We are now entering the heart of the dual season in college wrestling as the second semester hits. The major four tournaments (CKLV, RTOC, Midlands and Scuffle) have all wrapped up, so we have a good deal of data on the 2016-17 season.
Live On Flo This Week: 1/13 Blair at Wyoming Seminary, SDSU at Wyoming, | 1/13-1/14: Eastern States, 5 Counties, | 1/15: Iowa at Oklahoma State, SDSU at Air Force, Oregon State at Wyoming
There are still a number of questions to be answered with another weekend of big duals coming up, but here are some things we have learned so far in the 2016-17 season.
125Thomas Gilman can have the undefeated season Matt McDonough never did. When we ran our 125U article, McDonough figured heavily into it. His placements of first, second and first at NCAAs are the best in recent times for the Hawkeyes.
But McDonough never went without a loss, nor have many 125s in recent years. The last one to do it was Anthony Robles in 2011, with Troy Nickerson getting one two years before that. Only three other 125s have gone undefeated (Travis Lee in 2003, Stephen Abas in both 2001 and 2002), but it appears there are fewer than five legitimate challengers to knock off Gilman.
The only non-major on the year for Gilman was his controversial 8-6 Midlands semis win over Josh Terao. However, the American star may need to run the table to get the type of seed that would allow him to see Gilman at NCAAs.
Gilman vs Tero at Midlands
Meanwhile, a top tier has emerged this season in Joey Dance and Nick Suriano. Dance is 13-0 on the year and has split overtime matches with Gilman in the past, but has only placed once in March. Suriano is up to 10-0 with wins over Connor Schram, Darian Cruz, Ethan Lizak and Tim Lambert. Suriano can get up to three cracks at Gilman if they wrestle in St. Louis, but this should be the year a Hawkeye 125 ends his career unblemished.
157This weight has the most fun race for second. Nolf's bonus rate remains at 100% after this weekend and has no Isaiah Martinez standing in his way this year.
Dylan Palacio has yet to wrestle this year after missing weight at the Scuffle (and was removed from the rankings), so a long layoff and weight concerns make him nowhere close to a shoo in for a finals spot. He could move up to 165, though that may also hurt the development of Brandon Womack for them. Even still, Palacio is one of the most dangerous wrestlers and best scramblers in the country.
Michael Kemerer replaced Palacio in second, and presents the most interesting challenge to Jason Nolf as a former Young Guns teammate and practice partner. We could get a fun trilogy between Kemerer and Tyler Berger after their insane Midlands final. The Huskers travel to Iowa City for their last dual of the year on February 12th, as well as the B1G conference semis.
Joey Lavallee beat CKLV champ Jake Short at the Scuffle, and gets his crack at Smith and potentially Palacio this month as well. Jordan Kutler upset both Lavallee and Smith in Chattanooga to put himself in the conversation as a potential finalist, especially if he can avoid Nolf with a 2, 3 or 6 seed.
174Zahid Valencia can win NCAAs. Barring a major upset, the only potential blemish on his record heading into March could be Zach Epperly at Virginia Duals, and there's no guarantee that match will happen.
He has the ability to finish single legs against anyone in the country, as well as him continuing to display the same kind of defensive hips he did in high school. We saw that across both tournaments he's won in CKLV and the Midlands.
Bo Jordan is the obvious elephant in the room there, though there were several different opportunities for that match to happen thus far and it has not occurred. Valencia is coming down from being an undersized 184 while Jordan is coming up from being an oversized 165, and they are likely pretty even on their feet. Bo is very tough on top and Zahid hasn't quite developed the same level of top game to even this match out.
Epperly may still end up on top and is the highest returning All American at this weight. Then there is of course the million dollar question if Cael Sanderson will pull Mark Hall's redshirt in an attempt to guarantee Penn State a title. No matter what, there will be a new champ at 174, and one that almost definitely will be in line to win multiple titles.
Hodge WatchIf the Hodge Trophy were given out today, it would be Gabe Dean's. Yes, Nolf and Zain Retherford are still at 100% bonus rate. No, Dean does not have an Olympic medal like Kyle Snyder or J'Den Cox. But 184 is the toughest weight in the country this year and Dean is running through it like a buzzsaw.
Dean's fourth Scuffle title
Dean is 22-0, which is key because the first criteria is a wrestler's record so someone essentially has to go undefeated to be considered. But 15 of them are pins and he has completely dominated everyone he's wrestled, only giving up escapes so far. We already mentioned 184 is the toughest weight and it will be his third national title, which can only be matched by Cox and Isaiah Martinez.
In any sport with a big award like this, the opinion is teammates (Nolf and Retherford) tend to "split votes," as well as that they are not seniors. Cornell is not quite having the season it wanted, but Dean is doing everything to give Big Red fans a season to remember as he closes out his career.
Four Horse RacePenn State, Oklahoma State, Iowa and Ohio State are the four horsemen of the apocalypse this year. The Nittany Lions are counting on around 80 team points from Retherford, Nolf, Suriano and Bo Nickal. John Smith's Cowboys seem to want to overwhelm teams with 8, 9 or even 10 AAs and put a few in the finals for a cumulative team effort.
The Hawkeyes can see as high as eight placers with four in the finals if they pull Marinelli's shirt, Clark stays healthy and Kemerer holds form. Tom Ryan's Buckeyes are similar to Penn St in that they need huge points out of Nathan Tomasello, the Jordans and Kyle Snyder, as well as the freshmen Kollin Moore, Jose Rodriguez and Luke Pletcher to contribute.
This team race is similar to the ones in 2009, 2013 and 2014. Iowa's second title under Brands came in 2009, when they beat Ohio St by just 4.5 pts and Iowa State was just seven behind the Buckeyes. Penn St's third title of the Cael era saw just 13 points separate first place from third place. The 2014 tournament was exactly the same, as the Nittany Lions finished four points ahead of second place Minnesota and 13 points ahead of third place Oklahoma State.