Shane Sparks, BTN wrestling analyst, December 4, 2015

Looking forward to a great weekend of college wrestling highlighted by the Cliff Keen Invitational where five Big Ten teams will toe the line. But first a couple thoughts from this past week in the Big Ten.

Rutgers jumped five spots to No. 11 in the Intermat dual meet rankings following a pair of victories at last Sunday's "Grapple In The Garden" in New York City including a 21-13 win over Cornell. The Scarlet Knights are led by No. 3 Anthony Ashnault. The first ever undefeated, four time New Jersey state champion improved to 9-0 on the young season.

I really like his attitude on the mat and see big things ahead for him this season. Eighth at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis last March, it shouldn't surprise anybody if he became the first NCAA champion for Rutgers since David Winfrey in 1950. Long ways to go, but you'll want to keep an eye on Ashnault.

The Hawkeyes continue to own in state rival Iowa State. The Hawkeyes drilled the Cyclones 33-6 last weekend in front of 5,612 fans in Ames to defeat Iowa State for the 12th consecutive time. Nice win by No. 2 Cory Clark who made it five-for-five in career matches against No. 7 Earl Hall. Without scoring a takedown, Clark turned Hall a couple of times en route to a 9-2 decision. Alex Meyer also had a solid win for the Hawks at 174 and has moved up to No. 3 in the rankings.

Even after his loss to Kyle Krutchmer of Oklahoma State a couple weeks back I am still a big believer of Meyer. Tom Brands is now 11-0 against Iowa State. Wrestling is just better when Iowa and Iowa State are both clicking. It's like Notre Dame in college football or the Yankees in baseball. I'm looking forward to this matchup once again becoming a must-see event. The only time I have seen this dual in person was back in 2007 in Ames and it was pretty awesome. All wrestling fans should have the Hawkeye-Cyclone dual on their bucket list.

College wrestling has great parity right now, but in my opinion there are still two teams that are ahead of the rest. Penn State and Oklahoma State. I understand that many different twists and turns will take place between now and late March, but I would be very surprised to see a team other than Penn State or Oklahoma State capture that championship trophy.

I must admit that I liked the Cowboys by a razor thin margin heading into this season, but I have already flipped over to Penn State. The Nittany Lions are stacked. They have some proven veterans and some young hammers in Jason Nolf (No. 3 at 157) and Bo Nickal (No. 6 at 174) that are off to great starts.

With No. 3 Nico Megaludis at 125 and No. 1 Zain Retherford at 149 both back after redshirt seasons along with top-ranked Morgan McIntosh at 197 this team has some big time horsepower. Up a weight from 133, Jimmy Gulibon is off to a bit of a tough start at 141, but I expect him to get better as the season moves along as he continues to adjust to his new weight class. As fans we can always keep one eye on Madison Square Garden.

The first major tournament of the season is Friday and Saturday in Las Vegas. The Cliff Keen Invitational will have 40 teams and the brackets are littered with ranked guys. Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Purdue will all get a great early season test. These two days will provide a stiff test for all involved. NCAA champions Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State at 125 and Cornell's Gabe Dean at 184 both failed to win this tournament last year. The only returning champion is Nahshon Garrett who won the title at 125 last year. The Cornell senior has since moved up to 133. There are going to be some great individual matchups.

Here are a few things to watch for. I'm excited about a possible matchup at 125 with the aforementioned Tomasello and No. 3 Joey Dance of Virginia Tech. It may only be early December, but many of these matches could have big time seeding implications come March. The field at 133 is crazy good with six of the top nine in the rankings including the returning NCAA Champion and No. 1 ranked Cody Brewer of Oklahoma.

Expect fireworks at 133. You better wear your big boy pants if you want to stand atop the podium at that weight class. I'm curious to see No. 16 Micah Jordan of Ohio State at 141. Jordan is very talented and I expect this to be the coming out party for the redshirt freshman. Speaking of the Jordan's, how about a potential rematch of last season's Big Ten final at 165 pounds between cousins Bo Jordan of Ohio State and Wisconsin's Isaac Jordan?

Bo is currently ranked second with Isaac right behind him at No.3. Isaac won a tight match at Ohio State to claim the Big Ten title in their only meeting last season. Bo has been wrestling at 174 up to this point where he held the No. 1 ranking in the country. What weight Bo Jordan will settle into is one of the top things to pay attention to as the season progresses. I would love to see another Jordan vs. Jordan showdown. Interested in seeing who will earn ?sprinkles on their ice cream? this weekend in what is sure to be a great weekend on the mat.