November 03, 2016

It's extremely rare for an Olympic medalist to return to school to wrestle. This season, there are two.

Two-time world champion Kyle Snyder of Ohio State, who became the youngest Olympic champion in U.S. history in Rio , and teammate J'Den Cox of Missouri, who won bronze in Brazil, will attempt to defend their NCAA titles.

''It doesn't really matter who I'll be competing against in college,'' Snyder said. ''I'll be trying to work on the things that I know I need to improve on so I can be the best wrestler in the world again.''

Snyder and Cox are just the sixth and seventh collegiate wrestlers - and the first freestyle athletes in 32 years - to attempt to follow up an Olympic medal with an NCAA title.

But neither of their schools is favored to win the national championship.

Oklahoma State, led by legendary Olympic champion and coach John Smith, was atop the NWCA Division I coaches' poll released Wednesday. Penn State, winners of five of the last six national championships, was second, followed by Iowa. The Buckeyes were fourth, and Cox's Tigers were fifth.

Here are the story lines to follow as the wrestling season gets underway Friday with the 51st annual NWCA All-Star Classic in Cleveland:

COWBOY UP?

Oklahoma State returns a slew of All-Americans led by 141-pound NCAA champion Dean Heil and Joe Smith, a national runner-up in 2016. The big challenge in Stillwater will be replacing three-time NCAA champion Alex Dieringer, but the Cowboys are as deep as anyone.

''We've got a lot of guys ranked from No. 5 to No. 12, which isn't a bad place. We just need to move them into that top-tier status. We've been pretty successful doing that,'' Smith said.

CAEL'S KIDS

Penn State might not be first in November. But it could easily be first by March. National champion Zain Retherford and three other returning All-Americans will anchor a roster loaded with promising young wrestlers.

''Our goal is always the same. To be the best we can be,'' Sanderson said.

HAWK DROUGHT

Iowa hasn't won the whole thing since 2010 - an eternity for a program with a statue of Dan Gable outside of its gym. But the Hawkeyes might just be closing in on the Nittany Lions after years of falling short in the Big Ten and nationally. Iowa has five All-Americans on its roster and should be a tough out in dual meets.

''We like our guys,'' Hawkeyes coach Tom Brands said. ''We need to grow up in some areas, and those guys know who they are. And there is more help from the roster than maybe in the past.''

SNYDER'S NEW STATUS

Just because Snyder will be back in Columbus doesn't mean he'll be with the Buckeyes all winter. He is now the star of the U.S. wrestling team, and as such he's been asked to travel extensively with the Americans. Trips to Russia, Ukraine and Iran are on Snyder's calendar ahead of the NCAA meet. Still, Snyder might be the biggest favorite to win a collegiate title in the history of the sport.

COX'S RETURN

Cox won a bronze at the Rio Games despite tearing the meniscus in his knee during the tournament. He's expected to be fine for 2016-17 though, and that's bad news for his weight class. But as ferocious as Cox appears on the mat, he's a softie off of it. Check out Cox nailing an acapella version of Justin Beiber's "Love Yourself" from earlier this year.

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