The release of the 2022-2023 pre-season wrestling rankings means that the NCAA folkstyle season is just days away. It’s officially that time of year again.
These early-season rankings always give fans something to be excited about before the first set of duals, and they can create motivation for teams on the bubble. But when action starts on Nov. 1, these rankings will be just that: pre-season rankings. Which teams will produce wild upsets in these first few weeks? Which teams can withstand the season-long grind and finish within the top four come March? So much is unpredictable, especially in the early part of the season, and the opening weekend of duals could lead to some serious shake-ups.
For now though, here’s what you need to know about the Top 25 wrestling teams in the country and how they stack up against one another.
First, the rankings:
FINAL DUAL RANK
|1||Penn State (13)||(17-0)||349||Big Ten||1||1|
|2||Iowa (1)||(14-1)||328||Big Ten||2||3|
|6||Ohio State||(9-3)||267||Big Ten||6||13|
|10||Oklahoma State||(13-4)||220||Big 12||12||14|
|14||Iowa State||(15-1)||171||Big 12||5||17|
|20||Northern Iowa||(7-7)||83||Big 12||17||20|
|25 (tie)||South Dakota State||(13-4)||31||Big 12||25||44|
Nittany Lions hold down top spot, Hawks earn one first-place vote
Penn State, as expected, leads the way in this first NWCA Top 25 list, as the Nittany Lions return four NCAA champions and five total All-Americans. This is a team that always generates great hype — for good reason — and this year’s squad will once again inspire consistent storylines as the season progresses.
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At 133 pounds, Roman Bravo-Young will aim for his third title in his final year of eligibility, while teammates Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks will also look for their third titles. Brooks will have one year of eligibility remaining after the season while Starocci could come back for two more seasons, suggesting that Penn State’s power will likely continue in the years to come. Fellow upperweight Max Dean is also back this year for his fourth and final year of collegiate competition, and he’ll hope to repeat as 197-pound champion in a weight class full of returning All-Americans who will be looking to make their own mark. Dean, however, has some of the best training partners in the country between his lighter national champion teammates and heavyweight All-American Greg Kerkvliet, a third-year sophomore who is absolutely in the title conversation. Penn State had five national champions in 2022, and this team is capable of repeating that feat as the Nittany Lions chase their tenth title in 13 years.
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Challenging the Nittany Lions for that top spot in March will be the No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes, a team with one returning champion, one returning finalist, and four total returning podium finishers. The Hawks lost a number of key starters last season following the graduation of Austin DeSanto, Jaydin Eierman, Kaleb Young, Alex Marinelli and Michael Kemerer, but head coach Tom Brands remains excited about the young faces in the lineup and has high expectations. The return of three-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee is the biggest boost for this program, and he’ll be a key factor in Iowa’s quest to take down Penn State. Lee beat Arizona State’s Brandon Courtney for the national championship in 2021 on two torn ACLs, and while he’s since had those knees repaired, health is still the biggest question for Lee and the Hawks this year.
The team race between Iowa and Penn State will be a main storyline throughout the season, but Arizona State has a lineup that shouldn’t be ignored in this conversation. Headlined by NCAA finalists Brandon Courtney and Cohlton Schultz, the Sun Devils have five athletes ranked in the top 10, and they’ll be dangerous, both in the Pac-12 and in the national discussion. Arizona State finished fourth last year to capture yet another team trophy, and while the trophy race will be intense once again this year, the Sun Devils are in great shape and should be able to hold on to this ranking if they can avoid injury as well and wrestle to their seeds.
Teams with 10 ranked wrestlers have the potential to see rankings improvements early
While Penn State, Iowa and Arizona State lead with their own set of superstars, three teams in the top 25 — No. 4 Missouri, No. 8 Nebraska and No. 17 Lehigh — will rely on their depth this year as they look to hold onto their ranked spots throughout the season. These are the only three teams in the Top 25 with all ten starters ranked in the Top 33 to start the year, and this kind of consistency will make them dangerous, particularly in duals.
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The Missouri Tigers, the highest-ranked team with ten ranked wrestlers, come into the year with one defending national champion and six athletes overall ranked in the Top 10. Keegan O’Toole, of course, leads the way for Missouri at 165 pounds, as he holds down the top spot in the country, though he’ll be pushed by fellow national champions at the weight, Stanford’s Shane Griffith and Iowa State’s David Carr. Between O’Toole’s potential points at this middle weight and possible All-American points from No. 6 Allan Hart, No. 5 Brock Mauller, No. 10 Peyton Mocco, No. 4 Rocky Elam and No. 10 Zach Elam, this team could compete for a team trophy if they peak at the right time. The Tigers finished ninth in both duals and tournament rankings last year, though a fourth-place pre-season ranking is a fair spot for this team at the moment given it’s high-quality lineup.
Missouri also won the Big 12 conference title last year, ending a nine-year streak for the Oklahoma State Cowboys where head coach John Smith’s squad either won outright or tied for the top spot at the conference tournament. The Tigers will once again be the team to beat, though the depth of the conference has the potential to create some exciting matchups, particularly at 133, 174, 184 and 285, where all five of the ranked Big 12 teams have athletes in the Top 33.
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Outside of the Big 12 though, Nebraska and Lehigh will look to make waves in their respective conferences as well. Nebraska has a particularly tough challenge ahead, as all of the Husker starters will have to run through the Big Ten gauntlet on their way to the conference and national tournaments. Returning national finalist No. 4 Ridge Lovett will be the biggest name in the Big Red lineup this year given his run at the NCAA tournament last year, but teammates No. 4 Peyton Robb and No. 3 Mikey Labriola will also be title contenders in their respective weight classes. For Nebraska to move up the rankings, the Huskers will want to see a breakout performance from No. 13 Bubba Wilson in the deep 165-pound weight class and high production from No. 20 Liam Cronin, who has been seeded as high as No. 13 at 125 pounds in his career.
Like Nebraska, Lehigh has a number of athletes in its lineup looking for their big moment this year, as No. 10 Josh Humphreys will hope to break through the Blood Round and earn All-American honors in his final season, and No. 8 Michael Beard will shoot for his second podium finish thus far in his career. The Mountain Hawks benefit from having a solid group of athletes ranked in the mid-20s in their weight, meaning that if those athletes improve as Lehigh wrestlers have been known to do, they could make significant jumps. No. 14 Tate Samuelson, in particular, will be an athlete to watch on this team, as he’s hoping that the transition from Wyoming to Lehigh will help him earn a top-eight finish for the first time in his career as well. This team has a high ceiling, but fans will have a better sense of this lineup after the team’s high-profile bout with Oregon State next weekend.
No. 5 Michigan and No. 6 Ohio State set for intense rivalry this season
The early season will bring some exciting non-conference matchups, but Jan. 27 might be the biggest dual date on the wrestling calendar this season, particularly for Big Ten wrestling fans. The No. 1 Penn State Nittany Lions are set to take on the No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes at 8pm ET, preceded by one of the best rivalries in Big Ten sports: No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 6 Ohio State. The fact that Michigan and Ohio State come into the season ranked just one spot apart makes this rivalry even more exciting this year, and there’s the potential for these particular standings to shift even before the dual in January, creating more anticipation and intensity.
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The Wolverines enter this year fresh off a Big Ten tournament title in 2022 and a second-place team finish at the NCAA tournament. Despite losing NCAA champion Nick Suriano and NCAA finalist Myles Amine, the Maize and Blue still have a number of threats throughout their lineup, most notably No. 3 Will Lewan, No. 3 Mason Parris and No. 4 Cam Amine. Parris, at heavyweight, has been an NCAA finalist before, and he has every potential to make it back to that spot again this year. Lewan and Amine both finished on the podium last year after advancing to the semifinals, and Lewan in particular has a great shot to make a run at 157 pounds, while Amine will face the added difficulty of wrestling in a 165 pound weight class with three returning national champions. Amine will get to see another highly-ranked 165-pounder in the Ohio State dual, as the Bucks are expected to once again field No. 6 Carson Kharchla at this weight. These two have split matches in their career, with Amine earning the most recent win, but this is just one of many battles that will be on display later this season when these two top-10 Big Ten powerhouses meet.
Ohio State has nine ranked wrestlers in the lineup right now, a true testament to the program’s talent, but the scary thing is that this team could be even stronger in the coming months, depending on how some of the newcomers perform. The team’s only unranked weight comes at 133 pounds, a spot that could be filled by talented true freshman Jesse Mendez who just won the wrestle-off against Dylan Koontz by fall. Mendez comes to the program from Indiana where he posted a high school record of 157-1 and earned the top spot in his recruiting class. If Mendez gets the nod at 133 for the year, he could face a seasoned Dylan Ragusin in the Michigan dual for a bout that will help him assess how he stacks up against an NCAA Blood Round finisher. In addition to Mendez, the Bucks will also likely have a new face in the lineup at 157 pounds as No. 23 Paddy Gallagher is currently projected to be the starter at this middleweight after a successful redshirt season. These young stars add to a lineup full of All-Americans including No. 3 Sammy Sasso, No. 6 Kharchla, No. 6 Ethan Smith, No. 4 Kaleb Romero, No. 9 Gavin Hoffman, and No. 7 Tate Orndorff.
Before Ohio State has the chance to face Michigan though, the Bucks have a fun non-conference schedule that includes No. 11 Virginia Tech on Nov. 11 and No. 16 North Carolina on Nov. 20. Those are both winnable duals for the Bucks, and Ohio State will need to notch victories against those ACC opponents if it wants to hold on to that Top-6 spot. The Big Ten will once again be a dominant conference throughout the season, and the strength of the Bucks and the Wolverines adds to that excitement.
South Dakota State looks to be competitive in a deep Big 12 conference
Ranked No. 25 in the pre-season poll alongside the Stanford Cardinal, South Dakota State comes into the year with seven ranked wrestlers and four of those seven ranked in the Top 15. Clay Carlson, the team’s 141-pounder, leads the way ranked No. 5, and Carlson will look to defend his Cliff Keen Invitation title this fall and finish his season on the podium at the national tournament in March. Fellow NCAA qualifiers Tanner Cook, Cole DeVos and Tanner Sloan also return, putting South Dakota State in a good position to continue its rebuild and improve on last year’s 44th-place at NCAAs. Of all of the teams in the Top 25, South Dakota State made the biggest jump from its finish in last year’s NCAA tournament to its current ranking, and while tournament and dual scoring is different, the Jackrabbits position in Top 25 suggests that they might be stronger than expected. The program overall has continued to improve under the leadership of head coach Damion Hahn, and South Dakota State will have the opportunity to challenge themselves against the best teams in the country as the season progresses.
South Dakota State will open its dual slate against Augustana for a non-DI dual before welcoming two Big Ten foes to Brookings for duals on Nov. 27 and Dec. 18 against Minnesota and Nebraska, respectively. The intensity doesn’t end with the non-conference schedule though, as the Big 12 currently has four additional ranked teams including No. 4 Missouri, No. 10 Oklahoma State, No. 14 Iowa State and No. 20 Northern Iowa. The Tigers, as previously mentioned, have ten ranked wrestlers, while the Cowboys have nine, including three-time NCAA finalist Daton Fix at 133 pounds. Both the Cyclones of Iowa State and the Panthers of Northern Iowa each have eight wrestlers in the Top 33, and three of Iowa State’s eight ranked athletes finished on the podium last year. The Big 12 doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, but between the rising Jackrabbits, the defending conference champion Tigers, the historic powerhouse of Oklahoma State and two gritty ranked teams in Iowa, this is a conference that will continue to make headlines throughout the year. South Dakota State will want to stay in the mix and hold on to its Top 25 spot.