Saturday night’s match between No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Ohio State is set up to be one of the greatest duals that college wrestling has ever seen.
Seven NCAA champs, five No. 1 wrestlers and 17 top-20 competitors will descend on Rec Hall at 8 p.m.
Bragging rights are on the line, national title implications are waiting to be revealed, and the InterMat and NWCA rankings are ready to be rocked. So, to prepare for one of the most hyped Happy Valley sporting events of the year, we decided to break down, preview and predict each bout.
Here’s how we think Saturday night will play out, starting with 125 pounds:
125 pounds: PSU’s Devin Schnupp (1-14) or Carson Kuhn (0-0) vs. No. 4 Nathan Tomasello (4-1)
Lauren Muthler: Regardless of whom Penn State decides to start here, I see the Nittany Lions beginning the match in a 6-0 deficit. Penn State hasn’t been able to score any points at 125 all year, and I don’t see it starting against the 2015 NCAA champ and three-time All-American. Sure, Schnupp was able to keep off his back against Ethan Lizak, but Tomasello is a completely different animal. Prediction: Tomasello by fall
Josh Moyer: It’s possible that Kuhn finally gets the nod Saturday but, honestly, it really doesn’t matter this week. Tomasello seems fully recovered from his lower-body injury earlier in the season, and 125 has been the Achilles’ heel of the Nittany Lions all season. Schnupp has taken more shots and gotten more confident as the season’s gone on, but anything other than an Ohio State pin would have to be a moral victory for the Lions. Prediction: Tomasello by fall
133 pounds: PSU’s Corey Keener (12-5) vs. No. 2 Luke Pletcher (21-0)
Muthler: Keener has struggled in big matches this year, going 0-3 against ranked opponents, and Pletcher will by far be his toughest. There’s an opportunity for Ohio State to get bonus points here, but Pletcher has won most of his matches this year by decisions and Keener’s third-period rally against Mitch McKee last week shows he has what it takes to keep it close. Prediction: Pletcher by decision
Moyer: This match isn’t nearly as lopsided as the rankings might have you believe. Pletcher rarely blows anyone out — only two of his 21 matches featured falls — so bonus points should be hard to come by for the Buckeyes here, especially because Keener has shown flashes against top competition. That being said, it’s still obvious OSU has the advantage. Prediction: Pletcher by decision
141 pounds: PSU’s No. 6 Nick Lee (20-3) vs. No. 11 Joey McKenna (9-1)
Muthler: Without Jason Nolf to round out the “Big Five,” Penn State will need someone else to step up, and Lee is a prime candidate. Lee and McKenna are a little mismatched when it comes to size and style, but with being at home and with the sheer quantity of shots he takes per match, I’m giving Lee the advantage — with bonus points. Prediction: Lee by major decision
Moyer: Two of Lee’s losses came before Thanksgiving, and the true freshman has come a long way since then. He rarely allows takedowns, and he’s beaten the last two ranked wrestlers he faced — including Minnesota’s Tommy Thorn, who majored McKenna. Prediction: Lee by major decision
149 pounds: PSU’s No. 1 Zain Retherford (20-0) vs. No. 7 Ke-Shawn Hayes (21-3)
Muthler: Retherford was looking pretty frustrated in his bout at Rutgers last weekend, and I think the nation’s leader in bonus points will channel that frustration into his match on Saturday and use it to pin Hayes, who has struggled against ranked opponents. And if the coaches decide to bump Retherford up to 157 to take on Micah Jordan, I predict the same thing — a fall. Prediction: Retherford by fall
Moyer: I mean, it’s Retherford. Do I really need to say more than that? He recorded pins in 15 of his 20 matches this season, and he’s essentially a bunch of bonus points clothed in a singlet. He’s 56-0 in career dual meets — and I don’t see that ending Saturday. Prediction: Retherford by fall
157 pounds: PSU’s Bo Pipher (7-9) or Luke Gardner (6-4) vs. No. 5 Micah Jordan (19-3)
Muthler: Any way you spin it, losing Nolf was a big hit to Penn State’s chances in this dual meet. Regardless of whom Penn State puts out as his replacement, and regardless of where in the lineup, we’re looking at a five- or six-point swing. Where Nolf could have picked up bonus points against Jordan, his replacement will probably give up bonus points. Prediction: Jordan by technical fall
Moyer: Without Nolf, there’s only one way I see Penn State winning this bout: If Retherford moves up a weight class. Pipher is the likely starter here, and he just doesn’t have the resume to compete. You look at the best wrestlers he’s faced — Gordon Wolf (Lehigh), Ty Buckiso (The Citadel), Gary Dinmore (Rider), Jonathan Furnas (Cornell) and even Penn State’s own Jarod Verkleeren — and he lost all those. He’s just not ready for this level of competition. Prediction: Jordan by technical fall
165 pounds: PSU’s No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (15-0) vs. No. 14 Te-Shan Campbell (14-6)
Muthler: With four losses in a row — including a stall out — Campbell has been on a downward swing. Will Ohio State give him another chance against a big opponent, or bring out Corey Burcher, who had an impressive showing against Purdue? Either way, I see Joseph coming out with bonus points. Prediction: Joseph by fall
Moyer: These two met last season, when Campbell was still with Pitt, and Joseph won by decision 9-5. With the way Joseph wrestles inside, and with Campbell coming off a stall out, I think history’s going to repeat itself — mostly. Expect bonus points this time around. Prediction: Joseph by major decision
174 pounds: PSU’s No. 2 Mark Hall (21-0) vs. No. 3 Bo Jordan (18-2)
Muthler: What happens between Penn State and Ohio State at 174 and 184 at the dual, Big Tens and NCAAs will be a big factor in deciding each of those. Hall and Jordan and Bo Nickal and Myles Martin are so close that either outcome is essentially a coin flip. But with the match being at Rec Hall, I’m going to give Penn State the slight advantage. Hall has been looking good from all positions lately, and Jordan’s missed a few matches. Both times these two have wrestled have been close, but Hall won their last bout, and I see him eking out another decision Saturday. Prediction: Hall by decision
Moyer: I don’t think we can downplay the importance of this bout. These two are pretty evenly matched and split their two bouts last season by decision — with Hall winning in the NCAAs, 5-2, and Jordan getting the best at Big Tens, 6-4 (sudden victory). This could go either way, but Hall’s versatility gives him the slight edge. Prediction: Hall by decision
184 pounds: PSU’s No. 1 Bo Nickal (20-0) vs. No. 2 Myles Martin (22-0)
Muthler: This is, by far, the most difficult to predict. Nickal leads the series between the two 4-2, but each time they’ve matched up has been significantly different. Both are going to shoot a lot, and I’m going to give Nickal the advantage in the scrambles. Prediction: Nickal by decision
Moyer: This might be the hardest bout to get a read on. Sure, these two have faced each other plenty — but Nickal is a wild card. He’s gotten bonus points in 85 percent of his bouts, but he’s also coming off a 6-5 decision against Rutgers’ Nicholas Gravina. He also nearly fell to Lehigh’s Ryan Preisch. Martin has shown more consistency, and that’s why I’ve got to go with him. Prediction: Martin by decision
197 pounds: PSU’s No. 10 Shakur Rasheed (15-2) or Anthony Cassar (15-2) vs. No. 1 Kollin Moore (18-0)
Muthler: Who Penn State chooses to wrestle against the No. 1 Moore is anyone’s bet — but my money’s on Rasheed. Particularly with Nolf out, Penn State is going to want its best chance at an upset, and Rasheed is it. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that Moore overlooks Rasheed and gets caught in the cross-face cradle. However, I think Moore will figure out how to adjust and come out with the decision — this time. Prediction: Moore by decision
Moyer: Cael Sanderson has been giving Rasheed the tougher bouts lately, so it stands to reason that Rasheed would get the nod again Saturday. He’s been one of the bigger surprises this season for Penn State, and I don’t doubt he’ll finish the year as an All-American. I like Rasheed a lot, and I’d take him over just about anybody else — but not Moore and not now, when Shakur acknowledged he’s still coming in a little under weight. Prediction: Moore by decision
285 pounds: PSU’s No. 6 Nick Nevills (20-3) vs. No. 1 Kyle Snyder (6-0)
Muthler: If social media is any indication, Snyder will be gunning for a smackdown. Last time the two wrestled, Nevills was able to overcome an early deficit and keep the match to a major decision. After a mid-season slump, Nevills has looked good of late out of all three positions. He’ll ultimately have trouble attacking Snyder, but I think he’ll be able to defend the takedowns long enough to wrestle the full seven minutes. Prediction: Snyder by major decision
Moyer: Nevills brushed off the trash talk from Snyder this week — Snyder tweeted Wednesday there’s no team he’d “like to destroy more” than Penn State — but Snyder can back all that up. He’s the best in the world. Snyder won by major decision in their meeting last year, and I’m expecting more of the same this year. Prediction: Snyder by major decision
Muthler: Penn State 22, Ohio State 21
When I tallied up my final score, I was actually surprised to find I came out with Penn State on top. The bouts at 141, 174 and 184 are key, and Penn State will have to sweep all three if they want any shot of winning without an upset at either 133 or 197. Bonus points will also be crucial on Saturday, as Penn State will not only have to make up for the points lost by having Nolf on the bench, but also for the bonus points that will most assuredly be given up at 125 and heavyweight. But as the team that leads the nation in bonus points will be wrestling in its home arena, I’m giving Penn State the benefit of the doubt.
Moyer: Ohio State 24, Penn State 17
To me, this entire dual is turned upside down because of Nolf’s injury. There’s just no way Micah Jordan is falling to Pipher or Gardner. If Nolf was here, I would’ve given him a bonus-point victory over Jordan — and that would’ve handed the Nittany Lions at least a two-point win. If Nolf does indeed return for the postseason, like Sanderson indicated, I’d take the Nittany Lions in a rematch. But on Saturday? The No. 2 Buckeyes have the advantage.