Big Ten Wrestling 2022 preview: The Quadrangle of Hate
The past two years have seen a canceled National Championship tournament, an abridged season, and one of the strangest Olympics ever. Now we return to the fight as it was planned. Iowa returns as the defending national champions for the first time in a decade, Nebraska and Minnesota both enjoyed their top 10 seasons last year, and Wisconsin are looking to get back in shape by welcoming the top rookie. Braxton Amos in the fold. Here we are.
After the 2020 season saw their long-awaited return to the top delayed by a global pandemic, the Hawkeyes burst into 2021 seeking to right the wrongs. They made their way through five dominant double wins before illnesses caused the rest of their double schedules to be undone. Still, Iowa entered the Big Ten tournament with a head full of steam and crowned four individual champions en route to a conference title. Their margin of victory of 35.5 points was the largest in more than a decade. The NCAA got off to a good start and the Hawkeyes had seven All-Americans and three finalists, but only Spencer Lee wore black and gold on the top step of the podium for Iowa. By turning over their entire roster, Iowa is looking to repeat and win their 25th national title.
The ten returning wrestlers from Iowa are expected to aim for at least all-American honors, with Lee (125), Eierman (141), Marinelli (165) and Kemerer (174) all set to compete for individual titles. There isn’t much to say about this Hawkeye team that hasn’t already been said. With ten returning starters you know exactly what you’re going to get, and it’s the toughest top-down formation in the country.
Iowa’s non-conference schedule is brief, starting with home duels against Princeton on November 19 and Oregon State on November 17, then traveling to Ames to face the Cyclones on December 5. They will participate in the reiteration of the National Duals in December with Penn State, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Mizzou and many others. Next comes the conference program.
Quickly circle @Ohio State, vs Penn State and @Nebraska because you can’t miss the action. On February 12, a week before Nebraska, Iowa heads to Stillwater for some late-season fun against Oklahoma State, and you won’t want to miss that either. The conference tournament takes place March 5-6, with the Hawkeyes looking to repeat their national title from March 17-19.
The Gophers bring back sixth place Brayton Lee, third place Pat McKee and National Champion Gable Steveson, who will compete this year before starting his WWE career. Steveson won an Olympic gold over the summer is by far this Minnesota team’s best-known play, but they are all but two coming back from their national qualifiers a year ago. Although they lose Jake Allar and Owen Webster, they add Wisconsin transfer Jared Krattiger. The Gophers were seventh in domestic tournament points a year ago and are looking to improve during their season.
A home opener against Oklahoma State is a bold move, and I’m here for it. The Gophers chose the Cliff Keen as their major preseason tournament, but they also added the UNI Open a week later. Starting with conference season in Iowa, the Gophers will be nothing but battle tested. Home games against Northwestern, Nebraska and Wisconsin in just two weeks are as good a reason as any to buy season tickets if you’re in Minnesota, and end the season in Minneapolis against the Ohio State is a fitting final on this schedule.
Minnesota will lose some duels. But they will enter in March with a very well prepared team. Expect them to finish in the top five in Detroit by the end of this year.
Only Chad Red and Mikey Labriola won All-American honors for the Cornhuskers last year, a disappointing end after a third-place finish at Big Tens just before. Still, Nebraska has a talented roster and could be competing for a top five at the end of the season. Eight of their nine domestic qualifiers return from last year, with only Caleb Licking missing. He will likely be replaced by one of the best names in wrestling, Brock Hardy.
The non-con Nebraska consists of a few warm-ups, North Carolina, the Cliff Keen Invitational, the state of South Dakota, and then a mid-season trip to Corvallis to see the state of the Oregon. Their conference schedule is very busy at first, but ends with visits to Michigan, Illinois and Iowa for consecutive weeks, interrupted by a trip to State College two days after the Michigan duel. Iowa at Nebraska will be in the top five nationally for the season, and the Huskers will give Iowa absolutely everything they have. If Iowa manages Penn State, they could bring a 30-game winning streak in conference in what could be a 1v2 game.
Nebraska should aim for six All-Americans and have a few Dark Horse contenders. There’s no reason they can’t finish on the podium in March.
Wisconsin saw a relative decline last year, but this year they recruited one of the hottest rookies the country has seen since Spencer Lee. Braxton Amos, of Mineral Wells, West Virginia, won the Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2020 after an undefeated three-year career in high school where he did not give up a single offensive point. You can see all of his accolades here, but let’s just say he’s really good at wrestling. Most recently, he won a bronze medal in Greco-Roman and a gold in freestyle at the World Junior Wrestling Championships. He was a substitute for the Greco-Roman Olympic team in Tokyo. He is expected to wrestle at 197 pounds, where his biggest competition could be last year’s freshman champion AJ Ferrari of Oklahoma State.
Joining him in the lineup from Wisconsin is returning national qualifier Kyle Burwick at 133 pounds, and last year’s sixth in heavyweight, Trent Hillger. Also on the list is the transfer from Iowa State Austin Gomez, who was a national qualifier in 2019.
Wisconsin will have a quiet preseason before heading to the Midlands in late December. Home games against Northwestern and Rutgers should be winnable before a trip northwest to Minneapolis tests the Badgers on the road. A home duel against Nebraska will give Wisconsin a chance to make a statement, before two easier road duels against Purdue and Maryland lead to the showdown at Carver-Hawkeye. They will complete their home conference program against Illinois before heading to West Gym to face the Northern Iowa Panthers, then welcoming Cornell (who didn’t wrestle last year) to end the season. Wisconsin should be able to improve on their performance over last year, and a realistic goal is something like five qualifiers, three All-Americans.
If you’re a fan of these teams, let us know in the comments how you’d expect them to do. You’ve probably been paying attention to the offseason than me. If you are a fan of these schools, but don’t watch wrestling much, this is a good year to start. These four schools have serious advantages. Well Iowa can’t really be “up” any more, but if you’re an Iowa fan and you’re not already watching wrestling, you’ve got to have something against Tom Brands or something.