UNIVERSITY PARK — The defending Big Ten and national champion Penn State wrestling team likely will face a stiff tune-up as it prepares to embark on a third-straight NCAA Championship run this winter.
Penn State released its complete wrestling schedule Monday, a slate that combines a ho-hum home menu with a daunting end game in February.
The Nittany Lions, who have won back-to-back conference and NCAA titles, will make consecutive road trips to Illinois (Feb. 1), Iowa (Feb. 3), Pittsburgh (Feb. 8) and Ohio State (Feb. 10) before ending their regular season with a home dual against Rider (Feb. 17) and a trip to Rutgers (Feb. 24). The Illini, Hawkeyes, Panthers and Buckeyes all finished in the Top 10 in the final NWCA/USA Today Coaches’ Poll last season.
Iowa returns five All-Americans from last season while Illinois and Ohio State each return four wrestlers who finished in the top eight of the NCAA Finals. In addition, The Illini and Buckeyes combined to send three other wrestlers to the Round of 12. The Panthers will likely send two of their own All-Americans back to the mats this season along with two others who finished in the Round of 12.
Penn State returns two national champions in juniors David Taylor (165) and Ed Ruth (174) in addition to national runners-up sophomore Nico Megaludis (125) and senior Quentin Wright (184) and third-place finisher sophomore Dylan Alton (157).
The Cael Sanderson-led Nittany Lions will host seven home duals. Those dates will be filled by teams that finished a combined 60-60 in duals last season.
Lehigh and Indiana posted winning dual meet records and will visit Rec Hall on Nov. 16 and Dec. 9, respectively, while Nebraska, which ended last season at 15-4, will enter Rec Hall on Jan. 27.
Penn State fills out its schedule with matchups at West Virginia (Nov. 18) and at Purdue (Jan. 20) and home matches against Lock Haven (Dec. 15), Michigan State (Jan. 13) and Wisconsin (Jan. 18).
A familiar face will await them to end the season in New Jersey, as last year’s 149-pound Big Ten and national champion Frank Molinaro is now an assistant coach at Rutgers.
The Nittany Lions kick off their season with an intrasquad dual on Nov. 1. They will host the Nittany Lion Open on Dec. 2 and try to defend their Southern Scuffle championship in Chattanooga, Tenn., the weekend of Jan. 1.
Travis Johnson can be reached at 231-4629. Follow him on Twitter @traviswjohnson_