Second-ranked Oklahoma State and unranked Oklahoma hope to end unpleasant streaks this weekend when the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships begin Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.
The Cowboys, who haven't won a team title since 2006, are considered the strongest threat to two-time defending champion Penn State. The Nittany Lions are a 9.5-point favorite when projecting team points according to seeding. Minnesota, winner of last month's National Duals, and Iowa are deemed darkhorses in the team race.
But there's no question that coach John Smith's Cowboys are contenders, led by three title threats: 149-pounder Jordan Oliver, 174-pounder Chris Perry and heavyweight Alan Gelogaev.
“We've got to go wrestle our best and not only win but score bonus points every chance we get,” said Smith. “We need all 10 wrestlers to be at their best this weekend.”
Oklahoma 141-pounder Kendric Maple hopes to be the Sooners' first individual champion in eight years and is considered no worse than cofavorite with Ohio State's Hunter Stieber. Both are unbeaten. Despite being ranked No. 1 in both the RPI and final Coaches Panel, Maple was seeded second behind Stieber. A junior, Maple was fourth last year, and Stieber was sixth. But previous years' records are not used in determining seedings.
The Cowboys' trio likely needs to produce two champions and a runner-up or third-place finish to give the Cowboys a shot at the team crown. The top-seeded Oliver (32-0) is the clear favorite at 149 after jumping up two weight classes. He was fourth, first and second in his three years at 133 pounds. His only close match this year was a 6-4 decision over Minnesota's Dylan Ness, the NCAA runner-up last year.
Perry (31-2) was sailing through an unbeaten season until an upset loss to Missouri's Todd Porter and a defensive pin by Minnesota's Logan Storley. But Perry has beaten Porter twice and Storley once to earn the top seed in a weight class that promises to be the most wide open of the tournament.
Gelogaev (24-3) has split with No. 1 seed Dom Bradley of Missouri but lost twice to defending champion and No. 2 seed Tony Nelson of Minnesota. The OSU senior does own a December 2011 major decision over Nelson before an injury prematurely ended Gelogaev's season.
OSU's hopes also ride heavily on its balance. Tyler Caldwell (30-4, seeded fourth at 165 pounds), Jon Morrison (25-6, seventh at 133) and freshman Alex Dieringer (30-2, sixth at 157), must finish near or above those positions to produce the necessary team points for Oklahoma State to win its 35th NCAA crown.
Chris Chionuma (27-8, seeded ninth at 184) and Blake Rosholt (14-7, 11th at 197) could earn All-American honors by slipping into the top eight and provide extra team points.
Oklahoma coach Mark Cody sacrificed a strong team showing this season by redshirting three All-American seniors: Jarrod Patterson at 125 and Wisconsin transfers Andrew Howe and Travis Rutt.
Howe was the NCAA champ in 2011, and Rutt an all-American. With that trio sitting, the Sooners qualified only five wrestlers for this weekend's tournament. Backing Maple are 133-pound eighth seed Cody Brewer (21-8) and sixth-seeded 165-pounder Bubby Graham (21-4).