March 18, 2015

There's no odds-on favorite for the NCAA team wrestling title for the first time in years.

About the only thing everyone seems to agree on is that it won't be Penn State.

The four-time champions Nittany Lions likely will see their run atop college wrestling come to an end during this year's national meet, which begins Thursday through Saturday in St. Louis.

In place of Penn State is a trio of favorites: Iowa, Ohio State and Missouri, with Cornell, Minnesota and Oklahoma State close behind.

The Hawkeyes spent most of the season ranked first. But Missouri beat Iowa last month, and Ohio State managed to tie the Hawkeyes for the Big Ten title.

Here are some things to consider ahead of what promises to be one of the most unpredictable national meets in years.

HUNGRY HAWKEYES: The Hawkeyes, who've won 23 national titles but none since 2010, are as deep as any team in the country. All 10 of their starting wrestlers qualified for the NCAAs, and eight of them are seeded in the top 10. Cory Clark, Mike Evans and heavyweight Bobby Telford are No. 3 seeds, and Brandon Sorenson and Josh Dziewa could also push for national titles. ''I think we have some tough customers that are geared the right way as far as individual goals,'' Iowa coach Tom Brands said. ''The difference in close matches is, really, how bad do you want it?''

HOPEFUL BUCKEYES: Ohio State will send seven seeded wrestlers to St. Louis, a group headlined by senior Logan Stieber at 141 pounds. Stieber was recently named the most dominant wrestler in Division I by the NCAA and is seeking to become just the fourth four-time national champion. The Buckeyes also have a pair of underclassmen, Kyle Snyder and Nathan Tomasello, who could end up national champions by Saturday night.

TIGER TOWN? On paper, the Tigers could easily be considered the team to beat. But the Tigers have never won the NCAA team title before - and Saturday's evening session at the NCAAs will be a wrestler's biggest stage, outside of the Olympics and the world championships. Still, Missouri has three top seeds in defending J'Den Cox at 197 pounds and redshirt seniors Alan Waters (125 pounds) and Drake Houdashelt (149). The Tigers should also have plenty of crowd support. But the bordering Hawkeyes, the nation's leader in attendance nine years running, will undoubtedly pack the Scottrade Center as well.

SO THERE'S A CHANCE: Cornell was third in the final NWCA/USA Today coaches' poll released on Feb. 24 and has three returning All-Americans, including 184-pound favorite Gabe Dean. Minnesota finished third at the Big Ten meet and is led by Dylan Ness, top-seeded Chris Dardanes and three other All-Americans. Oklahoma State won the Big 12 for the 13th time and is led by 165-pounder Alex Dieringer, who won it all at 157 pounds last season. ''I think we have three guys projected to be All-Americans and that doesn't put you in any type of race, so we will need some surprises,'' Oklahoma State coach John Smith said.

INDIVIDUAL GLORY: Every NCAA meet seems to have a few nationally prominent wrestlers from programs that aren't considered contenders. Heavyweight Nick Gwiazdowski of North Carolina State is second only to Stieber in the NCAA's most dominant rankings. Nebraska's Robert Kokesh is unbeaten, and Iowa State's Kyven Gadson is poised to become a three-time All-American.


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