With that said, here is my early projection on the trophy (top four) teams at the 2015 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in St. Louis. The trophy teams are not listed in projected order of finish.
Ohio State's Logan Stieber celebrates after defeating Virginia Tech's Devin Carter to win his third NCAA championship (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)The Buckeyes have the "it" factor right now despite not winning a team trophy at the NCAAs since 2009. Expectations are sky-high in Columbus for good reason. Tom Ryan's Buckeyes are loaded with talent and experience. Logan Stieber returns for his senior season and will be looking to become just the fourth wrestler in NCAA Division I wrestling history to win four NCAA Division I titles. Logan's younger brother Hunter, a two-time All-American, will return to the Buckeye lineup after a redshirt season. However, what makes the Buckeyes both a title contender -- and a bit of a question mark -- is their uber-talented freshman class. Two No. 1 overall recruits Bo Jordan (Class of 2013) and Kyle Snyder (Class of 2014) will step in the lineup for Ohio State at 165 pounds and 197 pounds respectively. Jordan, a four-time state champion, is coming off an undefeated (23-0) redshirt season, while Snyder, a Junior World champion, has spent the past year battling with the nation's top senior level wrestlers at the Olympic Training Center. In addition, three-time Junior National freestyle champion Nathan Tomasello will be looking to make an impact at 125 pound after an 18-0 redshirt season. The Buckeyes also return NCAA qualifiers Nick Roberts (125), Johnni DiJulius (133), Josh Demas (157), Mark Martin (174), Kenny Courts (184), and Nick Tavanello (285).
Projected lineup: 125: Nathan Tomasello, 133: Johnni DiJulius, 141: Logan Stieber, 149: Hunter Stieber, 157: Josh Demas, 165: Bo Jordan, 174: Mark Martin, 184: Kenny Courts, 197: Kyle Snyder, 285: Nick Tavanello
Iowa's Tom Brands coaches heavyweight Bobby Telford at the 2014 Big Ten Wrestling Championships in Madison, Wis. (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)Hawkeye fans are getting restless after four straight seasons of finishing third or lower at the NCAAs. It goes without saying that that the expectation in Iowa City is for the Hawkeyes to be contending for a national championship every season, even as college wrestling enjoys more parity than ever. Iowa finished fourth this past season, 31 points behind NCAA champion Penn State. The Hawkeyes return All-Americans Cory Clark (125), Mike Evans (174), Nathan Burak (197), and Bobby Telford, as well as NCAA qualifiers Josh Dziewa (141), Brody Grothus (149), and Nick Moore (165). Coach Tom Brands certainly has some major voids to fill in his lineup with the graduation of NCAA champions Tony Ramos (133) and Derek St. John (157), as well as two-time All-American Ethen Lofthouse (184). The blow of losing Ramos (133) is softened a little bit by Clark taking over at 133 pounds, with Thomas Gilman taking over at 125 pounds. With St. John graduating, the 157-pound weight class remains a question mark at this point for the Hawkeyes. Iowa should be in good hands at 184 pound with Sammy Brooks replacing Lofthouse.
Projected lineup: 125: Thomas Gilman, 133: Cory Clark, 141: Josh Dziewa, 149: Brody Grothus/Brandon Sorensen, 157: Michael Kelly/Brandon Sorensen, 165: Nick Moore, 174: Mike Evans, 184: Sammy Brooks, 197: Nathan Burak, 285: Bobby Telford
Minnesota coaches J Robinson and Luke Becker celebrate with Logan Storley after a quarterfinal win at the 2014 NCAAs (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)This year's NCAA runner-up Minnesota is losing some heavy hitters with the graduation of multiple-time All-Americans David Thorn (133), Kevin Steinhaus (184), and Tony Nelson (285), plus 2014 All-American Danny Zilverberg (165). For most college wrestling programs, the loss of four All-Americans -- one being a three-time NCAA finalist -- would almost assure a subsequent rebuilding season, but that's far from the case with the Gophers. Multiple-time All-Americans Dylan Ness (157), Logan Storley (174), and Scott Schiller (197) return, and all three are coming off top-three finishes in Oklahoma City. In addition, Chris Dardanes (141) is a multiple-time All-American, while twin brother Nick Dardanes (149) was an All-American in 2013. The Gophers also have some talented and experienced wrestlers waiting in the wings. Brett Pfarr, a fourth-place finisher at the Southern Scuffle, is expected to replace at Steinhaus at 184 pounds. Michael Kroells will take over for Nelson. Talented young wrestlers like Jake Short (149), Brandon Kingsley (157/165), and Nick Wanzek (165) will be looking to make an impact for the Gophers in 2014-15.
Projected lineup: 125: Tommy Thorn/Ethan Lizak, 133: Sam Brancale, 141: Chris Dardanes, 149: Nick Dardanes, 157: Dylan Ness, 165: Brandon Kingsley/Nick Wanzek, 174: Logan Storley, 184: Brett Pfarr, 197: Scott Schiller, 285: Michael Kroells
Penn State coaches Cael Sanderson and Casey Cunningham coach David Taylor in his 2014 NCAA finals match (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)The four-time defending NCAA champion Nittany Lions lose two college wrestling greats in David Taylor (165) and Ed Ruth (184). The two wrestlers combined to compile a record of 270-6, win five NCAA titles and reach the NCAA finals seven times. The duo scored 51.5 team points for the Nittany Lions at the 2014 NCAAs in Oklahoma City, which accounted for 47 percent of Penn State's team points. However, even with the loss of both Taylor and Ruth, Cael Sanderson has enough talent in his stable for Penn State to make another championship run in 2015. Penn State has five wrestlers returning who have earned All-American honors either this past season or in previous seasons. Three-time All-American Nico Megaludis will be after the elusive NCAA title after two runner-up finishes and a third-place finish this past season. Zain Retherford, an NCAA fifth-place finisher as a true freshman, will look to climb the podium at 141 pounds. Matt Brown has been an All-American in each of his two seasons in the Penn State lineup, and Morgan McIntosh (197) is coming off a seventh-place finish. Dylan Alton (157) will look to regain the form that made him an All-American in 2012.
Projected lineup: 125: Nico Megaludis, 133: Jimmy Gulibon, 141: Zain Retherford, 149: Andrew Alton/Zack Beitz, 157: Dylan Alton, 165: Garett Hammond, 174: Matt Brown, 184: Matt McCutcheon, 197: Morgan McIntosh, 285: Jimmy Lawson/Jon Gingrich
Four teams outside looking in ...
Cornell: There is too much talent training in the Freidman Wrestling Center Ithaca to not include the Big Red in the conversation for a team trophy in 2015. Two-time All-American Nahshon Garrett returns and will be looking to solve the Jesse Delgado puzzle and win an NCAA title at 125 pounds. Brian Realbuto (157) and Gabe Dean (184) were freshman All-Americans, and two other freshmen, Mark Grey (133) and Dylan Palacio (165), reached the round of 12. EIWA champions Chris Villalonga (149) and Jace Bennett (197) also return. This past season Rob Koll's squad exceeded expectations in large part because of the performances of their freshmen. If Cornell's new faces in the lineup in 2014-15, like Alex Cisneros (141), exceed expectations, the Big Red could be hoisting the NCAA championship trophy on Saturday night in St. Louis.
Edinboro: The Fighting Scots, under the guidance of Tim Flynn, have flown under the radar in recent seasons, but that won't be the case any longer. Edinboro nearly knocked off Iowa in an early season dual meet, which opened some eyes. Then the Fighting Scots opened even more eyes with a fifth-place finish in Oklahoma City. Edinboro returns the most points from the 2014 NCAAs. Three All-Americans return -- A.J. Schopp (133), Mitchell Port (141), and Dave Habat (149) -- plus 2014 NCAA qualifiers Kory Mines (125) and Vic Avery (184). If Schopp and Port can reach the NCAA finals, and Mines, Avery, and a few others can step up and make noise in March, Edinboro could finish in the top four in 2015.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose a couple major point scorers in two-time NCAA champion Chris Perry (174) and four-time All-American Tyler Caldwell (165). Jon Morrison (133) and Blake Rosholt (197), both All-Americans in 2013, also graduate. The good news for Cowboy fans is that three of Oklahoma State's 2014 All-Americans return to Stillwater: NCAA champion Alex Dieringer (157), NCAA runner-up Josh Kindig (149), and eighth-place finisher Austin Marsden (285). NCAA qualifiers Anthony Collica (141) and Nolan Boyd (184) are also back.
Northwestern: Drew Pariano's Wildcats, fresh off a ninth-place finish at the NCAAs, are on the rise and should be in the hunt for a team trophy in St. Louis. They return all five NCAA qualifiers from this past season, including three All-Americans. Jason Tsirtsis (149) claimed an NCAA title as a freshman, Mike McMullan (285) earned his third All-American honor with a third-place finish, and Pierce Harger (165) earned his first All-American honor with an eighth-place finish. Northwestern also signed a tremendous recruiting class that includes three wrestlers ranked in the top 20 in the Class of 2014. Whether any of those wrestlers step in the lineup as true freshmen and make an impact remains to be seen.