Penn State Wrestling Sits No. 1 Again In Way-Too-Early Preseason Rankings

Year after year, the Penn State Nittany Lions wrestling program solidifies its position as one of the most dominant forces in collegiate athletics. As the new wrestling season approaches, the preseason rankings have once again anointed Penn State as the No. 1 team in the nation, setting lofty expectations for Cael Sanderson’s squad to capture yet another national championship.

Nittany Lions Roar to Top Spot in “Way-Too-Early” Rankings

Nittany Lions Roar to Top Spot in Way-Too-Early Rankings

While the “way-too-early” preseason rankings from outlets like FloWrestling carry an inherent degree of speculation this far ahead of the actual season, Penn State’s standing atop the initial projections comes as no surprise. The Nittany Lions have claimed the #1 ranking for the upcoming 2024-25 season, establishing them as the oddsmakers’ favorite to win their 10th NCAA team title under Sanderson’s tutelage.

“The preseason rankings are certainly an honor, but they don’t determine anything on the mat,” Sanderson remarked. “Our guys know they have a target on their backs as defending champs. The real work is still ahead to position ourselves for another run at a national title.”

Returning Talent Fuels High Preseason Expectations

A major reason for Penn State’s perch in the early rankings is the sheer amount of firepower returning to their lineup. The Nittany Lions bring back five wrestlers who earned All-American honors last season, forming the core of another formidable squad:

  • Aaron Brooks (149 lbs) – 2024 NCAA Champion, Returning Senior
  • Carter Starocci (174 lbs) – 2024 NCAA Runner-Up, Returning 5th Year Senior
  • Greg Kerkvliet (285 lbs) – 2024 3rd Place Finisher, Returning Senior
  • Levi Haines (157 lbs) – 2024 4th Place Finisher, Returning Junior
  • Shayne Van Ness (165 lbs) – 2024 6th Place Finisher, Returning Junior

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This veteran-laden group, complemented by an incoming recruiting class ranked No. 2 nationally by MatScouts, has Penn State positioned with its trademark combination of talent and depth that continues reloading the roster year after year.

“We have firepower and bodies everywhere,” said Sanderson. “That competition level in our room each day really prepares our guys for the bright lights and tough opponents they’ll face all season long.”

Breaking Down the Rest of the Early Top 25

While Penn State sits comfortably atop the “way-too-early” rankings, a gauntlet of elite programs fills out the rest of the initial top 25:

1Penn State
3Ohio State
6Arizona State
9Virginia Tech
10North Carolina State

The consensus is that the Big Ten Conference will be an absolute gauntlet yet again. Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Michigan all rank in the early top 10, ensuring that the Nittany Lions’ path through the Big Ten schedule will be fraught with challenges before even reaching the NCAA Championships.

“Those are the matches and environments you want to be a part of,” said Sanderson regarding the Big Ten wars. “If you can survive that conference and keep getting better, it really steels you for the bright lights of the national tournament.”

Keys to Defending Penn State’s National Championship

Keys to Defending Penn State's National Championship

While the preseason ranking is a testament to Penn State’s sustained excellence, the Nittany Lions are well aware that true glory is determined by their performances when the bright lights shine brightest at the NCAA Championships. Several key factors will determine whether they can live up to their billing as the team to beat:

Staying Healthy The attrition of a long, grueling season can seriously deplete a lineup if key wrestlers go down with injuries. Keeping their elite talents in the lineup at full strength is paramount for the Nittany Lions.

Big Performance at Big Moments Championships are captured through clutch efforts when the stakes are highest. Penn State’s stars will need to elevate on the biggest stages at the NCAA tournament to bring home team glory.

Filling Any Holes While their roster looks stout on paper, any potential weak links will get exposed against top-flight competition. Sanderson and staff must ensure they solidify any lineups holes that could derail their title pursuit.

“We’ve got all the pieces to make another run, no doubt,” said Sanderson. “But at this level, everyone is gunning for you. We have to wrestle at our best every time out if we want to be celebrating at the end.”

Historically Dominant, Yet Constantly Competing

Penn State’s perpetual presence atop the preseason rankings is a testament to the historic dynasty Sanderson has built. Since taking over as head coach in 2009, Sanderson has guided the Nittany Lions to 9 NCAA team titles, solidifying Penn State as a modern-day wrestling juggernaut.

Perhaps their most impressive accomplishment, however, is the program’s relentless drive to improve and refusal to become complacent despite their mountainous success.

“The second you start feeling yourself a little too much, that’s usually when everything can start crashing down,” said Senior Aaron Brooks. “We have an incredible legacy of winning here, but we have to wake up every day and earn it all over again through hard work.”

Whether opening at No. 1 like this season or flying a bit more under the radar, the constant for the Nittany Lions is their championship-caliber preparation and mentality. That steady, focused approach amid the swirling pressures and expectations becomes even more critical when carrying the burden of being preseason favorites.

“Having a target on your back actually takes a little pressure off in some ways,” said Sanderson. “We know everyone is gunning for us, so there’s no surprising or sneaking up on anybody. We just have to control what we can control and be at our absolute best when it matters most.”

As the 2024-25 season rapidly approaches, all eyes will be fixated on the Penn State juggernaut to see if they can back up their No. 1 ranking with yet another national title to add to their overflowing trophy case. The wrestling world wouldn’t have it any other way than the annual pursuit of the Nittany Lions’ next championship.

Here’s a continuation of the blog post about Penn State wrestling’s preseason No. 1 ranking:

Looking Ahead: Toughest Tests on Penn State’s Schedule

Looking Ahead: Toughest Tests on Penn State's Schedule

While the Nittany Lions will be favored in the majority of their duals this season, several marquee matchups loom large on their schedule that could serve as barometers for their championship credentials:

Nov. 24: Nebraska at Penn State The regular season kicks off with a stern test against a Nebraska team ranked No. 7 in the preseason. The Huskers return NCAA champion Mikey Labriola and should provide an early high-caliber litmus test.

Dec. 9: Ohio State at Penn State The first of two showdowns against No. 3 Ohio State has significant Big Ten and national championship implications. A victory could help Penn State start separating itself from the pack.

Jan. 20: Penn State at Michigan Road tests don’t get much tougher than taking on No. 8 Michigan in the raucous Crisler Center in Ann Arbor. This match could prove pivotal in determining the Big Ten dual champions.

Feb. 23/24: Big Ten Championships (Piscataway, NJ) An individual and team Big Ten title are always prime objectives along the way to nationals for Penn State. Navigating this conference minefield unscathed will be no easy task.

March 16-18: NCAA Championships (Wichita, KS)
When the entire season comes down to three days under the brightest lights, Penn State will need to peak at the right time to win the war of attrition and claim the coveted team national championship.

Of course, complacency against any opponent could result in an upset that upends the Nittany Lions’ title hopes. Champions aren’t made by navigating only the marquee matchups successfully. Taking care of business each time out, no matter the competition, will be essential for Penn State to maintain its firm grip on No. 1 all year long.

Transfer Portal Activity Shaping Contenders

One modern reality helping shape the competitive landscape across college wrestling is the prevalence of the NCAA transfer portal. Several elite programs have reshaped their rosters through the transfer market over the last year, both adding impact talent and seeing key losses depart.

Most notably for Penn State, the arrival of transfer David Taylor from Oklahoma State has reloaded their coaching staff with an Olympic gold medalist. Taylor owns one of the most decorated resumes in NCAA history with 2 national championships and the 2022 Dan Hodge Trophy recognizing the nation’s most outstanding wrestler.

“Having a mind like David’s on our coaching staff, someone who has been through all the battles and achieved the highest levels of success, is such a valuable resource for our guys,” said Sanderson.

The Nittany Lions did see some key departures to the portal as well, including former NCAA finalists Brady Berge (Penn) and Beau Bartlett (Arizona State). Overall though, Sanderson feels the additional influx of new talent combined with his experienced core leaves Penn State well-equipped for the gauntlet ahead.

Meanwhile, other programs like Oklahoma State and Arizona State invested heavily in reconstructing their lineups through transfers. The Cowboys added firepower like Lucas Byrd (Illinois) and Lucas Seibert (Ohio State), while the Sun Devils scored perhaps the biggest transfer prize by landing Shane Griffith (Stanford). The talent transference via the portal could rejigger the hierarchy behind Penn State’s No. 1 rank.

At the end of the day though, wrestling matches won’t be decided by rankings, predictions or even the program names adorning the singlets. Real-life battles on the mat will determine which team hoists the championship at season’s end. And for now, the wise analysts unanimously agree – Penn State remains the team to beat until someone can knock them from their perch.

Also Read : Penn State Football Leading Big Ten Foes For A Rising 2025 Offensive Tackle

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