Arizona State's NCAA trophy-winning 2022 squad (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriorscom)
Who can challenge Arizona State?
Arizona State has become a dark horse for a national championship in the last few seasons under Zeke Jones. The Sun Devils pack their strongest lineup yet, having nine wrestlers ranked in the top 20.
Heavyweight Cohlton Schultz headlines the Sun Devil squad after a second-place finish behind Gable Steveson last year. However, ASU has a few national title contenders, including Brandon Courtney, Michael McGee, and Jacori Teemer.
Therefore, it is tough to say any Pac-12 team can stand toe-to-toe with the Sun Devils. However, a few teams have a long shot of upsetting Arizona State. Stanford currently sits 21st in the team tournament rankings. Although they lost Real Woods, Stanford still has Shane Griffith dominating the 165-pound class, Jackson Disario making noise in the 133-pound class, and NCAA qualifier Tyler Eischens at 174.
Oregon State's lineup, ranked 23rd in the team tournament, begins with NCAA qualifier Brandon Kaylor. Although Kaylor has yet to beat Courtney, he has lost by a combined 12 points in their four matchups. The Beavers also bring in two junior college national champions, Jason Shaner and Isaiah Crosby. Lastly, Trey Munoz will be looking to place at NCAAs this season.
Cal Poly is the last squad with a shot in the dark to beat ASU. The Mustangs have continued to grow under Jon Sioredas' tenure. Cal Poly will be headlined by transfers Ethan Rotondo, who has wins over Zane Richards and Brandon Courtney in freestyle, and Dom Demas. Legend Lamer will look to wreak havoc in a loaded 165-pound class
Cohlton Schultz vs. The Field
Schultz has lost three matches in his early collegiate career, two losses to Anthony Cassioppi and one loss to Gable Stevenson. However, Schultz comes into the 2022-23 season as a clear favorite for a national title after giving Stevenson one of his toughest matches last season.
Can any heavyweight in the Pac-12 stop Schultz's potential perfect run this season?
Besides Schultz, no Pac-12 heavyweight ranks in the top 33. Cal Poly currently has redshirt freshman Trevor Tinker listed as their starter. Tink went 8-4 in his redshirt season, going 0-1 against top-25 wrestlers.
Sophomore Josiah Hill returns as Little Rock's starter after finishing 14-13. Schultz pinned Hill in the second period last season and went 2-2 at Pac-12 Championships. Therefore, Schultz should control this matchup again.
Sophomore Jake Andrews starts for Cal State Bakersfield after finishing 6-13 last season. Andrews was pinned by Hill and Tinker last season, making Schultz a heavy favorite in this matchup too.
Stanford's Peter Ming provides the best chance for a large upset in the heavyweight class. Ming fell to Schultz 13-2 last season, Schultz's third toughest Pac-12 matchup behind Samuel Aguilar and Gary Traub.
If Traub had another year, Schultz could have fallen early. However, Schultz will sweep the competition this season. His last competitor will either be Oregon State's Charles Hastriter or JJ Dixon.
Underdogs and Dark Horses
Oregon State has two wrestlers who barely make a blip on the radar thus far, junior college transfers Isaiah Crosby and Jason Shaner. Crosby is coming off an undefeated NJCAA National Championship run at Iowa Western Community College. Crosby will have a tough schedule, facing five top-30 opponents, including three in the top-10. Crosby can get himself tuned for a tough Pac-12 conference tournament and sneak into the NCAA Championship his first season.
Shaner will face two of the best 133-pounders in the country this season, Roman Bravo-Young and Michael McGee. If he can find a way to fight against the best wrestlers, he will also earn a spot at NCAAs.
CSU Bakersfield's Angelo Martinoni ranks 33rd in the 141-pound class. He has quality wins over Shannon Hanna of Campbell, Ohio State's Dylan D'Emilio and Tariq Wilson. Pac-12's 141-pound class is one of the weaker divisions in the conference, which could allow him to rack up wins and crack the NCAA Championships.
Cal Poly's Legend Lamer is a few steps away from making it as a dark horse for a national title. At NCAAs, Lamer is 2-4, losing by a combined 14 points. In those four losses, he faced All-Americans Kyle Parco and Yahya Thomas, gatekeeper Anthony Artalona and Michael Blockhus. If he can turn those close matches into victories, he can make a run for a medal at NCAAs this season.
Cael Valencia should be a dark horse based solely on his name. However, Valencia's redshirt campaign was so successful, people thought the redshirt was going to be pulled after victories over Hayden Hastings and Tyer Eischens. However, Valencia will be unleashed this season with more untapped potential than either of his brothers since he started later than both of them.
As stated above, Cael Valencia will finish the season as a top-25 wrestler in the country. Despite lacking the five-star techniques his brother contained, his strength and IQ make him just as dangerous. If he continues to live up to his potential, he can be a favorite by the time his ASU career ends.
Stanford's Nico Provo will be the start at 125 pounds. Even though he will not be up to Courtney or Kaylor's level, he is the foreseeable future of the Pac-12 lightweights. Provo defeated Bakersfield's Eddie Flores last season before shutting down the rest of the season.
Cal Poly's Luka Wick is one of three freshmen in the first top-33 rankings for the 157-pound class. Although the class runs through Teemer, Wick is on track for several marquee matchups, including a dual against Brayton Lee and Will Lewan. If Wick can live up to his undefeated redshirt season, he will make his way to the NCAA Championships as a true freshman.
Can Little Rock's stock continue to rise?
Little Rock enters its fourth season, meaning the last batch of the original wrestlers will have one final ride with the Trojans before graduating. Little Rock is coming off its best season yet, including its first D1 win in program history.
Can they improve from last season?
First, Little Rock landed the 18th-ranked recruiting class in the country this last summer, the second time in the top-25 ever. The class consists of seven wrestlers, including three top-110 recruits.
Second, the Trojans return seven starters who are headlined by 149-pound Joseph Bianchi and 174-pound Triston Wills. Even though the Trojans did not send a wrestler to NCAAs last season and do not have a wrestler ranked yet, their experience can outweigh some of the younger Pac-12 teams.
The Trojans' records will not show an impressive improvement this season. However, Little Rock is beginning to build a foundation that will set them up for the future. The Trojans have a few wrestlers coming off a redshirt this season and Neil Erisman said 125-pound Josh Sarpy can be a dark horse in the long run.