Is there a better way to begin the month of February than to watch two top-5 wrestling programs square off?
Well, certainly not for wrestling fans, plenty of whom will pack the Bryce Jordan Center to watch the Nittany Lions take on No. 4 Michigan at 7 p.m. Friday.
It might not be as as good of a dual as Ohio State last year in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2, but there are still five No. 1 ranked wrestlers to take the mat. There could be a total of 16 ranked wrestlers who compete.
There could also be six matches that would pit ranked wrestler versus ranked wrestler, but injuries may derail those.
Here’s how we think Friday night will play out, starting with 125 pounds:
125 pounds: PSU’s Devin Schnupp (6-10) vs. No. 15 Drew Mattin (11-5) or Austin Assad (8-4)
Muthler: If the dual goes in the traditional order, Penn State will likely start out in a deficit after the first two bouts. The question is how much of a deficit. The Wolverine is favored in this match, but fortunately for Schnupp, Mattin isn’t one to score a lot of bonus points, with each of his wins this season coming by way of decision. Schnupp should have an added boost of confidence this week, coming off his first Big Ten win, and, as evidenced by several last-second reversals, the sophomore is not one to give up on a fight. Look for this one to end up a close match.
Prediction: Mattin by decision, 9-6
Cobler: I know Schnupp is coming off his first Big Ten dual victory. However, no matter who the Wolverines throw out there, I don’t see Schnupp continuing his winning ways. Mattin, a sophomore, made the NCAA championships last year but went 2-2 and didn’t place. He made it by finishing 10th in the Big Ten championships, not terribly impressive considering the Big Ten got 10 guys. The pair squared off last season and Mattin won 8-0. Assad missed all of last season due to an injury. Assad is 8-5 this year, and when you compare similar opponents, he holds a 3-5 mark to Schnupp’s 1-6 record.
Prediction: Mattin or Assad by decision, 5-3
133 pounds: PSU’s No. 15 Roman Bravo-Young (15-2) vs. No. 1 Stevan Micic (9-0)
Muthler: The key question here is whether or not Penn State’s true freshman will wrestle after sustaining an apparent leg injury just last week. Coach Cael Sanderson on Tuesday said Bravo-Young had been responding well since his injury and “there’s a good chance he could be ready to roll.” However, wrestling the No. 1 guy is a tall order for someone rehabbing a fresh injury. If Bravo-Young doesn’t wrestle, it seems unlikely Penn State will throw in a backup to face last year’s NCAA runner-up. With Bravo-Young’s long-term success and healing in mind, it seems likely the coaches will decide to sit him.
Prediction: Micic by forfeit
Cobler: This one is going to be short and sweet. Fans are not going to get to see these two square off. After watching how Bravo-Young got injured just a week ago, I don’t see how he can go this week. If he does, it will be quite a surprise. Micic rolled to the 133 finals last season before falling to South Dakota State’s Seth Gross in the finals. It’s a bummer this showdown won’t happen, but maybe it will happen in the postseason.
Prediction: Micic by forfeit
141 pounds: PSU’s No. 7 Nick Lee (19-1) vs. No. 5 Kanen Storr (17-3)
Muthler: This bout is the last in which Michigan will be favored, in terms of rankings. However, this match is certainly within Lee’s grasps to win. The last time the two wrestled was in the 2016 Fargo finals (freestyle), in which Lee came out on top 11-10 after an action-packed battle. As we know, Lee has a relentless offensive pace and was finishing on nice, clean shots last weekend when he notched a pair of major decisions against Indiana and Purdue. Storr will be hungry to get back on track after getting tech’d last weekend by Ohio State’s No. 2 Joey McKenna, but if Lee’s able to finish the way he did last weekend, Storr’s defense won’t be able to keep pace.
Prediction: Lee by decision, 12-8
Cobler: These two are a combined 36-4. Yes, 36-4. Storr has the most losses at three. All of them have come against some pretty tough competition. He’s coming off an 18-3 technical fall loss to Ohio State’s McKenna, so you know Storr is itching to get back in the win column. His other two losses came against Illionis’ Mike Carr, who upset Lee in the Big Ten championships last year, and Missouri’s Jaydin Eierman. Those losses were identical 3-2 decisions.
Prediction: Lee by major decision, 11-3
149 pounds: PSU’s No. 11 Brady Berge (14-2) or Jarod Verkleeren 14-4 vs. Malik Amine (7-2) or Ben Lamantina (5-4)
Muthler: Although Penn State fans’ most recent memory of Amine might be of Zain Retherford wrapping his arm tight around Amine’s chin before turning him to his back for the pin — Michigan’s elder Amine brother should not be underestimated. All of Amine’s losses this season, with the exception of an injury default, have been against ranked wrestlers, and he’s knocked off guys before. This is certainly one match Michigan could take from the Nittany Lions. Going off the assumption Penn State will wrestle Berge after giving his a rest week last weekend, the freshman should be rested and ready to face the challenge. Expect this to be a gritty and hard-fought decision.
Prediction: Berge by decision, 7-5
Cobler: Amine is getting back into the swing of things after missing the entire month of December. Amine had a six-match win streak snapped last week in a 17-4 loss to Ohio State’s Micah Jordan. Lamantia is only 5-4. This match is very similar to 125 pounds except in Penn State’s favor. It isn’t going to matter who the Wolverines stick out there; the Nittany Lions will win this matchup. If it’s Berge, it’s coming with bonus points. If it’s Verkleeren, it’s a regular decision.
Prediction: Berge by major decision, 13-4
157 pounds: PSU’s No. 1 Jason Nolf (18-0) vs. No. 5 Alec Pantaleo (11-4)
Muthler: The last time these two wrestled, Pantaleo did what few have done and took Nolf down twice. He was in a position to win, before choosing bottom in the third and getting ridden out. Pantaleo has likely learned from that mistake, but again, so, probably has Nolf. Nolf isn’t one to let those who test him go unpunished. The two-time national champ has looked far superior to other top-5 competition this season, easily handling No. 2 Tyler Berger and No. 3 Ryan Deakin. No. 5 Pantaleo shouldn’t be much different in Nolf’s final BJC dual.
Prediction: Nolf by major decision, 18-6
Cobler: Nolf takes part in his third top-5 match this season. All of the matches came in a span of 20 days. But, if anyone can handle that, it’s Nolf. Pantaleo is an interesting matchup for Penn State’s pin leader. It was rumored about a month ago that Pantaleo might drop down to 149 pounds; of course he didn’t, outside of Midlands. The duo wrestled against each other last year when the Nittany Lions went to Ann Arbor. Nolf edged Pantaleo 6-4. Comparing how the two did against similar opponents, Nolf is a perfect 26-0 with Pantaleo’s record sitting at 20-8. This year’s match won’t be as close as last season.
Prediction: Nolf by major decision, 15-5
165 pounds: PSU’s No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (16-0) vs. No. 7 Logan Massa (12-3)
Muthler: When Joseph first beat Massa in the 2017 NCAA semifinals, it was a really big deal — for about five minutes until the Nittany Lion pinned the reigning national champ in the finals. But since then, Massa vs. Joseph hasn’t held quite the same allure. Even though their last match was close, Joseph has made much wider strides as a wrestler, as he keeps figuring out new ways to win. The two-time national champ might not always win by the biggest margins, but he figures out how to get the job done, which will likely be the case Friday. Plus, Joseph isn’t going to let himself get beat twice at the BJC.
Prediction: Joseph by decision, 8-5
Cobler: Oh, what a matchup! Yes, I know Joseph earned a major decision over Massa last season. However, Massa was just returning to the mat after being out most of the season with a knee injury. This will be the fourth time the two face off on the mat collegiately. Two of the previous three came in the postseason. Joseph is 3-0 with last season’s major decision the only one with bonus points. The other two wins were both 5-4. The dual could hinge on this match, especially if it is as close as I’m predicting. Should Massa pull the upset, it may be the beginning of Michigan snapping the Nittany Lions’ 52 straight dual wins. But I think Joseph pulls it out in the end.
Prediction: Joseph by decision, 7-5
174 pounds: PSU’s No. 1 Mark Hall (18-0) vs. No. 3 Myles Amine (14-1)
Muthler: For the past two years, as Hall and Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia have battled at the top of 174, Amine has been right outside, knocking on the door. The Wolverine has given both of his fellow juniors close matches — Hall especially, losing by just a single point in each of their past two battles. However, Amine has not yet been able to crack either of them. While it’s not out of the question that Amine could break through and put himself in that finalist conversation this season, Hall still owns the advantage. Amine lost this season to Valencia, 6-4, and looked sluggish last weekend against Ohio State’s then-backup Ethan Smith. Hall already widened the point margin with another wrestler who always gives him a close match in Lehigh’s Jordan Kutler, and has the chance to do that again Friday.
Prediction: Hall by decision, 8-5
Cobler: This is like dessert. Should the dual began at 125 pounds, which wouldn’t surprise anyone, how about this one to follow Joseph-Massa IV? Amine has just one loss this year and it came against Valencia, which has lost to Hall already this year. To get a little scientific, one could call this the transitive property. Since Amine has lost to Valencia, Valencia has lost to Hall, Hall should have no problem beating Amine. This was true twice already as Hall has beaten Amine by one point each time. It should be true a third time.
Prediction: Hall by decision, 8-6
184 pounds: PSU’s No. 2 Shakur Rasheed (14-0) vs. J.T. Correll (0-4)
Muthler: This match, which a few weeks ago would’ve almost assuredly been in the win column for Penn State, now has an added level of intrigue as starter Shakur Rasheed has not wrestled in the past three duals. Although Sanderson did say he was “optimistic” that Rasheed would wrestle, he didn’t commit to it. If Rasheed is out, this could be a winnable match for freshman Mason Manville, who’s coming off a second-place finish in the Greco-Roman portion of the Dave Schultz Memorial tournament, despite going up two weight classes. Assuming we’ll see Rasheed, this bout could be over quickly.
Prediction: Rasheed by fall in 1:36
Cobler: Will Rasheed be back? One would have to think so as he hasn’t taken part in any Penn State dual since the win over Wisconsin on Jan. 13. This would be the best time to bring Rasheed back too. This weight class could be considered a hole in Michigan’s lineup. Correll, a freshman, has yet to win a match this year, but maybe coming back home can help. Correll grew up in Easton and went to Wyoming Seminary. If Rasheed doesn’t go, who could go out? Fans have seen Manville go up two weight classes and hang tough, and they’ve seen Francisco Bisono fill in. If it is Rasheed, here comes more bonus points. If it is anyone else, just three points coming Penn State’s way.
Prediction: Rasheed by fall in 1:40
197 pounds: PSU’s No. 1 Bo Nickal (17-0) vs. Jackson Striggow (10-6) or Andrew Davison (7-2)
Muthler: Since getting taken down with only seconds left against Nebraska, Nickal has been on a tear, and that’s not likely to change against Striggow on Friday. This is almost assuredly going to be bonus points for Penn State; the question is whether it’s 5 or 6.
Prediction: Nickal by fall in 1:30
Cobler: There really isn’t much to say about this one. Nickal should dominate with no problem. It will be to the point where Nickal moves into a four-way tie for second on the Nittany Lions’ all-time pin list. He’ll join David Taylor, Zain Retherford and Josh Moore with at least 53 career falls.
Prediction: Nickal by fall in 1:00
285 pounds: PSU’s No. 4 Anthony Cassar (16-1) vs. No. 8 Mason Parris (23-3)
Muthler: This is the match I found myself going back and forth on the most this week. If Michigan does pull an upset in a bout, my money is on heavyweight. However, I think Cassar is too quick on his feet and too strong for the freshman to take it this time. If Cassar does come up with the victory, it’ll be his biggest win of the season and get him back into the conversation as a title contender. How this match goes could be very telling to Cassar’s chances in the postseason. Either way, I’m looking at a one-takedown bout.
Prediction: Cassar by decision, 7-5
Cobler: What a way to end the dual then with Cassar vs. Parris. Parris was set to redshirt this season for Michigan. However, that got thrown out the window before the Wolverines took on Oregon State at the beginning of the new year. Parris’ redshirt came off, and he should have been tested right away against the Beavers’ Amar Dhesi. (Dhesi came from out of nowhere with an All-America finish last season at 285 pounds.) Parris cruised to an 11-4 decision over the All-American and has done continued to roll. These two are so similarly matched that it’s a toss-up, but I think Cassar’s experience will prevail.
Prediction: Cassar by decision, 11-8
Muthler: Penn State 31, Michigan 9
Despite Michigan’s lineup of seven ranked wrestlers — six in the top 10 and a No. 1 — the Nittany Lions can still, amazingly enough, leave the BJC with a blowout. Of course there are a few bouts I predicted for Penn State that Michgan could just as easily take — 141, 149 and 285 in particular — but I’m giving the Nittany Lions the home-gym edge. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, their best wrestlers, with the exception of Micic, all hit Penn State’s big guns, making it a very tough matchup for Michigan.
Cobler: Penn State 33, Michigan 9
The Bryce Jordan Center crowd will be stunned silent as the Nittany Lions drop the first two matches. If Schnupp can keep his match to just a decision or even major decision, Penn State will be fine. Should Schnupp get tech’d or pinned, the Wolverines could smell blood and go for the kill. Ultimately, the Nittany Lions’ upperweights will continue to prevail and keep their dual win streak going at 53 straight and 33 straight in the Big Ten.