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Wrestling: Breaking Down Nebraska’s Big Ten Slate

There are no off-weeks on the Huskers’ conference schedule as all eight opponents are ranked

Nebraska’s Christian Lance, seen here facing Minnesota superstar Gable Steveson in 2020, will have the toughest road through the conference season of anyone on Nebraska’s roster.
Jon Johnston / Corn Nation

With the 9th-ranked Nebraska’s non-conference finale against South Dakota State having been cancelled due to Covid-related illnesses in the Husker program, the Huskers will turn their attention to their conference dual season after the holiday break.

Here is a deep-dive recap of the season so far.

Nebraska will start an 8-dual schedule starting on January 7 when it welcomes No. 16 Purdue to Lincoln.

Nebraska’s Big Ten Schedule

Friday, Jan. 7 - vs. No. 16 Purdue

Friday, Jan. 14 - at No. 14 Minnesota

Friday, Jan. 21 - at No. 15 Wisconsin

Sunday, Jan. 23 - at No. 24 Northwestern

Friday, Feb. 4 - vs. No. 3 Michigan

Sunday, Feb. 6 - at No. 2 Penn State

Sunday, Feb. 13 - vs. No. 23 Illinois

Sunday, Feb. 20 - vs. No. 1 Iowa

Now, the obvious thing that jumps out is the strength of that February schedule. The Huskers will face the three best teams in the country in a 16-day span. Iowa, Penn State and Michigan are stacked with top-tier talent and will be favored against the Huskers. This senior-laden Husker squad has the ability to knock off these wrestling titans, but it will be tough.

In fact, Nebraska’s remaining opponents have an absurd combined dual record of 30-2 on the year, and that’s not just against cupcakes. Iowa beat No. 5 NC State and Penn State beat No. 6 Arizona State last weekend.

And those two losses are a Purdue loss to No. 13 Iowa State and Minnesota falling to No. 4 Oklahoma State.

When you look at it on the individual side, the Huskers still have to face seven former NCAA Champions. They’ve already wrestled against three former NCAA champs in the non-conference season.

10 matches against former NCAA champs before the postseason is probably unheard of.

Remaining Big Ten Schedules by Weight

125 pounds

At this weight, it seems that senior Liam Cronin is dealing with an injury, so it’ll likely be freshman Jeremiah Reno to start the conference season. Reno is 3-5 on the year against some salty competition.

This combo of Cronin and Reno will face a serious gauntlet over the next two months. They’ll wrestle four guys in the Top 10, including a season-finale against No. 1 Spencer Lee of Iowa. Lee is a three-time NCAA Champion and two-time Hodge Trophy winner and is poised to enter the conversation for the best college wrestlers of all time if he wins another one.

Then there’s No. 2 Nick Suriano of Michigan. The senior transferred this year to Ann Arbor after a long career at Rutgers, where he won the school’s first individual NCAA Championship in 2019 at 133 pounds. When they were both freshmen, Suriano lost to Lee in the NCAA final at 125 pounds in 2018 before bumping up to win the following year. Suriano has said he’s going back down to 125 in an attempt to deny Lee his fourth NCAA title.

Can’t wait for that matchup...whenever it happens. As many times as it happens.

With seven of Nebraska’s eight remaining opponents at 125 currently ranked, the Huskers will likely struggle here and will start a lot of duals playing catch-up.

133 pounds

At this weight, Nebraska has some options. But I think they’ll likely stick with sophomore Alex Thomsen who is 2-3 on the year.

Nebraska’s Alex Thomsen
Jon Johnston / CORN NATION

Thomsen will have a manageable start to the conference slate, but things pick up in February as he’ll face four straight Top-10 opponents. First, it’ll be Michigan’s No. 9 Dylan Ragusin, a highly-accomplished freshman. Then a matchup against defending NCAA Champion Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State before facing Illinois’ No. 5 Lucas Byrd. Nebraska will finish the regular season against Iowa’s No. 3 Austin DeSanto.

That’s a tough road for anyone.

141 pounds

Much like at 133, Nebraska starts things off in conference season with a semi-manageable schedule (No. 14 Parker Filius of Purdue, No. 22 Jakob Bergeland of Minnesota, and No. 18 Joseph Zargo of Wisconsin before an unranked wrestler from Northwestern).

Nebraska’s No. 9 Chad Red Jr. is a four-time All-American but he’s struggled at times to start the season. With a 6-2 record on the year, it’ll be important for Red to get wins in January before a killer February lineup.

Nebraska’s No. 9 Chad Red Jr.
Jon Johnston / Corn Nation

In February, Red will face Michigan’s No. 4 Stevan Micic (an Olympian for Serbia), No. 1 Nick Lee of Penn State (defending NCAA Champion), No. 5 Dylan Duncan of Illinois, and No. 2 Jaydin Eierman of Iowa (four-time All-American and 2021 runner-up).

Another buzzsaw of a schedule there for Nebraska.

149 pounds

This has become a weight of strength for Nebraska with the emergence of sophomore Ridge Lovett. With 10 wins on the season, Lovett is ranked No. 5 in the country by FloWrestling at this weight. He’s already faced two-time NCAA Champion and top-ranked Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell and took him to overtime.

With how well Lovett has been wrestling this season, he’ll probably coast until a matchup against No. 4 Yahya Thomas of Northwestern in late January. He’ll also have to face Penn State’s No. 13 Beau Bartlett and Iowa’s No. 10 Max Murin, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Lovett run the table through the Big Ten.

157 pounds

Another top-shelf sophomore here for the Huskers is No. 7 Peyton Robb, who’s off to a hot start to the year. He’s 7-3 on the year with a win over 2021 149-pound NCAA Champion Austin O’Connor and an overtime loss to No. 1 David Carr of Iowa State (2021 NCAA champ at 157).

COLLEGE WRESTLING: MAR 07 Big Ten Wrestling Championships
Nebraska’s No. 7 Peyton Robb, seen here celebrating after defeating Iowa’s Kaleb Young at the 2020 Big Ten Championships.
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Coming up, Robb’s toughest matches are early in the conference schedule. He’ll face Purdue’s No. 9 Kendall Coleman and Minnesota’s No. 5 Brayton Lee to start the dual season. Then to end January, Robb will take on No. 2 Ryan Deakin of Northwestern. Deakin has been absolutely dominant this year so far.

After that, Robb will face a couple ranked opponents in February against Michigan’s No. 13 Will Lewan and Iowa’s No. 10 Kaleb Young.

Robb has been on top of his game this year and could make some more noise with wins over Coleman and Lee. A win over Deakin would really vault Robb to the top echelon of the rankings.

165 pounds

This is a weight where Nebraska is breaking in a new starter in redshirt freshman Bubba Wilson. He’s 7-6 on the year and has shown some promise, and as it turns out, he’ll have arguably Nebraska’s easiest conference schedule on the team.

Four of his eight potential Big Ten opponents are currently ranked in the Top 25. Wilson will have to contend with the likes of No. 11 Cam Amine of Michigan, No. 18 Creighton Edsell of Penn State, and No. 20 Dean Hamiti of Wisconsin this season. He’ll end his first regular season against Iowa’s No. 4 Alex Marinelli.

No schedule in the Big Ten is easy, but this is about as “easy” as it gets for this Husker team. Works out perfectly for Nebraska as it breaks in a freshman starter.

174 pounds

Nebraska’s led by No. 5-ranked Mikey Labriola here at 174. He’s already 10-0 on the year and will be heavily favored in every dual until February, when he’ll face two of his biggest tests in back-to-back duals against Michigan and Penn State. Against the Wolverines, Labriola will face No. 6 Logan Massa before taking on No. 1 Carter Starocci of Penn State, the defending NCAA champ at this weight after winning it as a true freshman.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola (top)
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Then will come a season-ending showdown against Iowa’s No. 2 Michael Kemerer that will hold major seeding implications.

Labriola will be a legit threat at both Big Tens and NCAAs this year. I’m excited to see him against Starocci, Kemerer and Massa.

184 pounds

Another veteran here for Nebraska is No. 11 Taylor Venz. With a 10-2 record on the season, Venz starts conference season against Purdue’s No. 23 Max Lyon before three matches against unranked opponents.

Then things really get difficult in the first weekend of February when Venz will face both No. 2 Myles Amine of Michigan and No. 1 Aaron Brooks of Penn State in three days. Both Amine and Brooks beat Venz last season. Brooks, the defending NCAA champ at 184, has only lost one college match in his Venz.

COLLEGE WRESTLING: MAR 07 Big Ten Wrestling Championships
Nebraska’s Taylor Venz (right), seen here facing Penn State’s Aaron Brooks at the 2020 Big Ten Championships.
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Then Venz ends the year with matches against No. 19 Zac Braunagel of Illinois and No. 17 Abe Assad of Iowa.

197 pounds

Nebraska sends out its second-straight four-year starter in No. 7 Eric Schultz here at 197. Schultz is 6-1 on the year and starts conference season against Purdue’s No. 12 Thomas Penola.

Nebraska’s Eric Schultz (right)
Jon Johnston / CORN NATION

In a schedule littered with ranked opponents, Schultz will have his opportunities to move up the rankings in matchups against No. 2 Max Dean of Penn State and No. 4 Jacob Warner of Iowa later in the season.

Additionally, Schultz will face No. 10 Pat Brucki of Michigan, No. 19 Andrew Davison of Northwestern, and No. 21 Matt Wroblewski of Illinois.

285 pounds

Here is where you save the best for last...or the toughest for last.

Nebraska’s schedule at heavyweight is absolutely daunting. This year’s heavyweight field is one of the toughest of all time, and the Huskers are scheduled to face most of the top dogs.

Nebraska sports No. 11 Christian Lance, a senior that’s 10-1 on the year, and he’ll be a tough out for most heavyweights. But I imagine he’ll struggle through a schedule filled with ranked opponents. Lance will face five of the Top-6 wrestlers in the country,

On the schedule are Olympic Champ/NCAA Champ/Big Ten Champ Gable Steveson of Minnesota, U23 World Champion Tony Cassioppi of Iowa, and Junior World Champion Mason Parris of Michigan.

Minnesota’s Gable Steveson, seen here after defeating Nebraska’s Christian Lance in 2020, is one of the best wrestlers in the world and the heavy favorite to win his second NCAA title.
Jon Johnston / Corn Nation

Steveson is No. 1, Parris is No. 2, and Cassioppi is ranked No. 5. Lance will also have to contend with No. 4 Greg Kerkvliet of Penn State and No. 6 Trent Hillger of Wisconsin.

And if that wasn’t daunting enough, there also No. 14 Lucas Davison of Northwestern and No. 17 Luke Luffman of Illinois.

That’s as tough of a schedule as there is in the country. At any weight.