No. 1 Penn State (4-0, 0-0 B1G) travels to No. 11 Northwestern (2-4, 0-0 B1G) to kick off their Big Ten season. The Wildcats have a very top heavy lineup that can potentially pose some problems for Cael Sanderson’s team, but the Nittany Lions are still going to be heavy favorites in Evanston, Illinois. The dual will be broadcast on BTN+ and begin at 8:00 p.m.
Northwestern’s biggest strengths are at 125 and 157 pounds. At 125 pounds, No. 1 Sebastian Rivera is fresh off the biggest win of his collegiate career last week, knocking off the defending national champion Spencer Lee (Iowa) at the prestigious Midlands. Penn State listed Devin Schnupp as the starter for this dual, but will Cael Sanderson decide to bring Gavin Teasdale with him to Evanston? When Sanderson pulled Mark Hall’s redshirt at Carver Hawkeye Arena in 2017, he was not listed in the lineup either. If Teasdale goes, expect it to be a game time decision after he was pulled from the Southern Scuffle last week.
The other big fish in the Northwestern lineup is No. 3 Ryan Deakin at 157 pounds. Deakin has had a very impressive campaign. The former Junior World silver medalist has really blossomed after spending two seasons at 149 pounds. However, Deakin is fresh off of a loss to No. 2 Tyler Berger (Nebraska) last weekend. His schedule isn’t letting up this week as he will take on two-time defending national champion and No. 1 Jason Nolf.
Nolf has had a quietly impressive campaign so far this season. He’s just been doing the Jason Nolf thing without much fanfare, but he’s been as good as ever. He’s become the all-time pin leader in school history with 54, with nine pins in 13 matches this year, and he’s won all of his matches by bonus. It’s almost easy to forget his dominance because of how consistent it has been, but what Nolf is doing isn’t normal. He could very well go down as the best wrestler in Penn State history, and he’s just quietly churning along. Nolf will be the favorite, but expect some fight from Deakin in his home arena.
The last ranked wrestler for Northwestern is at 285 pounds with No. 19 Conan Jennings. Jennings has been a solid hand for a while now, and with how shallow the heavyweight division is right now, he may be able to work his way to the Bloodround in March. However, he will likely have to contend with No. 4 Anthony Cassar, who is fresh off his first loss of the season against No. 3 Derek White in the Southern Scuffle. Cassar’s activity levels were not high against White, and maybe that was due to the respect of his opponent, but it also seemed like he was almost too relaxed too. He’ll look to bounce back big over a ranked wrestler.
Yahya Thomas could be a feisty matchup for No. 4 Nick Lee, but Lee has been very strong so far this season. Thomas has been keeping matches close, so if Lee opens up to a big lead, it’s hard to see how Thomas could mount any kind of comeback.
The rest of the Northwestern lineup though is there for the taking. From 165-197 pounds, their starters are a combined 7-24. Johnny Sebastian at 174 pounds looked to be a wrestler who could really jump to the next level and be a podium contender a few seasons ago. However, he sits at just 4-3 on this season with losses to Josh Ugalde and Jairod James. Expect Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall, Shakur Rasheed and Bo Nickal to really open up the scoring on this section of their lineup.
At 133 pounds, No. 14 Roman Bravo-Young will look to get his offense going against Colin Valdivez. Bravo-Young had an up and down Southern Scuffle, where he looked very sluggish on day one but bounced back on day two for a very strong performance. Even still, he was thrown to his back by No. 9 Austin Gomez (Iowa State) and pinned in the semifinals. Bravo-Young will be looking to right the ship.
Prediction – Penn State 40, Northwestern 4 – Outside of a major decision for Sebastian Rivera, which could be a fall or technical fall win, it’s tough to see another win for Northwestern. Their best hope is Ryan Deakin and he’s facing one of the best wrestlers in Nittany Lion history. Penn State should demolish Northwestern from 165-197, and realistically could score big at 133, 141 and 285 too. We’ll see what the Wildcats have in store on their home mat.