Ever since Rutgers Wrestling first joined the Big Ten back in 2014, there were questions about their ability to compete day in, day out in that environment. As most wrestling fans know, the Big Ten is the epitome of college wrestling. Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, and the titan of the last decade, Penn State, were all now free to stalk the banks like hungry bull sharks looking to attack with little provocation. And while it’s been an uphill battle, Rutgers Wrestling now sits comfortably in the middle of the Big Ten pack, while relentlessly looking to keep climbing.
But just how dominant is the Big Ten today? Is it strange that Rutgers Wrestling placed 9th in the country in 2019 but ended up only 6th in the Big Ten? Or that last year when they got shut out (0-4) in Big Ten competition but still finished tied for 13th nationally? Let’s get some answers and break down the teams in the Big Ten into ranked tiers for the upcoming season, hopefully giving a fuller perspective on just how much of a powerhouse this conference will again be in 2021-22. This tier list does not factor in past credentials and is only a projection of the upcoming season. When the season gets closer, and weekly once it’s live, I will be doing a power rankings article breaking down the comings and goings of Big Ten Wrestling.
Tier 1: #1 Iowa and #2 Penn State – It’s these two and then, way further down the line, every other team. No one else has a shot of touching these two monsters who will be competing for both a Big Ten and National Title this year. Iowa won both tournaments in the Covid-shortened season last year and returns their entire starting lineup to try and repeat. Iowa’s Tom and Terry Brands will look to their stud 125lber Spencer Lee, who will be looking to join rarified air by becoming the 5th ever four-time national champion (with or without ACLs). Penn State has reloaded again while bringing back four individual national champs. PSU Coach Cael Sanderson has a fully functioning championship factory, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Their post-collegiate wrestling club (NLWC) that supports athletes competing at an international level, produced four medals between men’s and women’s events at this past summer’s Olympic Games. Iowa is the favorite to win again but expect a full-blown brawl between these two titans throughout the entire postseason.
Tier 2: #5 Michigan, #8 Minnesota, #12 Nebraska, #13 Northwestern – The teams in the second tier are the ones I feel will end up top 10 in the country when the season is over. Michigan will have a chance at a top four trophy, especially if their highly ranked seniors in Stevan Micic and Myles Amine can provide bonus points at the national tournament. Minnesota will ride their Olympic Gold Medalist Heavyweight Gable Steveson as far as he’ll take them and hope to grab some more points from a few other spots (Pat McKee, Brayton Lee) to round out a top ten finish. Nebraska has the best chance to overachieve in this tier, as they have the most “bubble” All-American (AA going forward- refers to earning a top 8 placing in your weight class at the NCAA Tournament) contenders with Liam Cronin, Taylor Venz, Ridge Lovett, Peyton Robb, Eric Schultz, and Christian Lance all ranking in the top 15 to start the season. They also bring back multiple time AAs in Chad Red Jr and Mikey Labriola. Rounding out this tier is Northwestern, who have a plethora of exceptional wrestlers in the lower/middle weights (Chris Cannon, Yahya Thomas, Ryan Deakin) but lack top tier talent in the upper weights outside of Lucas Davidson at 285lbs.
Tier 3: #15 Rutgers, #23 Wisconsin, #18 Illinois, #10 Ohio State – All the teams in this tier should finish at least top 20 in the nation with Rutgers and Wisconsin knocking on that top 10 door if a few things drop their way. I’ll have a ton of info about the projected Rutgers lineup and where I think they’ll shake out come nationals in the weeks leading up to the season, so stay tuned for that, but the much anticipated RU lineup features eight ranked wrestlers with three returning AAs. Wisconsin has a ranked wrestler at nearly every weight along with an unranked freshman 197lber in Braxton Amos who just medaled in the United World Wrestling Junior Freestyle (Gold) AND Greco Roman (Bronze) tournaments. Braxton is the real deal and without a doubt should gain AA honors this season. Wisconsin has lots of potential to make a move at nationals, so keep an eye out for them. Illinois boasts a young team that will look to have highly ranked Lucas Byrd, Dylan Duncan, and the vet Mikey Carr lead them to that top 15 finish. Carr looks to obtain that elusive AA status after a series of close calls throughout his career. Ohio State returns the runner up at 149lbs in Sammy Sasso along with a handful of fringe AA candidates. I consider this a down year for Ohio State, but no one should cry for Buckeye fans as they have landed two top 3 overall recruits (Nick Feldman and Nic Bouzakis)… they’ll be back.
Tier 4: Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, Maryland – These teams represent the bottom of the Big Ten, but that doesn’t mean they are pushovers, far from it. Both Michigan State and Purdue feature five ranked wrestlers with the former having a legitimate shot at a couple of AAs. If both ended up in the top 25 at season’s end, few would be surprised. Indiana is a young team that features only two currently ranked wrestlers, but that is likely to change as the year progresses. Maryland is in a full rebuild as the program has exactly one conference win in the past 8 seasons and currently features no ranked wrestlers.
This is going to be a wild season.
The rankings referenced in this article are obtained from Intermat Wrestling’s Individual and Tournament lists, unless otherwise noted. Lineup references can be found on each team’s website and on wrestlestat. You can find more information on the Rutgers Wrestling Schedule here and more information on season tickets right over here.