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January 31, 2013

Wrestling Preview: PSU vs. Iowa

Who has seen Tom Brands dance before? Anyone?

If you haven't, tune into the Big Ten Network Friday night at 9 p.m., and you might get the chance. Brands and his No. 3 Iowa Hawkeye wrestlers welcome No. 1 Penn State at their Carver-Hawkeye Arena and it's being hyped as the marquee dual meet of the 2013 college wrestling season.

On paper, the dual meet appears to be as close as it can get - both teams are picked to win five bouts a piece. And the tighter the competition - win or lose - the more intense Brands' matside coaching romps become. So this has the makings to be quite the night for the 1996 Olympic gold medalist. I suggest you check it out. If not for Brands' entertainment, it's going to be a once-in-a-season dual meet - the pinnacle of college wrestling.

That's not to mention the rivalry that festers between Iowa and Penn State, which has only escalated since the arrival of Cael Sanderson in 2009. He has since led Penn State to two national championships, and it appears he's a on a collision course with a third. That only adds salt to this rivalry. The Hawkeyes won titles in the three years leading up to Penn State's run and they have won 23 in they're storied history.

Yet Penn State has only three in its trophy case and has quickly become one of the premier programs in the nation - made evident by its No. 1 ranking. That adds even more salt to this rivalry.

"We want exclamation marks and we want to be the answer to the question to who is going to win each weight class," Brands said this week. "This match ranks high. It's important, and we want to get up for it. We have some good guys. I'll speak for them: I think they're up for it."

Brands has a lot of good guys, actually. Nine of the 10 projected starters are nationally ranked wrestlers, including Matt McDonough, the top-ranked 125-pounder who is a two-time NCAA champ, and Derek St. John, ranked No. 1 at 157. If the rankings dictate the results, each team will win an even five bouts. That means bonus points - pins, technical falls or major decisions - will be pivotal in this Big Ten showdown. And, of course, an upset could sway the entire outcome.

"It's a pretty even match, probably a five-five split, if you look at it," 165-pound returning PSU national champion David Taylor said. "So, really, bonus points are huge. An upset or bonus points can make this match not even a close match. It's a huge momentum boost, too."

Penn State will need all the momentum it can get, because Iowa will be backed by a homestanding atmosphere that is unmatched in the sport. Carver houses more than 15,000 fans and they're expecting a sellout.

An upset from the Nittany Lions, specifically in the first three weight classes, could quickly sway some momentum in their favor and silence what should be a charged atmosphere. An upset in the Hawkeyes' favor, however, could make it difficult on everyone wearing a blue and white singlet.

"Their fans are a little more vicious than ours," Taylor added. "Ours are pretty friendly. They get a little rude up there, but that makes it just part of the fun. They have great fans. They travel everywhere. They are really a big part of Iowa's success over the past decade, or really forever, so you gotta respect their fans and just go in there and compete."

Iowa leads the all-time series by a mark of 25-7-2, along with a 12-3 advantage in Iowa City.


Projected starters

No. 1 Penn State (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) vs. No. 3 Iowa (15-1, 5-0 Big Ten)

125: No. 2 Nico Megaludis (16-1) vs. No. 1 Matt McDonough (13-0)

133: Jordan Conaway (10-4) vs. No. 2 Tony Ramos (16-0)

141: Bryan Pearsall (16-6) vs. No. 8 Mark Ballweg (15-1)

149: No. 8 Andrew Alton (17-1)/James English (14-4) vs. Michael Kelly (10-6)

157: No. 5 Dylan Alton (17-2)/James Vollrath (23-5) vs. No. 1 Derek St. John (16-0)

165: No. 2 David Taylor (17-1) vs. No. 13 Nick Moore (11-3)

174: No. 4 Matt Brown (17-2) vs. No. 6 Mike Evans (11-2)

184: No. 1 Ed Ruth (19-0) vs. No. 14 Ethen Lofthouse (12-4)

197: No. 3 Quentin Wright (18-0) vs. No. 19 Nathan Burak (12-8)

285: No. 17 Jon Gingrich (14-5) vs. No. 6 Bobby Telford (11-3)

All Rankings are from Intermat.com as of 1/29/13


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