photo courtesy of Richard Immel
With another college season in the books, it’s time to revisit a topic that I have studied extensively over the last five years. The “Best Non-NCAA Champions of the Last 20 years”. It’s a label that no one aspired to wear as it means that all of these wrestlers fell short of their ultimate goal. As is the case each year, a new crop of seniors wrap up their careers and unfortunately, get lumped into this discussion. As always, it's not my intention to make light of this, but rather to celebrate the accomplishments and careers of these excellent competitors. Only ten wrestlers each year get to call themselves national champions (or none this year), so there are plenty of great wrestlers who fall short. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have excellent careers and sometimes what they did gets overlooked based on “what they didn’t do.”
Ground rules: The last 20 years are pretty self-explanatory and anyone that spent any portion of their career in that period is eligible. Of course, we’re only counting wrestlers whose eligibility has expired. I’m not projecting wrestlers on this list, I don’t want that headache or bad karma. My list only takes collegiate achievements into account. Otherwise, James Green would have been nudged into the top 20. Also, only DI wrestlers and people that wrestled in college are considered. No Henry Cejudo’s.
Here are some of the factors that I have taken into consideration:
Career Record: Not all wins and losses are equal, so I try not to overvalue a record. Sometimes they can be graded on a curve too. Freshmen, especially true freshmen, get more leeway than veterans.
Losses: I’ve broken down every win and every loss of each wrestler I’ve considered for this list. All-in-all about 40-50 wrestlers. The losses tell a lot about where a wrestler stood in reference to the rest of his competition.
NCAA Placement: Pretty self-explanatory NCAA Seeding: I like this because it tells where a wrestler was through four months of action. While the NCAA Tournament carried the most weight and is ultimately what we remember, what they did over those four months should count for something.
Conference Tournament Placing: self-explanatory Regular Season Tournament Placement. While not every tournament is created equally, being a multiple-time Midlands, Southern Scuffle, or CKLV Invitational champion means you’re doing something right.
Wins over top-five placers at the NCAA Tournament (same season only): Peruse one of your favorite wrestler's records. Typically you don’t find that many wins over top-five finishers as you may expect. Getting four or five of these per year is pretty impressive. I look at losses the same way. This is not perfect as a win/loss can come over a .500 wrestler that gets hot at nationals can look better without all the necessary information, and a loss to a wrestler that was ranked highly and didn’t end up competing at nationals isn’t quite as impressive. This is not a foolproof indicator, but it helps.
Wins over NCAA champions (same season only): We’re saying these guys are generally good enough to be an NCAA champion, so if they have a win(s) over the eventual NCAA champion, that should carry significant weight. Beating a freshman that wins nationals as a senior, I don’t value as much, but it also is a good talking point and I might mention it a few times later.
So without any further explanation or confusion, here are the top 20 Non-NCAA Champions of the Last 20 years. They will be presented with the most recent wrestlers first, not in a ranking.
Kollin Moore (Ohio State)
Credentials - Career Record: 110-11, Three-time All-American (2nd, 4th, 3rd), NCAA seeds (1st, 2nd, 1st, 3rd), Three-time Big Ten champion, Three-time Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational Champion
Why he makes the cut: Unfortunately, we have to place Kollin Moore on this list. The cancellation of the 2020 National Tournament denied him a shot at his elusive national title in a season where he was the undefeated, top-seed. Once the news of the cancellation broke and the dust settled, I figured Kollin Moore was a lock for this article. After digging through the numbers, he has one of the best resumes of anyone in the last 20 years. Out of Moore’s 11 losses, only one came to a wrestler that did not place in the top-three at the NCAA Tournament that same season. That’s a staggering number! Looking more closely, that one “other” loss, it came to Anthony Casser, who ended up not starting for Penn State in the 2017-18 postseason. Now you could argue with that saying he had two losses to Kyle Conel at the 2018 tournament, but Conel did go on to take third. Aside from those three defeats, the only other wrestlers to beat him are Bo Nickal (3x), Michael Macchiavello, Brett Pfarr (3x), J’Den Cox. Moore brought it for four straight years! He turned it up as a senior finishing 26-0 with a bonus point rate of 74%, an increase of 17% from his previous high. Kollin also can claim a pair of wins over eventual national finalists as he downed Brett Pfarr in the Big Ten finals, as a freshman, and Jared Haught in 2018 in the CKLV Invitational finals. I’ll use the word unfortunate again, as it's truly a unique set of circumstances that prevent Moore from competing for his national title in 2020. This also put him into a category with Ryan Churella and Nick Simmons as three-time Big Ten champions that were not national champions within the last 20 years.
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