No matter what field you are in, it is hard to overstate the value of being one of the 10 best. In many walks of life it is merely a conversation, but in college wrestling, we have hard and fast numbers.
Just what makes a top-10 team? There are of course intangible qualities like good coaching, depth, administrative support, and hardworking athletes. But let's examine the concrete results of having such a team.
Over the past 10 years, a 10th-place finish ranges between 40.5 points and 61.5 points. That's a wide range and conjures a bunch of different perceptions. So let's take a look at All-Americans.
The 10th-place teams have totaled 33 All-Americans since 2008, so those teams average 3.3 AAs per year. Since it is obviously not possible to have a third of an All-American finish, we'll just show you the number of AAs by team.
Four teams earned four All-Americans. Six teams garnered three AAs, and one team had just two AAs. Basically, you're going to want three All-Americans in a given year. While we know someone either finishes as an AA or not, to get that those extra necessary points, you need a good number of qualifiers.
Because two teams tied for ninth in 2016, we are looking at 11 teams. Those 11 teams totaled 80 qualifiers or 7.28 qualifiers per team. Again, here below are the teams, with qualifiers listed instead of All-Americans.
As you can see, there is certainly some variability to each year, and common sense roadblocks like health and age for a team come into play. A guy may be good enough to All-American but could be injured at the end of the year or may be a freshman in a field full of upperclassman hammers.
At this time, here are some teams that could be on the fringe of making it into this year's top 10: Arizona State, UNI, NC State, Rutgers, and South Dakota State.
Arizona State has not cracked the top 10 since Anthony Robles and Bubba Jenkins won national titles in 2011. There are no coaches or wrestlers currently affiliated with the program who were on that squad. To make the jump this year, the Sun Devils will likely need another top-three finish from Zahid Valencia as well as podium spots for some combination of Tanner Hall, Ryan Millhof, Jason Tsirtsis, and Anthony Valencia. If all five place, ASU will cruise into the top 10. But either way, the odds are looking good right now in Tempe.
Northern Iowa has yet to finish in the top 10 since Doug Schwab took over, but it appears the Panthers are within striking distance this year. Schwab has had seven wrestlers earn AA honors during his time in Cedar Falls, and two return this year in Max Thomsen and Drew "Doc" Foster. They will need to cobble together another podium finish between Bryce Steiert (R12 at 165) and/or Taylor Lujan (R16 at 174).
NC State has had some tremendous dual seasons under Pat Popolizio but will be looking to put it together at the NCAA tournament in Cleveland this coming March. The Wolfpack have outside shots at placing Sean Fasuz, ranked 11th at 125, and Jamal Morris, ranked 12th at 133. Beyond that, Kevin Jack is possibly the one guy who can knock off Oklahoma State's Dean Heil. NC State also returns Pete Renda, who placed third at 184 in 2016, and Michael Macchiavello, who was reached the round of 12 at 184 last season.
Rutgers was discussed at some length on today's Flo Radio Live, in large part due to Nick Suriano being able to compete right away. Meanwhile, Anthony Ashnault is looking to become the Scarlet Knights' first-ever four-time AA; he is already their only three-time AA. Add in Scott DelVecchio (R12 at 133) and Nicholas Gravina (R12 at 184), and Rutgers is clearly in the mix to be top 10. Gravina's NCAA tournament is particularly notable as his two losses were to Tim Dudley and Sam Brooks, who combined for five podium finishes and wound up third and fourth, respectively, in St. Louis.
South Dakota State matches the profile of 2010 Missouri, a team that finished 10th with only two All-Americans. In this case, Seth Gross is the Jackrabbits' version of Max Askren. Gross had 30 bonus-point wins last year and scored 19.5 team points at the tournament. South Dakota State's other placement could come from either Nate Rotert at 197 or David Kocer at 174.