License to kill gophers by the government of the United Nations. Man, free to kill gophers at will. To kill, you must know your enemy, and in this case my enemy is a varmint. And a varmint will never quit - ever. They’re like the Viet Cong - Varmint Cong. So you have to fall back on superior intelligence and superior firepower. And that’s all she wrote.
-Carl Spackler, big Hawkeye wrestling fan
Our #1 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes head north of the boarder on a hunting expedition for gopher pelts. We’ll face #11 Minnesota in their home opener tonight, Jan. 22, at 8:00PM CT live on BTN. Per Gophersports.com it appears that the extra matches will be broadcast on BTN+ at 6:00PM. Though at the time, I don’t know who is participating in them.
Nearly one year ago, the thrashing we dealt to the Minnesota Golden Rodents clinched a Big Ten regular season title. While the gravity of this dual isn’t quite as heavy, we can still use the little boogers as a steppingstone to keep the momentum rolling in the proper direction.
We opened our season last week with a dominating win over then #7 Nebraska, 31-6. Many of the same elements that existed going into that showdown carry over to this one as well. Primarily: bonus points, bonus points, bonus points. Anything and everything we can do to distance ourselves now will pay dividends in March.
Our Hawkeyes lead the all-time series against Minnesota, 76-28-1 and Tom Brands is 14-4. We’ve also won the previous six contests in row. They haven’t bested us since 2014 when they won in Iowa City, 19-15, thanks to a handful of upset matches leaning their way. It’ll take perhaps an even bigger effort for them to come out ahead this time around too.
While this will hopefully be a blowout victory for us, there are a few matches that’ll raise my blood pressure. Primarily, the two top 10 matchups at 157lbs (#9 Kaleb Young vs #7 Brayton Lee) and 285lbs (#4 Tony Cassioppi vs #1 Gable Steveson).
The Gophers kicked off their season with a 22-14 loss to Nebraska, but turned things around in a tri-dual against Maryland and Michigan State last week, winning 48-0 and 28-6, respectively. It’s hard to take too much stock in those wins, considering they are the bottom-feeders of Big Ten wrestling, but the win against Maryland was particularly impressive considering they won all 10 matches; eight by bonus points.
With the graduations of two former All-Americans, Mitch McKee and Devin Skatzka, they’ve lost a bit of leadership and pop in lineup. However, they have a promising batch of young guys that are looking to make a leap this year. They have five returning national qualifiers from 2020, led by one of the few that can challenge Spencer Lee for the Hodge Trophy this year, #1 Gable Steveson (285lbs). They have seven wrestlers inside Wrestlestat’s top 20 and two inside the top 10: #6 Brayton Lee (157lbs) and Steveson.
However, I must mention that while Patrick McKee checks in at #17 on Wrestlestat, he’s inside the top 10 on Trackwrestling thank to a 10-6 win over #2 Rayvon Foley (MSU).
They are underdogs in 8 of the 10 matches and with very few bonus point threats in their lineup, this will be a tough ask from the young team.
As I mentioned, we steamrolled Nebraska last week, the team that upended this same Minnesota squad to open their season. There’s little reason to doubt this week will be any different.
All 10 of our wrestlers now appear in the top 10 thanks to Nelson Brands jumping nine spots up to #8 following his major decision over Taylor Venz (Neb).
Spencer Lee, Alex Marinelli, and Michael Kemerer continue to lead the charge with their #1 rankings, while we have four more inside the top five: #2 Austin DeSanto, #3 Jaydin Eierman, #5 Max Murin, and #4 Tony Cassioppi.
Perhaps I’m too confident that we’ll blow the doors off this dual, but I do think there’s some room for improvement against these fiery
loafers, I mean Gophers. We upped our game last week and won four matches by bonus points, three more than last year’s dual against Nebraska. Last year we won five via bonus against Minnesota and they’re out two former AA’s this time around. It’s reasonable to think we can widen the gap and push for bonus wins in six or seven matchups. While this is a tall order, it’s one that is definitely feasible.
With seven top 20 matches on the slate, many of these are equivalent to 2nd or 3rd round matchups in March. These are the types of matches we must bonus at the NCAA’s to maximize our team point totals.
With that said, we’re favored in 8 of 10 matches, with Kaleb Young and Tony Cassioppi facing two guys standing in their way for a Big Ten and NCAA title.
125lbs: #1 Spencer Lee (1-0) vs #17 Patrick McKee (2-1) McKee is coming off a dramatic upset win over the then #2 Rayvon Foley (MSU), 10-6. He was named Big Ten co-wrestler of the week, alongside Spencer Lee. That’s something that probably won’t sit well with Lee and it’s something he’ll want to remedy immediately. This won’t end in anything less than a tech for our Hawkeye, but it’s definitely a matchup to pay attention to, all things considered.
McKee is riding high and has been feeling good for the past week. It’s about time he’s reminded who the top dog at this weight is.
149lbs: #5 Max Murin (1-0) vs #17 Michael Blockhus (2-1) This is still very much a new weight for Max and any match for the next few weeks is going to be big as he adapts to the extra pounds. Blockhus opened up the season with a loss against Brock Hardy (Neb), who Murin beat last week. Another dominating win by Mad Max will go a long way to building his confidence as he turns to tougher competition over the next month.
157lbs: #8 Kaleb Young (1-0) vs #6 Brayton Lee (3-0) Brayton is up from 149lbs and is looking good so far early into his redshirt sophomore campaign. He lost two tight decisions last year to Pat Lugo and I must remind everyone, how impressive Lugo was. There’s no reason to believe Brayton won’t be just as game at his new weight. While he didn’t threaten Lugo much offensively, he flashed some elite defense. That’s something Young ihas to solve if he wants to knock off one of his main in-conference threats.
If KY wants to be the king of the hill at this 157lbs class, he must go through elite defenders like Brayton. This is a potential semifinals matchup and Young needs to treat it as such. If he can find an early TD, like Lugo, I like his chances to keep the pressure on and pull off the upset.
184lbs: #8 Nelson Brands (1-0) vs #21 Owen Webster. Following Brands’ big win last year over #13 Sam Colbray (ISU) he immediately turned around and laid an egg against unranked Travis Stefanik (Princeton). This match is noteworthy for that reason alone: how does he follow it up?
This is all about growth and how he handles a target on his back.
Webster is off to a 1-2 start, but very easily could be 3-0. He ranks in the middle of the conference pack, but he does have a few solid wins throughout his career, including an upset over Cash Wilcke in last year’s dual.
There’s the possibility for bonus points here, but he needs to be zeroed in and ready to roll.
285lbs: #4 Tony Cassioppi (1-0) vs #1 Gable Steveson (3-0) Big Cass has by far and away the toughest battle of the night. Steveson enters the fray with a 3-0 record, winning all by bonus: two techs and one pin. Plus, he’s been on a roll on the senior circuit too. He recently took Nick Gwiazdowski, the top heavyweight in the country, behind the woodshed and spanked him 4-1 at the FloWrestling RTC Cup back in December.
Needless to say, Gable looks more fit and seems to be even more focused. I’ve seen all three matches and his showboating and occasional aloofness has gone by the wayside, which is a bad sign for this weight class.
Tony is coming off a solid win against #22 Christian Lance (Neb), but he largely checked-out in the 2nd and 3rd periods. He can’t do that tonight.
He’s 0-2 against Steveson in college with each match the margin of loss seems to grow. He kept things close in the dual, losing 7-5, then fell in the Big Ten’s 9-4. It’s a small sample size for sure, but one that’s trending in the wrong direction.
Unfortunately, Steveson is the Spencer Lee of heavyweights and it’s going to take a Herculean effort for Big Cass to top him. I look for Cass to go big and go early in this one. It’ll take more than two or three takedowns, so keep your eyes open for a big throw that could level the field and put Gable into deep water. If Cass can build a big lead early, it’ll force Steveson to press, which in turn, could open up some looks for our guy.
If Big Cass wants to be a champ, this is literally the guy he has to go through to do it.
125: #1 Spencer Lee vs #117 Patrick McKee
133: #2 Austin DeSanto vs #23 Boo Dryden
141: #3 Jaydin Eierman vs Marcos Polanco
149: #5 Max Murin vs #17 Michael Blockhus
157: #8 Kaleb Young vs #6 Brayton Lee
165: #1 Alex Marinelli vs #14 Andrew Sparks
174: #1 Michael Kemerer vs Jake Allar
184: #8 Nelson Brands vs #21 Owen Webster
197: #6 Jacob Warner vs Garrett Joles
285: #4 Tony Cassioppi vs #1 Gable Steveson