After opening up the season with almost entirely non-Division I opponents at the Luther Open and last weekend's Iowa City Duals and Joe Parisi Open, Iowa finally gets to face full-on Division I competition this weekend. In fact, they get to meet one of their biggest historical rivals... albeit a rival that's fallen on hard times in recent years. Iowa-Iowa State used to be the dual of the college wrestling season; when Cael Sanderson was the head man at Iowa State, the dual featured the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the nation on a few occasions. It was the dual of the year.
Now? Not so much. Iowa's star dims brighter than it did five years ago, thanks to a trophy drought that's spanned four years and seen the rise of Penn State as the sport's new superpower. But Iowa's star is practically a supernova compared to Iowa State. To extend this tortured celestial body metaphor, if Iowa is a dimmed star, Iowa State is a dwarf star -- barely perceptible at all but still technically in existence. Iowa State was devastated by the departure of Cael Sanderson to Penn State (not to mention the departures of the wrestlers and recruits who followed him to Happy Valley) and they're still trying to dig themselves up out of the rubble. Kevin Jackson's rebuilding effort is entering its sixth season and the Cyclones are still pretty far from the top of the heap. In fact, they're not even the second-best program in the state of Iowa these days; that distinction would belong to Doug Schwab's UNI team.
It's a sad state of affairs for the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry. The sport can use more top programs and more variety. On the other hand, it's debatable whether or not the state of Iowa is producing enough high-end talent these days to adequately stock multiple top-level programs. And mollywhopping Iowa State doesn't exactly get old. Iowa has never lost to Iowa State since Tom Brands arrived as head coach and they've won the last ten straight dual meets against the Cyclones. A win on Saturday night would give them wins in ten consecutive years (the current ten meet dual winning streak also includes a win over ISU in the National Duals tournament), a full decade of dominance. That would be an impressive streak, although it would still have some way to go to match Iowa's all-time record in the series -- from 1987 to 2002, Iowa won 30 consecutive dual meets against Iowa State (in those years, Iowa and Iowa State faced each other twice a season, home and away).
Maybe someday Iowa State will again a be a program to be feared, a rival that induces trepidation and that steps on the mat with a legitimate chance to beat Iowa. These days, that role has been filled by the likes of Penn State, Minnesota, and Oklahoma State (and it looks like Ohio State will be joining that club as well). Yes, maybe someday Iowa State will again be a program to be feared. But not this year.
An Iowa State wrestler did provide one of the best descriptions ever of the atmosphere in Carver-Hawkeye Arena during a wrestling meet, though:
ISU's Michael Moreno on wrestling in Carver-Hawkeye: "It seems like everybody in that arena is a rabid wolf and they want to see you break."— Andy Hamilton (@Andy_Hamilton) November 26, 2014
So they've got that going for 'em.
WHO: #14 Iowa State Cyclones (4-0)
WHEN: 7 PM Central; Saturday, November 29, 2014
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, IA)
HOW TO WATCH: Mediacom 22 (TV); BTN Plus (online - $$$)
RADIO: AM 800 KXIC (free); Hawkeye All-Access ($$$)
For a while, it looked like this dual wouldn't be televised at all, even in the state of Iowa, which would have been a sad state of affairs. Iowa State may not be what they once were, but it's still Iowa-Iowa State. It should be on TV, even if it's accompanied by a TV-MA advisory (for strong language and potential humiliating violence) for Cyclone fans. Fortunately, the dual will be available for viewing on TV in Iowa -- so long as you have Mediacom, at least. Mediacom 22 will be airing the dual, with commentary from Rob Brooks and Dan Gable. For those of us outside the state borders, BTN Plus is your only viewing option.
Here's a breakdown of what to expect at all ten weights. (All rankings via InterMat.)
125: #4 Thomas Gilman (SO, 8-0) vs. UN Kyle Larson (SO, 7-1) or UN Drake Swarm (SO, 3-1) or UN Nathan Boston (FR, 7-2)
Iowa State has a host of newbies that they could toss out against Gilman on Saturday; it probably won't matter which one they select. Swarm has been injured the last few weeks, but may be ready to wrestle on Saturday night. Larson has the most experience (such as it is) of the trio. Boston might have the most upside, but selecting him would also mean burning his redshirt for this season. Regardless: it's not going to matter. Gilman has looked like a man on a mission this season and I expect him to plow through whoever steps on the mat with him tomorrow. Also, if you're gonna fire shots like this, Gilman, you better be prepared to back them up (via Flo):
Thomas Gilman hasn't minded making bold statements this year, stating he and Cory Clark are a better 1-2 punch than Matt McDonough and Tony Ramos. Gilman isn't slowing down as he had this to say about the ISU matchup: "They think they've trained hard and their coaching staff has them talked up. They are going to be fired up to come to Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but once we put that pressure on them they're going to fold, they're going to break. The mentality we bring to the mat and the pressure we bring, they can't handle that. We've proven that in the past.."
I think he'll do just that.
PICK: Gilman by MAJ DEC (Iowa 4-0)
133: #4 Cory Clark (SO, 7-0) vs. #14 Earl Hall (JR, 7-1) or UN RJ Hallman (SR, 6-3)
If Hall is the guy called upon at 133, that would set up one of the more intriguing matches of the dual. Clark and Hall have both moved up to 133 after spending last season at 125. Clark swept both of their meetings a year ago, although poor conditioning and some funk from Hall nearly cost Clark in their first meeting (an 8-7 win at this dual a year ago). Clark beat Hall fairly decisively (10-4) in the NCAA Tournament consolation bracket later in the year. Hall is a talented guy and I would not be surprised to see him turn into a fringe All-American contender at this weight -- but I don't think he's in Clark's league. Clark isn't able to get bonus points, but settles for a solid decision win. (If Hallman gets the nod instead, pencil in Clark for bonus points -- possibly even a pin.)
PICK: Clark by DEC (Iowa 7-0)
141: #5 Josh Dziewa (SR, 8-0) vs. UN John Meeks (SO, 1-3) or UN Dante Rodriguez (FR, 9-1)
Meeks debuted as a true freshman two season ago and took his lumps on the way to a 13-13 record at 133. He redshirted last year, going 14-1 against mostly lesser opposition. This year has been rough, though, as he's lost three straight matches -- and to some fairly underwhelming foes. Rodriguez is an intriguing option, with 9 wins in unattached competition this year, including 8 pins. Putting him out there would involve burning a redshirt, though. Dziewa's #5 ranking feels a bit lofty, given his past inconsistency, but he's a talented guy who usually handles business against weaker opponents. I look for Dziewa to win via an ugly but effective decision.
PICK: Dziewa by DEC (Iowa 10-0)
149: #9 Brody Grothus (JR, 10-1) or UN Edwin Cooper (JR, 7-3) or UN Brandon Sorensen (RS FR, 9-1) vs. Gabe Moreno (SO, 9-0)
And here we get to perhaps the most intriguing match of the night. It's not the match featuring the best wrestlers (that's coming later), but it's potentially the most illuminating for this Iowa team, if only because it promises to shed a little more light on the ongoing battle for the starting spot at 149. Whoever takes the mat for Iowa on Saturday night figures to have a leg up on the competition to be the guy for the rest of the season -- though that doesn't mean the competition is over, as Brands said this week.
"We're going to put the best guy on the mat who we see for this weekend. Then we'll continue to re-evaluate," Brands said. "How's that for a company line?"
"Yeah, we want to see separation there. Let's kick some tail," Brands said. "Don't even make it a quarterback controversy."
Iowa fans know a thing or three about quarterback controversies. To compare this situation to the football version, Grothus is Rudock: the incumbent with good, but not great results and enough inconsistencies and weaknesses in his game to open the door to a challenger. Sorensen is Beathard: the hotshot newcomer with more exciting physical tools and a seemingly greater upside. And Cooper is probably Cody Sokol: the mysterious transfer who offers promise and hope, but no guarantees regarding performance. We know who won the football battle, but the wrestling one might play out differently. Sorensen has the clubhouse lead after his first place finish at the Joe Parisi Open last week and I suspect he's the most likely option to see the mat on Saturday night. Moreno is a decent wrestler, but not one that should fear any of Iowa's 149 options. I look for a solid decision win for whoever Iowa selects here -- although a bonus point win sure would look nice.
PICK: Iowa by DEC (Iowa 13-0)
157: UN Mike Kelly (SR, 8-0) vs. UN Luke Goettl (SR, 8-1) or UN Daniel Woiwor (RS FR, 9-2)
Kelly is currently Iowa's starting 157er almost by default -- though that could change if one of Iowa's 149 options decides to try his luck up a weight. Goettl is a former 149er himself with a career record around .500, though he does own a win over Kelly (a 4-2 win at 149 last season). Woiwor is a RS freshman with no wins of consequence on his resume. Kelly-Goettl would be the first match of the dual where Iowa State would appear to have a pretty legitimate shot to win and it would also be a good early test to see if Kelly really is better at 157 than he was at 149. This match is close to a toss-up, but I'll lean Kelly since he's at home.
PICK: Kelly by DEC (Iowa 16-0)
165: #5 Nick Moore (SR, 7-0) vs. #3 Michael Moreno (SR, 8-0)
Rankings-wise, this is the match of the night -- it's the only one to feature two wrestlers each ranked in the top-5. Moore and Moreno have some history with one another, too -- Moore has won the last two regular season matches (a 3-2 win in the 2012 Iowa-Iowa State dual meet and a 3-1 win in the 2013 Iowa-Iowa State dual meet), but Moreno topped him at the 2013 NCAA Tournament (via 5-3 decision). Moreno is also a two-time All-American, while Moore is still waiting for his first trip on the podium. This figures to be a close, cagey match and it's the definition of a toss-up match. This match is also Moore's first big test of the season and I'm eager to see how he responds and if the driven, angry Moore we've been hearing about in practice shows up on the mat here. I think we will see that Moore and I think he'll snake another decision win here.
PICK: Moore by DEC (Iowa 19-0)
174: #4 Mike Evans (SR, 7-0) or UN Alex Meyer (SO, 8-1) vs. #6 Tanner Weatherman (JR, 8-0)
Outside of 165, this match is the match of the night; it also features two highly-ranked wrestlers. In fact, if Iowa State is going to spring an upset on Iowa, they're going to need to do it by sweeping the middle weights (and getting an upset or two elsewhere). That's a possible outcome, especially given Iowa's occasional inconsistency at the middle weights, but it's not one that I consider likely. Meyer is listed as an option for this match, but I haven't heard anything to suggest that Evans might not be able to wrestle here, so I'm going to assume that The 'Stache will be in action. The problem for an Iowa State upset here is that while Evans and Weatherman may only be separated by two spots on the InterMat rankings, in reality they seem much farther apart. Weatherman has an 0-2 lifetime record against Evans, losing both times via 10-1 major decisions. Weather may have improved enough to hold things to a decision, but I don't see any reason to think that the ultimate winner here should be any different.
PICK: Evans by DEC (Iowa 22-0)
184: #9 Sammy Brooks (SO, 7-0) vs. #18 Lelund Weatherspoon (SO, 8-0)
Brooks is the most exciting addition to Iowa's roster this season and he seems poised to become Iowa fans' new favorite wrestler -- or at least one of them. He wrestles an aggressive, attack-happy style and he pushes the pace -- what more could we ask for, especially from an upper weight guy? Weatherspoon is a solid wrestler -- he went 2-2 at the NCAA Tournament a season ago and his 8-0 record this year holds a few decent wins -- but I think this is an early statement win for Brooks. All aboard the Sammy Brooks Express.
PICK: Brooks by DEC (Iowa 25-0)
197: #6 Nathan Burak (JR, 4-0) or UN Kris Klapprodt (JR, 5-2) vs. #3 Kyven Gadson (SR, 8-0)
Ah, at last we come to a weight where Iowa State is legitmately favored to beat Iowa. I think it probably goes without saying that this match is absolutely must-win for ISU in terms of them having any shot at an upset bid against Iowa in the dual meet, but I'll say it anyway. But Iowa State does have a very good chance of winning this match -- especially if Iowa tabs Klapprodt instead of Burak here. Gadson surprisingly has never wrestled Burak (two years ago, Iowa sent out Tomas Lira in this dual and last year Iowa sent out Sammy Brooks), but he's a two-time All-American for a reason and he's a legitimate national title contender at 197. An Iowa win here would be wonderful, but I don't see it happening.
PICK: Gadson by DEC (Iowa 25-3)
285: #3 Bobby Telford (SR, 7-0) vs. UN Quean Smith (SO, 7-1) or UN Joe Scanlon (SO, 4-2)
And we close things out with the big boys. Bobby Telford has barely been pushed so far this year; his seven wins include seven wins and his total mat time on the season barely exceeds the length of a regular match (7 minutes). Will he be forced to wrestle all seven minutes here? Well... maybe. Neither Smith nor Scanlon are world-beaters by any stretch of the imagination, but not many of their losses have been via pinfall, either. It wouldn't shock me to see Bobby put one of Iowa State's shaved bears on his back, but I think an easy decision win seems like the safer bet here.
PICK: Telford by DEC (Iowa 28-3)
The path to an Iowa State upset win in this dual meet involves wins at 157, 165, 174, and 197... but after that we start to run out of weights where an Iowa State win seems terribly plausible and we're in the realm of "well, he COULD win if he wrestled the match of his life" or "he COULD pull the upset if he was able to land a big move" or... I think you get the picture. Add in that Iowa has more bonus point opportunities (125, 133, 174, and 285 all seem like legitimate chances for Iowa to get bonus points) and it's hard to see Iowa State shocking the world on Saturday night.