Big Ten

#8 Nebraska vs #1 Penn State Wrestling: Preview & Predictions

#8 Nebraska vs #1 Penn State Wrestling: Preview & Predictions

A rundown of what to expect when the Huskers wrestle the Nittany Lions in State College this Sunday at 4:00PM ET.

Feb 15, 2024 by Andrew Spey
#8 Nebraska vs #1 Penn State Wrestling: Preview & Predictions

Happy Valley will host a B1G top-10 matchup this Sunday afternoon as the #8 Nebraska Huskers travel to central PA to try and slow down the #1 ranked rampaging juggernaut known as the Penn State Nittany Lions.

How To Watch

The dual will be broadcast on the BTN cable channel at 4:00 PM ET. Check your local listings for the channel numbers. You can also watch on the Fox Sports App if you have a cable subscription (specifically one that carries BTN). 

If you don’t have cable, you can purchase one month of YouTubeTV (or a similar service) and stream BTN on your connected device. That month will also get you the Big Ten Championships, though you will need to purchase another month to cover the NCAA Championships as well. 

Projected Lineups

This list of probables comes from Penn State's preview but they are naturally subject to change.

  • 125: #5 FR Braeden Davis, PSU - Belleville, MI vs #9 SR Caleb Smith, NEB - High Point, NC
  • 133: #8 SO Aaron Nagao, PSU - La Habra, CA vs #22 FR Jacob Van Dee, NEB - Union City, PA
  • 141: #1 SR Beau Bartlett, PSU - Tempe, AZ vs #5 SO Brock Hardy, NEB - Brigham City, UT
  • 149: #12 FR Tyler Kasak, PSU - Doylestown, PA vs #1 JR Ridge Lovett, NEB - Post Falls, ID
  • 157: #1 SO Levi Haines, PSU - Arendtsville, PA vs #13 SR Peyton Robb, NEB - Owatonna, MN
  • 165: #6 FR Mitchell Mesenbrink, PSU - Hartland, WI vs #10 FR Antrell Taylor, NEB - Millard, NE
  • 174: #1 SR Carter Starocci, PSU - Erie, PA vs #20 JR Bubba Wilson, NEB - Manhattan, KA
  • 184: #7 SR Bernie Truax, PSU - Oceanside, CA vs #3 SO Lenny Pinto, NEB - Stroudsburg, PA
  • 197: #1 SR Aaron Brooks, PSU - Hagerstown, MD vs #13 SO Silas Allred, NEB - Anderson, IN
  • 285: #1 SR Greg Kerkvliet, PSU - Inver Grove Heights, MN vs FR Harley Andrews, NEB -Tuttle, OK or SR Nash Hutmacher, NEB - Oacoma, SD

We also made a fancy graphic of the projected lineups. 

There are 19 ranked wrestlers on these two programs’ rosters, which means we could see 9 ranked matchups including four between top 10 wrestlers. Not bad!

The Big Ten Team Dual Championship Race

Nebraska is currently 11-1 on the season and 7-1 in Big Ten duals. Their sole loss of the season came at the hands of Iowa on January 12. The Huskers also finished second at the prestigious Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational but that’s neither here nor there. 

Penn State meanwhile sports a sparkling 10-0 overall record and is 7-0 in the Big Ten. A win by the Nittany Lions will clinch the regular season dual championship, as no other Big Ten team is undefeated. A win by Nebraska will mean they will tie PSU and potentially Ohio State for the B1G dual crown.

The Buckeyes are the only other Big Ten squad besides Nebraska with a 6-1 conference dual meet record. If Ohio State beats Michigan State on Friday and the Huskers win, it's a three-way tie. If Ohio State and Penn State win, the Huskers will fall to third in the conference standings. 

An upset by Michigan State, however, and Nebraska loss would put the Huskers in a tie with Ohio State for second place in the conference. 

All-Time Series History

The all-time dual meet series between these two schools currently stands at 11-8-1 in favor of Penn State. 

The last time Penn State and Nebraska wrestled in a dual was February 6, a contest won by the Nittany Lions by the score of 20-13. 

Penn State is currently on a seven-dual win streak against the Huskers. The last time Nebraska beat the Lions was January 10, 2009, by the score of 20-16.

Matchup Breakdown

125: Youth vs Experience

The dual kicks off with a marquee matchup -- assuming it starts at 125. 

Braeden Davis’ undefeated collegiate record was spoiled by Iowa’s Drake Ayala two weeks ago, and the Lions' true freshman from Michigan was pushed to the limit by Rutgers’ Dean Peterson last Monday.

Caleb Smith, a fifth-year year senior with one more year of eligibility remaining, has qualified for two previous NCAA tournaments and is well on his way to a third consecutive 20-win season. Smith transferred to Nebraska over the summer, having spent the previous four seasons at Appalachian State

This match could go either way, just like pretty much every 125-pound match this season. 

133: All-American vs Rising Star

Aaron Nagao had his breakout performance at last year’s NCAA Tournament, where he placed fifth after receiving the #8 seed while still at Minnesota. 

The fourth-year wrestler out of La Habra, California then transferred to Penn State where he started out the 7-1 but is in the midst of a 2-3 stretch of bouts.

Jacob Van Dee, a freshman from northwest Pennsylvania, recently defeated Michigan’s Dylan Ragusin who handed Nagao his first loss of the season about one month ago. 

If Nebraska is going to pull off an upset, they absolutely need to win these first two bouts, and even then it's a long uphill climb for the win. 

141: Two Top-5 AAs

Beau Bartlett is the top-ranked wrestler at 141, a spot he earned by dint of his 3rd place finish as last year's NCAA and an undefeated current season that includes wins over #2 Real Woods and #3 Jesse Mendez.

You would be unwise to count Hardy out of this match, however, as like Bartlett, Hardy also climbed the 2023 NCAA podium, placing sixth after receiving the #4 seed. 

This season, the Box Eldar High School grad has taken five loses, though three of them were back in early December at the CKLV. Hardy was #9 on the class of 2018 Big Baord who deferred eligibility for two years to complete a religious mission before enrolling at Nebraska. Hardy also owns the only win between these two, having beaten Bartlett at Big Tens 7-3 (Please note, a previous version of this preview errenously had that result backwards. My bad!).

A low-scoring bout probably favors Bartlett, but if Hardy can open things up he could make it three in a row for the Huskers.

149: Number One vs True Frosh

#1 ranked Ridge Lovett will be the biggest favorite of the night for the Huskers. The pressure will be on not to just win, but to snag bonus points for Nebraska, especially if they've already picked up two or three wins by the time 149 rolls around. 

Originally from Post Falls, Idaho, Lovett was an NCAA runner-up in 2022 who used his redshirt last season. Lovett only wrestled (and won) a handful of matches while on redshirt. This season has amassed 20 wins against zero loses. 

Penn State true freshman Tyler Kasak will have his work cut out for him, as he is moving up a weight class and filling in for erstwhile starter Shayne Van Ness, who is out for the season with an injury. 

Kasak should not be overlooked, however, as he has beaten the likes of Ohio State All-American Dylan D’Emilio this season. If Kasak can find a way to weather the hellacious storm that Lovett brings from the top position, he could make this bout interesting. 

157: Another PSU #1 vs the Comeback Story of the Year

Any match Peyton Robb wrestles this year is a win, considering how close he was to potentially losing his leg after a terrible skin infection he suffered at last year’s NCAA Tournament. It’s an inspiration to see him back on the mat healthy and competing, no matter how his season finishes. 

Robb, of course, has goals beyond just getting back into the Husker lineup. And he's already proved he can compete with the best of the division by winning a loaded CKLV bracket. Robb stumbled a bit in January, losing four in a row at one point, but recently rebounded with a win over two-time All-American Will Lewan last week. 

Robb will need to be at the top of his game if he’s going to knock off current #1 Levi Haines, who, like his teammate Tyler Kasak, trained at Nittany Lion legend David Taylor’s M2 Wrestling Club. Haines is 13-0 on the season with all bonus wins except two matches. 

Haines beat Robb twice last season, at Big Tens and NCAAs, but both of those bouts were extremely close, and this bout is far from a gimme. 

Watch highlights of Haines and Robb's 2023 NCAA bout: 


165: Two Monster Frosh

Can anything stop Mitchell Mesenbrink? The 2023 UWW U20 World gold medalist has been relentless all season long, causing opponents to wilt as he racked up a 17-0 on the season with 13 bonus wins.

Fellow freshman Antrell Taylor, a local Nebraska product, will be tasked with at least slowing Mesenbrink down. Taylor recently defeated All-American Cam Amine (sorry for using another Wolverine as an example, Michigan fans, but Nebraska did extremely well in last week’s dual!) and has proven he can compete with the elite of this division. 

Mesenbrink will be a heavy favorite, and Taylor will do well to frustrate Mesenrbink by keeping things to a decision. 

174: Top Hodge Contender vs a Husker Stalwart

Penn State’s murderer’s row of upperweights really gets going at 171 with three-time NCAA champ Carter Starocci, who will be a heavy favorite to both win and bonus Bubba Wilson. 

Starocci is in the midst of a special season. He's #1 on the Hodge Rankings. He's on a 61-match winning streak and hasn't dropped an NCAA bout since Big Tens in March of 2021. 

Bubba Wilson, a fifth-year wrestler and two-time national qualifier, would be beating the odds if he held Starocci to a regular decision, something that's only happened once this season (including the All-Star Classic, where Starocci majored Mekhi Lewis). 

184: 3X 4th Placer vs Cement Lugger

Lenny Pinto is what some in the Lehigh Valley would dub a ‘cement lugger’, a term reserved for hammers from Eastern Pennsylvania such as Lenny. The redshirt sophomore from Stroudsburg, PA qualified for the 2023 NCAA tournament but is still looking for his first All-American honor, something that is looking more and more likely with each passing week. 

Bernie Truax is, like his teammates Nagao, Mesenbrink, and Kerkvliet, a transfer. Truax wrestled for five years at Cal Poly, qualifying for four NCAA tournaments, and placing fourth three times. Truax is filling a gap left by Aaron Brooks, who has moved up to 197 to take the spot for the departed Max Dean. 

Though Pinto is a slight favorite on paper, this battle between top-10 wrestlers is closer to a toss-up, especially in a boisterous Rec Hall. 

197: Another HodgeTrophey contender vs B1G champ

Penn State has the luxury of having multiple Hodge Trophy contenders on their squad. Brooks is, like his teammate Starocci, seeking his fourth NCAA title. He and Carter will both be favorites to climb the top step of the podium for a fourth time. Though Brooks' win streak is not nearly as long as Starocci's his current season mirrors Carters, as Aaron has bonused all but one opponent. Brooks also won his All-Star Classic match by major. 

Silas Allred, despite being last year’s Big Ten Champ and a highly ranked bloodround finisher, is a heavy underdog. He’s beaten NCAA champs from Penn State before, however, as two of his 25 wins last season came over Max Dean. And upset is not out of the question, as Brooks has taken a regular season loss in each of his last two seasons, it is still highly unlikely. 

Watch Brooks defeat Tanner Sloan at the ASC:


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285: Top Ranked Heavy vs Young/Football Heavy

Put Greg Kerkvliet on virtually any other team and he'd be the biggest star in the lineup. At Penn State, he is at best number three on the ladder, despite being an undefeated #1 ranked heavyweight. The Minnesota native is 10-0 this season with seven bonus wins, not counting his tech-fall of Wyatt Hendrickson at the All-Star Classic. 

Kerkvliet’s opponent will be either a young but talented freshman in Harley Andrews from Oklahoma or the more experienced Nash Hutmacher of South Dakota, who returned to the mat after a three-year absence, in which he was focused on being on the starting defensive line of the Husker football team. 

Kerkvliet will be favored to bonus either wrestler. If Nebraska still has an upset on the table at this point, one of their heavies may have to find a way to keep this bout to a regular decision. 


125: Smith, NEB over Davis, PSU by decision - Nebraska 3, Penn State 0

133: Nagao, PSU over Van Dee by decision - Nebraska 3, Penn State 3

141: Bartlett, PSU over Hardy, NEB by decision - Penn State 6, Nebraska 3

149: Lovett, NEB over Tyler Kasak, PSU by major - Nebraska 7, Penn State 6

157: Haines, PSU over Robb, NEB by decision - Penn State 9, Nebraska 7

165: Mesenbrink, PSU overl Taylor, NEB by decision - Penn State 12, Nebraska 7

174: Starocci, PSU over Wilson, NEB by major - Penn State 16, Nebraska 7

184: Pinto, NEB over Truax, PSU by decision - Penn State 16, Nebraska 10

197: Brooks, PSU over Allred, NEB by decision - Penn State 19, Nebraska 10

285: Kerkvliet, PSU over Hutmacher/Andrews, NEB by tech-fall - Penn State 24, Nebraska 10

Penn State has too many title contenders for Nebraska, but that's assuming everyone wrestles. If any Nittany Lions aren't able to start and/or if Nebraska gets a couple of upsets this could be a very interesting finale to the Big Ten dual meet season!