2022 NCAA All-Americans Rocky Elam (left) and Yonger Bastida (photo courtesy of Mark Lundy; LutteLens.com)
Wrestling season is a few months away but we're starting to see some schedules trickle out and I felt this would be a good time to look at some duals that we should see every year involving Big 12 programs.
Bedlam. Two of the sport's most historic programs and one of the most heated in-state rivalries in all of college sports. The thing here is this could be in jeopardy with OU on their way out of the conference and on their way to the SEC; though, of course, they may stay in the Big 12 for wrestling. Whatever happens with realignment, this rivalry will hopefully continue as it's really a great one for the sport.
Iowa State-Northern Iowa
Naturally, there may be a bit of a theme to the in-state rivalries in this story, but I think the unique and interesting thing regarding this one is the fact that Iowa doesn't wrestle Northern Iowa. So this makes this rivalry even bigger than it normally would be. Plus, it's the only in-conference matchup in the state of Iowa, so all the way around, this is a great matchup between two excellent programs that you really want to see each season.
North Dakota State-South Dakota State
The "Dakota Marker". Another built-in rivalry that crosses all sports for these schools. One that gets both fanbases interested regardless of what's going on. Two solid programs that should be competitive every year and create a great wrestling environment.
This is the only one that includes a team not in the Big 12 with Pitt. But the "Backyard Brawl" is a must for West Virginia every year. Regardless of what they have scheduled in conference every season, we should hope to see WVU-Pitt scrap every season.
Northern Colorado-Air Force
I don't know how heated of a rivalry this could become, given Air Force's status as a service academy and not a state school. But with two Big 12 teams, and the only Division 1 wrestling programs in the state of Colorado, this one has some of the right ingredients to blossom into a good annual matchup for each school.
Both crowned their first Big 12 Champions last year with Andrew Alirez(UNCO) winning 141 and Wyatt Hendrickson(Air Force) winning heavyweight. And their dual last year came down to a tie going to criteria and giving Northern Colorado the one-point edge over Air Force 19-18. It's not Bedlam or the Cy-Hawk series or some of the other big in-state rivalries we see in the sport, but if cultivated correctly this could be a solid matchup every year to really draw in the Colorado wrestling fans and community.
Utah Valley-Cal Baptist
I'm taking a bit of a unique angle with this one. These two programs don't have a long history or any tight connection, they've only wrestled two times ever with Utah Valley winning both. But with both being the furthest west programs in the Big 12 and no clear rivals to line up with? Why not establish one now?
The Cowboys vs. The Cowboys, Pistol Pete vs. Pistol Pete, John Smith vs. Mark Branch. A lot of great built-in storylines with this one that creates a bit of a unique rivalry between the two.
Missouri-Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Iowa State
In my opinion, all four of these teams should wrestle each other every year. Conference realignment has made a mess of things, but these old Big Eight/Big Twelve rivalries hold a lot of weight for fans. And routinely having these matches and keeping these rivalries is big for every one of these programs and for the sport. I'm glad Missouri's back in the conference, I hope OU gets to stay, and I hope we see a lot of these matchups every single year.