Difficult Big Ten Schedule Awaits No. 1 Penn State Wrestling
Penn State wrestling finished the opening portion of its nonconference schedule with a 4-0 record and took seven of 10 individual titles in the Nittany Lion Open. Having taken care of quality opponents such as Virginia Tech and CSU Bakersfield, the Nittany Lions begin their B1G schedule against Wisconsin on Sunday in the Bryce Jordan Center.
The Big Ten has 10 of its 14 teams in the Top 25, according to the most recent USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll. The Nittany Lions are ranked first and their first B1G opponent, Wisconsin, is ranked No. 15.
This Sunday will be a showdown between two of the best teams in the nation, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the season won’t be exciting. With remaining duals against Nebraska, Ohio State, Illinois, and Purdue, the schedule after Wisconsin only gets more difficult for Penn State.
There are a few things the Nittany Lions have going for them heading into conference play. Penn State unanimously holds the top spot in the top 25 poll, and the Nittany Lions have high individual rankings for almost all of their usual starters.
The most promising thing for Penn State heading into B1G play is the impressive wrestling of its underclassmen. Matt McCutcheon, in the 184-pound weight class, has been dominant all year. Although he suffered from an injury on Saturday at the Nittany Lion Open, there’s no speculation that it’s a serious injury, so he should be back on the mats soon. Bo Nickal, the hyped redshirt freshman from Allen, Texas, has also been dominant, recording many wins by falls or majors. The hype coming into the season for Nickal was well deserved, as he hasn’t disappointed.
The upperclassmen have shown an incredible amount of leadership this year for Penn State. Seniors Morgan McIntosh, Jordan Conaway, and Nico Megaludis have shown the young wrestlers for the Nittany Lions how to be successful at Penn State. They lead by example, and that’s exactly how the Nittany Lions will survive B1G play.
With a disappointing fifth-place overall finish in the Big Ten Tournament last year, Head Coach Cael Sanderson expects nothing less than a conference win from this team. After leading it to four straight Big Ten and national titles from 2011 to 2014, a fifth-place finish last year put a damper on the Nittany Lions’ impressive run.
If there’s one thing Sanderson knows how to do, it’s win, and he has shown that fact with how he’s coached the underclassmen into what they are now. The underclassmen are performing as well as the upperclassmen stars of the team. Sanderson has the team primed to not only win the Big Ten, but also the national title.
Looking at the early season success for the Nittany Lions, it’s easy to see this team being successful in B1G play. It won’t be easy, but this team is more than capable of beating quality teams such as Ohio State and Nebraska. At the end of the regular season, expect the Nittany Lions to be at the top of the Big Ten and near the top in the nation. Individuals such as McIntosh, Megaludis, and Nickal should still be near the top of the rankings in their respective weight classes as well.
Penn State should win the Big Ten title and be competitive for the national title. It’ll be very interesting to see which individuals can make runs for the individual titles as well. Wrestlers such as Jimmy Gulibon may not be favored to win a title, but he can definitely come in as a dark horse in the championships.
All in all, heading into B1G play, this team is primed for success. Look for this team to make a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament and the National Championship.