clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nebraska’s 2023-24 Wrestling Schedule Drops: Observations and Top Matchups

The 5th-ranked Huskers’ schedule came out yesterday; plus five of the most anticipated matches I can’t wait to see this season

Nebraska Head Coach Mark Manning.
Jon Johnston / CORN NATION

Nebraska’s complete 2023-24 schedule has finally been released.

As usual, being in the Big Ten and all, Nebraska has a schedule full of top teams. But not only is Nebraska’s conference schedule brutal, it also has a tough slate of non-conference opponents. All of Nebraska’s 14 dual opponents are ranked in the top 50 according to FloWrestling’s Team Tournament Rankings for the 2023-24 season. Four are preseason ranked in the Top 10.

Nebraska currently sits at No. 5 in the preseason rankings due to a stacked lineup with few holes. As you’ll see, Nebraska will certainly get to prove itself as a top team with its schedule.

#5 Nebraska’s 2023-24 Schedule

Saturday, Nov. 4 — at #45 North Dakota St.

Friday, Nov. 10 — vs #36 Campbell

Saturday, Nov. 18 — Navy Classic

Fri.-Sat., Dec. 1-2 — Cliff Keen Invitational

Saturday, Dec. 16 — vs. #12 South Dakota St.

Saturday, Jan. 6 — Triangular vs #50 Wyoming and #14 Northern Iowa

Friday, Jan. 12 — vs. #2 Iowa

Friday, Jan. 19 — at #24 Minnesota

Sunday, Jan. 21 — vs. #18 Purdue

Friday, Jan. 26 — at #34 Northwestern

Sunday, Jan. 28 — at #16 Wisconsin

Sunday, Feb. 4 — vs. #23 Illinois

Friday, Feb. 9 — vs. #9 Michigan

Sunday, Feb. 18 — at #1 Penn State

Sunday, Feb. 25 — at #7 Arizona State

Sat.-Sun., Mar. 9-10 — Big Ten Championships

Thur.-Sat., Mar. 21-23 — NCAA Championships

Some Observations

Non-Conference Opponents are Tough

Nebraska starts its season on the road in early November against North Dakota State. The Bison upset the Huskers in Lincoln last year and finished in 24th place at NCAAs, However, the Bison lost their head coach to Oklahoma and suffered a rash of transfers after. NDSU lost its two best wrestlers to Iowa — Jared Franek (No. 2 at 157) and Michael Caliendo (No. 5 at 165). Then 197-pound NCAA qualifier Owen Pentz transferred to Nebraska and will move to heavyweight. Three others followed their head coach Roger Kish to Oklahoma, leaving new NDSU head coach Obenson Blanc with a depleted roster.

Preseason ranked No. 36, Campbell will bring in a squad with five preseason ranked wrestlers, led by Dominic Zaccone who is ranked No. 14 at 133 pounds.

South Dakota State presents Nebraska it’s toughest test before its conference schedule. The Jackrabbits are preseason ranked No. 12 by Flo after finishing in 14th place at the 2023 NCAA Championships. Led by NCAA finalist Tanner Sloan who is No. 2 at 197 pounds, SDSU has six ranked wrestlers in its lineup.

On January 6, Nebraska will face off against both Wyoming and Northern Iowa. Wyoming brings only one preseason ranked wrestler in Jore Volk, a sophomore that’s ranked No. 16 at 125.

Northern Iowa, on the other hand, is ranked No. 14 and will be a solid test for the Huskers after holiday break before going into the Big Ten grind. Led by No. 1-ranked Parker Keckeisen at 184, UNI has five ranked wrestlers and will not be an easy out in a dual.

After the Big Ten conference dual season, Nebraska finishes its regular season with a trip out to Tempe to face Arizona State. The Sun Devils are always relevant nationally — they out-placed Nebraska for seventh at NCAAs in March. The Huskers won their dual last season in Lincoln, but a trip to face an opponent of this magnitude will be tough.

Arizona State is preseason ranked No. 7 and has six ranked wrestlers, including four in the top 5 of their weight class: Richard Figueroa (No. 3 at 125), Kyle Parco (No. 3 at 149), Jacori Teemer (No. 4 at 157) and Cohlton Schultz (No. 5 at 285).

Conference Schedule is Very Difficult

Nebraska will have four road duals and four home duals.

At home, Nebraska will see No. 2 Iowa, No. 9 Michigan, No. 18 Purdue and No. 23 Illinois. On the road, the Huskers will take on No. 1 Penn State, No. 16 Wisconsin, No. 24 Minnesota and No. 34 Northwestern.

Outside of not facing No. 13 Ohio State, this is about as tough as it gets for a Big Ten schedule.

Obviously, the Huskers will have their hands full with top-ranked Penn State and No. 2 Iowa. Penn State has nine ranked guys with eight of them ranked in the Top 3 of their weight class — led by three-time NCAA champions Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks. They also have NCAA finalists Levi Haines and Greg Kerkvliet.

Against Iowa, things are a bit more manageable, but the Hawkeyes still have a stellar lineup. It’s unknown what will happen with Iowa and its wrestlers who have been rumored suspended for their part in the gambling saga that’s taken place in Iowa, but the Hawkeyes will still be led by Real Woods (No. 1 at 141) and Franek (No. 2 at 157). Iowa also has a No. 5-ranked guy in Caliendo (165).

Another big-time dual for the Huskers will be against Michigan. The Wolverines lost a lot of talent but they hit the transfer portal hard to reload — they brought in NCAA champion Shane Griffith from Stanford and a trio of All-Americans from conference foe Northwestern. With six ranked guys in total, Michigan has four guys in the Top 10.

While teams like Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Northwestern probably won’t threaten to beat Nebraska in their duals, there are still some scintillating individual matchups in there.

Nebraska will see if its new 125-pounder Caleb Smith, a transfer from Appalachian State who is preseason ranked No. 13, is ready for the big time against NCAA finalist and top-ranked Matt Ramos of Purdue. Against Illinois, Nebraska will have to contend with a pair of Top-10 guys in Lucas Byrd (No. 7 at 133) and Edmond Ruth (No. 9 at 174).

Wisconsin has two Top-5 guys in Dean Hamiti (No. 4 at 165) and Eric Barnett (No. 5 at 125), while Minnesota will be led by Isaiah Salazar (No. 6 at 184) — that is, unless Olympic Champion Gable Steveson chooses to come back for his last year of eligibility.

Lastly, Northwestern has four preseason ranked wrestlers, led by Trevor Chumbley (No. 10 at 157).

Huskers To Defend Tournament Titles

Nebraska will travel to compete at both the Navy Classic and the Cliff Keen Invitational after winning both team titles last season.

Nebraska has won the last three team titles at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas (2019, 2021, 2022) — widely considered the toughest tournament outside of the postseason. Returning to defend their individual CKLV titles will be Brock Hardy at 141 pounds and Peyton Robb at 157.

The Huskers last season saw five of their wrestlers earn individual titles at the Navy Classic with three of those wrestlers returning this season — Hardy, Robb and Silas Allred.

5 Matches I Can’t Wait to See

149 pounds — No. 1 Ridge Lovett vs. No. 2 Shayne Van Ness (PSU)

After taking a redshirt year this past season, Ridge Lovett returns as a favorite to make it back to the NCAA final. As a sophomore, Lovett went 24-4 and made it to both the Big Ten and NCAA finals — dropping the conference final to Sammy Sasso of Ohio State and the NCAA final to now four-time NCAA champ Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell. With Sasso out for the year after sustaining a gunshot wound to the stomach (he was planning to move up to 157 before the incident) and Diakomihalis graduated, Lovett appears to be in the driver’s seat at 149 pounds this year.

The match that most interests me for Lovett is against Penn State’s Shayne Van Ness. As a freshman last season, Van Ness went 24-7 and finished third at NCAAs. Van Ness fell in the semifinal to Diakomihalis on the way to his fourth championship.

With these two set to see each other in a dual on Feb. 18, it’s likely they’ll be ranked 1 and 2. So this match could go a long way into who gets the 1-seed at Big Tens and NCAAs.

Obviously, these two have never met with Lovett redshirting during Van Ness’ freshman year, but they both had very similar results against Diakomihalis. Lovett lost an 11-5 decision in the 2022 NCAA final, while Van Ness fell to Diakomihalis 8-3. You can watch both matches below.

197 pounds — No. 6 Silas Allred vs. No. 1 Aaron Brooks (PSU)

Last season, Silas Allred knocked off Penn State’s NCAA Champion Max Dean — not once, but twice. As a redshirt freshman, Allred beat Dean in the Big Ten final 6-3. He followed that up with a 7-2 win over Dean at NCAAs (see below).

This year, Allred will have an even more difficult opponent from the Nittany Lions. Out goes Dean, in comes three-time NCAA champ (at 184) Aaron Brooks who is moving up to 197 and will be looking to cement his name as one of the greats with a fourth NCAA title.

As for the Big Ten, it seems likely that Allred and Brooks will meet in the conference final, being the two best 197-pounders in the Big Ten.

It’ll be interesting how Brooks will handle the bigger competition as he’ll be noticably undersized, but there’s no reason to think he won’t be a title contender and possibly the favorite. After all, he just went toe-to-toe with Olympic Champion David Taylor in an attempt to make the Senior-level World Team at 86kg (189.6 pounds). He’s too skilled to not make the podium, but how will he handle bigger guys like Allred? I guess we’ll find out in mid February.

141 pounds — No. 4 Brock Hardy vs. No. 1 Real Woods (Iowa)

These two wrestled three time this past season with Real Woods taking all three matches. First, Brock Hardy lost a 6-4 decision in their dual. Then in the Big Ten final, Woods squeaked out a 2-1 decision. The two then met in the NCAA semifinal round with Woods winning an 11-1 major decision after Hardy suffered a rib injury early in the bout (see for yourself in the video below). Hardy went on to lose in the consolation semis while gutting out the injury before medically forfeiting out of the 5th-place match.

I expect these two to meet each other at least twice this season. Let’s see if Hardy, a sophomore-to-be, can get into the win column against the Hawkeye. Regardless, these two always have close matches so it’ll be fun to watch.

184 pounds — No. 14 Lenny Pinto vs. No. 1 Parker Keckeisen (UNI)

Last season, Lenny Pinto wrestled Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen at the Cliff Keen Invitational, dropping an 11-2 major decision (watch it below). That was early in Pinto’s first year starting. After a full season under his belt where he went 24-11 and showed marked improvement, I expect Pinto to be able to keep it closer this time around. If Pinto can beat Keckeisen, it’ll cement his name in the conversation as a national title contender.

157 pounds — No. 3 Peyton Robb vs. No. 2 Jared Franek (Iowa)

Peyton Robb faced off against Jared Franek twice last season when Franek was still with North Dakota State. Since his head coach left for Oklahoma, Franek has now transferred to Iowa for his final year of eligibility.

Robb and Franek split their matches this past year with Robb winning the dual matchup 7-4 and Franek winning in the NCAA consolation semis 3-1 in sudden victory. It’s worth noting that Robb easily beat Franek in their dual while fully healthy (you can watch that match below). At NCAAs, Robb was battling a skin infection that turned out to be life-threatening. Despite being hospitalized after their match, Robb was still able to take Franek to overtime.

With Franek’s move to Iowa, this matchup gets even more intriguing. With NCAA finalist and Big Ten Champion Levi Haines likely moving up to 165 for Penn State, this is another matchup that could be No. 1 vs. No. 2.

Obviously this matchup all depends on the health of Robb after such a traumatic health scare. All signs point toward him returning for his senior year, but who knows how the coaches deal with him while trying to keep him healthy throughout the season.