NCAA D1 Week 15 Roundup: Penn State Supremacy
NCAA D1 Week 15 Roundup: Penn State Supremacy
The world's finest collection of noteworthy happenings from the 15th week of the 2023-24 NCAA D1 wrestling season.
How about that Super Bowl huh? Pretty amazing, all the things that happened, as well as the final score. Very happy for the winners, for the halftime performers, and for all the branded content featured in the advertisements.
This blog, however, is to keep wise and learned wrestling fans informed about the noteworthy events from the 15th week of the 2023-24 NCAA D1 college wrestling season, not for fans of the NFL, so that is all the Super Bowl discussion you can expect moving forward.
Also, I started writing this blog before the game started.
We'll get to all the noteworthy current events shortly, however, I'd like to formally start this this week's roundup with a reflection on Penn State's stranglehold on the landscape of college wrestling. This particular story starts in 2009, when Cael Sanderson arrived at State College, PA as the new head coach of the Nittany Lions.
The Sanderson Dynasty
The Sanderson led Lions finished in 9th place at the 2010 NCAAs. The dynasty began the next season, when Sanderson won his first championship in 2011, Penn State's first since 1953, their only other title up to this point.
Penn State then peeled off two four-peats and are currently in the midst of a two-peat and counting, all in just 13 seasons. That's 10 team titles to be exact, as well as 36 individual titles.
Dan Gable still holds most of the coaching records, with 15 team and 45 individual titles, plus a streak of nine championships in a row (don't see a lot of nine-peats in sports!), however, Sanderson is getting closer to challenging the coaching GOAT with each passing year.
Is This the Best Team of All-Time?
Currently, Penn State has five wrestlers ranked number one, four more in the top 10, and one wrestler ranked 12th. That's correct, #12 is the LOWEST ranked wrestler in the Nittany Lion lineup.
There are still a couple of weeks of duals, plus Big Tens, and then the actual NCAAs, that all have to happen before we can start assessing this team's claim to being the best of all time. However, that does not stop us from preparing for that debate with a little research.
It turns out, I already did a bunch of that research back in 2018 (which simultaneously feels like both a just a few months and an entire lifetime ago), when I wrote this blog. I think an argument can be made for all the top 5 teams on the list:
- 2005 Oklahoma State
- 1997 Iowa
- 1986 Iowa
- 1983 Iowa
- 1992 Iowa
To spare you some reading, to be in the conversation for best ever, you're going to need to score north of 170 team points at NCAAs. Additionally, the record for champs is five and the record for All-Americans is the maximum of 10.
This year's Penn State squad has all of those numbers within reach.
Current rankings, (which will change by Monday night but those differences shouldn't be too drastic), project Penn State will score 141 points without accounting for bonus points. If each starter averages three bonus points you can tack on 30 more to get to 170.
The rankings also project five champs and nine All-Americans for PSU, which sounds about right if someone were setting the over/under for those numbers.
Five champ, nine All-Americans and 170 team points would certainly put this team in the conversation. Six champs, 10 All-Americans and 180 team points will all but seal the deal (though the debate will never truly end as once you enter distinct 'eras' all bets are off!).
Historical Margin of Victory
The margin of victory at NCAA for the championship squad is another metric you can examine when parsing the great from the greatest. We'll obviously have to wait until March 23rd to find out what the margin will be this season, but to prepare, I calculated the margin of victory of every team champion since 2001.
Why did I start at that season? Because that's when the current scoring system at NCAAs was adopted.
Hopefully, you can read that table but if it's not showing up properly just know that the record for the largest margin of the "modern era" is 70 in 2005. Penn State had the second-largest margin of victory with 55 team points last season.
Based on the current rankings (which, again, will change) Penn State will outpace their nearest challenger, in this case Oklahoma State, by 76 points.
Incredibly, Penn State is approaching all these incredible feats without the help of their 149lb starter, Shayne Van Ness, who placed third last season and beat current #3 Kyle Parco at the All-Star Classic but suffered an injury shortly thereafter.
Despite that, Penn State has a chance, a high probability even, of doing something entirely unprecedented in March.
Dual of the Century of the Week
Penn State Stands Alone After Rout of Iowa
The inspiration for the Penn State dynastic deep dive was the Nittany Lions' lopsided victory over Iowa last Friday. Iowa also happens to be one of only two teams to win a national title besides Penn State during the Sanderson Era in Happy Valley.
Few were predicting a Hawkeye win, especially with Iowa coming off a disappointing loss to Michigan the week before. But the dismantling of a rival, and not just any rival, but the team that had previously set the standard for college wrestling dynasties, did more to solidify Penn State's supremacy than would a win over any other team this season.
It's not as though Iowa wrestled particularly poorly, either. #6 Drake Ayala and #15 Caleb Rathjen beat two higher ranked opponents at 125 (#2 Braeden Davis) and 149 (#12 Tyler Kasak), respectively. Penn State did register a minor 'upset' of their own, when #7 Mitchell Mesenbrink beat #6 Michael Caliendo at 165.
It was all chalk the rest of the way. Perhaps added to the air of inevitability of Penn State continuing their title run was how all five of Penn State's #1s handily defeated their Hawkeye opponents.
Beau Bartlett beat #2 Real Woods 7-2, reversing last season's result. Levi Haines and Cater Starocci majored a top 5 opponent at 157 and 174. Brooks merely decisioned #12 Zach Glazier at 197. Finally, Kerkvliet put an end to the event with a major over dual-sport super frosh Ben Kueter at heavyweight.
What the dual may have lacked in drama was compensated by the momentousness. Another hurdle cleared. Another obstacle bulldozed.
Coach Sanderson after Friday's Iowa dual:
Penn State has three duals left on their schedule: Rutgers on Monday (which is very likely the day you're reading this), Nebraska on Sunday and finally, Edinboro a week after this Sunday. Penn State will be heavy favorites in all three.
Now that we've established that there's virtually nothing that can stop Penn State's inexorable march to another undefeated season, another Big Ten title, and their 12th NCAA title in program history, let's check in on the rest of the teams and see what notable events occurred last week.
The Race For Runnerup In The Big Ten
Though they beat Iowa last week, Michigan fell to Nebraska this week. Nebraska won all the toss ups and got a big upset win from #29 Jacob Van Dee over #4 Dylan Ragusin at 133 to propel the Huskers to a 25-7 victory over the Wolverines, who dropped to 4-3 in conference duals.
Nebraska has Penn State next weekend, and will likely finish the season 12-2 overall and 6-2 in the conference, having lost to Iowa in January.
That would leave Ohio State in pole position to finish as regular season runnerup. The Buckeyes will be favored to finish their regular season with a win against Michigan State, which would leave them with just one Big Ten loss, which was to Penn State. Ohio State did not have Iowa on their schedule this season and eked out a victory over much-hated rival Michigan a few weeks ago.
Expect Iowa and Michigan to be near the top of the leaderboard in Maryland at the Big Ten Championships, however. They will also be in the running for a team Trophy in Kansas City at the NCAAs.
Peering further ahead brings us back to Penn State, as the Nittany Lions lineup will likely be just as strong, if not stronger in 2024-25. They lose Aaron Brooks but return every other starter, plus they'll get NCAA qualifier Alex Facundo and true freshman Josh Barr off redshirt, and hopefully have a healthy Shayne Van Ness.
- #1 Luke Lilledahl (133/141)
- #5 Zack Ryder (184/197)
- #6 Joe Sealey (165/174)
- #10 Connor Mirasola (197)
- #13 Mason Gibson (133)
- #21 Cole Mirasola (285)
It's a good time to be a Nitty Lion wrestling fan.
The Cowboys Are Firing on All Cylinders And Have the Big 12 on Lockdown
Many expected Oklahoma State to improve on last season. Not as many expected them to be as dominant as they have been in dual meets this year.
The undefeated Cowboys just dispatched South Dakota State 31-6, their 11th ranked win of the season. They also beat Missouri and Iowa State, their closest Big 12 rivals, by a combined score of 45-22.
Oklahoma State is winning with a balanced lineup of youth and experience, with all 10 starters in the rankings and with multiple weights where backups would likely also be ranked.
Coleman Scott's addition to the coaching staff this off-season is clearly paying dividends.
Next on the schedule for Oklahoma State is the second Bedlam of the season, where the Cowboys will be heavy favorites over intra-state rivals Oklahoma, and then a showdown in Gallagher-Iba Arena with Iowa.
Coach Smith knows that this season will ultimately be judged by how they do over three days in Kansas City this March, but you can bet the entire Cowboy wrestling community still has the Hawkeyes and February 25th circled on their calendars. Or more likely noted in their digital calendars, but you understand the expression I hope.
It'll Be NC State or Virginia Tech for the ACC Crown
The ACC regular season team title will once again be decided by a dual meet between Virginia Tech and NC State, which has quietly become one of the best annual grudge matches in college wrestling.
Virginia Tech just defeated Duke and George Mason by a combined 87-5 over the weekend. The Hokieswould be unwise to look past a scrappy Pittsburgh squad that they'll wrestle this Friday, a week before their showdown with the Wolfpack, though the Panthers have had an up-and-down season. Pitt defeated Ohio State and Lehigh early in the season, though they also lost to North Carolina over the weekend.
The Wolfpack, meanwhile, beat Virginia 38-3 last Friday. They have a very tough opponent in Cornell on this Friday before a Sunday dual against Duke. Then they'll have their sights set on the Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, NC on February 23 for what should decide the regular season ACC team title (and quite a few #1 seeds at the ACC Championships as well).
Cornell Clinches Another Ivy League Championship
The Ivy League doesn't have their own conference championship, as all six Ivies that sponsor wrestling programs also compete in the EIWA. At least for one more month. This will be the last EIWA Championship featuring Cornell, Penn, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, and Brown, who will have their own championship next season.
For now, the Ivy League still has a regular season title, which was won by Cornell, their 43rd title in program history and their 20th in 21 seasons.
A BIG RED TITLE.— Ivy League (@IvyLeague) February 11, 2024
With a win over Penn, @BigRedWrestling finishes the Ivy League dual season with an undefeated 5-0 record to take home the Ivy title! The championship marks the 43rd title in Cornell's history and third straight. 🌿🤼 pic.twitter.com/TCWTAPzEoI
Cornell defeated Penn 26-8 to secure the championship. it was the closest dual Cornell had with any of their conference foes this season.
Elsewhere in the EIWA, Lehigh continues to be the standard-bearer for the conference as far as non-Ivies are concerned. They defeated Bucknell 31-11. Binghamton is the next highest ranked non-Ivy EIWA program, who just beat Princeton 26-12. Army, who beat Binghamton two weeks ago, is the third-highest-ranked non-Ivy EIWA program, though they recently lost to Lehigh.
The Last Pac-12 Regular Season Title Could Be Shared by Three Teams
Or perhaps it's not the last? Arizona State leaves the Pac-12 at the end of this season for the Big 12. Stanford will also skedaddle but for the ACC. That will leave four programs in the Pac-12 rump conference. However, Oregon State has secured an agreement with the NCAA to allow it to continue as a four-team conference, for now, featuring itself and the three Pac-12 affiliate members, CSU-Bakersfield, Cal Poly, and Little Rock.
That means the Pac-12 has at least one feasible option for 2024-25. What exactly happens between now and next season (and beyond) is anyone's guess, but at least they are less in limbo than they were earlier this season.
So it might not be the last Pac-12 regular season title, but it will be the last time either Arizona State or Stanford has chance to claim the trophy. And the holder of said trophy will likely be the winner of the Arizona State vs Stanford dual this Friday in Tempe.
Stanford is 3-0 and still has Oregon State and Arizona State on their schedule. Little Rock is 4-1 and is done with conference duals, having beaten Arizona State and Oregon State but lost to Stanford. If Arizona State beats Stanford and Stanford beats Oregon State, then the Trojans, Cardinal and Sun Devils will all share a piece of the regular season team title.
By the way, Arizona State is the last school to beat Penn State in a dual meet, snapping a 60-dual win streak in 2019.
Naturally, Penn State has since racked up a 53 dual meet and counting win streak.
Rider and Northern Illinois in Control of Their MAC Destiny
Rider is 6-0 in MAC duals this season and has two more duals with East Division foes to close out the season, Calrion and Cleveland State. Neither are to be slept on, but even if Rider loses both duals, they would at worst be in a three-way tie with 6-2 records between those three schools for the divisional crown.
Northern Illinois, meanwhile, already defeated Central Michigan, the traditional wrestling power in the MAC, back in January. They did lose to Rider, however, they are in the East, and the Huskies are in the West. That means a win over SIUE, the last opponent on the NIU schedule, and the Huskies will secure a divisional title for themselves.
The SoCon Is Cambell's to Lose
Campbell defeated App State two weeks ago in what will likely be the deciding match for the SoCon regular season team title.
The Camels still have duals with conference rivals Chattanooga, Presbyterian and VMI on their schedule but they will be favorites in all three matches. Chattanooga will likely be their most difficult remaining opponent, however, Chattanooga already lost to App State this season, and an upset over Campbell, while not impossible, would be unexpected.
Shameless Plug For FloWrestling Original Videos
One thing you often hear from the wrestling community is that they want the sport to be more accessible in order to draw in more new fans to the world's oldest and raddest sport. And we here at FloSports couldn't agree more!
That's why we've been putting more and more of our best content on YouTube, so that you diehards reading this (free) blog can share those videos with your friends and family, all for free!
Want to know what it's like to be part of an elite NCAA D1 practice? Well good news, we were at Iowa State not long ago and Coach Dresser and company were gracious enough to provide behind-the-scenes access.
I know I would have absolutely devoured this kind of content back in high school. Instead, there was like that one VHS tape about Iowa that I rewatched a million times and then some random technique tapes that everyone on the team shared. Who says there's been no progress in this sport!
We were also in Missouri a couple of weeks ago and our guy Tyler cooked up two awesome vids of Missouri and Oklahoma State practicing before their dual. You can watch them and the entire Oklahoma State vs Missouri dual on YouTube for the low, low price of free. Not bad!
Send Me Tips!
This roundup is for you, so if you see something noteworthy happen in D1 NCAA wrestling, let me know so that I can make note of it!
Best way to reach me is on Twitter (@speywrestle) or email [email@example.com].
Next week: the penultimate week of the regular season! I told you they'd go by fast! It's been fun, though, right? And unlike some sporting events, we don't have to resort to glomming off the popularity of world-famous singers to keep you entertained!
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- Doug Schwab On Northern Iowa's Win Over Mizzou
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- Brian Smith On Missouri Wrestling's Health Challenges
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- Replay: Missouri vs Northern Iowa | Feb 23 @ 7 PM
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- Replay: Minnesota State, MN @ Wisconsin-Parkside, WI - 2024 Minnesota State vs UW-Parkside | Feb 23 @ 7 PM
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- Replay: Rider, NJ @ Cleveland State, OH - 2024 Rider vs Cleveland St | Feb 23 @ 2 PM
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