Ohio State’s final points tally last season would have won them the national championship in all but five years in the history of the NCAA.
The reason it did not is due to the NCAA’s resident wrestling powerhouse, Penn State. The Nittany Lions have won six of the past seven team titles, with Ohio State being the only exception in 2015. The embarrassment of riches on the team rosters in both State College, Pennsylvania, and Columbus will carry over to this season.
Penn State carries five defending individual national champions. Ohio State returns one in senior heavyweight Kyle Snyder. Three other individual titles have been won by current Buckeyes in years past: redshirt senior Nathan Tomasello, junior Myles Martin and Snyder.
FloWrestling’s preseason NCAA wrestling rankings exemplify the dominance of both teams, but in a different way. Penn State includes just seven ranked wrestlers, but all seven are listed in the top five in their respective weight classes across the nation. Five No. 1 spots belong to Nittany Lions.
Ohio State’s lineup is more balanced. The Buckeyes have a wrestler ranked in the top 12 at all 10 weight classes, with six being in the top five and three ranked at No. 1: Snyder at heavyweight, Tomasello at 125 pounds and redshirt sophomore Kollin Moore at 187 pounds.
The Buckeyes might hold an advantage at the lower weights, with Tomasello at 125 pounds (No. 1), sophomore Luke Pletcher at 133 pounds (No. 9) and junior transfer Joey McKenna at 141 pounds (No. 6). No wrestlers are ranked for the Nittany Lions in those three classes.
Penn State’s murderers’ row of middleweights stands as its linchpin. Every defending champion — Zain Retherford (149 pounds), Jason Nolf (157 pounds), Vincenzo Joseph (165 pounds), Mark Hall (174 pounds) and Bo Nickal (184 pounds) — holds top spots.
Head coach Tom Ryan and the Buckeyes consider themselves to be reloaded and ready to dethrone the Nittany Lions in the 2017 season.
“We know Penn State scores a lot of points, but we’ve got a lot of big point scorers as well,” Ryan said. “But that was a factor last year. They’ve got some guys that were pinning people and they have five champions back. We picked up Joey McKenna, who was a huge transfer for us; we picked up [transfer] Te’Shan Campbell.
“So this team is stronger than it was last year. Ke’Shawn Hayes is coming off of an injury last year. So it’s a stronger team than last year and we have every reason to believe that if we are at our best and they’re at their best, it’s going to be a lot of fun in March.”
McKenna was recruited by Penn State during the offseason and had a chance to survey the pros and cons of both programs. The junior ultimately mortgaged his remaining two seasons of eligibility on the Buckeyes to help him achieve success.
“Looking at both programs from the outside, and being recruited by both, it was able to give me a little bit more of an objective view on what I really wanted and what program I feel like could take me to where I wanted to get to,” McKenna said. “I just thought that the things that would allow me to succeed the most were encompassed here at Ohio State. The energy, the motivation, the guys on the team, the structure and just the culture and the way everything was run.”
Snyder, one of the veterans of the team that will go toe-to-toe with Penn State for the fourth time this season, said he thinks a lot about the Nittany Lions. It’s the dual meet the Olympic gold medalist is most excited for.
“It’s going to be one of the most exciting dual meets, tournaments I think there’s ever been in NCAA wrestling history,” Snyder said. “We could both have five or six guys in the finals competing against each other for both teams. That’s more than half of the finalists in the tournament. The opportunity for that to happen doesn’t happen. It’s very rare.”
Bo Jordan (174 pounds), another senior and veteran of three years of battle against the Nittany Lions, lit up while discussing the possibilities of the impending dual meet on Feb. 2 or 4 in State College, Pennsylvania, between two teams that just might shake the wrestling world.
“It’s going to be sick,” Jordan said. “There’s so many cool matchups. A lot of individual matchups, me and Mark Hall one-on-one against each other. He beat me last year in the national finals, I’ll have him again. I mean, Kyle [Snyder], there’s so many good matchups. And Myles [Martin] and Bo [Nickal]. So many fun matches you’re going to be able to watch. It’s going to be cool. I’m looking forward to that dual.”