It’s been a very eventful year for the Bison of North Dakota State.
First, they set a school record at NCAAs by scoring 25.5 team points. Then their head coach Roger Kish took the open job at Oklahoma. After that, former assistant coach Obe Blanc was named the new head man.
Then came the departures via the transfer portal — All-Americans Jared Franek and Michael Caliendo went to Iowa, 3x NCAA qualifier Owen Pentz went to Nebraska before deciding to leave the sport, and three others went to Oklahoma with Kish.
But there have also been some really good things happening in Fargo. The Bison hired a new assistant coach in five-time All-American Hayden Hidlay. One of the best up-and-coming coaching prospects in the country, Hidlay brings a lot to the table.
On the recruiting front, NDSU landed the No. 22 class in the country — although they hope to redshirt them all.
Last season, NDSU upset Nebraska 20-16 to open the year, but only two members of that team are still on the roster — both lost their matches to Huskers who have since graduated.
Despite this being a possible down year for the Bison, I expect them to right the ship pretty quickly under Blanc.
As for the Huskers, you can find a detailed breakdown of the 2-deep here.
The dual will air live on Saturday at 2 p.m. You can watch a live stream of the dual here.
Rankings according to FloWrestling
With Nebraska fielding No. 13 Caleb Smith here, North Dakota State will likely send out Carlos Negrete.
A sophomore, Negrete competed in this dual last year and lost a 5-1 decision to Liam Cronin. Negrete finished his redshirt freshman season with a 7-10 record.
Another option for NDSU is Ryan Henningson, a senior with a 5-26 career record.
Either way, this one leans heavy Huskers with Smith starting his Husker career with a nice win.
Prediction: Smith by major decision — Nebraska 4, NDSU 0
It looks as if Nebraska’s starter will be redshirt freshman Jacob Van Dee, and he’ll be taking on a fellow redshirt freshman in Fernando Barreto.
Barreto went 3-2 while redshirting, but he was all-state in high school three times in California and had a 164-27 career record. He’s also not NDSU’s only option here. The Bison also have redshirt freshmen in Sean Solis and Tanner Gerber as well as sophomore Julian Perez. Solis went 2-3 while redshirting, while Gerber hasn’t wrestled a collegiate match. Perez was 1-3 a year ago and went 2-10 during his redshirt year.
Regardless of opponent, I see Nebraska’s Pennsylvania hammer Van Dee starting his varsity career at 133 with a controlled win.
Prediction: Van Dee by decision — Nebraska 7, NDSU 0
So far in 2023, Nebraska’s Brock Hardy has been a Big Ten finalist, an NCAA All-American and a U23 World Bronze Medalist.
I’m excited to see what he has for an encore as a sophomore.
The No. 4-ranked wrestler in the country at 141, Hardy will start his season against NDSU’s Gavin Drexler, one of the Bison’s top recruits a year ago. A redshirt freshman now, Drexler went 15-5 during his redshirt year. Also an option is Walker Bentz, a redshirt freshman who went 4-7 as a redshirt.
Regardless, the Bison are not really that strong here and Hardy is world class. I expect bonus points — possibly a pin, but a major decision sounds like a safer bet.
Prediction: Hardy by major decision — Nebraska 11, NDSU 0
Nebraska returns 2022 NCAA runner-up Ridge Lovett here, fresh off a redshirt season.
Facing the top-ranked Lovett will likely be No. 12 Kellyn March, NDSU’s only returning NCAA qualifier. With a 46-26 career record, March is by far this team’s leader and best returning wrestler. Last season as a junior, March went 25-9.
With that said, Lovett is the current favorite to win the NCAA title at 149 pounds, and he’s looked great every time out as of late. March is good, but Lovett should be able to collect some bonus points in his return to the lineup.
When asked about this season-opening dual after Thursday’s practice, Lovett simply said, “Smash ‘em.”
Prediction: Lovett by pinfall — Nebraska 17, NDSU 0
Nebraska sends out its third straight NCAA title contender here in No. 3 Peyton Robb. After a battle against a skin infection in his leg that occurred at last year’s NCAA Championships, Robb looks to be back and ready to roll.
The Bison will likely use Landon Johnson here. The redshirt freshman went 13-3 a year ago while redshirting and looks to be a leader of this team’s youth movement. Also options are junior Michael Weber (12-14 career) and sophomore Mason Gode (7-4).
Again, it matters not who NDSU sends out there — Robb should win easily.
Prediction: Robb by tech fall — Nebraska 22, NDSU 0
After a wrestle-off win by redshirt freshman Antrell Taylor over Bubba Wilson, it’s likely Taylor will be Nebraska’s man here. He’s a super talent and fell just short of making the U20 World Team this past summer. He then went on to win a U20 Pan-Am Gold Medal.
He’ll likely face Brendan Howes, a redshirt freshman who went 10-8 a year ago while redshirting. Another option would be sophomore Alex Kowalchyk who went 6-7 last season.
I really believe Taylor is bound for great things at Nebraska and I’m glad to see he’s getting a shot at the starting lineup as a freshman. Now it’s up to him to prove that he deserves to be there. I see him starting his varsity career with a resounding win here against an overmatched opponent.
Prediction: Taylor by major decision — Nebraska 26, NDSU 0
In probably the closest match of the dual on paper, Nebraska’s No. 24 Elise Brown Ton will take on NDSU’s Gaven Sax.
A junior, Sax has a 29-24 career record and went 12-12 last year. He wrestled in last year’s dual, losing to Labriola via 15-7 major decision. Behind Sax, the Bison have a pair of true freshmen they hope to redshirt.
I anticipate Brown Ton being able to get a season-opening win here.
Prediction: Brown Ton by decision — Nebraska 29, NDSU 0
Nebraska returns No. 14 Lenny Pinto here and he’ll likely face off against Spencer Mooberry.
A sophomore, Mooberry is dropping down from 197 pounds where he went 9-7 last year as a redshirt freshman. Under Mooberry is another true freshman who’ll likely be redshirting.
Another match, another Husker win here. Pinto should start his sophomore year with a big win.
Prediction: Pinto by major decision — Nebraska 33, NDSU 0
Nebraska’s No. 6 Silas Allred, a Big Ten champion a year ago, will take the mat to begin his sophomore year against NDSU’s Lathan Duda.
A sophomore himself, Duda went 4-3 a year ago at heavyweight. He went 6-3 during his redshirt year at 197 pounds.
Allred should be able to exert his dominance here and get some bonus points — probably a stick.
Prediction: Allred by pinfall — Nebraska 39, NDSU 0
Nebraska will have a new starter at heavyweight this year in redshirt freshman Harley Andrews. As a redshirt last year, Andrews went 22-2 with 12 of those wins coming via pinfall.
Taking the mat for the Bison will likely be JUCO transfer Devon Dawson who comes in after putting together a 9-3 career record at Pratt CC.
I expect the Husker heavy to get the win and complete the shutout.