Conaway and he'll turn one of Conaway's shots into a takedown of his own that provides the decisive score and gives Iowa the lead in the dual.
PREDICTION: Clark via DEC (IOWA 15-14)
141: UR Brody Grothus (SR, 3-3) vs. #14 Jimmy Gulibon (JR, 10-5)
This is a very intriguing match-up, despite the lack of impressive rankings next to either's guy name. Grothus is probably a bit better than his 3-3 overall record would suggest, while Gulibon has been very up-and-down this year. This match would be difficult to predict no matter what, but especially so in our hypothetical match-up with the crowd rocking after three straight dramatic Iowa wins that have put Iowa back in front of the dual. If "Good Brody" shows up in this match, he can definitely take it. But... we haven't seen "Good Brody" too much at 141 lbs so far. He's been struggling to hit own offense consistently and letting guys get in on his legs far too often. I think this match stays tight into the third period, when Grothus tries to hit a go-for-broke upper body throw... only it doesn't quite land. Gulibon ends up on top of Grothus and gets the decisive points for the win.
PREDICTION: Gulibon via DEC (PSU 17-15)
149: #2 Brandon Sorensen (SO, 21-0) vs. #1 Zain Retherford (SO, 22-0)
It all comes down to this -- Iowa has four wins, Penn State has five wins, but Stoll's pin gives Iowa an edge in the bonus points category and makes the margin between the teams just two points, meaning that the winner of this match will take the dual. And what a match for the dual to come down to; there are four weight in an Iowa-Penn State showdown that feature match-ups between Top 5 opponents, but none feature a match-up as good as this one: 22-0 Zain Retherford, ranked #1, versus 21-0 Brandon Sorensen, ranked #2. Someone's 0 must go. Sorensen has been one of Iowa's best -- and most consistent -- wrestlers all year, but he's been winning ugly lately, with five straight wins by decision. Retherford has earned bonus in 91% of his 23 wins this season, including his last 12 wins, which includes some big wins over Top 10 opponents (major decisions over #4 Jake Sueflohn (Nebraska) and #6 Jason Tsirtsis (Northwestern), a tech fall over #5 Evan Henderson (North Carolina), and a fall over #7 Alec Pantaleo (Michigan)). He's been on an incredible roll, frankly. Sorensen could win the match, but it would require his best effort and more than a little CHA magic. I think Retherford explodes out of the gate with a pair of takedowns that force Sorensen into chase mode and he's never able to catch up.
PREDICTION: Retherford via DEC (PSU 20-15)
Well, that's a downer ending. But it also feels like a fair prediction -- Penn State really does look like the better team right now and several of the match-ups look to favor them. 141 and 165 look like key potential swing bouts, which could alter the outcome in Iowa's favor if Rhoads or Grothus were able to pull off the (mild) upset. On the other hand, Stoll could win and not get a pin, either, which would cost Iowa much-needed points. And McCutcheon, Megaludis, and Conaway are all more than capable of beating Brooks, Gilman, and Clark -- if that happens, stick a fork in things. Iowa's not winning the dual if they lose those matches.
And so ends our little hypothetical exercise. The only shame is that it's just that -- hypothetical -- and we won't get to see what would actually happen if Iowa and Penn State faced off in a dual meet this season. Thanks a lot, Delanybot 9000.