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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    Breaking Down the Hodge Trophy Race

    Iowa's two-time Hodge Trophy winner Spencer Lee (Photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    At the conclusion of every college wrestling season, the Hodge Trophy is awarded. The trophy, which is named in honor of Olympic silver medalist and three-time NCAA champion Dan Hodge, is wrestling’s equivalent of football’s Heisman Trophy. However, there are a few wrinkles. Unlike most major awards, there are listed criteria that voters are supposed to take into account. The currently listed criteria are as follows.

    1. Record
    2. Dominance/Bonus-Point Percentage
    3. Quality of Competition
    4. Sportsmanship

    Since record is the number-one listed criterion, a wrestler likely has to be undefeated in order to take home the award. To that end, the following is a look at all the wrestlers entering the NCAA tournament with an undefeated record and their path to the Hodge.

    125: No. 1 Spencer Lee (Iowa)

    Lee is looking to become only the second three-time Hodge Trophy winner after the legendary Cael Sanderson. The Iowa wrestler won the award in 2020 and shared it the following season with Minnesota heavyweight Gable Steveson. After sitting out last season, he has returned looking for one final NCAA championship and another trophy. So far this season, Lee has won all 17 of his matches and picked up bonus points in 15.

    How it Happens

    If Lee does manage to win his fourth NCAA title, it is hard to imagine him not winning the Hodge. He is likely to rack up more bonus-point victories, and the voters will likely not shy away from the opportunity to highlight a historic career.

    125: No. 2 Pat Glory (Princeton)

    For an undefeated season, this past year was certainly an adventure for Glory. He finished the regular season undefeated and then won four-straight matches at the EIWA tournament to claim the conference title. However, the returning NCAA runner-up missed a fair share of time during the year and wrestled up at 133 pounds for four of Princeton’s dual meets.

    Glory received a rather favorable draw considering he already holds wins this season over multiple potential opponents in his section of the bracket including No. 18 Ryan Miller (Penn), No. 15 Brett Ungar (Cornell), No. 10 Brandon Courtney (Arizona State) and No. 7 Brandon Kaylor (Oregon State).

    How it Happens

    If Glory does manage to return to the finals and somehow knocks off Lee, he would certainly be a very strong candidate for the “Outstanding Wrestler” award. However, for him to win the Hodge, a lot of things would have to break for him. At the moment, he has only a 40% bonus rate, so it would likely take more than a title for him to win a surprise Hodge.

    133: No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State)

    After winning his second NCAA title last season, there was some speculation that Bravo-Young was done with college wrestling. Instead, he returned and is the clear favorite heading into his fourth and final NCAA tournament. For the third-straight season, the Penn State wrestler has gone undefeated, and he appears to be headed toward a potential finals rematch against a familiar opponent.

    How it Happens

    A third NCAA title would give Bravo-Young a very strong Hodge resume. Going into the tournament, he has a 75% bonus rate, and he has the potential to pick up several more quality wins in the bracket. One of his teammates will also likely be a candidate, so that could split the Penn State supporting vote, but that has not hindered the Nittany Lions in the past as the school won three-straight trophies from 2017 to 2019.

    133: No. 2 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State)

    It is wild to think that Fix has only four losses in his college wrestling career, and three of those losses have come in NCAA finals. He is a few breaks and calls away from being a multiple-time champion. For the past two seasons, his year has come to an end with a loss to Bravo-Young in the finals, and the two enter this bracket as the top two seeds.

    How it Happens

    The Oklahoma State wrestler finally breaking through in the finals and defeating a rival would be an incredible story. It is the type of victory that could sway voters despite his 62% bonus rate. On top of that, a return trip to the finals would mean that Fix picked up some quality wins on the way. Most notably, he could face off against No. 3 Vito Arujau (Cornell) who previously defeated Fix at the most recent Olympic Trials.

    141: No. 1 Real Woods (Iowa)

    After transferring from Stanford, Woods stepped into the Hawkeye lineup and will now enter the NCAA tournament as the top seed. He went undefeated on the season including a pair of close victories over No. 4 Brock Hardy (Nebraska). Woods and No. 2 Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado) appear to have separated themselves from the field, but this has been mostly a wild weight this year and everything is on the table.

    How it Happens

    Woods will likely need some help to pull off a Hodge. Since record is the top listed criterion, he would certainly have a shot if some of the other prospects suffered a loss along the way. The Hawkeye’s candidacy might also be weighed down by his 56% bonus rate and the overall competition at 141 pounds has been inconsistent.

    141: No. 2 Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado)

    Early in the season, Alriez picked up perhaps his best win of the year when he knocked off No 3 Cole Matthews (Pittsburgh). The match was technically unofficial since it was part of the NWCA All-Star Classic. Despite the unofficial nature of the match, Alirez carried that momentum into the season and finished undefeated. He has now qualified for the NCAA tournament for the third time and will likely become an All-American for the first time.

    How it Happens

    Alirez has a sneakily good Hodge candidacy. He is currently undefeated and will likely earn several quality wins if he finishes on top of the podium. His bonus rate is also rather high (74%). With all that he checks a lot of the boxes with an NCAA title. However, making it through the bracket will be a tough challenge, and he lacks the resume from previous years that many of his competitors have. While that is not listed as one of the criteria, it is clearly something that impacts voters.

    157: No. 1 Austin O’Connor (North Carolina)

    After winning an NCAA title at 149 pounds in 2021, O’Connor moved up to 157 last season. He fought through injuries to finish eighth at the NCAA tournament for his third All-American finish. This season, O’Connor wrestled only two matches in the first semester, but he had a tough in-conference schedule and won the ACC championship with a 6-5 decision over No. 7 Bryce Andonian (Virginia Tech).

    How it Happens

    It would be an incredible comeback story for O’Connor if he was able to claim the title this season. It will certainly not be an easy task. At the very least the winner in the bottom half of the bracket will be a very tough opponent as it contains both No. 2 Levi Haines (Penn State) and No. 3 Peyton Robb (Nebraska). Even with a win, O’Connor will certainly need to help to win the Hodge, but stranger things have happened.

    157: No. 5 Josh Humphreys (Lehigh)

    Humphreys is a three-time NCAA qualifier who has seen his season come to an end in the round of 12 twice. This year, he started his season with an undefeated 9-0 run. Humphreys then missed the entire month of January. He returned in early February and continued his winning ways all through the NCAA tournament where he knocked off Anthony Artalona (Penn) and claimed the title. He enters the NCAA tournament as an unlikely undefeated wrestler and the number-five seed.

    How it Happens

    It seems highly unlikely that Humphreys will win the Hodge. Despite that, he has had a very strong season. He will need to pull off several key victories and upsets, but a trip to the semifinals could match him against the only other undefeated wrestler at 157 pounds.

    165: No. 1 David Carr (Iowa State)

    After going 66-2 over the past three seasons at 157 pounds, Carr moved up to 165 for this year. Any questions about how he would perform at the higher weight were answered with an undefeated season and a run to the Big 12 championship. Along the way, Carr defeated No. 4 Julian Ramirez (Cornell), No. 3 Dean Hamiti (Wisconsin) and No. 2 Keegan O’Toole (Missouri).

    How it Happens

    Despite having only a 50% bonus rate, Carr has put himself into the Hodge conversation by dominating some of the best wrestlers at this weight. He already holds victories over many of his top contemporaries. If he is able to pick up his second NCAA title, he would certainly cement his candidacy.

    174: No. 1 Carter Starocci (Penn State)

    For the second-straight season, Starocci will enter the NCAA tournament with an undefeated record. Last year, he ran through the bracket and picked up his second title. This year, he is heavily favored to repeat that performance and bring his third title back to State College. On the season, Starocci has gone 19-0 and picked up a victory over the second-highest-seeded wrestler at the weight Michael Labriola (Nebraska).

    How it Happens

    If Lee stumbles at 125 pounds, Starocci is one of the prime candidates to benefit. He often plays it close in matches, but his ability to ride out a period when necessary really gives him an advantage that few wrestlers can match. If he is able to pick up yet another title, and he gets some help, he could be looking at a Hodge.

    197: No. 1 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh)

    The 197-pound division returned both finalists from the 2022 NCAA tournament. However, neither of those wrestlers was able to claim the top seed at the weight and neither was able to go undefeated on the year. Stepping into that spot with the unblemished record is Bonaccorsi who won the ACC championship. The sixth-year senior made the finals in 2021 but saw his season come to an end in the round of 12 last year.

    How it Happens

    Bonaccorsi will not only have to deal with serious competition for the Hodge, but he will also have to deal with a minefield of a bracket. His side of the bracket is entirely loaded with the likes of Junior world champion Braxton Amos (Wisconsin), returning champion Max Dean (Penn State), Big Ten champion Silas Allred (Nebraska), Michael Beard (Lehigh), Yonger Bastida (Iowa State) and Ethan Laird (Rider). Getting through that field will certainly earn respect, but it remains to be seen if it will be enough for the Hodge.

    285: No. 1 Mason Parris (Michigan)

    Parris has stepped into the role of dominant heavyweight this season. He has won all 28 of his matches and already holds a pair of victories over No. 3 Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State). He also scored a commanding 12-5 decision over No. 2 Wyatt Hendrickson (Air Force) in early December.

    How it Happens

    At least a share of the last two Hodge trophies have gone to fellow heavyweight Gable Steveson (Minnesota). However, Steveson moved on from college wrestling and instead signed with the WWE. Outside of bonus points, one could make an argument that Parris has been as dominant as the former champion. However, his bonus rate currently stands at 64%, and that might negatively impact his Hodge chances.

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