First we get a schedule. Then we get preseason rankings. Before we know it, we'll be settling in to watch Iowa wrestling wreck fools on the mat this winter. But let's go back to those rankings first.
A few thoughts:
Absolutely no surprise that Spencer Lee is the consensus #1 at 125 lbs. He hasn't lost a match since March 2019, winning 38 in a row since then, including a pair of NCAA championships. Oh, and he did it while tearing not one, but two ACLs. The hope this year is to get a glimpse of something that's been incredibly rare over the last six (!) years at Iowa: a fully healthy Spencer Lee. But if the contenders couldn't overcome a hobbled Lee, what are they going to do against a Lee without physical limitations?
133 is one of a few question mark weights for Iowa, as evidenced by the fact that the ranking services can't even agree on who Iowa's likely starter is -- InterMat and W.I.N. have opted for Cullan Schriever, while FloWrestling has cast their lot with Brody Teske. Personally, I do think Teske is more likely to be the starter for Iowa when all is said and done, but we'll see what strides Schriever has made since last season. While there isn't agreement in who will be the guy at 133 for Iowa this year, there is broad agreement on the ranking for that guy, with all three services pegging Teske/Schriever in the 15-17 range. Matching recent results at that weight (from Austin DeSanto) will be difficult, but Iowa will likely need Teske or Schriever to exceed this prediction of 15-17.
Exit one highly-regarded transfer at 141, enter a new highly-regarded transfer at 141. Iowa has said goodbye to Jaydin Eierman at this weight, but in his stead is big-time Stanford transfer Real Woods. Woods checks in at #2 in all of the rankings; the only man ahead of him is Pitt's Charles Matthews, who beat Woods 7-3 in the 5th place match at the NCAA Tournament last season. Outside of Lee, Woods probably has the most potential in this Iowa lineup to be wrestling for a national championship this season.
Time to take it to the Max one more time? Max Murin is back for one final season in black and gold at 149 lbs and he checks in the 7-8 spot in the rankings. Which kind of sums up his position for the last few years: fringe All-American. He hasn't been able to secure that elusive podium finish at NCAAs yet -- can he finally get that monkey off his back this March?
Like 133, 157 is another question mark spot in the Iowa lineup. Only InterMat bothered to rank an Iowa wrestler at this weight, and they plugged in Bretli Reyna at #33, which would essentially mark him as a fringe NCAA qualifier. Reyna is pretty much a blank slate -- he's 6-4 in his first two years at Iowa, but all but two of those matches came at 149 (he's 0-2 at 157 thus far). At the moment, if Iowa is able to get any points from this weight in March, it might be a significant accomplishment -- but we'll have to wait and see how Reyna (or whoever ends up manning this spot) looks once the season unfolds.
The middleweight spots in the Iowa lineup have been held down by familiar faces for a long time -- Kaleb Young at 157 and Alex Marinelli at 165 -- but change has arrived this season. While Young's replacement at 157 is currently murky, there's a clear successor in place for Alex Marinelli: Patrick Kennedy, a Top 10 overall recruit back in 2020. Kennedy has gone 19-4 while waiting his turn behind Marinelli, but he should be primed and ready to make an impact as Iowa's full-time starter at 165 now. Kennedy is ranked in the 17-19 range at present, but that's primarily due to his lack of varsity experience. Of all the Iowa wrestlers ranked in the teens right now, I'm most confident in Kennedy's ability to climb out of that spot and be a Top 10 wrestler at his weight. He has the skills, he just needs to get the results now.
W.I.N. either wasn't sure who was going to fill the 174 spot for Iowa this season, or didn't think that that person could crack the Top 20, but InterMat and Flo have tabbed Nelson Brands as the starter here, which feels accurate. They've also both tabbed him at the 15-16 spot in the rankings, which also (sadly) feels accurate for the time being. Brands is another guy in this lineup who is going to need to get on the mat and produce some positive results in order to get his ranking up where we'd prefer to see it.
Like Brands at 174, Assad is another familiar face at 184. Unfortunately, he's also a familiar face without much in the way of March success -- he lost in the R24 last season. There's no real obvious threat to displace Assad from the lineup -- but we're certainly going to hope that his results take a step up this year, in his third year as a starter.
Iowa's lineup is bookended by relative graybeards -- Spencer Lee and Jacob Warner have both been here since 2017. While Lee got thrown into the fire as a true freshman (and emerged as a national champion), Warner redshirted in 2017-18, but has been a fixture in Iowa's lineup ever since. He's a four-time All-American and coming off his best-ever appearance at the NCAA Tournament, a runner-up finish last March. Improving on that finish will probably require Warner to display a bit more offense (I know, I know...) in his matches... but we live in hope.
- Iowa's lineup is rounded out by Tony Cassioppi, a four-year starter at Iowa (who still has a COVID year available to use next season, if he wants) and three-time All-American. Cassioppi had an underwhelming finish to his NCAA Tournament last year and placed 7th, which is why he's slotted in at #4 here, behind a few wrestlers (Schultz, Kerkvliet) that he's beaten previously. His main nemesis (Gable Steveson) has moved on to greener pastures, but another nemesis (Mason Parris) is still around -- and Schultz and Kerkvliet will be formidable foes as well (albeit ones that Cassioppi has had some success against). Still, this seems like Iowa's best opportunity to contend for a national title at 285 lbs in many years.
As a team, Iowa checks in at #2 in the rankings, behind (who else?) Penn State. They're a pretty distant #2 behind PSU, in all honesty -- both W.I.N. and InterMat have Iowa 20+ points behind the Nittany Lions in the tournament rankings. Iowa has opportunities to improve their position if they can get better results at several weights (133, 157, 174, 184), but we'll break things down a bit more as the we get closer to the start of the season. Likewise, I'll be looking at things weight-by-weight over the next few weeks as we get closer to the start of the season in November. But for now -- rankings! Too high? Too low? Let us know what you think.