I'm not predicting this will be the top seven in order, but I believe these seven teams have the best chance for winning the national title. They are Oklahoma State, Boise State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Rutgers, Cornell and Iowa. I looked at the number of wrestlers that each school is bringing to Philadelphia and the road that each must take in their weight class. From there, I predicted how many points each wrestler would score, taking into account the possibility of them earning bonus points for major decisions and pins.
Here are the results of that analysis:
1. Cornell 77 points
2. Iowa 75
3. Penn State 73
4. Oklahoma State 71
5. Boise State 64
6. Oklahoma 62
7. Rutgers 58
Cornell has #11 Frank Perrelli. His big test will come in the second round against #6 seed Nicholas Bedelyon of Kent. Cornell's chances will improve dramatically if he can pull the upset. If not, Perrelli will likely drop down to eventually face either #8 Jarrod Patterson of Oklahoma, #9 Jonathon Morrison of Oklahoma State or possibly Boise State's Alan Bartelli.
Boise State: Bartelli could really help the Bronco cause if he can sneak past Patterson in the opening round. He has been wrestling well in the second half of the season. With Kirk Smith hobbled and his success very much in doubt, the unranked wrestlers on the Bronco team must step up for him--that's what teammates do. But if he loses to Patterson, that isn't going to hurt Boise State's chances. He simply drops down to wrestlebacks and it is there that he needs to win a couple matches.
Iowa: One of the Hawkeye's best shots in the Championships is #2 Matt McDonough. This guy is a pining machine with 13 of them this year. He has a good bracket with #7 Ryan Mango of Stanford his toughest opponent into the quarters. I see McDonough advancing to the championship match and have based the point system above on that. If he falters, Iowa could slip to #5.
Rutgers is represented by Joseph Langel. Langel could meet up with Bartelli in consolation--that match would be more critical for Boise State than it would be for Rutgers, but if Langel wins, the Scarlet Knights make a move upwards.
Penn State's Brad Pataky is unranked and faces #12 Jarrod Garnett of Virginia Tech. More than likely, Pataky will face Oregon State's Jason Lara. If Pataky can win a couple of matches, the Nittany Lions will make a charge.
Oklahoma: Patterson is a good hope for All-America status. He likely won't get by #1 Anthony Robles, so the match against #5 Zachary Sanders of Minnesota or #4 James Nicholson of Old Dominion will be huge for Oklahoma's chances.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys pin their hopes here on #9 Jonathon Morrison. If he can advance to the quarters, he very likely gets All-America status and gives his team a real shot.
Cornell: Grey has an interesting first-round match with
's Garrett Drucker, a known quantity to Oregon State fans. Grey has been out much of the season with injuries. The match with Carter would be for the upper hand as to which has the best chance to reach All-America status. If Grey loses there, he very likely would face #4 Boise State Graff of Tyler . That's a tough go but an opportunity for Cornell to pick up more team points. Because he hasn't wrestled much this year, I think Grey loses to either Drucker or Carter. Wisconsin
Iowa: Ramos has a pigtails match to get to Keller but should advance to a match against Long that would have important ramifications for both
and Penn State . Ramos earned a 3-2 win over Long earlier this season but he has a much tougher road to the quarters. Since I have those two teams neck-and-neck, a win would be huge, especially for Iowa . But I see Long getting redemption. Iowa
Cornell: Hicks Manson goes against Levi Jones and a great opportunity. Usually a match like this wouldn't happen until later in the tournament. If Manson wins, it would not bode well for the Broncos but would make the Big Red an overwhelming favorite for the title. I have Manson winning a couple of matches in consolation. How Manson does could be the difference between first and third.
Cornell: Dake faces Donnie Corby of
Central Michigan in the opening round. If both Dake and Parks win, the victor of that match would likely get #1 seed Darrion Caldwell. Cornell has a good team margin largely based on Dake reaching the semis.
Cornell: DJ Meagher has the opportunity of a lifetime going against Hall in the opening round. The Cornell program is strong, and that's an awful tough first match. If Hall wins, I see Meagher doing well in consolation, perhaps advancing to a match with Dong.
Cornell: The Big Red actually benefits in the team race by not having a lot of highly-ranked wrestlers. Why on earth would I say that? Because the team points are allocated by expectations. If you have three highly-ranked wrestlers, as Boise State does, the expectations are high for those wrestlers. And, there's not a whole lot of upside. If you are #1 or #2, there's only one way to go. But if you are #9, as Justin Kerber is here, you're going to score some points but the potential exists for a much greater return. The flip side is that if you slip up and lose one, it's not going to kill your team chances. Kerber will likely go against Rutgers' Scott Winston in another key match for the team race. Winston beat him in the conference championships. And there you have more potential points if Kerber can get the upset. As it is, he likely would face either #5 Colt Sponseller of Ohio State or #4 Josh Asper of Maryland in consolation.
Rutgers: Winston's route to All-American likely will go through Kerber one way or the other. Winston faces Michigan's Dan Yates in the opener before he gets his shot at Kerber. I have Winston advancing to the quarters against the #1 seed, Jordan Burroughs of Nebraska.
Boise State: OK, here is where Boise State gets a shot at potential points. Swartz is unranked and not expected to score huge points. If the Broncos are to make a serious run at the top five, here is one of their best chances. I think Kurt should have gotten an easier first match but such is the way it is. He meets #4 seed Asper. If he doesn't emerge victorious, Kurt shouldn't get too down for his real opportunity is in the wrestlebacks. He needs to beat Thomas Scotton first-off. The second match in consolation would be the most critical to boost Boise State's chances. He would face either #7 Shane Onufer of Wyoming or Missouri's #10 seed Zach Toal. A win there likely puts him against Buffalo's John-Martin Cannon, another unranked wrestler.
Oklahoma: The Sooners have high hopes for #3 seed Tyler Caldwell, who likely will meet up with #6 seed Dallas Bailey of Oklahoma State in a grudge match scheduled for the quarterfinal. #2 seed Andrew Howe is the top seed in the lower half of the bracket that stands in the way of a berth in the championship match.
Oklahoma State: The match referred to above presents the Cowboys with a great opportunity for increased points. You have a familiar opponent, one you have gotten to know over the years. A Bailey win really boosts OSU's chances of a team title. If Bailey has to go to consolation, he would likely face Wyoming's Shane Onufer and the winner there is one match away from All-America status.
Iowa: Aaron Janssen is the 11th-seed here for the Hawkeyes; he'll go against Peter Yates of Virginia Tech in the opening round. Janssen will get a crack at Bailey before Caldwell will. If Janssen goes to wrestlebacks, he has a fairly easy path to the round of 16, where he would have to take on either #4 Asper of Maryland or #5 Sponseller of Ohio State.
Iowa: Ethen Lofthouse gets the #9 seed here, and will face either Rob Morrison of Rider or Dorian Henderson of Missouri in the opening round. Lofthouse could be a real factor here for Iowa if he can get by #8 Mike Letts of Maryland. He could advance to a quarterfinal rivalry match against #1 Jonathan Reader of Iowa State. A trip to consolation could pit him against Ohio State's Nick Heflin.
Oklahoma State: #12 Mike Benefiel has a great shot here to pick up some additional points for the Cowboys. A very winnable match looms against #5 Christopher Henrich of Virginia in the second round, and #4 Colby Covington of Oregon State would await that winner. If Benefiel loses to Henrich, he very well could go against Boise State's Jacob Swartz.
Boise State: The motto in Philadelphia may be "As the Swartz brothers go, so go the Broncos." With Kirk Smith not even close to 100%, someone has to pick up the slack. And Boise State's best opportunity may rest with the Swartz brothers. Jacob goes against Matt Fullowan and if he can win that, a rematch with Covington. No matter what happens, Jake is going to get a shot at redemption either against Covington or against Benefiel, who beat him 4-3. Boise State is still reeling from the Stillwater disaster, and this would be a good shot at payback. The younger Swartz needs a couple of wins for Boise State to be a serious factor.
Cornell: #3 Mack Lewnes will be counted on to get the job done for Cornell to take home the title. I don't see any real problem for him until the semifinal with #2 Edward Ruth of Penn State. There you have another important match for the team title--more pressure perhaps on Penn State because a win by Lewnes would make it tough for anyone to catch Big Red.
Rutgers: Alex Caruso is unranked at 174, and he gets a real chance at additional points by facing #6 Ben Bennett in the opening round. Even if he can't get that done, he should win a couple to get him to a match with #8 Mike Letts of Maryland or Lofthouse of Iowa.
Penn State: #2 Edward Ruth sits at the bottom of the bracket. He should easily get to the quarters but we all know what a challenge Stanford's Nick Amuchastegui would present in that match. Besides pulling for a Pac-10 teammate, an Amuchastegui win would really help Boise State's cause in the team race.
Boise State: This is the moment of truth for the Broncos. I can't believe Coach Greg Randall seriously would let Kirk Smith risk a devastating injury if he wasn't close to 100%. And yet we all know he isn't. I'm sure Kirk wants to wrestle, but competing in the national championships isn't exactly the best way to heal a leg. Maybe the goal is just to see if he can get a win or two to help the team cause but...... Smith dropped all the way from #1 in the country to the #11 seed, and while that's probably fair given his condition, it also means he has to wrestle a better wrestler in the opening round. Diego Bencomo of Duke is that opening opponent and I doubt if Diego is going to treat Smith with kid gloves. Bencomo was the runner-up in the Atlantic Coast Conference this year. If Kirk loses the first round, does he then forfeit the rest of his matches as he did in the WAC Championships? We'll find out. If, however, he can get by Bencomo, he meets #6 Ryan Loder of UNI. The thought I had when looking at this bracket is there is Smith, who was favored to go all the way this year, and now all those higher seeded wrestlers are there and he could beat them all if he were healthy. Not only that, but he's the most experienced wrestler and the only senior in the top 20. I'm only giving Smith 1 1/2 points for wins. If he can somehow summon more, he helps Boise State. More important, he has to wrestle aggressively to avoid further injury. At this point, when he's there in Philadelphia, he's got to "let it all hang out".
Oklahoma State: #7 Chris Perry (23-5) is the wrestler who injured Smith, I think largely because he rode him for the entire period. He probably benefits most from Smith's injury, not only getting a higher seed but also set up to go against him in the semis if both wrestlers get that far. Perry would first face Nebraska's #10 seed Josh Ihnen. Interesting how many of these NCAA matchups are rematches of conference finals.
Penn State: Quentin Wright is the #9 seed here seems to have trouble with Minnesota's Kevin Steinhaus. Steinhaus won a 10-1 major but Wright came back for a 4-3 decision in the Big 10 championship. #1 Christopher Honeycutt of Edinboro awaits in the quarters. Joe LeBlanc is a solid wrestler from Wyoming that, should he wind up in consolation, may face Wright. I see Wright's best chance of scoring points by losing to Steinhaus, because he could get further in wrestlebacks than he would if he had to come back from a loss to Honeycutt and then take on LeBlanc.
Oklahoma: Erich Schmidtke is unranked and will meet Max Thomusseit of Pittsburgh in the first round. If he can prevail there, he would have to face #4 Travis Rutt of Wisconsin and that is where his dream would die. If Schmidtke does go to consolation fairly early, he would meet #12 Grant Gambrall of Iowa in another match important to the team race and a great opportunity for Schmidtke and the Sooners. Schmidtke scored a shocking 11-3 major over Oklahoma State's Perry earlier this year so he has great potential.
Iowa: Gambrall has a pigtail match against Corey Peltier of Maryland and then faces Austin Trotman of Appalachian State. Gambrall then would face LeBlanc of Wyoming, and that sets up a possible match with Schmditke.
Cornell: Sophomore Steve Bosak is the 3-seed at 184 and another wrestler that must come through for Cornell to win the title. He faces NIU's Brad Dieckhaus in the opening round and may meet Arizona State's Jake Meredith in the second round. A win there would put him against either Boise State's Smith or Oklahoma State's Perry, either of which would have important team score ramifications.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights get a lot of team points despite having several unranked or lower-seeded wrestlers and here's another--Daniel Rinaldi. Rinaldi sits in the lower half of the bracket against Ohio State's Cody Magrum. #2 Robert Hamlin of Lehigh is in his half of the bracket, but Rinaldi does have some chances in the lower half against Mike Larson of Missouri and Nebraska's Josh Ihnen.
Boise State: Matt Casperson wrestled well in the second half of the season. He's got to feel good about getting the invite and could be a difference-maker for the Broncos. Casperson has battled major injuries and were he 100%, I would expect him to do quite well. Again, Casperson represents those "potential points". He may or may not win his match against #7 Thomusseit of Pittsburgh. If he can, #10 Logan Brown of Purdue would be next. But, seeing as how Oklahoma State's Clayton Foster (the #2 seed) is a possible quarterfinal opponent, Casperson could do most of his damage in the wrestlebacks. Possible opponents there are Shawn Fendone of Edinboro, Nikolas Brown of Chattanooga and Brent Haynes of Missouri. All of those are unranked and for Boise State to have a good shot at the top five, I feel Matt has to win at least three matches.
Cornell: Cam Simaz is the #1 seed in this classification and gets Ryan Smith of Cal Poly in the first round. Simaz should emerge from that and reach the semifinals Friday night. I believe his opponent there will be Iowa's Luke Lofthouse, who was underrated in this seeding. I don't think Simaz will disappoint his team's chances--he'll score points no matter what.
Iowa: Lofthouse, as mentioned, is probably too low here at #5. He faces two Pac-10 opponents in a row in Riley of Orozco of Bakersfield and #12 Zack Giesen. Go Pac-10, right? But realistically, I see him knocking off both and then toppling #4 Dustin Kilgore of Kent to set up the aforementioned match with Simaz. That would assure him All-America status and after that, who knows?
Oklahoma State: The seven teams with the best chance at winning the title are the least represented at 197 than any other class. There are just four of them with wrestlers in the 197 division. Foster goes against Arizona State's Luke Macchiaroli in the opening round and should reach the championship round. A stumble would strike a severe blow to the Cowboys' championship hopes.
If the race for the team title is still up in the air, six of the seven top teams have wrestlers entered in the heavyweight classification. In other words, if Cornell hasn't already wrapped up the team title by now, they aren't going to win it.
Oklahoma State: Blake Rosholt meets David Marone of Virginia Tech in the opening round, with the winner getting #1 Zachery Rey of Lehigh. In consolation, Rosholt could face either #8 Anthony Nelson of Minnesota or #9 Cameron Wade of Penn State and that latter match may very well decide if Oklahoma State has a good chance at the team title.
Penn State: Wade will take on the winner of the pigtail between Jeremy Johnson of Ohio and Oregon State's Clayton Jack. It probably won't happen, but I see Jack as having a chance here, which obviously would help Boise State's team chances. If Wade gets past that match, he would likely meet Nelson for the right to face Rey in the quarters.
Boise State: J.T. Felix is one of the unsung heroes of the Boise State squad. Few probably expected him to get here, but his performance at the Pac-10's earned him a shot. Felix will take on #5 seed Dominque Bradley of Missouri. Like several of the Broncos, Felix's real chance to help the team is not in his first match but on consolation. He is supposed to lose to Bradley, but Felix could get the team a couple of valuable wins if he can knock off Hofstra's Paul Snyder and Indiana's Ricardo Alcala.
Oklahoma: Nathan Fernandez draws the 10th-seed at heavyweight and will take on Peter Sturgeon in the opening round. Fernandez would then meet up with Iowa's Blake Rasing in a crucial match with the winner getting Central Michigan's Jarod Trice, the #2 seed.
Iowa: Blake Rasing has earned the #7 seed and should meet up with Trice. If he goes to consolation, he would face either #8 Anthony Nelson of Minnesota or #9 Cameron Wade of Penn State, and the latter could help decide final team positioning.
Rutgers: Dominick Russo III gets the #4 seed and Levi Cooper of Arizona State in the opening round. I don't see Russo having a problem until perhaps quarters, when he would likely meet Bradley of Missouri. Russo is one of Rutger's best shots at a championship.
Watch this blog in the days to come. I will give a round-by-round projection of how each team should be doing so we can keep track of their progress.