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2022-23 Big Ten Breakout Candidates

Purdue 125 lber Matt Ramos (photos courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

It's a bit of an undertaking to make it through the Big Ten schedule. "It's a grind" is how the college wrestling season is generally referred to, but that's especially so when you are basically ensured to have no easy matches. Week in and week out, you're going up against the best in the country, and they have the same goal that you have, which is to win. In the B1G Ten, theoretically, you could lose six conference matches and still be the seventh-best wrestler in the country. That's what we're working with here. For that reason, it's especially tough to "breakout" during the season. However, if you have the right attitude about it, it will give some athletes the opportunity to breakout by virtue of having notable wins throughout the season. Do you think you're better than the conference champion? Go prove it! So that's exactly what we're going to look at today. Here I provide some guys at each weight that I expect to see some big things from throughout the course of the year.

125 - Matt Ramos - Purdue. This is not shocking to anyone reading this at all. Ramos proved last season that he is one of the best wrestlers in the country when he finished his season in the bloodround last year. He had some big wins, notably over Lucas Byrd of Illinois, which to anyone, is a legitimate win. The big difference is that with Devin Schroder vacating the 125 spot upon graduation, Ramos will be dropping down to 125 for the season. This would normally raise questions about his ability to perform at the weight, but he won the US Open wrestling at 57kgs, so that answered any questions about weight management for me. Sure, the NCAA season is a bit different to tackle than a freestyle tournament, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. I trust that Matt Ramos will "breakout" in the sense that he will step into the weight class and have a huge year and get Purdue over the All-American hump this season. I predict a top-five NCAA finish.

Since this isn't exactly a big surprise to anyone, I'll provide a second option at only this weight. Braxton Brown of Maryland had a solid redshirt season. He went 16-5 in his redshirt season including wins over Gary Steen of Penn State, Jacob Allen of Navy, Jace Koelzer of Northern Colorado, and Logan Ashton, now competing for Chattanooga. He's a newer name for those interested in the B1G Ten breakout candidates.

133 - Aaron Nagao - Minnesota. Last year Aaron went 8-3 while competing in his redshirt season. He beat a couple of ranked opponents in Codi Russell of App State and Kellyn March of North Dakota State, while competing at the Southern Scuffle, where he took second place to Rayvon Foley 2-0. Cullen Schriever of Iowa took fourth in the same tournament, so there's that information. Additionally, Aaron just represented the United States at U23's and finished fifth. Additionally, I just appreciate what the Golden Gophers have been able to produce in the lightweights for as long back as I can remember, so I trust the infrastructure that he'll get to work with. Aaron will be jumping into the lineup at 133 for Minnesota, and I expect him to jump right into the fire and get some big wins as the season progresses.

141 - Cole Mattin - Michigan. Cole Mattin's season was cut short due to an injury last year. However, before that happened he placed fourth at the CKLV, getting wins over three ranked opponents on the way, including one over Purdue's Parker Fillius. Cole appeared to be hitting his stride before getting hurt, but I trust he'll come back with the attitude and effort that Mattin's tend to display. It's important to recognize that Cole has shown what he's capable of even earlier than last season. In the 2020 season, he beat Dresden Simon in their dual against CMU. Dresden went on to win the MAC that year. In addition, Cole gets to train in a loaded room, and has been able to recover and get prepared for what should be his first full season in the starting lineup. Watch for him to gain wins and confidence as the season continues.

149 - Kevon Davenport - Illinois. Kevon was a 4x State Champ for Detroit Catholic Central in High School and was a big recruit for Nebraska. One byproduct of recruiting really well, is that sometimes great wrestlers get stuck behind other great wrestlers. That's what happened with Kevon. He got stuck behind Ridge Lovett, who as many remember, finished as the second-best wrestler in the country last season at 149. Kevon transferred to Illinois this year, and I expect he'll end up as the starter for them. While at Nebraska, he was 18-5 with 8 pins, 3 technical falls, and 3 major decisions. Those results are indicative of a dangerous man. I'm blindly confident that he is just that, and he'll show you all this season. Kevon is going to relish this opportunity, and I expect him to capitalize. Also, it turns out he wants to be a journalist, which isn't relevant to this article, but I thought it was fun. Kevon, let's talk about journalism!

157 - Chase Saldate - Michigan State. Chase was a big recruit for the Spartans a couple of years ago, and has been an impactful wrestler for them in his first couple of years in the lineup. He starts the season ranked 19th at 157, which is certainly not bad, but I expect big things from him this year. He made dramatic improvements from his first year to his second, and became an absolute hammer on top last year. Saldate showed some special abilities to turn and get pins last season, which I hope he builds on. If he can add to his offensive arsenal, and become more aggressive on his feet, he could really turn into a dangerous wrestler. That's what I'm banking on. Chase has such a great defense that it makes sense that he would lean on that in close matches, but with some minor adjustments, and more confidence in some attacks, Chase can get on the podium this season.

165 - Stoney Buell - Purdue. Stoney Buell was a monster while competing in High School, competing for Dundee, Michigan, assuming you consider going 4/4 on State Championships, good. Stoney redshirted last season, going 18-6, which is certainly a respectable outcome. In my conversations with the staff at Purdue, it sounds like they are truly excited about what Stoney will be able to show in his first year. Additionally, there are two other stud freshmen coming off of redshirt years in Patrick Kennedy (Iowa) and Alex Facundo (Penn State), who start the year off already ranked. Maybe I'm superimposing my own issues onto Stoney here, but that would motivate me to go show people what's up if that were the case. Expect Stoney to have an immediate impact for the Boilermakers at the Clarion Open on November 6th. I sure do.

174 - Edmond Ruth, Illinois. Remember when he won the Matmen Open last season? That was cool. The dude beat Mason Kaufman of Northern Illinois in the finals of that tournament, which is notable because Mason was a multiple-time NCAA Qualifier. Also notable, is that I don't believe Edmond was wrestling full-time in a college room last year, so he'll likely make some big leaps by having consistent training partners like his brother and the Braunagels. Edmond is a special wrestler, and I expect him to shine in his first year in the B1G Ten. Oh, and he's Edward Ruth's brother, if that wasn't clear.

184 - Layne Malczewski, Michigan State. If you haven't gone out of your way to watch Layne Malczewski wrestle, then please do. The next time that's available to you, take the time to watch. He wrestles very aggressively and fast for a 184-pounder, and throws a lot of different attacks at his opponent. In addition, I just really love the fight he displays in his matches. Last season, I watched him fight off his back in a headlock for about a minute and a half, only to end up pinning his opponent moments later. Layne is a three-time NCAA Qualifier, however, has yet to win a match at NCAAs. There are few things more motivating than disappointment and few things that build more confidence than experience. Layne has the experience of being there, and the pain of not advancing, and I expect him to leverage those experiences to make the leap in his wrestling. This is the year that Layne makes a run in Tulsa.

197 - Jaxon Smith, Maryland. For anyone who pays attention to the bloodround podcast, or my Intermat interview with Jaxon, this should come as no surprise. This summer Jaxon was the U20 US Open Champion, U20 Pan Am Champion, and took fifth at U20 Worlds. In his redshirt season, Jaxon won a couple of Open tournaments, took third at the Clarion Open, and placed 2-2 at the Southern Scuffle. Overall, 23-6 in his redshirt year. In any of the matches I've seen, Jaxon has shown an ability to attack in very unique ways, and constantly keep the pressure on his opponents. Additionally, I trust what the Maryland coaching staff has been doing to prepare these guys specifically to breakout into the Big Ten, and Jaxon is the first of the Terrapins that I am excited to watch do just that.

HWY - Jaron Smith, Maryland. I had heard the rumor that Jaron might be coming back for one more year, and those rumors turned out to be true! Jaron has been a staple in the Terrapin lineup for the last couple of years, and when healthy, has been very dangerous. Earlier in his career, he had a win over Cam Caffey when they were both at 184, and yes, the hair in that match was as awesome as you're imagining. Jaron transitioned well to 197, was an NCAA qualifier last year, and had a win over Patrick Brucki of Michigan. Jaron is going to be bumping up to heavyweight for his final year of eligibility, and I'm genuinely excited to see how he can use his speed and athleticism to make an impact. The Big Ten remains a war zone at all of the weights, but particularly at heavyweight. 6 of the top 11 ranked wrestlers are from the Big Ten, but more specifically, 5 of the top 7, so it's really top-heavy in the Big Ten, and tough to break through at this weight, but if someone is going to do it I believe it will be the battle-tested and poised Jaron Smith.

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