FloWrestling's Official Hodge Rankings

FloWrestling's Official Hodge Rankings

Since the start of the 2016-17 season, the storyline surrounding the college wrestling season that has intrigued me the most has been "Who will win the Hodge Trophy in 2017?''

Feb 9, 2017 by Earl Smith
FloWrestling's Official Hodge Rankings
Since the start of the 2016-17 season, the storyline surrounding college wrestling that has intrigued me the most has been "Who will win the Hodge Trophy in 2017?'' The candidates for the trophy this season are as good as any year in the history of the award. Each of the 10 weight classes feature at least one wrestler who is undefeated, and many of them are heavily favored to finish their seasons without a blemish in the loss column.

Prior to the start of the season, when asked who I thought would win the Hodge, my response was, "You've got an Olympic gold medalist (Kyle Snyder), an Olympic bronze medalist (J'den Cox), a junior who is on pace to become a four-time NCAA champion (Isaiah Martinez) and a possible three-time NCAA champion (Gabe Dean), and they're all behind Zain Retherford -- last season's runner-up." Talk about star power!

Before we go any further let's get a refresher on the Hodge Trophy criteria.

1) A wrestlers record
2) Number of pins
3) Dominance on the mat
4) Past credentials
5) Quality of competition
6) Sportsmanship/Citizenship
7) Heart

Another disclaimer, the award isn't necessarily given to the best wrestler. Oftentimes, it ends up that way but not always. If it did, then the award would lack drama and go to Snyder. While it still may go to Snyder, voters in the past seem to prefer gaudy win and fall totals, which he will lack wrestling his combination of freestyle and collegiate schedules.

I will go through the current Hodge Trophy standings, as I see them through the voters and their past voting habits. Remember with such an incredible group, trying to place one above the other can get very nitpicky. Since only one man can win the weight class, I have only ranked 1 per each weight (hence, no Bo Nickal).

10. Dean Heil, Oklahoma State (141)
Record: 21-0 (0 Falls; 4 Tech Falls; 7 Major Decisions; 52% Bonus Points)

The case for: All he does is win. Dean Heil is currently riding a 30-match winning streak dating back to last February. On his side is the fact that he competes in possibly the deepest weight class in terms of true NCAA Title contenders. If the NCAA Championships were held using the current FloWrestling rankings, Heil would have to go through his 2016 NCAA finals opponent Bryce Meredith in the quarters, followed by Matt Kolodzik/Anthony Ashnault in the semis and Kevin Jack/Joey McKenna in the finals. This doesn't include a possible Meredith match at the Big 12s, either. Were Heil able to run this gauntlet to win his second title, unscathed, he would deserve serious consideration.

Why he wouldn't win: Zero. As in the number of falls currently on Heil's record. The Hodge Trophy voting is heavily weighted on falls, after its namesake Dan Hodge. Having no pins equals no trophy, even if he finishes undefeated.

9. Nathan Tomasello, Ohio State (133)  
Record: 13-0 (0 Falls; 3 TF; 5 MD; 62% Bonus)

The case for:
The "eyeball test" may weigh more heavily in Nathan Tomasello's favor than do his actual stats. Just watching how impressive Tomasello has been up a weight class at 133 makes him seem more dominant than his bonus-point percentages may indicate. Finishing the season undefeated against the upper echelon of talent that he will face at 133 can only help his case.

Past credentials could help his case. NaTo already has a pair of Big Ten titles and an NCAA championship under his belt.

Why he wouldn't win: Like Heil, even if Tomasello finished the season as an undefeated NCAA champion, he won't win the award without any falls.

8. Zahid Valencia, Arizona State (174)
Record: 29-0 (9 Falls; 3 TF; 8 MD; 31% Falls; 69% Bonus)

The case for: Valencia has appeared to be the most consistent and dominant of any of the 174-pounders this season. A freshman coming out on top of a weight class featuring eight returning All-Americans and top recruit Mark Hall should be enough to garner Hodge Trophy votes. His nine falls rank fifth on this list of contenders. Defeating the currently undefeated, No. 1-ranked Bo Jordan would help Valencia hit criteria No. 5.

Why is Valencia on the list over Jordan you ask? Valencia has a better chance at winning the Hodge, provided he wins the NCAA title. Jordan doesn't have many matches (nine) this year and only a couple of quality wins.

Why he wouldn't win: History. A freshman has never won the award. CSU Bakersfield's Stephen Neal won the award during Cael Sanderson's freshman season. Brent Metcalf and David Taylor are the only sophomores who have won the trophy.

Competition. As mentioned earlier, this weight class features eight returning All-Americans and bunch of other talented competitors, so there could be plenty of landmines that prevent Valencia from winning it all.

7. Thomas Gilman, Iowa (125)
Record: 21-0 (8 Falls; 7 Techs; 4 MD's; 38% Falls; 90% Bonus)

The case for: Thomas Gilman sports a 90-percent bonus rate through 21 matches, which makes for a very impressive stat line. The Hawkeyes leadoff man is the most balanced wrestler on this list in terms of earning falls and techs. Looking at others' stats, most guys have a large disparity between falls and techs.

As an overall weight class, 125 is not a deep as previous seasons, so it would be safe to assume that Gilman's high rate of bonus points should continue throughout the postseason.

Why he wouldn't win: Criteria No. 6. While a certain percentage of wrestling fans appreciate the attitude that Gilman brings and his ability to "stir things up," I'm guessing that Hodge Trophy voters would not be among that group.

Past credentials. While Gilman's two prior All-American finishes are nothing to scoff at, his career resume does not compare to the majority of the wrestlers listed above him. In the last 13 seasons, Jayson Ness was the only one-time NCAA champion to earn the trophy.

6. J'den Cox, Missouri (197)
Record: 18-0 (3 Falls; 5 Techs; 5 MD's  17% Falls; 72% Bonus)

The case for: It feels wrong having a probable three-time NCAA champion and Olympic bronze medalist in sixth place on this list. This ranking speaks more to the overall talent currently in college wrestling, than anything negatively about J'den Cox. His credentials speak for themselves and cannot be ignored.

Cox also embodies everything positive that the Hodge Trophy represents in terms of intangibles, which fulfills criteria Nos. 6 and 7. If you don't believe me watch "The Only Way is Up."

Why he wouldn't win: Simply put, Cox has never been a bonus-point monster, which of course weighs heavily on the Hodge Trophy voting.

Vulnerable to upset? With his tendency to wrestle close matches against high-quality opponents, there's an outside chance for an upset. Or at least a greater chance than most of the others listed above him. Brett Pfarr, Jared Haught and Kollin Moore have all wrestled two-point matches with the Tigers superstar this season.

5. Isaiah Martinez, Illinois (165)
Record: 21-0 (5 Falls; 9 TF; 4 MD; 24% Falls; 86% Bonus)

The case for: With the exception of freshman Zahid Valencia, Isaiah Martinez is the only wrestler on this list on pace to capture four NCAA titles. You have to win a Hodge Trophy somewhere along the line for that, don't you? Every other four-timer in the lifespan of the trophy has won at least one Hodge.

IMar leads the wrestlers on this list when it comes to tech falls with nine and still has a respective five pins. He also competes at a 165-pound weight class that is very top heavy. The "quality of competition" criteria will not be an issue when he has to defeat, most likely, two top-five opponents just to win the Big Ten title.

Why we wouldn't win: All four of the wrestlers ahead of him on this list have higher pin percentages than Martinez. Most of them are significantly higher and that could be a determining factor.

4. Jason Nolf, Penn State (157)
Record: 16-0 (10 Falls; 4 TF; 1 MD; 63% Falls; 94% Bonus)

The case for: Jason Nolf has been head and shoulders above the rest of the competition at 157. Even in his only win by regular decision against Michael Kemerer, Nolf wasn't really threatened. Everyone else in his way has been dominated.

Nolf is also the most likely wrestler on this list to create some sort of high-flying finish in an NCAA semifinal or final to put punctuate his 2016-17 season.

Why he wouldn't win: Quality of competition. Aside from Nolf, there are only three returning All-Americans at this weight, and two of them are not currently ranked in the top 10. His weight class is nowhere near as daunting as others on this list (though it will help bonus-point numbers).

Splitting votes. Will Nolf and Zain Retherford take votes away from each other? It has happened in other sports when trying to determine the MVP of a star-studded team like the Nittany Lions.

3. Zain Retherford, Penn State (149)
Record: 16-0 (11 Falls; 2 TF; 1 MD; 1 FFT; 69% Falls; 93% Bonus)

The case for:
Owner of Division I wrestling's longest current winning streak at 52, Zain Retherford's dominance has carried over from 2015-16 to this season, save for one match. His percentage of falls is the second highest on the list, and his bonus-point percentage of 93 percent is not too shabby either. Retherford was also the Hodge Trophy runner-up to Alex Dieringer last season. Retherford garnered 14 of 45 first-place votes, which indicates that he has already left a strong impression on voters.

Why he wouldn't win: Seniority. Seven of the last eight Hodge winners were seniors. There may be some voters who are more comfortable giving the trophy to a senior, figuring that Retherford may have another chance next year.

Brandon Sorensen. As we head into the stretch run of the college season, one of the burning questions to be answered will be "What will happen the next time(s) Retherford and Sorensen meet?" Was their dual meet, decided in a tie-breaker, just a fluke or has Sorensen caught up to Zain? Well, a loss would obviously knock Retherford out of Hodge consideration, but also another couple of wins in the tiebreaker may sour voters on Retherford.

2. Kyle Snyder, Ohio State (285)
Record: 7-0 (4 Falls; 1 TF; 2 MD; 57% Falls; 100% Bonus)

The case for: As stated earlier, Kyle Snyder is the best wrestler on this list and has won NCAA, world and Olympic titles. He has registered bonus-point wins in all of his seven collegiate bouts wrestled. Though not known as a pinner, Snyder has increased his career fall total to five with his four so far this year.

Why he wouldn't win: Really there isn't a good reason not to select Snyder, but voters may hold his partial collegiate season against him.

1. Gabe Dean, Cornell (184)
Record: 23-0 (18 Falls; 1 TF; 3 MD; 78% Falls; 96% Bonus)

The case for:
It's been remarkable that Gabe Dean has turned into a bonus-point machine in his senior year of competition. Only once in 23 matches has he failed to earn bonus points and his percentage of falls is the highest on this stacked list.

Really, he checks off all of the boxes in terms of Hodge Trophy criteria. Past credentials? how about attempting to become a three-time NCAA champion and a four-time EIWA champ? His weight class is arguably the toughest, at least amongst the elite title contenders. Aside from Dean there are eight other All-Americans, including both NCAA finalists from 174lbs a year ago.

Why he wouldn't win: The biggest obstacle for Dean could be if the voters change their minds and decide to vote for Snyder, abbreviated season and all.

Bo Nickal. This could work for or against Gabe. Nickal is likely on a collision course with Dean in the NCAA finals. A win over Nickal might provide him with a memorable moment to stick in the minds of Hodge voters. On the other hand, Nickal is extremely dangerous and could spoil Dean's season.