Penn State Wrestling

How will Penn State wrestling do this season? Here are our predictions

Penn State’s Jason Nolf reacts to his win over NCST’s Hayden Hidley in the 157 finals during the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships Saturday, March, 17, 2018 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
Penn State’s Jason Nolf reacts to his win over NCST’s Hayden Hidley in the 157 finals during the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships Saturday, March, 17, 2018 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. psheehan@centredaily.com

In less than a week, Penn State kicks off its regular dual season with an afternoon contest against Kent State at Rec Hall.

Expectations for the Nittany Lions are high, as they’re coming off their seventh national championship in the past eight years and their third undefeated regular season with four past individual national champs and seven All-Americans.

With some new faces in the lighter weight classes and shakeup in the heavier weight classes, this Penn State lineup will look different from last year. Can the newcomers step up enough to help Penn State’s core carry the team to its fourth undefeated season and fourth straight NCAA title?

Here are the predictions from Centre Daily Times reporters Lauren Muthler, Nate Cobler and Josh Moyer for this season.

Muthler: Enjoy Nolf and Nickal’s senior seasons

NCAA tournament finish: 1st place

Big Ten tournament finish: 1st place

Dual record: 14-0

National champs: Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Bo Nickal

Number of All-Americans: 8

New wrestler to watch: Brady Berge

Most improved: Nick Lee

Biggest question mark: Will the underclassmen set up Penn State for another dominant run once these seniors graduate?

Outlook: In 2014, coach Cael Sanderson made the decision not only to redshirt true freshmen studs Nolf, Nickal and Nick Nevills, but to also sit rising sophomore star Zain Retherford and three-time All-American and two-time finalist Nico Megaludis. That decision cost the Nittany Lions their fifth straight NCAA title, but set them up for the next four years of dominance. This season will mark the last, and possibly one of the most dominant — even without Retherford — in that four-year era.

Penn State opens the season as heavy favorites — the unanimous No. 1 in National Wrestling Coaches Association poll, and with 140.5 points in InterMat’s Tournament Power Index to second-place Ohio State’s 99. Penn State also has a chance this season to do something rare and have three three-time national champs, with Nolf, Nickal and Vincenzo Joseph.

At first glance, before the emergence of true freshmen and under-the-radar stars, it does not appear that any NCAA team will match up quite as well with the Nittany Lions as the 2017-18 Buckeyes, but a lot can happen between now and March. Two of their trickier duals might actually end up being a pair in December — Arizona State and Lehigh — as with young talent, there could be a few matches, specifically at 125 and 133 pounds, that Penn State loses in the beginning of the season but ends up winning by the end.

Of the new faces to the lineup, redshirt freshman Berge, should he get the start at 149, should have the most opportunity to make an impact. Retherford’s departure has left that weight class wide open, and the Junior World bronze medalist has shown he can compete against high-level competition. How he fares, along with true sophomore Lee and likely true freshmen starters Roman Bravo-Young and Gavin Teasdale, could determine a lot about the next four years for the Nittany Lions.

Cobler: Scuffle will shed some clarity on this Nittany Lion squad

NCAA tournament finish: 1st place

Big Ten tournament finish: 1st place

Dual record: 14-0

National champs: Jason Nolf, Mark Hall, Bo Nickal

Number of All-Americans: 8

New wrestler to watch: Roman Bravo-Young

Most improved: Nick Lee

Biggest question mark: Can the Nittany Lions replace the bonus points of Zain Retherford?

Outlook: This will turn out to be one of the more interesting years for Penn State. Not only will the Nittany Lions begin the post-Retherford era but their 45-dual win streak could snap at any point. There were several rumors swirling around during the offseason about Lee possibly redshirting and Anthony Cassar moving up to heavyweight. So, what’s going to happen? Personally, how Penn State performs at the Southern Scuffle at the beginning of the new year will determine how the rest of the season will go.

The Nittany Lions will enter 2019 at 4-0 and will survive another Lehigh scare, and with another Keystone Classic crown under their belt. Penn State will capture their eighth Southern Scuffle title in nine years to begin 2019. It won’t be until February that Michigan could snap the dual streak wins with the bevy of wrestlers they have inside the Bryce Jordan Center, of all places. The Nittany Lions sneak by the Wolverines and finish the year undefeated again, move all 10 wrestlers out of the Big Ten tournament and into the NCAA tournament in Pittsburgh. Nolf and Nickal finish off their collegiate careers with their third straight titles to join Retherford and Ed Ruth as the only Nittany Lions to have three NCAA crowns.

Moyer: Easiest preseason prediction ever — national champs

NCAA tournament finish: 1st place

Big Ten tournament finish: 1st place

Dual record: 14-0

National champs: Jason Nolf, Mark Hall, Vincenzo Joseph, Bo Nickal

Number of All-Americans: 9

New wrestler to watch: Roman Bravo-Young

Most improved: Nick Lee

Biggest question mark: How will the weight changes impact Anthony Cassar, Bo Nickal and Shakur Rasheed?

Outlook: We’ve got a consensus here — and it really shouldn’t be a surprise. We all picked Penn State to win the national title, the Big Ten tournament and go 14-0 in duals.

There’s a simple reason for that: The Nittany Lions are the best team in the country, and everybody knows it. Literally. They’re also the unanimous No. 1 in the NWCA Poll. Even without Retherford, Penn State still holds the NCAA’s top wrestler in Nolf, who had a shot to challenge Retherford for the Hodge Trophy last season before an injury. And, from top to bottom, this roster is even stronger than last season.

It doesn’t hurt that Ohio State’s lineup has taken a hit without the likes of heavyweight Kyle Snyder. And ditto for Michigan and Adam Coon.

Despite some potential weight-class changes, Penn State still has the ability to boast an All-American at every class. And Cael Sanderson has been so masterful that he’s even put Alabama football’s Nick Saban to shame. Saban has six career national championships; Sanderson was won seven of the last eight. So it’s really not much of a stretch to think he’ll make it eight of the last nine. That’s why no one, nearly anywhere, is picking against him or the Nittany Lions.

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