Do you remember a post I wrote a few months ago, right before the Iowa-Ohio State football game? IOWA VS OHIO STATE: THE WHITE WHALE. I talked about the fact that, in football, Ohio State is the team that Iowa struggles to beat more than any other. Prior to this past season, they'd beaten the Buckeyes just twice in the last 30 years and they had an all-time record of 14-47-3 against OSU. (And then, of course, 55-24 happened.)
Well, in wrestling, those roles are flipped. In wrestling, Iowa has been the dominant Big Ten program for decades (although since 2011, Penn State has definitely taken over that distinction) and Ohio State has struggled to match up. Iowa leads the all-time series by a whopping margin of 39-3. They won 34 dual meets in a row from 1967 through 2011. Ohio State made an excellent hire in Tom Ryan, a former Hawkeye wrestler under Dan Gable, and they've also poured considerably more resources into the program over the last several years. Those two things have enabled them to become one of the powerhouse programs in the sport -- they're the only school other than Iowa or Penn State to win a national championship since 2007 -- but he still hasn't had much luck beating Iowa. He has just one victory over them, in fact, that aforementioned win back in 2012, when the Buckeyes dumped Iowa 21-9 in Columbus. (Their last win in Columbus before that? A 14-11 triumph in 1966.) Iowa has won the last three duals against the Buckeyes.
So history, distant and recent, is against the Buckeyes. But Ohio State isn't wrestling history; they're wrestling this year's Iowa team with this year's Ohio State team. And this year's Ohio State team is very, very good. They have ranked wrestlers at all ten weights and a plausible goal of becoming only the second team ever to have 10 All-Americans at the NCAA Tournament; eight of their ten wrestlers are ranked #6 or better. This Buckeye team has depth across the lineup, but it also has plenty of elite talent -- they have three wrestlers ranked #1 (behind only Penn State, who has four) in their respective weights, two other wrestlers ranked #2, and one ranked #3. Iowa has some high-end quality of their own -- six wrestlers ranked in the Top 10 and three ranked #3 or better -- but they still face a tall task against the Buckeyes.
And if that wasn't enough, it's also Senior Day for Ohio State, which means it's the final home dual meet for a trio of highly-decorated -- and extremely good -- seniors in Nathan Tomasello, Bo Jordan, and Kyle Snyder. Tomasello has won one national championship and only semifinal losses to Iowa wrestlers (Thomas Gilman in 2016 and Cory Clark in 2017) have kept him from having a chance at more. Jordan was an NCAA finalist a year ago and while he hasn't yet managed to climb that mountain, he's consistently been a top threat at 165 and 174 lbs during his career. And Kyle Snyder is, well, Kyle Snyder: a three-time NCAA finalist, two-time NCAA champion, two-time World champion, and Olympic champion. He's already on the shortlist for greatest American wrestler of all-time and he's only 22 years old. Which is a long-winded way of saying: I'm pretty sure they're going to want to say goodbye to their home fans with a bang. Between that, OSU's tortured history versus Iowa, and the simple fact that it's a match between two Top-5 programs, well, welcome to the buzzsaw, Hawkeyes.
Ohio State is also trying to set a bit of history with this dual meet. They're hoping to set a new attendance record for in-door dual meets. (The overall record is still held by Iowa and Oklahoma State and the 42,487 fans who took in Grapple on the Gridiron a little over two years ago.) The current record is held by Penn State and... Pitt, of all teams. They had a crowd of 15,996 in attendance for their dual meet in 2013. I wholeheartedly endorse Ohio State's efforts in this regard. If Iowa can't hold that record at CHA (and barring renovations to expand capacity, they cannot), then it would be nice if they were at least one of the teams involved in setting the record. (And, really, the notion that freaking Pitt has part of this record is just absurd.)
all rankings via InterMat
125: #6 Spencer Lee (FR, 8-1) vs #1 Nathan Tomasello (SR, 2-0)
The biggest match of the day to kick things off? Perhaps. There are four other matches pitting two Top-6 wrestlers against one another in this dual, but this still seems like arguably the most intriguing of the bunch. Tomasello is the grizzled veteran looking to end his career on a high note and he's looked excellent in his return after an early season knee injury; last week he dismantled returning NCAA runner-up Ethan Lizak via 18-3 technical fall. Spencer Lee is the hot new thing at 125 and poised for big things -- but this is his biggest test yet by far. He came out gangbusters against a Top 10 foe last week before gassing in the second and third periods; he'll likely need to be sharp in those periods this week to have a chance to win. I badly want to be wrong here, but I have to favor experience and go with the veteran for now.
PREDICTION: Tomasello via DEC (OSU 3-0)
133: Paul Glynn (SO, 6-5) vs #2 Luke Pletcher (SO, 19-0)
Iowa's match notes for this week only list Paul Glynn after weeks of listing Glynn OR senior Phillip Laux, which is an interesting development. Laux was majored by one of the top 133ers in the country last week (Okie State's Kaid Brock); now Glynn gets his turn against one of the top 133ers in the country in the form of OSU's Pletcher. Pletcher is unbeaten on the season and while he hasn't been tested by too many elite 133ers yet, it's not as if Glynn is likely to do that, either. Damage limitation is probably the name of the game here and that might be doable: Pletcher has bonus points in just three of his 19 wins and eight wins by two points or fewer.
PREDICTION: Pletcher via DEC (OSU 6-0)
141: Vince Turk (SO, 6-5) OR Carter Happel (RS FR, 10-6) vs #11 Joey McKenna (JR, 6-1)
Meanwhile, 141 remains a coin-flip; Turk got the nod last week and in defeat kept #4 Dean Heil to a 4-0 decision, though he wasn't all that close to scoring points himself and Heil is not exactly Mr. High-Octane on offense. McKenna, a big offseason transfer from Stanford, is coming off a surprising 13-3 loss to Minnesota's Tommy Thorn last week but has otherwise looked pretty strong. My hunch is Turk gets the nod again and manages to keep things close-ish in another defeat.
PREDICTION: McKenna via DEC (OSU 9-0)
149: #2 Brandon Sorensen (SR, 14-0) vs #6 Ke-Shawn Hayes (SO, 19-2)
Here's the second of our Top-6 showdowns. This time the experience and savvy vs youthful energy match-up is reversed as Iowa has the grizzled veteran in Sorensen, while Ohio State has Hayes, a sophomore bucking for big things at his new weight. Sorensen gave Iowa a much-needed spark last week with a technical fall win and bonus points would be massive for the Hawkeyes in this dual, but Hayes could be difficult to bonus. The key for Sorensen may be avoiding an early flurry from Hayes in this one; Brandon sometimes has a tendency to start slowly in matches and digging himself an early hole could make things very difficult here. I think Sorensen grinds out a fairly close decision in the end.
PREDICTION: Sorensen via DEC (OSU 9-3)
157: #2 Michael Kemerer (SO, 15-0) vs #6 Micah Jordan (JR, 17-2)
And here's our third Top-6 showdown of the dual. Middleweight is definitely Iowa's advantage in this dual, but it's not a massive one -- the guys OSU has at 149, 157, and 165 are anything but slouches. Jordan was down at 149 a year ago, where Iowa fans may best remember him for some dull-as-watching-paint-dry matches with Sorensen. He's scored at least eight points (or gotten a pin) in all 17 of his wins this year, so he's been attacking with gusto so far. Kemerer is not exactly shy when it comes to pulling the trigger on offense, either, so I don't expect a redux of the often-painfully dull Sorensen-Jordan matches. Kemerer has looked excellent by and large this season and I look for him to continue winning here, although expecting more bonus points might be too much here.
PREDICTION: Kemerer via DEC (OSU 9-6)
165: #8 Alex Marinelli (RS FR, 8-0) vs #13 Te'Shan Campbell (JR, 14-4)
Campbell has lost two matches in a row, both to wrestlers ranked below him at the time. He'd won 14 of 16 matches prior to that, though, with bonus points in 11 of those wins, so he's a dangerous foe, especially on the mat. Meanwhile, Marinelli just keeps grinding out wins with his heavy hands and consistent pressure. Marinelli is also the one Iowa wrestler very familiar with this venue -- he won four state championships here during his stellar prep career. Iowa absolutely must have this win to have a shot in the dual and I think Marinelli gets it done.
PREDICTION: Marinelli via DEC (TIE 9-9)
174: Joey Gunther (SO, 11-3) vs #3 Bo Jordan (SR, 16-2)
From this point on, things enter the danger zone for Iowa in the dual. As good as Tomasello and Pletcher are, there's a good argument to be made that Ohio State's best wrestlers are at the upper weights, starting with Jordan. Gunther hasn't shown me enough this season to make me think that he can pull off a stunning upset here. He is good at slowing matches down, though, which could keep the damage here to a decision. Jordan has bonus points in 10 of his 16 wins this year. I expect BoJo to take a 5-6 point decision here.
PREDICTION: Jordan via DEC (OSU 12-9)
184: #20 Mitch Bowman (JR, 10-3) vs #2 Myles Martin (JR, 19-0)
All remains quiet on the Pat Downey front, so it seems like Mitch Bowman will get at least one more match at 184. Bowman recorded his biggest win of the season last year, but the difficulty level ramps way the hell up with Martin, who is behind only PSU's Bo Nickal at this weight. Martin has bonus points in 90% of his wins this season, including four pins and eight technical falls. Stay off your back in this one, Mitch. Stymieing Martin from neutral will also be a challenge. Bowman has been a pleasant surprise for Iowa so far this season, but I don't think this match will go well.
PREDICTION: Martin via MAJ DEC (OSU 16-9)
197: #5 Cash Wilcke (SO, 13-1) vs #1 Kollin Moore (SO, 15-0)
Wilcke faced a top 197er last week and suffered one of the more dominant 6-0 losses you're ever likely to see. Now he faces another top 197er -- arguably the top 197er -- in Moore. Gulp. Moore wrestles an incredibly fun style and features a relentless pace and a variety of attacks from neutral; it probably won't be as fun watching him unleash that on our man Cash.
PREDICTION: Moore via MAJ DEC (OSU 20-9)
285: #3 Sam Stoll (JR, 12-0) vs #1 Kyle Snyder (SR, 5-0)
Injuries and scheduling quirks have kept Stoll and Snyder from crossing paths before now; it's also probably kept Stoll from eating a few more losses in his career. Stoll is a very good heavyweight, albeit one with some definite weaknesses (such as his offense from neutral, particularly against elite opponents). Snyder is one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time. I have racked my brain trying to think of a way that Stoll could beat Snyder and outside of managing a trip and covering him for a quick fall, I don't see how it happens. If the match goes the full seven minutes I really don't see how it happens. Snyder has so many ways to score and works such a relentless pace that even limiting things to a decision could be a stretch here. I like Sammy, but this is a brutally difficult matchup and I don't have a good feeling about it at all.
PREDICTION: Snyder via MAJ DEC (OSU 24-9)
So yeah: not the best forecast for our Hawkeyes here. To win this dual, Iowa needs upsets -- as in plural. Lee beating Tomasello is probably the best chance of that, but even that wouldn't be enough to flip the result of the dual; they also need one or two of Glynn, Turk (or Happel), Gunther, or Bowman to pull off what would go down as one of the biggest upsets of the season. (Or wins from Wilcke or Stoll, which wouldn't quite by "upset of the season" material -- although we're getting to the point where any win over Snyder would qualify for that -- but would still be pretty surprising.) Or, if not a slew of upsets, then Iowa needs some bonus point freakiness -- I'm talking crazy-ass pins, a match that turns into a tilt-o-rama and winds up as a major decision or technical fall, just straight up Weird Crap. Straight up, this dual looks extremely difficult for Iowa to win. So let's hope for some weirdness.
NOTE: I'll do a separate post as a game thread for the dual.