Good news, friends: Big Ten wrestling is officially back for 2021. The season actually gets underway tonight with a pair of duals -- Michigan at Rutgers and Minnesota at Nebraska -- but Iowa's season doesn't get started until next weekend, with a visit from Nebraska next Friday night.
Here's the full schedule for Iowa:
|FRI 1/15/21||#4 Nebraska||Iowa City, IA||8:00 PM||BTN|
|FRI 1/22/21||#12 Minnesota||Minneapolis, MN||--||BTN|
|SUN 1/31/21||#24 Illinois||Iowa City, IA||--||--|
|SUN 1/31/21||#2 Michigan||Iowa City, IA||--||BTN|
|SUN 2/7/21||#6 Ohio State||West Lafayette, IN||--||BTN|
|SUN 2/7/21||#18 Purdue||West Lafayette, IN||--||--|
|FRI 2/12/21||#3 Penn State||State College, PA||--||BTN|
|FRI 2/19/21||Northwestern||Iowa City, IA||--||--|
|SUN 2/21/21||Wisconsin||Madison, WI||--||BTN|
|3/6/21 - 3/7/21||Big Ten Championships||University Park, PA||--||BTN|
|3/18/21 - 3/20/21||NCAA Championships||St. Louis, MO||--||ESPN|
*rankings via InterMat
Notably absent from that schedule: duals against perennial non-conference opponents Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Iowa has faced Iowa State at least once a season every year since 1971-72 and Oklahoma State every since 1992-93. They are among the the greatest rivalries in the sport and, particularly in the case of Iowa-Oklahoma State, they usually produce some exciting, back-and-forth dual meets. Of course as you can plainly see from that schedule there are no non-conference match-ups to be found on the slate. An Iowa wrestler won't see an opponent from outside the Big Ten until the NCAA Tournament in March.
There are no non-conference opponents among this year's dual meet opponents because the Big Ten has mandated it due to concerns related to COVID-19. They enforced the same approach with football scheduling. It would be a bit easier to swallow if they had been consistent with their approach and also prohibited non-conference match-ups in men's and women's basketball, but they obviously did not do that. Is there a significantly increased risk of infection from facing a non-league opponent in wrestling than in men's or women's basketball? Ask the Big Ten.
And, look, I'm very glad to have a wrestling season of any sort. Last year's season had a tremendously disappointing ending, abruptly shutting down on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament, and over the last nine months it hasn't always been clear that we would get a wrestling season at all. So it's good to have the firm plans that we do have and while it's disappointing not to face longtime rivals like the Cyclones and Cowboys, the schedule is still loaded with quality Big Ten opponents. We'll just have to make the best we can with what we've got.
This year's season is starting almost two months later than normal but is currently planned to end at its normal time, with the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments in mid-March. There's no way other to put it: this season is going to be an all-out sprint from beginning to end. Starting next week Iowa is slated to wrestle nine Big Ten duals over six weeks. One of the ways they're going to do that (as well as reduce the risks and costs associated with traveling to duals) is by going to an old school idea: triangulars and quadrangulars.
Instead of a dual meet with two teams facing off with one another, a triangular adds a third team into the fray. Not in the sense of turning every match into a triple threat (though that would certainly be rather exciting) but in adding a second dual meet for the teams involved. Iowa is scheduled to compete in two triangulars this year: against Michigan and Illinois in Iowa City on 1/31 and against Purdue and Ohio State in West Lafayette on 2/7. In addition to allowing teams to squeeze in more competitive events in a compressed schedule (while reducing travel costs and exposure risks), these events also allow wrestlers to compete multiple times in one day, the closest simulation they'll get to tournament wrestling until the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments roll around.
As for the schedule itself, Iowa is set to face pretty much every Big Ten squad worth a damn. The only ranked teams not on Iowa's schedule are Rutgers and Michigan State and given that they're ranked #17 and #19, respectively, something tells me they would not have been the sturdiest challengers. Iowa faces all of the conference's other top challengers, including perennial contenders Ohio State and Penn State and Michigan and Nebraska, both of whom have pretty lofty expectations this season. I'll be digging into the Big Ten race and the weight-by-weight projections next week, but the long and short of it is this: Iowa enters the season as the clear favorite to repeat as Big Ten champions, but there should be some good tussles along the way, too.
Finally, as with most schedules in the time of COVID, details are very much subject to change. In fact, at the moment none of Iowa's duals have a listed started time, nor do they have TV broadcast information (though I think you can very safely assume that several of Iowa's duals will wind up on BTN). Nailing down that sort of information early is a bit less early this year, since attendance at duals will be strictly limited to immediate family. When more firm information re: start times and TV is available, we'll pass it along.
EDIT: And, lo and behold, we have information about what duals will be on BTN: