Well, things don’t get any easier for the Huskers.
A week after facing top-ranked Iowa, the Nebraska wrestling team gears up for a showdown against No. 2 Penn State (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten). The seventh-ranked Huskers (5-2, 0-2) continue their run of top-ten opponents, which isn’t surprising. After all, the Big Ten claims the top five teams (1. Iowa, 2. Penn State, 3. Ohio State, 4. Wisconsin, 5. Minnesota) and seven of the top eight. In total, 10 teams from the Big Ten are ranked in the top 25.
In a season where the top-ranked wrestler in the country at nine of the 10 weight classes hail from the Big Ten, Nebraska will have to depend on team depth rather than championship favorites if it wants to claim a spot as one of the conference’s elites. Nebraska has nine ranked wrestlers, which is the second most in the conference behind Iowa’s ten. Six Big Ten teams boast a top-ranked wrestler at their weight class (Iowa 2, Penn State 2, Ohio State 2, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Minnesota), but the Huskers’ depth outpaces everyone but the Hawkeyes, giving them a legitimate chance to knock off just about any team.
How to Watch
The action starts Friday at 6 p.m at the Devaney Sports Center and will be televised by the Big Ten Network.
How to Attend
With Nebraska holding its Pepsi Pack the House event, tickets are only $1 with the gates opening at 5 p.m. University of Nebraska-Lincoln students always get in free with their N Card, and children ages six and under always get in free.
Scouting Penn State
So the Huskers welcome the Nittany Lions, who have won the past four national championships and eight of the last 9, to the Devaney Center Friday at 6 p.m. with the action to be televised by the Big Ten Network.
The Nittany Lions are experiencing a down year as far as their standards are concerned. Then tenth-ranked Arizona State snapped Penn State’s 60-dual win streak in November, and the injury bug has found a home in State College. 2019 national champion Anthony Cassar had his season end due to a shoulder injury, while Kyle Conel also suffered a shoulder injury and is out at 197. Also, sophomore Brady Berge is still out of the lineup due to a concussion he suffered in October at the U23 World Championships.
Despite the losses, Penn State still has one of the best lineups in the country, peppered with All-Americans and former national champs. So the Huskers and their fans best not count their chickens too early.
I will be laying out each matchup between the two teams and giving my opinion on the Huskers’ chances in said matchups. So let’s get to it…
125- In a matchup between unranked true freshmen, Nebraska’s Alex Thomsen (6-9) looks to get back to his winning ways after dropping seven of his last eight matches in what has been a disappointing freshman campaign. For Penn State, Brandon Meredith (11-7) is certainly beatable, but he’ll still be a tough out for Thomsen. Both wrestlers are looking for their first Big Ten dual wins of the year and for their careers. Nebraska’s chances: 25%
133- Nebraska freshman Ridge Lovett (8-5) continues to face a gauntlet of elite wrestlers, as he takes on No. 3 Roman Bravo-Young (12-0). Lovett, ranked No. 13, has faced No. 1 and No. 2 in his last two bouts and hopes to pull off the major upset to grab his first dual win of the year. Although Lovett is supremely talented, the 2019 All-American from Penn State looks like a lock to grab the win. Nebraska’s chances: 5%
141- Nebraska’s No. 8 Chad Red Jr. (11-4) welcomes another top wrestler, as he takes on Penn State’s No. 2 Nick Lee (11-0). The pair of juniors are not strangers, as they wrestled for a state title to end their senior years of high school, with Red grabbing the win and the title. Lee got his revenge last year when he took down Red 5-4. Both guys are two-time All-Americans, and considering their familiarity with each other, this bout looks to provide serious fireworks. Considering Red beat Iowa’s Max Murin (then-No. 6) 6-2 last week, the Husker looks to be peaking at just the right time as he’s set to face off against a slew of top 141-pounders in the coming weeks. But this one is almost too close to call. Nebraska’s chances: 48%
149- In the first matchup where Nebraska is favored, No. 14 Collin Purinton (10-5) looks to grab a win against Penn State’s Jarod Verkleeren (12-2). As you can see, based on Verkleeren’s record, he’s no slouch. The Nittany Lions don’t recruit slouches, and the sophomore should push Purinton in a close match. Nebraska’s chances: 60%
157- With the injury to Penn State’s No. 4 Brady Berge, Nebraska’s Peyton Robb (12-3) needs to capitalize and grab some bonus points if Nebraska wants to steal a win from the Nittany Lions. The 11th-ranked Robb has shown a ton of potential and toughness this season, and I expect more of the same as he takes on junior fill in Bo Pipher (8-8). Nebraska’s chances: 90%
165- Again, Nebraska’s fifth-ranked Isaiah White (12-2) finds himself in the matchup of the day when he takes the mat against top-ranked Penn State senior Vincenzo Joseph (6-0). After losing a nail-biter 4-3 against Iowa’s second-ranked Alex Marinelli, White faces another elite grappler. Joseph is widely considered one of the best wrestlers in the country at any weight class, as he’s won two national titles while appearing in the NCAA finals each year of his career. These two seniors are no strangers either, but it’s Joseph who’s gotten the better of White so far in their careers. White is 0-3 against Joseph in his career, although all three losses have been by two points or fewer with two of the losses taking place in sudden-victory. In short, this matchup is a must-watch, and if White wants to be considered in the conversation as one of the elites at 165, he needs this one. Nebraska’s chances: 40%
174- Another match, another one of the Huskers’ best facing a top-ranked former national champion. Sixth-ranked Mikey Labriola (13-4) has been solid for Nebraska all season, but he finds himself facing top-ranked Mark Hall (15-0) for the Nittany Lions. After falling to Iowa’s No. 2 Michael Kemerer via a 3-1 decision a week ago, Labriola gets another shot at joining the top of the heap. Easier said than done. Labriola is facing an-all time Penn State great, as Hall is a two-time Big Ten champion, three-time NCAA finalist and the 2017 NCAA champion (as a freshman). A year ago, Hall went 30-1 with his lone loss coming in the national final. He’s compiled a 108-5 career record. Now, before you write off the Husker sophomore, keep in mind that these two have faced each other before. A year ago, Labriola lost an extremely tight 5-3 decision in State College as a freshman, so it’s safe to say he won’t shy away from the highly-decorated Hall. Nebraska’s chances: 25%
184- After tripping up against one talented freshman, Nebraska’s eighth-ranked Taylor Venz (11-5) looks to right the ship against another talented newcomer. Penn State’s sixth-ranked Aaron Brooks (7-0) has been a handful all year, so the question is: Which Taylor Venz will Nebraska see on Friday? Earlier in the year, Venz dropped a razor-thin 8-7 decision to No. 1 Zahid Valencia of Arizona State, widely considered to be the very best wrestler in college at any weight class. He’s the current favorite to win the Dan Hodge Trophy (basically the Heisman trophy of college wrestling). Or will Nebraska see the Taylor Venz who fell 6-4 to Iowa’s Abe Assad, a freshman, a week ago? I’m looking for the Husker All-American to bounce back and hand Brooks his first career loss. Nebraska’s chances: 60%
197- Coming off a big upset of then-No. 4 Jacob Warner of Iowa, Nebraska’s eighth-ranked Eric Schultz has arguably been Nebraska’s MVP midway through the year. The junior sports a 15-2 record and is a perfect 7-0 in dual competition. He has secured an astounding 53 takedowns in duals this year while surrendering just three. But as usual, when facing Penn State no matches come easily. After losing Kyle Canel, the Nittany Lions inserted sixth-year senior Shakur Rasheed into the starting lineup. Despite just a 2-1 record on the season after coming back from ACL surgery, Rasheed is ranked 19th in the country. An All-American in 2017, his career accomplishments are quite impressive. Rasheed holds a 66-15 career record and finished second at the Big Ten tournament in 2019 at 184 pounds, beating Nebraska’s Venz in the semifinal match. His 28 career pins puts him in the top-20 in Penn State history. So yeah, Rasheed is no pushover, but recently coming off major knee surgery to face a red-hot Schultz doesn’t bode well for the Nittany Lion. Nebraska’s chances: 75%
285- After losing defending heavyweight champion Anthony Cassar, Penn State inserted freshman Seth Nevills (9-0) into the lineup, and he’s done nothing but win. Nevills is currently unranked, but don’t expect that to last long. The freshman was a highly sought after recruit, and he’s shown why. Nebraska’s 15th-ranked Christian Lance (9-5) has his hands full this Friday, and although he’s technically favored in this matchup, I wouldn’t bet on the Husker pulling off the win. Lance has lost five of his last six matches after an 8-0 start in what may be Nebraska’s weakest weight class (it’s either 285 or 125). Nebraska’s chances: 20%