*Rankings according to Flowrestling
The Nebraska wrestling team looks to replace three starters from a year ago, but the vast majority of its best wrestlers return for another run after shocking the Big Ten with a 2nd place finish at the conference tournament in March. The Huskers come in ranked No. 8 in the preseason rankings with ranked wrestlers at nine of the 10 weight classes.
As if the Big Ten wasn’t strong enough a year ago, the conference looks to possibly be more stacked going into the 2020-21 season.
The consensus top team last season and the top-ranked team going into next season, Iowa returns 9 of its 10 starters, with its lone loss being Big Ten champion Pat Lugo, who will be replaced by Missouri transfer Jaydin Eierman, a 3-time All-American.
Michigan might be the most improved team in the conference with three fifth-year seniors returning from Olympic redshirts. Myles Amine, Logan Massa and Stevan Micic - all former All-Americans - will join an already solid Wolverine lineup. Michigan is preseason ranked No. 3.
Penn State probably lost the most from a year ago, as they’ll have to replace legends Mark Hall and Vincenzo Joseph. But the way Penn State recruits, they don’t know the meaning of the word “rebuild”. They just reload with blue chip prospects. The Nittany Lions come in ranked No. 4 in the preseason rankings.
All in all, the Big Ten places six teams in the Top 10 of the preseason rankings.
Let’s take a look at where Nebraska’s wrestlers are ranked heading into the new season.
No. 17 Liam Cronin (Sr.)
After going the majority of the season a year ago with an unranked wrestler at 125 pounds, Nebraska brought in Cronin from Indiana for a one-and-done season. Although sophomore Alex Thomsen performed admirably as a freshman, Cronin provides a slight upgrade, which could make the difference in some possible tight duals this next season in conference play.
No. 9 Ridge Lovett (So.)
Lovett again will have to wrestle a gauntlet in the Big Ten at 133 pounds, as there are four wrestlers ranked above him, including Michigan’s Micic (No. 2) coming off his Olympic redshirt. Lovett will also have to figure out how to beat Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young (No. 3) and Iowa’s Austin DeSanto (No. 4). The sophomore wrestled both of these guys tough a year ago, and with another year with Mark Manning under his belt, I expect him to make big strides this year into the upper echelon at 133 pounds.
No. 6 Chad Red Jr. (Sr.)
The 141-pound weight class may be the most changed class in the country heading into 2020-21, especially in the Big 10. Last season’s Big 10 champion at 133 pounds Sebastian Rivera made possibly the biggest move of the year when he announced he’s transferring to Rutgers and will be moving up to 141 pounds. Another transfer, Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman who comes in from Missouri, will be another hurdle for Nebraska’s Chad Red to get over. Despite both Rivera and Eierman being ranked above Red in the preseason rankings, I believe these impending matchups will be tight and full of fireworks. Will be a fun year to watch the explosive Husker senior finish his career.
No. 18 Kevon Davenport (R-Fr.)
After going 18-4 during his redshirt year, Davenport made people take notice of him. It’s evident that the wrestling community has by his top-20 ranking as a freshman. Davenport, who seemingly has endless energy, is the second-highest ranked freshman going into the year. The 149-pound division is stacked in the Big 10, as nine wrestlers are ranked above Davenport, so the freshman will be thrown into the fire. We’ll see how he stacks up sooner than later.
No. 13 Peyton Robb (So.)
There have not been any announcements out of the Nebraska camp about any weight class changes, so Robb is penciled into the 157-pound rankings. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I expect Robb to move to 165 pounds to replace the graduated All-American Isaiah White. Either way, Nebraska will have an unranked wrestler at either 157 or 165 pounds. Bubba Wilson, a freshman coming off a redshirt year that saw him go 19-1, should be Nebraska’s starter here.
After going 20-6 as a freshman and being competitive against the country’s best at 157 pounds, Robb should fill in nicely at 165 pounds. Especially when you consider that he at times had trouble with his weight cut. The prospect of watching Robb take on guys like Iowa’s Alex Marinelli and Wisconsin’s Evan Wick is an exciting one.
No. 3 Mikey Labriola (Jr.)
After two impressive years as an underclassman, Mikey Labriola is in prime position to make some noise as a junior. Iowa’s Michael Kemerer, the top-ranked wrestler at 174, returns for a sixth year after receiving a medical redshirt. Also, Michigan’s Myles Amine returns for a sixth year after his Olympic redshirt, so it’ll be tough for Labriola against these two, but with another year of seasoning the Husker junior should be competitive against the country’s best.
No. 8 Taylor Venz (Sr.)
The senior All-American for Nebraska has put together a solid career to date with a 73-25 record. In reach of 100 career wins, Venz is one of the top wrestlers in the country at 184 pounds. The top-ranked senior in the country, Venz has the ability to bring home some hardware this season, as he’s consistently performed admirably against the best in the country. Although prone to lapses in performance against lesser competition, if Venz can become more consistent he can certainly put together his best season in a Husker singlet.
No. 4 Eric Schultz (Sr.)
The Husker senior is coming off his best season, finishing with a 23-4 record. Schultz was Nebraska’s lone finalist at the Big Ten Championships in March and was the 3-seed going into the NCAA tournament. With a combination of one more year of seasoning and the graduation of Ohio State’s Kollin Moore, a thorn in Schultz’s side, the Husker senior will go into the season as the favorite to win the Big Ten at 197 pounds and will make a run at Nebraska’s first national championship since Jordan Burroughs donned a Husker singlet.
No. 15 Christian Lance (Sr.)
Lance is the only ranked Husker at heavyweight, but that’s more a product of experience than anything. As I noted in my lineup prediction, I expect Wyoming transfer Cale Davidson to take the mat for the Huskers at 285 pounds. It’ll be a tough road for anyone the Huskers put out there, as the Big Ten boasts four of the best heavyweights in the country (Minnesota’s Gable Steveson, Michigan’s Mason Parris, Iowa’s Tony Cassioppi and Wisconsin’s Trent Hillger). I expect a rocky road for the Huskers at 285.