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The Big Ten, which actually has 12 teams competing in wrestling, is the historically the perennial power in college wrestling. And that should once again be the case in Des Moines, Iowa, March 21-23.
After all, Penn State (with 10 qualifiers) is picked to win a third straight championship and conference mates Minnesota (10) and (Iowa (9) are favored to not only finish among the top five schools but could actually challenge the Nittany Lions for the team championship.
Meanwhile, based on tournament seedings, Ohio State is predicted to claim two of the ten individual titles with brothers Logan (133 pounds) and Hunter (141) Stieber favored to claim championships for the Buckeyes.
Two other other Big Ten wrestlers — Northwestern’s Jason Welch (157) and Penn State’s Ed Ruth (184) — are also seeded No. 1, while other Big Ten wrestlers — Jesse Delgado (125) of Illinois, Tony Ramos (133) of Iowa, Derek St. John (157) of Iowa, David Taylor (165) of Penn State, Matt Brown (174) of Penn State, Quentin Wright (197) of Penn State and heavyweight Anthony Nelson of Minnesota —are seeded No. 2 and also predicted to make the Saturday night finals.
And don’t forget the likes of Iowa’s two-time champion Matt McDonough (125), who has struggled at the end of the year and is seeded No. 3.
Also six Big Ten wrestlers are predicted to finish in the Top 8 of the 174-pound weight class, including Iowa’s Mike Evans (No. 3), Nebraska’s Robert Kokesh (No. 4), Minnesota’s Logan Storley (No. 6), Illinois Jordan Blanton (No. 7) and Ohio State’s Nick Heflin (No. 8). Storley was ranked No. 1 much of the second semester until he finished a surprising seventh at the Big Tens.
Overall, the Big Ten qualified 82 wrestlers this season, up by two compared to last year, but on paper the Big Ten is expected to produce 32 All-Americans; down from last year’s 34 All-American and seven champions.
So the question is: what other conferences will create the most success in Wells Fargo Arena?
The following is a look at all the other nine conferences, based on number of qualifiers and predicted All-Americans and champions.
Big 12 Conference
There is no conference more top-heavy than the Big 12 where Oklahoma State, looking for a 35th national championship, won eight of the ten weight classes at the qualifying tournament and sent all ten wrestlers to the NCAAs.
That includes Jordan Oliver, the 2011 champion and 2012 runner-up at 133 pounds, who is seeded No. 1 at 149 pounds … and 174-pound Chris Perry, who is picked to win the 174-pound weight class.
Other Cowboys, who could challenge for national championship, has to be heavyweight Alan Gelogaev, who is seeded No. 3 and appeared to be on a roll at the National Duals where he defeated Missouri’s No. 1 Dom Bradley, but then was pinned by Minnesota’s Nelson.
Overall, the Big 12 is predicted to place 10 wrestlers, not bad considering the conference sent just 23 wrestlers to the NCAA, down from 33 in 2012.
The biggest reason for the decline is that Missouri now competes in the Mid-American Conference. And while West Virginia joined the Big 12, only Oklahoma and Iowa State have legitimate All-American shots from its conference champions: the Sooner’s Kendric Maple at 141 pounds and Cyclone Kyven Gadson at 197 pounds.
Atlantic Coast Conference
A few years ago, the ACC has hurt by the old qualifying rules where much of the process was based on historical information. Even since the NCAA adopted qualification rules based on current-year performances, the “basketball conference” has improved great as have their number of qualifiers.
This year, the ACC qualified 34 wresters, up from 28 in 2012, and 10 wrestlers are expected to finish among the Top 8 wrestlers in their weight classes. That would be more than double what the six schools did in 2012 when four wrestlers from the ACC placed.
One of the biggest reasons for the ACC improvement is the standing of Virginia Tech, which finished second in the Midlands in December, captured its first ACC title and more importantly sent all ten wrestlers to Des Moines.
The only problem no wrestler is predicted to make the finals. The highest-seeded ACC wrestler is Virginia Tech’s Peter Yates, seeded No. 3 at 165 pounds. Another Hokie to keep an eye on is 125-pound Jarrod Garnett, who is seeded No. 5 after taking an Olympic redshirt last winter. He has just one more chance to earn a first All-American honor.
Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association
The EIWA will be represented by 12 of the 14 schools that currently compete in the 109-year-old conference and produced 50 national qualifiers, but just seven — down from last year’s 14 — are predicted to place.
The EIWA is led by Cornell University, which returns two defending national champions in Kyle Dake (165) and Steve Bosak.
Dake, of course, is facing history, as the senior shoots for his fourth championship at four different weights in four straight years. But of course, he must beat last year’s champion and Hodge Trophy winner David Taylor. This is such a big match that the NCAA has chosen the 165-pound championship as the final match of the tournament.
Bosak, meanwhile, must beat Penn State’s Ruth, who moved up a weight after winning the 174-pound title last March in St. Louis. Ruth beat Bosak at the Southern Scuffle and if they meet in Des Moines, it will come in the semifinals.
Another EIWA wrestler to keep an eye on is 157-pound Joey Napoli, who redshirted last year, but is seeded No. 3, as is his teammate Robert Hamlin (184), who finished second nationally in 2011.
The Mid-American Conference
There is no doubt that the MAC could have its best NCAA tournament ever considering the eight-team league — enlarged by the addition of Missouri and Northern Iowa — sent 40 wrestlers to Des Moines, up from just 25 qualifiers … and three wrestlers — Missouri’s Alan Waters (125) and Dom Bradley (Hwt) and 2011 national champion Dustin Kilgore of Kent State — are predicted to win national championships.
The Tigers of Brian Smith definitely have taken the MAC by storm by sending all ten wrestlers to Des Moines. Missouri wants to do better than a year ago when the Tigers also sent 10 to St. Louis, but failed to see any wrestler earn All-American honors.
And meanwhile, only four other MAC wrestlers are predicted to place, led by Central Michigan’s Ben Bennett, seeded No. 2 at 184 pounds. The Chippewas also return two other former All-Americans Scott Sentes and Jarod Trice. The duo are only seeded No. 10, each, at 133 pounds and heavyweight.
This west coast conference sent two fewer wrestlers than a year ago and only five men are predicted to place, but look for Oregon State to have one of its best tournaments ever.
Led by coach Jim Zalesky, an Iowa native who led his alma mater, Iowa, to three national championships before leaving for Corvallis, Ore., features several wrestlers who could make an impact, including 141-pound Mike Mangrum, seeded No. 3, and heavyweight Chad Hanke, who is seeded No. 4. Meanwhile, Taylor Meeks is seeded No. 5 at 197 pounds.
Another Pac-12 wrestler to keep an eye on is 149-pound Jason Chamberlain, who placed in 2011, but took an Olympic redshirt in 2012. The Bronco is seeded No. 2.
Eastern Wrestling League
There is some question about the future of this wrestling-only conference after losing West Virginia a year ago and losing Pittsburgh to the ACC in 2014.
The Panthers are expected to have the most success in Des Moines, and will be led by 197-pound Matt Wilps, seeded No. 3, and who pinned Penn State’s Quentin Wright in the season-opening All-Star Classic.
Meanwhile, Edinboro could also see several Fighting Scots claim All-American honors, including 141 Mitchell Port, who is seeded No. 4.
Western Wrestling Conference
Despite the departure of Northern Iowa to the MAC, the WWC actually sent one more wrestler (19) than a year ago and four wrestlers could place. Wyoming should once again be the highest point producer, led by All-American Alfonso Hernandez, who is seeded No. 4 at 197 pounds.
But many of the other schools have improved including Air Force, which hopes to seed 149-pound senior Cole VonOhlen earn an All-American honor.
Colonial Athletic Association
This is the last year that Old Dominion will represent the CAA before the Pride heads for the ever-growing MAC.
But if there was a program that could make an impact at the Nationals, that would be Binghamton, who is led by 149-pound Donnie Vinson, who is seeded No. 3. Last year, the Bearcat produced one of the greatest runs — in consolation — when he was upset in the first round as a No. 4 seed, but won seven straight wrestlebacks to finish third.
Last year, a pair of wrestlers — Austin Trotman and Kyle Blevins — from Appalachian State earned All-American honors.
It may be hard for the SoCon to repeat that in 2013 as only Citadel freshman, Undrakhbayar Khishignyam, seeded sixth at 141, is predicted to place.