The 2015-16 Iowa wrestling schedule hasn't been officially released yet, but he can fill out a few blanks on the slate, thanks to our knowledge of standard match-ups and some quality internet sleuthing by our pals at IA Wrestle. So let's dive in to what we know about next year's schedule. Last year's schedule was a) incredibly difficult (Iowa faced Ohio State, Minnesota, Penn State, and Oklahoma State -- all on the road) and b) not very exciting if you were a home fan -- the best conference dual was probably against a good but not great Michigan team. Iowa did host the National Duals, which brought several quality squads to Carver-Hawkeye Arena and saw Iowa face a handful of novel opponents (including Virginia, Cornell, and Missouri). Will this year's home slate be better?
Nothing has been officially announced for the non-conference portion of Iowa's schedule, but we can make some very well-educated guesses -- mainly because there are a few opponents Iowa faces every single year. So we can feel pretty confident in saying that Iowa will take on Iowa State and Oklahoma State again this season. Iowa picked up their 10th straight win over Iowa State in CHA last season, so they'll head to Ames this year to make it 11 in a row. Conversely, Iowa throttled Oklahoma State in Stillwater last January, so we should see the 'Pokes heading to Iowa City for a rematch this year. That could be one of the top duals of the season, too, as Oklahoma State is expected to be one of the best teams in the country this season after a down performance last year.
Tournament-wise, we can assume that Iowa will host the Iowa City Duals in November again -- likely around Thanksgiving. And, yes, in all likelihood it will be three uninteresting opponents and lots of opportunities for Iowa wrestlers to work on their pinning combinations. So it goes. There's no been no word yet on whether or not Iowa will be at Midlands (December 29-30) this year... but Iowa is almost always at Midlands (they've missed one tournament there in the past few decades), so there's a very good chance they'll be there again right before New Year's.
Last year Iowa's only other non-conference dates were the Luther Open and National Duals, which included duals with Virginia, UT-Chattanooga, Cornell, and Missouri. I haven't heard anything about the 2016 incarnation of National Duals yet -- where it's being held or who's attending.
Here's where things get murkier. Per IA Wrestle, we know Iowa will be facing Nebraska next season. And we know, per released schedules from Michigan State and Ohio State, that Iowa won't be facing the Spartans or the Buckeyes next year. As IA Wrestle notes, Michigan State has lost by a combined score of 78-0 against Iowa in their last two duals, so they're probably quite happy to skip Iowa. Missing Ohio State is unfortunate, since that's rapidly becoming one of the Big Ten's best rivalries with the Buckeyes' emergence as a powerhouse.
It's not yet confirmed, but it seems like Minnesota will likely be on Iowa's schedule, traveling to Iowa City. Normally that would provide a very high-profile dual meet, but that might not be the case in 2015 -- Minnesota lost a ton of seniors from last year's team, so this figures to be a rebuilding year for J Robinson's crew.
That leaves Penn State as the big question mark on Iowa's schedule. The Iowa-PSU rivalry has become arguably the best in the sport since Cael Sanderson decamped to Happy Valley and it would be a shame to see it not renewed, especially since Penn State is expected to have one of the best teams in the country (after taking a step back in 2014-15) next year. A few years ago, of course, the Big Ten schedulemakers declined to match up Iowa and Penn State as part of the conference slate, which motivated Tom Brands and Cael Sanderson to work together to arrange a non-conference Iowa-Penn State dual meet in CHA in December. Could they do that again if the Delanybot 9000 spits out a schedule without Iowa-Penn State? We'll have to wait and see.
At the very least we do know that the Big Ten isn't simply taking last year's schedule and flipping the home and away dates, which is probably a good thing overall (although it would have meant a pretty strong CHA schedule for Iowa fans -- Ohio State, Minnesota, Penn State).
Even if neither Ohio State nor Penn State end up visiting Iowa City for a dual meet next year, Iowa fans can rest assured that they'll get to see those wrestlers in action anyway -- the Big Ten Tournament is headed back to Iowa City on March 5-6, 2016. That's the first time the Big Ten Tournament has been back in Iowa City since 2005. The Big Ten is very diligent about rotating the Big Ten Tournament among all of the schools in the conference and if they maintain that policy it's going to be a very long time before Iowa City gets to host the BTT again (especially with three new schools -- Nebraska, Maryland, and Rutgers -- to work into the rotation). As a side note, it will be interesting to see if the Big Ten uses these new locations to explore locations off-campus; Maryland and Rutgers are a stone's throw away from Washington, D.C., and New York City and Lincoln isn't that far from Omaha... it's something to ponder, especially since Maryland and Rutgers traditionally host wrestling in smaller facilities, though Maryland at least has a bigger on-campus facility to use if necessary.
More importantly for our purposes... can Iowa win the Big Ten Tournament as a host school? Ohio State pulled off that feat a year ago (although technically they tied with Iowa, of course), but before that no host school had won the Big Ten Tournament since Iowa did it in 1994. Granted, there's an obvious complication there -- as noted, the Big Ten rotates the tournament among all of the B1G schools and only a handful are legitimate threats to win the title (Iowa, Penn State, Minnesota, and now Ohio State). There's no chance of Purdue or Michigan State winning the title win they serve as hosts.
So: can Iowa win? They haven't outright won the Big Ten Tournament since 2010, with Penn State snaring four in a row after that and then Ohio State and Iowa sharing honors last year. Ohio State doesn't figure to be their strongest challenger next year, between the graduation-induced absence of Logan Stieber (champion at 141 lbs and a bonus point machine) and the Olympic redshirt-induced absence of Kyle Snyder (more on that in another post), although they'll still have plenty of firepower. As noted previously, Minnesota loses a lot and should be at the beginning of a rebuilding cycle next year. Penn State looks likely to be Iowa's stiffest competition, with a legitimate shot at placing around 5-6 finalists.
Iowa could place that many finalists as well, though. Thomas Gilman and Cory Clark are good bets to make the finals at 125 and 133, while Brandon Sorensen could make the finals at 149. 174 clears out mightily after years of Kokesh, Storley, Brown, and Evans dominating the weight, which could give Alex Meyer a shot to shoot to the top in his first year as a starter. Sammy Brooks and Nathan Burak have the potential to make the finals at 184 and 197, respectively, too. Odds are Iowa will need all of those guys to make deep runs in the Big Ten Tournament -- and likely get an unexpected run or two from an Iowa guy at the other weights. Hopefully the home crowd can spur them to some strong results.
Looking back at the results the last few times Iowa hosted the Big Ten Tournament...
In 2005, the winners were... Illinois?! Wait, what? No, really. The Illini stunned the conference by snaring 130 points and finishing first, ahead of Minnesota at 123.5 points and Michigan at 118. Iowa slid to a fourth-place finish, with 94.5 points. That was an embarrassing result on Iowa's home mat; those were not good days for Hawkeye wrestling. In a stunning sign of how the times have changed, Ohio State finished dead last at the Big Ten Tournament in 2005 with 26.5 points. Their fortunes have improved just a bit since then.
Before that, Iowa last hosted the Big Ten Tournament in 1994. That was during one of the peaks of Gablemania at Iowa so, unsurprisingly, Iowa won the crown that year. They finished first with 118 points. Minnesota finished second with 104.25 points. Penn State was third with 85.75 points and Michigan rounded out the top four with 65.6 points.
A more impressive Iowa triumph while hosting the tournament came in 1983. Iowa finished with a staggering TWO HUNDRED points that year, which is still easily a conference record. They crowned a whopping NINE champions that year (gotta wonder how much razzing the guy who didn't win a Big Ten Championship that year got) and demolished the field: Michigan finished second... with 81.5 points. Minnesota finished third with 77.5 points; combined, they would still have been well behind Iowa. We will probably never see a team performance at the Big Ten Tournament that dominant again.
Hopefully Iowa is able to add another good memory to their legacy of hosting the Big Ten Tournament in Iowa City -- and another trophy to the collection.
BONUS: Iowa City (and Carver-Hawkeye Arena, specifically) is also the host site for the Olympic Team Trials next year for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, so the best freestyle wrestlers in the country will be descending on Iowa City next year to try and win a spot on the Olympic team and a shot to vie for an Olympic medal. There will be heavy Iowa representation at the Trials -- Brent Metcalf and Tony Ramos seem very likely to be in action there, and hopefully guys like Matt McDonough, Derek St. John, Dan Dannis, and more are also able to win spots in the brackets at their respective weights. And while there likely won't be Iowa representation at this weight, 74 kg should be an incredible spectacle, with Jordan Burroughs, David Taylor, Kyle Dake, Andrew Howe and more all vying for one spot.
So yeah: next spring should be a very good time to be a wrestling fan in Iowa. Many of the best wrestlers in the country -- collegiate and post-collegiate -- are going to be descending on our fair state and putting on a show. Bring it on.