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December 20, 2013

WRESTLING: Penn State-Iowa preview

Contrary to public opinion, the Penn State-Iowa dual meet (9 p.m., Saturday - BTN) was not a phenomenon of two old dudes figuring out social media.

Sure, the final details we're ironed out on Twitter Sept. 5 between head coaches Cael Sanderson and Tom Brands -- one day before the dual meet at Carver-Hawkeye arena was announced.

But the roots of this nonconference match between conference rivals -- I know, head-scratching, right? -- go back to the spring. It began when the schools found out that, due to the Big Ten schedule rotation, No. 1 Penn State and No. 3 Iowa would not meet on the conference schedule for the first time since 1981-82. In their minds, that could not happen.

"We need to wrestle Iowa," Sanderson told me in May. "We're still trying to figure out a way to wrestle them. They're certainly not coming back here so we're thinking that we'll go back there. That's by far the biggest dual in college wrestling."

Conversations between the Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions initiated at the U.S. Open in April in Las Vegas. They had a meeting the following month, and Brands said it "really started gaining traction" in August.

After months of back-and-forth they took it to Twitter in the beginning of September. At 34 years old, Sanderson is a Twitter regular. He currently boasts more than 33,850 Twitter followers. When he's not promoting his beloved sport or tweeting motivational quotes, like "Winning lives on the other side of fear," he's revealing his comedic side with random gems such as this: "Neosporin + duct tape = first aid kit."

Brands, 45, on the other hand, is a Twitter newbie. So when Sanderson initially tweeted at him -- "There seems to be something BIG missing on our schedules this year," he wrote -- Brands responded with what was his first-ever tweet.

"I agree," he wrote. "Let's do something about it."

Brands has only tweeted once since.

What follows are four weight classes to watch Saturday night:


133: Jordan Conaway (9-2)/No. 14 Jimmy Gulibon (4-5) vs. No. 1 Tony Ramos (8-1)

What was Brands' other tweet? He wrote only this: "Tony Ramos". Ramos is the Hawkeyes' biggest point-scorer and one of Brands' favorites.

On paper, this dual meet is a near 5-5 split. That means bonus points will be at a premium, and likely the difference-maker for the overall team score.

Iowa is heavily favored at 133 and Ramos pinned Conaway at home last year. Both Conaway and Gulibon will travel with the team, and its unclear who will start. But another pin at this weight class, like last season, could sway the entire momentum of the match.


149: Zack Beitz (6-4)/James English (3-2) vs. Michael Kelly (9-1)

It's unclear who Penn State will send out at 149, but with English nagged by injury, I have a feeling it will be Beitz. Sanderson said the redshirt freshman "could wrestle. He's been wrestling for us. He's done a great job each match and he's getting better."

Kelly is favored against either of Penn State's options, but this will be a close battle either way and could be another statement win for Beitz, if he gets the start.


174: No. 3 Matt Brown (11-0) vs. No. 6 Mike Evans (11-0)

This is the marquee battle of the night. Both are undefeated, they have contrasting styles and they have beaten one another in the past. You can't ask for a better matchup.

This is a swing match in terms of total team score.


285: No. 12 Jimmy Lawson (10-0) vs. No. 3 Bobby Telford (6-0)

If this dual meet turns out to be as close as it appears on paper, then the team score could come down to this match.

Lawson has been on a roll during his second season at PSU, and Sanderson/teammates have been thoroughly impressed with Lawson's athleticism, balance and effort on the mat. But Telford is certainly no slouch -- and, for a heavyweight, he has some of the best athleticism, balance and effort. A win here for Lawson could propel him into the top five or six nationally.

Individual Rankings from FloWrestling.com
Team dual meet rankings from USA Today/NWCA/AWN Coaches Poll



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