In what has become a familiar story, Ohio State will once again open its wrestling season as the challenger to Penn State's long-running dynasty. The Buckeyes are the unanimous preseason No. 2 team in the country according to rankings from FloWrestling, TrackWrestling, WIN Magazine and InterMat.
Overall, seven returning starters from last season's NCAA Runner-up squad find themselves in the preseason rankings from all four media outlets.
WIN slotted Jordan, Hayes and Campbell at different weight classes, due in part to this week's wrestle-offs. Matches will occur at all 10 weight classes, though 149 is the match with the biggest implications for the overall lineup.
Head Coach Tom Ryan told Eleven Warriors in early September that Micah Jordan wanted to move down from 157 to challenge Ke-Shawn Hayes for the starting spot at 149 pounds, setting off a series of potential roster moves in the middle weights.
"Micah is coming down for sure, so the winner of that between Micah and Ke-Shawn will go 149, and the loser will go to 157," Ryan said. "It's as big as the Burrow-Haskins battle," he continued, referring to the offseason battle between Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow to start at quarterback for the football team.
Several team members competed for a spot on the roster at each weight class. Matches began Tuesday, with finals matches taking place Thursday, Oct. 18, and streaming live via BTN2Go.
In addition to the Jordan/Hayes battle, other notable storylines include how true freshman Malik Heinselman performs at 125 pounds, as Ryan may decide to burn his redshirt at some point during the season. Heinselman will battle Brakan Mead for the starting spot Thursday night, although it won't be a surprise if Mead starts in the early meets of the season regardless of the outcome of the wrestle-offs.
"We will not pull his redshirt early on, but we're watching him really closely," Ryan said during the offseason. "It doesn't make sense to pull him and have him make it to nationals, and then score one or two points."
Another battle to watch is Ethan Smith challenging Te'Shan Campbell for the starting spot at 174 pounds. Campbell seems like a more natural fit at 174 than he was at 165, where he struggled late in the season last year; but Smith is talented enough to give the coaches plenty to think about.
Highly-touted new recruits Alex Felix (133), Quinn Kinner (141) and Gavin Hoffman (184) will also wrestle returning starters in Thursday evening's finals.
Inside the Rankings
Looking at the preseason rankings of the returning starters, there weren't many major surprises.
Myles Martin opens the season as the unanimous No. 1 contender, as rival Bo Nickal opted to move up to 197 lbs. Nickal's move dropped Kollin Moore down a spot to No. 3, where he sits behind the Nittany Lion and Kent State's Kyle Conel, who Buckeye fans will remember pinned Moore in a major upset at last year's NCAA Tournament in Cleveland.
Joey McKenna, the reigning U.S. Open Champion, sits behind Cornell's returning national champion Yanni Diakomihalis at 141 pounds, and Luke Pletcher finds himself in the mix alongside defending champion Seth Gross, Stevan Micic and Tariq Wilson, all of whom are legitimate title contenders.
If Micah Jordan prevails in his wrestle-off against Hayes, the analysts believe him to be one of the preseason favorites, along with Matt Kolodzik and Anthony Ashnault. As Ryan noted last month, however, Hayes defeated Kolodzik last season when the Buckeyes faced Princeton during their dual meet.
Hayes finds himself anywhere from the 6-8 spot in the rankings at 157, meanwhile, and Campbell sits outside of the Top 10 at 174.
Chase Singletary is the lone newcomer to the lineup to receive any preseason love, coming in at No. 22 via TrackWrestling; the other rankings only list the Top 20 in each class.
Ohio State is expected to earn anywhere from 83.5 to 99 points at the 2019 NCAA Tournament according to the preseason rankings. In each case, the Buckeyes are well behind Penn State and its trio of two-time national champions Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph and Bo Nickal.
The Nittany Lions feature seven ranked wrestlers, the same as the Buckeyes, though all seven of Penn State's are ranked among the Top 8 by the various services. Although the Buckeyes return five All Americans from last year's tournament, the team will rely heavily on young blood for the first time in several years.
Head coach Tom Ryan knows that if his squad is to have a shot at back-to-back-to-back Big Ten titles – let alone have any hope of toppling Penn State's NCAA tournament dynasty – those young guns have to live up to some lofty expectations.
"This team could see as many as four freshmen in the lineup," Ryan told Eleven Warriors in September. "I hope they do as well as freshmen as Kyle, Nate and Bo did," referring to four-time All Americans Kyle Snyder, Nathan Tomasello and Bo Jordan, all of whom are now graduated.
Ryan pointed out that the last time the Buckeyes won a national title, those three men were freshmen getting their first taste of big-time college wrestling. Heinselman, Singletary, Smith and Kaleb Romero could all conceivably start for the Buckeyes by the time postseason tournament action begins.
The Buckeyes held their official "testing day" Oct. 9, and the first official practice of the season Oct. 10. They will open competition vs. the United States Naval Academy, at the McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Maryland – Martin's alma mater – on Nov. 3.