The two top wrestling teams in the country will meet Saturday night in front of a sold-out crowd and a Big Ten Network audience.
It will be only a prelude.
Ohio State travels to State College to wrestle Penn State to decide Big Ten supremacy in dual-match competition. Both are undefeated. The defending NCAA champion Nittany Lions are No. 1 in most rankings, though, interestingly, they say they’re behind the Buckeyes at No. 2 in their game notes.
“It’s a real rivalry,” Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said. “This is the little kid’s dream, right? Bases loaded, World Series, ninth inning. This is a lot of fun. They’ve done a great job with their program. We’ve done a really good job here. Because of the people we have and they have, it’s made it a great event.”
It might be the ninth inning, but it’s not the seventh game. The Buckeyes (12-0) and Nittany Lions (11-0) will meet again at the Big Ten championships in a month and then in Cleveland at the NCAAs in mid-March.
And even Saturday’s match could have been bigger in scale. Because of a Penn State’s men’s basketball game at the 15,000-seat Bryce Jordan Center, the wrestlers will compete at Rec Hall (capacity 6,502).
Ryan has been outspoken in his desire for a bigger arena to showcase the event.
“Unfortunately, the opposing team doesn’t get to pick the venue,” he said. “This isn’t necessarily directed at (Penn State), but I think an event like this could sell 45,000 to 50,000 tickets. So my aerial view of this is that wrestling can become a revenue-generating sport if we start to think like we want it to be.”
The match has plenty of star appeal, starting with Ohio State heavyweight Kyle Snyder. Back from becoming the first American to get back-to-back victories at the Yarygin tournament in Russia, Snyder is pumped for the stretch run of his college career.
This week, he tweeted a picture with the caption, “You tell ‘em I’m coming and hell’s coming with me.”
Snyder said he is good friends with many of the Nittany Lions, which only heightens his motivation. Penn State has beaten the Buckeyes the last two years in their dual matches and has won 42 straight overall.
“I train with those guys,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the individuals but the team itself. Something about when you put them all together and they wear a Penn State singlet, I just want to destroy them, probably because they’re good. I want to beat them more than I’ve wanted to beat any team since I’ve been at Ohio State.”
Snyder’s match against No. 6 Nick Nevills is one of several between highly ranked wrestlers.
“On paper, the biggest matchup is probably Bo Nickal and Myles Martin,” Ryan said.
Penn State’s Nickal is ranked No. 1 at 184 pounds. Martin is No. 2.
The 174-pound match between Penn State’s second-ranked Mark Hall and No. 3 Bo Jordan is another marquee matchup. Jordan beat Hall in last year’s Big Ten championships before Hall turned the tables in the NCAAs. Hall is one of the Nittany Lions’ five returning national champions.
One of the other four, Jason Nolf (157 pounds) was injured in Penn State’s victory over Rutgers last week and won’t compete.