After the abrupt ending to the 2019-20 wrestling season that had Iowa as the No. 1 team in the nation and the favorite to win the NCAA team title at the end of March, it’s no secret how the Hawkeyes square up against teams for this upcoming season.
With 90 percent of the lineup returning from the reigning Big Ten Champions and the addition of three-time All-American transfer Jaydin Eierman, the Hawkeyes have a chance to be even more dominant than they were a year before.
Penn State, however, has been at the top of the NCAA for eight of the past nine championships, so it’s just as important to keep an eye on the talent these opponents have rising throughout the season.
The Nittany Lions were also the only team to give the Hawkeyes a challenge in Carver-Hawkeye Arena last season, but ultimately fell to the No. 2 spot in the country as Iowa took the dual, 19-17.
A big blow to the Nittany Lions a few weeks earlier was the official loss of heavyweight Anthony Cassar to injury for the remainder of the season, and that put them at a disadvantage when the dual came down to the heavyweight match.
Now, Cassar’s career in a Penn State singlet seems to be over, and he’s not the only powerhouse wrestler that the Nittany Lions will be without this upcoming season.
At 174, Mark Hall drops out of the lineup after finishing his final collegiate year as Big Ten champion. He lost his regular-season bout with Iowa in what was Michael Kemerer’s best match all season. Hall then beat the Pennsylvania native for the Big Ten title and set up a possible NCAA final bout for the ages.
Hall-Kemerer wasn’t the first big Iowa-Penn State finals match of Big Tens, either. At 165, Vincenzo Joseph and Alex Marinelli squared off in the second-straight conference title match. Joseph took the regular season bout against Marinelli, but Iowa’s Bull took home the win when it mattered to be the back-to-back Big Ten 165-pound champion.
The most notable names returning to Penn State are Roman Bravo-Young and Nick Lee, both of which made the Big Ten finals matches of their respective weights – 133 and 141 – but failed to take home a title.
Bravo-Young memorably put Austin DeSanto in a cradle and ended the match after the Iowa 133-pounder tweaked his knee and was forced into injury default. The two then faced each other again at Big Tens, with Bravo-Young advancing through to the finals. Lee never faced Iowa’s Max Murin at 141.
Also returning for the Nittany Lions is sophomore Aaron Brooks, who despite being a No. 9-ranked freshman on the powerhouse team, upset then-No. 6 Abe Assad in a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena to force the Hawkeyes into back-to-back must-win matches.
With Penn State’s lineup significantly thinned from the squad that put up numbers against Iowa last season and the addition of multiple new freshman faces, the structure of the Big Ten will look a lot different come championship season.