Three hundred and thirty Division I wrestlers from around the nation will converge on the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa this week to determine who will be crowned champions in 10 weight classes.
This year's championship has the potential of culminating with one of the most anticipated clashes in college wrestling history. Cornell's Kyle Dake, a three-time NCAA champion, will look to become the first wrestler in history to win four NCAA titles in four different weight classes. Standing in Dake's way will likely be David Taylor, of Penn State, who was last year's 165 pound champion and the 2012 Hodge Trophy winner, which is college wrestling's equivalent to the Heisman Trophy.
The festivities will begin on Thursday, March 21 and conclude on Saturday, March 23. The top eight finishers in each class will earn the honor of being named All-Americans.
The 2012 Championships, held in St. Louis, Missouri, showcased the desire and determination of these tough athletes. Individual champions were: 125 - Matt McDonough from Iowa (returning as the number three seed), 133 - Logan Steiber from the Ohio State University (returning as the number one seed), 141 - Kellen Russell from Michigan, 149 - Frank Molinaro of Penn State, 157 - Kyle Dake from Cornell (returning as the number one seed at 165), 165 - David Taylor from Penn State (returning as the number two seed), 174 - Ed Ruth from Penn State (returning as the number one seed at 184), 184 - Steve Bosak of Cornell (returning as the number four seed), 197 - Cam Simaz from Cornell and 285 - Tony Nelson from Minnesota (returning as the number two seed).
Last year's team title was won by the Penn State Nittany Lions who finished 25.5 points in front of second-place Minnesota. It was the second title in as many years for Penn State and their head coach Cael Sanderson. The Nittany Lions have a real shot at winning it all again, as they qualified all 10 of their wrestlers for the tournament, eight seeded.
The brackets have been drawn and exciting matchups await the country's collegiate wrestling fans. The following is a preview for each weight class with our favored picks and dark horses.
125 LBS - Even with two-time and returning champion Matt McDonough (Iowa) in the bracket, this weight class is wide open. McDonough was defeated twice this year by the number two seed, Jesse Delgado (Illinois) and once by number one seed Alan Waters (Missouri). There are five wrestlers who have a legitimate chance to bring home the championship: McDonough, Delgado, Waters, Nico Megaludis (Penn State, last year's runner-up) and Jarrod Garnett (Virginia Tech). Despite his number two seed, given his performance at last week's Big Ten Championships, Delgado is likely to come out on top this year.
Darkhorse: Jarrod Garnett. The fifth seed is a fifth-year senior with a 27-2 record who has the talent and athleticism to beat anyone in the bracket.
133 LBS - Last year's national champion, Logan Stieber (Ohio State), returns as the number one seed in this weight class. Showing no signs of his mid- season leg injury, Stieber claimed the Big Ten title with a victory over previously unbeaten number two seed Tony Ramos (Iowa). Stieber and Ramos are joined in this weight class by Tyler Graff (Wisconsin), A.J. Schopp (Edinboro), and Chris Dardanes (Minnesota), rounding out the top five seeds. We look for Stieber and Ramos to meet in the finals, with Stieber again coming out on top to earn his second NCAA title.
Darkhorse: Scott Sentes (Central Michigan), a two-time All American, who boasts wins in 2011 over Ramos and Graff, both of whom he will have to defeat to earn a match against Stieber in the finals.
141 LBS - Like the 133 pound weight class, 141 could be viewed as a two-horse race between number one seed and undefeated Big Ten champion Hunter Steiber (Ohio State) and number two, undefeated Kendric Maple (Oklahoma). Maple, who defeated Stieber in last year's NCAA Championships, will stand atop the podium in Des Moines.
Darkhorse: Cornell's Michael Nevinger, an All-American last year, holds a late season win over Iowa's Mark Ballweg and seems to be rounding into form at the right time.
149 LBS - Jordan Oliver (Oklahoma State) is the prohibitive favorite and the likely champion at 149 pounds. Although he is wrestling up two weight classes, barring injury, there isn't much in the way to stop the 2011 champion and 2012 runner-up (on a controversial call) from reaching the top of the podium once again.
Darkhorse: Scott Sakaguchi (Oregon State) has two 3-1 sudden victory losses to number two-seed Jason Chamberlain. He was an All American last year and looks poised to improve on that seventh place finish.
157 LBS - Despite Big Ten champion Jason Welch (Northwestern) being named the number one seed, our pick to claim the 157 pound championship is last year's runner-up in this weight, Derek St. John (Iowa). Frankly, it seems that any of the Big Ten entries at 157 could win it on any given day, but it is St. John that is likely to improve on his previous finishes (fourth in 2011 and second last year) and claim the title. Throw Joseph Napoli (Lehigh 18-2) and James Fleming (Clarion 28-2) in the mix and the 157 pound class might just be anybody's to take.
Darkhorse: Eighth-seeded Dylan Alton (Penn State) is a talented and battle- tested wrestler who holds wins over Welch and the number four seed James Green, and is one to watch in Des Moines.
165 LBS - The number one seed at 165 pounds is returning three-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake (Cornell), who is going for an unprecedented record of four NCAA championships at four different weight classes. Standing in his way is the returning national champion David Taylor (Penn State). Dake has defeated Taylor on two occasions this season by "razor thin" margins. Beating an evenly matched opponent three times in the same year is no easy task, especially when that wrestler was voted as the best college wrestler in the country last year. History isn't likely to be made at the ultra-talented Taylor's expense. Look for David Taylor to finally get over on Dake and capture another national crown.
Darkhorse: The rest of the field. This is a two-horse race if there ever was one.
174 LBS - Number one seed Chris Perry (Oklahoma State) and number two seed Matthew Brown (Penn State) would be reasonable choices to win this weight class, however, look for sixth-seeded Logan Storley (Minnesota) to bring home the title. Storley and Perry wrestled twice this year with Perry winning a narrow 7-6 decision in the first match and Storley winning the second by pin in overtime. Storley also has pinned the second-seeded Brown, and owns victories over third-seeded Michael Evans (Iowa) and fourth-seeded Robert Kokesh (Nebraska).
Darkhorse: Eight-seeded Nick Hefflin (Ohio State) up-ended Storley last week 3-1 in sudden victory. Hefflin finished sixth at last year's NCAAs and is Big Ten battle tested.
184 LBS - Ben Bennett (Central Michigan) brings a perfect 27-0 record to the tournament and garnered the number two seed. Unfortunately for him, the number one seed is the seemingly unbeatable returning NCAA champion Ed Ruth (Penn State), who is the nearly unanimous pick to win it all. Ruth has been dominant this year scoring bonus points in all but four of his 28 matches, a run which is expected to continue at this week's tournament.
Darkhorse: Ryan Loder (Northern Iowa) gets the nod at 184. The sixth seed, Loder has amassed an impressive 30-4 record in UNI's first year in the MAC conference. Loder dropped a 5-3 decision to Bennett in the MAC finals, but has a 2011 win over Bennett to his credit.
197 LBS - Dustin Kilgore (Kent State) enters the tournament with a sparkling 39-0 record and the number one seed at 197. The three-time MAC champion also was the 2011 NCAA champion, but took an Olympic redshirt last year which explains his absence from the 2012 podium. During his redshirt year, Kilgore won several international freestyle matches, including a victory over the world silver medalist of Turkey. Despite the presence of undefeated Quentin Wright (Penn State), the 2011 184 pound national champion and the 2012 runner- up, this is Kilgore's title to lose.
Darkhorse: Nathan Schiedel's (Binghamton) impressive 26-2 record was good enough to earn him only a seventh seed. Schiedel was ranked fifth much of the season and had an RPI of 18, obviously wrestling many quality opponents. A four time NCAA qualifier in his redshirt senior year, Schiedel may make an inspired run.
285 LBS - Anthony Nelson (Minnesota) drew only the second seed in this tournament, but the reigning NCAA champion is pick to capture the title in the 285-pound weight class. True, his loss this year came to number one seed Dom Bradley (Missouri), but it was in a tie-breaker and the fact that Nelson has been here before (defeating outstanding Lehigh heavyweight Zach Rey in the finals last year) gives him the slight edge over Bradley.
Darkhorse: Another Central Michigan wrestler, Jarod Trice, earns the nod in the weight class. Trice, the 10-seed and the NCAA fourth-place finisher in 2011, amassed a 22-4 record in 2012-2013. Trice took an Olympic redshirt last year and finished an impressive fourth in the Olympic trials. In 2011-2012, during his redshirt year, Trice won the Midlands Championship at heavyweight and was the runner-up at the Dave Schultz Memorial Invitational in Colorado Springs.