Four wrestlers won national titles without a single loss during the 2015-16 campaign. Nahshon Garrett (Cornell), Zain Retherford (Penn State), Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State) and Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) accomplished the feat with Dieringer doing so for the second consecutive season. This season, there are 27 wrestlers in Division I, not including redshirts, that remain undefeated while having wrestled eight matches or more. There are a handful of additional wrestlers, including Snyder, who have not taken a loss but haven’t wrestled enough to make this list. There are no weights without a qualified, undefeated wrestler, though 141 and 197 are down to one competitor each. Join us as we go through who is undefeated at each weight and where they might take their first loss.
#1 Thomas Gilman, Iowa, 16-0
#2 Joey Dance, Virginia Tech, 13-0
#3 Nick Suriano, Penn State, 10-0
#4 Josh Rodriguez, North Dakota State, 12-0
Ibrahim Bunduka, George Mason, 9-0
The surprise on this list is Bunduka who upset Freddie Rodriguez (SIU-Edwardsville) on Saturday to run his season record to 9-0. We will find out much more about the George Mason junior when he takes on ninth-ranked Sean Russell (Edinboro) on January 22nd. Gilman and Suriano will clash on January 20th with a likely rematch at the Big 10 tournament. Rodriguez is scheduled to face eighth-ranked Jack Mueller (Virginia) this weekend at the Virginia Duals. Though Rodriguez is ranked higher, he has not yet had to wrestle another top-10 opponent. That could be a tough test for him. Virginia Tech is also at the Virginia Duals, but a Dance/Rodriguez match-up won’t take place in the pools. However, if North Dakota State can beat Virginia, both teams could end up in the gold bracket.
Unless Iowa and Virginia Tech get matched up in the National Duals, I like Gilman and Dance to be the last undefeateds standing as we enter the national tournament. Suriano could certainly spoil that, but I don’t see him winning both potential match-ups with Gilman so, if he does get a win, Dance might be the only man with a spotless record heading to St. Louis.
#1 Cory Clark, Iowa, 9-0
#2 Nathan Tomasello, Ohio State, 8-0
#3 Eric Montoya, Nebraska, 17-0
#6 Kaid Brock, Oklahoma State, 14-0
Though Carson Kuhn (Boise State) and Tyler Goodwin (Maryland) are both still without a loss, neither has been seen in the line-up for quite some time. Goodwin is not expected back this season. Keep an eye out for Kuhn’s return, though he would be a long shot to run the table. The four with eight or more matches all have a shot, though at least one should fall this week. Clark and Brock clash this Sunday while Tomasello is set to face the dangerous Zane Richards (Illinois) on the same day. Montoya just beat Richards, but being in the Big 10 he is set to face a murderers row of eighth-ranked Stevan Micic (Michigan), #13 Mitch McKee (Minnesota), Tomasello, and Clark all by February 12th. With Tomasello and Clark set to bang heads on January 27th and the Big 10 tournament to come, Clark, Tomasello, and Montoya have a tough road to stay undefeated. Brock’s road isn’t easy either as he has a January 22nd showdown with fourth-ranked Seth Gross (South Dakota State) after his date with Clark. Gross and Brock may well meet again in the Big 12 finals.
It is difficult to pick against Clark in any single match, but it seems likely that none of these guys make it all the way to NCAAs unscathed. With Richards and Gross both having a loss, but more than capable of beating anyone at the weight, expect a difficult field to seed, with many conflicting results, heading to the national tournament.
#1 Dean Heil, Oklahoma State, 14-0
Kevin Norstrem (Virginia Tech) went 5-0 in his return to the mat at the F&M Open last weekend. He could add his name to this list with a strong performance at Virginia Duals. Until then, Heil stands alone on top of the 141-pound field. We haven’t yet seen Heil/Mckenna III after Joey Ward (North Carolina) upset the Stanford sophomore at the Scuffle, but Heil has been a constant winner, even if so many of his matches are won by razor thin margins. The Cowboy’s schedule doesn’t look too daunting until a February 10th NCAA finals rematch with Bryce Meredith (Wyoming). A late January dual with Missouri could be interesting depending on who mans the spot for the Tigers, but Heil looks like a good bet to enter NCAAs undefeated.
#1 Zain Retherford, Penn State, 11-0
#2 Brandon Sorensen, Iowa, 17-0
#3 Anthony Collica, Oklahoma State, 9-0
#5 Micah Jordan, Ohio State, 20-0
Collica and Sorensen are set to do battle again on Sunday. If Sorensen remains undefeated against his Cowboy counterpart, don’t expect anyone but Retherford to enter NCAAs undefeated. Even if Collica wins, Oklahoma State and Penn State appear to be on a collision course for a national duals match-up. Retherford still has both of the Big 10 undefeateds on his schedule as well. Given his history, an upset seems far-fetched despite the difficult schedule. Look for the Penn State junior to mow down all three and double back for more in the post-season.
#1 Jason Nolf, Penn State, 11-0
#2 Michael Kemerer, Iowa, 18-0
The X-factor at 157 is Dylan Palacio (Cornell) who is undefeated, but also winless, having not taken the mat yet this season. When he became a late scratch from the Southern Scuffle, his odds of finishing the season without a loss increased, but so did the questions as to his status. Nolf just got done mauling third-ranked Tyler Berger (Nebraska), 15-7, and seems to be one of the safest bets for a perfect season in college wrestling. We will soon find out if Kemerer is any real threat to Nolf. After this Sunday’s bout with fifth-ranked Joe Smith (Oklahoma State), the Hawkeye freshman will have five days to prepare for a prime-time tilt against number one.
A Nolf loss, at this point, would be one of the most shocking results in college wrestling history, barring an injury. It might not be Gable/Owings, but it would be up there. That makes Palacio the only other wrestler with a legitimate chance to enter NCAAs undefeated, but he has a potential match with sixth-ranked Joey Lavallee (Missouri) this week, though there are questions as to whether either one will wrestle, and likely two battles with fourth-ranked Jordan Kutler (Lehigh) to come. Expect it to be Nolf standing alone by the time we’re all in St. Louis.
#1 Isaiah Martinez, Illinois, 14-0
#2 Logan Massa, Michigan, 16-0
For the time being, David McFadden (Virginia Tech) remains in redshirt, though he is undefeated at 10-0. Should he enter the line-up, he may only see one top-10 opponent before nationals, when the Hokies dual Pittsburgh and #10 Te’Shan Campbell. Martinez and Massa, on the other hand, are set to meet next Friday. The top four wrestlers at 165 are in the Big 10 so both the two-time 157-pound national champion and the Wolverine freshman will have other challenging matches, but expect the winner of their first bout to be undefeated entering the Big 10 finals. Of course, we saw what Nolf was able to do to Martinez in the regular season last year before the Illinois junior adjusted to win at Big 10s and NCAAs. Can Massa play that role this year or be even better, beating Martinez more than once? I don’t expect that to be the case, but it will be interesting to find out.
#1 Zahid Valencia, Arizona State, 19-0
#2 Zach Epperly, Virginia Tech, 8-0
#3 Bo Jordan, Ohio State, 8-0
The freshman Valencia has taken this weight by storm, though several potential early season match-ups with Jordan failed to materialize when the Buckeye didn’t show. Arizona State could meet Virginia Tech in the Virginia Duals this weekend which would mean Valencia and Epperly in the headline bout. Next Friday, Valencia will have a re-match with seventh-ranked Ethan Ramos (North Carolina), who he held on to beat, 11-10, at the Journeymen Collegiate Classic in mid-November. That should be the last real challenge for Zahid before nationals. Epperly still has sixth-ranked Ryan Preisch (Lehigh) on the docket in addition to the potential clash with Valencia. Meanwhile, Jordan missed the dual with Arizona State and then did not attend Vegas with his team. That means he is not likely to see a top-10 opponent before Big 10s unless Alex Meyer (Iowa) or Penn State’s representative climbs quickly. With ninth-ranked Myles Amine (Michigan) the next highest-ranked Big 10 opponent, Jordan should enter nationals undefeated and relatively untested this season unless the Buckeyes draw a strong opponent for him at national duals.
If Epperly and Valencia do not meet at Virginia Duals, I expect all three of these wrestlers to be undefeated conference champions. Valencia, in that case, should be the top-seed as he would have the best wins. If Epperly and Valencia meet, it will be tight, but I’d pick Zahid.
#1 Gabe Dean, Cornell, 18-0
#2 Bo Nickal, Penn State, 10-0
The match everyone in college wrestling wants to see, two-time defending champion Gabe Dean against the only man left in the division that could give him trouble, Bo Nickal, will almost certainly not happen until the NCAA finals. Technically, it could happen in the national duals, but with Oklahoma State having beaten Cornell already and Penn State looking strong, there is a slim chance of that. There isn’t much else on the schedule for Dean who should see his bonus rates and fall total climb over the next couple of months. Nickal staked his claim as the number one challenger to Dean with a 10-5 victory over last year’s NCAA runner-up TJ Dudley on Sunday. He should still see fifth-ranked Same Brooks (Iowa) and his 174 pound NCAA finals opponent, Myles Martin (Ohio State), in the regular season and possibly in the Big 10 tournament, but the way he is wrestling that shouldn’t be too much trouble.
The fly in the ointment could be Pat Downey (Iowa State). Having wrestled just five matches, Downey isn’t eligible for this list. If he beats #11 Drew Foster (Northern Iowa) and fourth-ranked Nolan Boyd (Oklahoma State), with a re-match against Boyd likely at the Big 12s, he could be an intriguing third-seed. However, I don’t like his chances given how much time he has missed due to injury. I see Dean and Nickal closing out the national tournament with a battle of undefeateds. The Hodge Trophy should go to the winner.
#1 J’den Cox, Missouri, 13-0
Normally, an undefeated defending champ that just won an Olympic bronze medal would be a shoe-in to win every match and go out on top, right? That still seems like the most likely outcome, but after second-ranked Brett Pfarr (Minnesota) pushed Cox to the limit in the Southern Scuffle finals, a loss by the Missouri senior doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it used to. You could also point to the matches against third-ranked Jared Haught (Virginia Tech) or sixth-ranked Kollin Moore (Ohio State), who scored two takedowns on the champ, as indications of Cox’s vulnerability, but in each case, the end result was a win for J’den. The questions are fair, and winning 4-1 over the likes of Brad Johnson (Oklahoma) isn’t going to quiet them, but until someone actually beats him, you have to like Cox’s chances to win them all. I still think he gets it done.
#2 Connor Medbery, Wisconsin, 14-0
#4 Nick Nevills, Penn State, 10-0
This is a rare case of the undisputed favorite having only wrestled four NCAA matches, but still being number one with no question about it. The Olympic gold medalist is a question mark for each Buckeye match, he will miss National Duals for certain as he will be competing at the World Cup, but he is 4-0. When he was not in the line-up for the January 6th dual against Wisconsin, we missed our first chance to see him battle Medbery. That should be the Big 10 final unless Nevills or Sam Stoll (Iowa) can pull a big upset. Nevills and Snyder could meet on February 3rd. Considering Ohio State will need all hands on deck to have a shot against the top-ranked team in the country, that match could come to fruition. Nevills may not be undefeated by then, though, as he should face Medbery on January 27th.
Snyder is a clear number one, even though we haven’t seen him beat Medbery yet. I see Medbery as a clear number two as well with Nevills leading the pack behind those two and Ty Walz (Virginia Tech). That means Snyder should be the only undefeated entering nationals as there can be only one Big 10 champ.