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Wrestling: Huskers Honoring Burroughs to Start Season Friday Night

No. 8 Nebraska will host North Dakota State Friday Night at the Devaney Center at 6 p.m.

COLLEGE WRESTLING: MAR 07 Big Ten Wrestling Championships
Nebraska’s No. 2 Peyton Robb will take on No. 6 Jared Franek of NDSU in Friday night’s premier matchup.
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’ll be a big night for the Huskers to start the season as they honor the greatest American wrestler ever Jordan Burroughs while opening their season against a salty Bison squad.

It’s Jordan Burroughs night, and it’ll be a special event as Burroughs will be honored for winning his American-record seventh World/Olympic gold medal. In many minds, that solidified him as the American GOAT, and he’s not done yet. He plans to wrestle at the World Championship again at 79 kg next season before dropping down to 74 kg in 2024 for one last run at another Olympic gold.

On to the season-opening dual...

With so many starters graduating after last season — Chad Red Jr. at 141 pounds, Taylor Venz at 184, Eric Schultz at 197, and Christian Lance at 285 — this Husker team is currently very top heavy as far as the rankings go. They have just four wrestlers ranked — No. 2 Ridge Lovett at 149, No. 2 Peyton Robb at 157, No. 16 Bubba Wilston at 165, and No. 3 Mikey Labriola at 174 — but those guys are very highly ranked. Will they be enough to carry this team to a team trophy at NCAAs? It’s possible, but I don’t think they’ll have to.

The Huskers have a host of replacements that have been on the roster for a couple years but have been sitting behind starters and redshirting along the way. The Huskers may start four redshirt freshmen against NDSU, along with three seniors trying to solidify the lineup.

As far as the Bison of North Dakota State go, they will bring a solid bunch to Lincoln. Sitting just outside the NWCA Coaches Poll in the “others receiving votes” category, NDSU has five ranked wrestlers, led by No. 6 Jared Franek at 157 pounds.

The dual will air live on BTN+ (subscription required) at 6 p.m.

Weight-by-Weight Breakdown

Rankings according to FloWrestling

125 pounds

The Huskers return seventh-year senior Liam Cronin to the field after missing most of last season with an injury. Cronin started the Covid shortened 2020-21 season and went 10-5 and qualified for the NCAA tournament. He’ll be a welcome addition to this Husker lineup. He’s currently listed as an honorable mention in the rankings at 125 pounds, but I expect him to climb into the rankings sooner than later.

North Dakota State will start either Ryan Henningson or Carlos Negrete Jr. at 125 pounds. A junior, Henningson went 1-8 last season. A freshman, Negrete went 7-3 a year ago while redshirting. He was one of the top recruits in California at 120 pounds while wrestling in high school. I suspect the Bison will go with Negrete here.

Cronin’s experience and pressure will be too much in this one as he knocks some rust off.

Prediction: Cronin by major decision — Nebraska 4, NDSU 0

133 pounds

Nebraska has not decided who will go here, but they have incredible depth. A former Minnesota Golden Gopher and before that a junior college national champion, Boo Dryden redshirted last year to work on his development. The 6-foot-2 senior is a tough out, as he’s previously beaten the other competitors at this weight. Also in the conversation is last year’s starter Dominick Serrano. A sophomore, Serrano has an available redshirt and I suspect Nebraska will use it this year.

Nebraska also has an option in Kyle Burwick, a Wisconsin transfer that is dealing with some eligibility issues with the NCAA, and it sounds like Wisconsin failed in educating their student athletes on some new NCAA rules and is dragging its feet in resolving the issue. I’ll let Burwick explain it to you.

So, Burwick may not be an option, but the Huskers also have former starter Alex Thomsen competing at 133 pounds. The junior has a career 19-25 record while wrestling at both 125 and 133.

If I had to pick, I’d say Dryden is the big favorite to start here. He seems like the best option, period. Plus, with Dryden being a senior, Serrano having an available redshirt, and Burwick’s eligibility issues, I think it’s a no-brainer to start Dryden Friday night. Also, he went 13-0 last year while redshirting.

The Bison will throw out one of three wrestlers here, so it’s really anybody’s guess. Kellyn March, a junior, went 14-9 a year ago. Then there’s senior McGwire Midkiff who went just 1-8 a year ago but has a 24-33 career record. Or NDSU could throw out former Top-100 recruit Fernando Barreto. The freshman was all-state three times in California and had a 164-27 career record.

No matter who it is, I think Dryden should pick up the win, and with his length, look for a cradle and a pin.

Prediction: Dryden by pinfall — Nebraska 10, NDSU 0

141 pounds

After years of waiting for the former top-shelf recruit to hit the lineup, Nebraska will finally be able to see what Brock Hardy has at 141 pounds. After graduating high school in 2018, Hardy took a two-year Mormon mission before enrolling at Nebraska. Then he competed sparingly in the free-eligibility year of 2021, beginning the year as the starter at 149 pounds before ceding the spot to Ridge Lovett.

This past year, Hardy redshirted and only wrestled one tournament, going 5-0 while winning the MVC Open in February with two pins, two tech falls and a major decision.

Hardy really does have the tools to be dominant, and at the age of 22 as a redshirt freshman he should get into the rankings rather soon.

For the Bison, they bring a solid first test for Hardy at his new weight. No. 13-ranked Dylan Droegemueller, a senior, went 2-2 last year at NCAAs as he was knocked out of the tournament by Nebraska’s Chad Red Jr. in a close 7-6 decision. He finished the year with a 16-10 record.

While Droegemueller is ranked and is technically more credentialed, just knowing about Hardy and what he brings to the table, I think he’s going to seriously turn some heads this year. And he might just do so right out of the gate.

Prediction: Hardy by decision — Nebraska 13, NDSU 0

149 pounds

Nebraska returns NCAA runner-up Ridge Lovett here. He’s 50-15 in his Husker career and really came on last year as a sophomore when he went 24-4 and made it to the NCAA final. Currently, he’s ranked No. 2 behind three-time NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis.

Now, there are rumors that Nebraska plans to redshirt Lovett. That would drastically effect this team’s chances to place high at the NCAA tournament, but it’s a storyline to keep an eye on nonetheless. Will Nebraska send out Lovett? I would say yes, but he does have a redshirt available.

If Lovett doesn’t go, it’ll likely be senior Dane Morton. The newcomer this summer transferred in from Division 2 Northern State where he went 39-15. He’s a guy that’s dealt with some injuries, but Nebraska Head Coach Mark Manning thinks that was due to overtraining and thinks it’s behind him.

NDSU will send out sophomore Gaven Sax. An honorable mention in the rankings, Sax went 17-12 last year as a freshman while going 2-2 at the Big 12 Championships. He’s a solid wrestler with loads of potential.

If Lovett goes, it’ll be pretty easy work for him, but if it’s Morton I’d probably give the edge to Sax. I’ve heard nothing definitive that Lovett is redshirting, so I’ll proceed to act as if he’ll take the mat.

Prediction: Lovett by tech fall — Nebraska 18, NDSU 0

157 pounds

Arguably Nebraska’s best wrestler, No. 2-ranked Peyton Robb put on a show last year at NCAAs as he earned his first All-American honors by finishing fourth and beating a slew of top-shelf guys.

With no clear frontrunner at 157 pounds this year, Robb probably has the best chance on this year’s team to win a national title, as he’s shown he can beat the top guys in the country. Plus, Manning was really excited about his development this offseason as he’s worked on some of his deficiencies.

NDSU will sent out No. 6 Jared Franek as we get to see a true Top-10 matchup. Franek last season fell just one win short of All-American honors but finished the year 26-5. On his career he’s 66-17.

In the biggest match of the dual, I think Robb wins a close decision. Maybe something like 5-4.

Prediction: Robb by decision — Nebraska 21, NDSU 0

165 pounds

It’s anyone’s guess who Nebraska puts out there at this weight. The Huskers return No. 16-ranked Bubba Wilson after he qualified for NCAAs as a redshirt freshman last season. But he’s been competing with Pennsylvania state champion Jagger Condomitti and Adam Thebeau, both redshirt freshmen.

Due to injury (to who I don’t know), the Huskers weren’t able to determine their starter at last weekend’s wrestle-offs. If I had to bet, my money would be on Condomitti taking the mat tomorrow night.

For NDSU, No. 21 Michael Caliendo will take the mat. Just a redshirt freshman, Caliendo went 14-2 last year while redshirting. He picked up multiple ranked wins on his way to winning the Daktronics Open at 165. He’s a big-time talent.

This is a hard one to pick. Both were talented and sought-after recruits. Caliendo has more college experience than Condomitti, so I think he could just edge the Husker in this one.

Prediction: Condomitti loses decision — Nebraska 21, NDSU 3

174 pounds

Here at 174, Nebraska has probably the anchor of the lineup in No. 3 Mikey Labriola. In a weight class with two NCAA Champions in Carter Starocci of Penn State and Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech, Labriola is the best of the rest. It’ll be interesting if he can spoil the anticipated NCAA final rematch between Starocci and Lewis.

Last season, Labriola went 23-5 while finishing seventh at NCAAs for his third All-American honor. He’s 90-27 in his career and is almost assured to enter the 100-win club and climb the all-time wins chart at Nebraska.

North Dakota State will send out junior Riley Habisch who went 12-12 a year ago. He went 1-3 at the Big 12 Championships.

Labriola should have his way with Habisch.

Prediction: Labriola by tech fall — Nebraska 26, NDSU 3

184 pounds

At this weight, Nebraska has a roster battle between a pair of redshirt freshmen. Both Nathan Haas and Lenny Pinto were big recruits. Haas started some duals in place of Taylor Venz in the free-eligibility year of 2021. He went 2-1 in duals, even beating then-No. 9 Owen Webster of Minnesota in his first match.

Pinto, on the other hand was one of the best recruits in the country for the 2021 class. Unfortunately, he injured his knee in a Who’s #1 match that he eventually won despite the injury. He missed his senior year of competition after winning a Pennsylvania state title as a junior. Then during his redshirt year, he didn’t compete at all. According to Manning, Pinto has looked really good this offseason and beat Haas in their wrestle-off on Saturday. So that leads me to believe that Pinto will take the mat tomorrow night.

For the Bison, DJ Parker will take the mat. He’s an honorable mention in the rankings as a sophomore. Last season, he went 22-14 and finished sixth at the Big 12 tournament. However, he was 0-12 against ranked opponents.

I know that on paper, Parker should take this match. But knowing that Pinto is 100 percent and beat Haas, I think he’ll get this one.

Prediction: Pinto by decision — Nebraska 29, NDSU 3

197 pounds

Nebraska is replacing All-American Eric Schultz here after five years in the lineup. Redshirt freshman Silas Allred has been impressive while on campus, going 7-0 a year ago while redshirting. He’s a bonus-point machine too as he was a serial pinner in high school. He continued that trend last season as he recorded five pins, one tech fall and one win by medical forfeit. One of those pins came against Yonger Bastida of Iowa State on the way to winning the Daktronics Open as a redshirt. Bastida went on to finish fifth at NCAAs to earn All-American honors.

For NDSU, No. 17 Owen Pentz will be a tough test for Allred’s first varsity match. Pentz went 1-2 last year at NCAAs but notoriously pinned 2-seed Eric Schultz of Nebraska in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Championships. The junior finished his sophomore year with an 18-11 record. He’s solid.

Again, on paper this one should probably go to Pentz, but I really think that’s because nobody really knows about these guys like Allred who have been behind the scenes waiting their turn for the Huskers. I expect many of these guys to surprise people, and I think Allred does it right away and gets the pin in his first career match in a Husker singlet. After falling just one match short of representing Team USA at the U20 World Championships this summer, Allred showed he really is that good.

Prediction: Allred by pinfall — Nebraska 35, NDSU 3

285 pounds

At heavyweight, Nebraska is replacing All-American Christian Lance. In comes senior Cale Davidson. The former Wyoming transfer, Davidson has spent the past few seasons growing into a heavyweight for the Huskers. Now as a senior, it’s his time to enter the lineup. In limited matches as a Husker heavyweight, Davidson holds a 12-2 record. At Wyoming as a 197-pounder, he went 26-15.

For the Bison, No. 17 Brandon Metz will take the mat. A three-time NCAA qualifier, Metz went 16-11 last year and also represented Team USA at the U23 World Championships this summer in Greco-Roman at 130 kg.

Metz is definitely beatable, but it’s really unclear what we’re going to get with Davidson. In this one, I think that Metz finishes the dual with a Bison win. But I’ll be really interested to watch and find out more about Davidson.

Prediction: Davidson loses decision — Nebraska 35, NDSU 6