When you combine the graduation of Penn State's Nico Megaludis and Ohio State's Nathan Tomasello heading up to 133, the landscape at 125 looks considerably different. However, those changes bring new opportunities for other contenders and stars to rise to the occasion.
These previews will include my picks for title contenders, predictions for Nos. 1-12, and analysis as to how I reached these conclusions.
Thomas Gilman, Iowa
Nick Suriano, Penn State
Joey Dance, Virginia Tech
Thomas Gilman takes it to All-American Eddie Klimara:
Looking around, I don't know who has the goods to head into this realm outside of these three. People like to take "wait and see" approaches with freshmen, typically. I'm the opposite. We see freshmen each and every year live up to their billing. Though he's a true freshman, I believe Suriano has the skills to compete with and beat many of the best. His hand-fighting and power have been DI ready for a year or two at this point. He's been at Penn State a few months now. Come March, he'll be ready to rock. An extremely well-respected person in the wrestling community told me this weekend that his pick was Suriano in March. Like, to win the whole thing. So it's not just me who's high on the young buck.
For Dance, nobody questions the ability or his wins (Megaludis, Tomasello, Gilman, and Dylan Peters). However, his inability to get it done the last two seasons gives most people pause. Gilman is so good, there are only a few guys you can really consider title contenders. That's why this list will probably be shorter than most. Despite his success and toughness last year, I can't put Peters in this tier. Though he's a home-run threat, I don't see the leg attack there that threatens the best guys.
1. Thomas Gilman, Iowa
2. Nick Suriano, Penn State
3. Joey Dance, Virginia Tech
4. Dylan Peters, Northern Iowa
5. Nick Piccininni, Oklahoma State
6. Barlow McGhee, Missouri
7. Connor Schram, Stanford
8. Darian Cruz, Lehigh
Round of 12: Ethan Lizak, Minnesota, Tim Lambert, Nebraska, Nathan Kraisser, Campbell, Joshua Rodriguez, North Dakota State
Gilman is the man for the job at 125. After being in the mix but coming up short the last two years, look for Gilman to go out on top. He's as difficult to score on on his feet as anyone. He has incredible pace and a strong single leg that he can finish on just about anyone should he get his hands locked. The question is, can he finish that single against Suriano, who has elite single leg defense? Ultimately, a thinned out field with Gilman's skill-set will put him on top.
I think when it's all said and done, should Suriano do enough to be opposite Gilman in the NCAA bracket, he'll make the finals. When you combine Penn State and Suriano's track record, I think he will prove to be worthy of this prediction. At this point, I'd venture to guess that there are only a small number of guys who can take Suriano down in the entire country.
Peters is a safe bet to place this year, though I think his upside is limited. He's as strong as anyone at this weight and has maybe as much mental toughness as anyone in NCAA wrestling when you consider the injury he wrestled with last year at NCAAs.
I took a gamble with Piccininni. His talent is fantastic, and I just tend to err towards guys with varied leg attacks. That's Pich to a tee. McGhee was a controversial knee-brace grab away from All-American honors last year. He gets it done this season and places. Like Peters, he's a brick wall of a man and is difficult to score on. If he can be less re-attack reliant and initiate more, it could be a breakout year for Barlow.
The Nos. 7-12 spots are very fluid. I went with Schram and Cruz, because we've seen them do it before. I flirted with Lizak in the No. 8 spot as well. I don't feel terribly confident in one more than the other. Lizak will likely be missing some time the first half of the year. Not being plugged into the lineup can be a hindrance to some, so I gave Cruz that bump.
Oh yeah, happy MOCCO Monday! Episode one has dropped! You can watch our latest FloPro documentary series about the enigmatic and intimidating figure that was Steve Mocco, right here.
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