In the world of collegiate wrestling, Penn State is Goliath.
It has won eight national championships, with 27 individual national titles and four Hodge Trophy winners for best collegiate wrestler since 2011. But the Nittany Lions’ past dominance does not guarantee that they will simply roll over the No. 3 Michigan wrestling team on Friday.
The Wolverines will boast a National champion, and two Olympians — one of which claimed bronze in Tokyo — when they battle Penn State. Michigan is capable of beating the nation’s No. 1 team, but in order to do so, many things will need to go in their favor. Here are a few questions that the Wolverines will have to answer in order to slay the Nittany Lions and emerge as the nation’s presumptive No. 1.
Can Michigan contain the national champions?
In dual meet wrestling, losses matter. But how one loses is even more important. Facing off against four NCAA champions on Friday night, the Wolverines will undoubtedly drop a few matches. But if Michigan can keep its bouts close and prevent Penn State from scoring bonus points, it can keep the dual meet within striking distance.
The Nittany Lions’ first national champion is 133 lb Roman Bravo-Young, who will match up against redshirt freshman Dylan Ragusin. Ragusin has been an up-and-down wrestler this year. In certain moments he’s been able to hang around with the nation’s best, but he has also looked overwhelmed at times. If he comes out strong and wrestles a slow, controlled match, he should be able to contain Bravo-Young’s offense and keep the bout tight.
Besides holding the national champions to decision victories, Michigan would greatly benefit from an upset victory, something very plausible given the strength of its lineup.
At 141 lbs, No. 4 Stevan Micic will take on No. 1 Nick Lee. Micic — a 2018 NCAA runner-up and a Tokyo Olympian — has not met his lofty potential so far, struggling to finish shots. If Micic is to beat Lee, he will need to be at his best, finish his shots and escape quickly.
In his comeback victory against No. 7 Ethan Smith of Ohio State, 174 lb Logan Massa showed that his conditioning and strength on top can carry him to victory over highly ranked opponents. The sixth-ranked wrestler hasn’t dropped a bout so far, but Penn State’s No. 1 Carter Starocci will be his toughest match yet. In Massa and Starocci’s most recent meeting, Starocci won by turning Massa in an overtime tie-breaker. Massa has the skill and the strength to beat Starocci, and if he can, it will be a huge psychological and numerical victory for the Wolverines.
Finally, 184 lb graduate student Myles Amine and Aaron Brooks of the Nittany Lions will meet for a top-two matchup. Amine is riding an undefeated start to the season and a Tokyo bronze medal. Similarly, Brooks has looked untouchable this season.
Their match is expected to be an incredibly tight, exciting potential preview of the 184 lb championship bout. If Amine can beat Brooks and give Michigan three points, it will be a huge victory.
Who will wrestle at 165?
For the past two weeks, the Wolverines have been without a 165 lb wrestler. Last week at Ohio State, redshirt sophomore Pat Nolan bumped up three weight classes to fill in for a seemingly injured Cameron Amine.
If Amine remains out on Friday, it will be bad news for Michigan. Nolan can’t compare to the All-American Amine. Whoever wrestles at 165 will be facing another former All-American, Brady Berge of Penn State, and the outcome of the dual may very well depend on who takes the mat. Amine will be pushing for a victory whereas a fill-in wrestler will be lucky to avoid surrendering bonus points.
Can Michigan run up the numbers?
Against a team as strong as Penn State, there are almost no weight classes where bonus points can be guaranteed, but there are mismatches in the Nittany Lions’ lineup that the Wolverines will need to exploit. The first is 125 lbs where No. 1 ranked graduate student Nick Suriano will wrestle Penn State’s No. 7 Drew Hildebrandt. If Suriano can tire Hildebrandt with his relentless pace, he could earn his fourth bonus point victory of the season.
Whoever wrestles at 149 lbs. and Will Lewan at 157 lbs. will also be facing relatively weak opponents, all of these wrestlers have the opportunity to earn bonus points, which would be huge for the success of the team.
Friday night’s matchup is not just a test for the Wolverines’ season, it’s what will define their dual season.
If Michigan can take down Penn State, it will put itself on a path to an undefeated dual meet season, and almost undoubtedly earn the No. 1 ranking in the nation. Friday night’s dual will be a struggle, but there’s truly no clear favorite. It will come down to whether or not the Wolverines can keep losses close and find ways to topple the national champions.