USA Wrestling Oklahoma State heavi...

Oklahoma State heavily favored to repeat as Big 12 champions in Tulsa, March 4-5

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | March 01, 2017, 12:05 p.m. (ET)

Chandler Rogers of Oklahoma State celebrates his win over Oklahoma in the Bedlam Dual held in Stillwater. Photo by Austin Bernard.

Oklahoma State, the No. 2 ranked wrestling team in the nation, is heavily favored to repeat as Big 12 champions, when 10 Div. I programs come together at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. for the Big 12 Wrestling Championships, March 4-5.

Last year, Oklahoma State dominated the Big 12 Championships, with seven individual champions and a 61 point lead over runner-up Oklahoma. The big question this year will be whether John Smith’s Cowboys can match or better last year’s dominant performance.

The conference has three programs in the top 25 of the final NWCA Coaches Poll, with Oklahoma State at No. 2, Oklahoma at No. 18 and South Dakota State at No. 19. North Dakota State just missed finishing in the top 25 of the poll, basically finishing 26th in the voting.

The NCAA has given the Big 12 a total of 38 automatic NCAA Div. I qualifiers this year, the third most of any conference, behind only the Big Ten with 77 and the EIWA with 43.

The Big 12 pre-seeds were released on Monday, and Oklahoma State boasts six No. 1 seeds in returning NCAA champion Dean Heil at 141, plus Anthony Collica at 149, Joe Smith at 157, Chandler Rogers at 165, Nolan Boyd at 184 and Austin Shafer at 285. The Cowboys also have three other wrestlers with No. 2 pre-seeds, and one other wrestler at No. 3. Will John Smith be able to push all 10 of his starters into the finals, and how many can make the drive from Tulsa to Oklahoma City as Big 12 champions?

The Cowboys are coming off a loss in the last dual of their season, when they lost in a sold-out Gallagher-Iba Arena to Penn State in the NWCA National Duals finals.

"I don't know if you're ever healthy. I think you've probably heard me say that before. There's always something wrong with a student-athlete that has wrestled a full season. I think we're pretty good. I think we have everybody feeling good. I think Austin Schafer will wrestle. He doesn't have to wrestle to go to the NCAA championships because he's qualified already, so I feel confident enough that he's feeling good enough to compete. We're going in with no disadvantages, I'll say that,” Smith told the media this week.

Although the pundits have Oklahoma State running away with the conference title, Smith does not approach it that way.

“The Big 12 Championship is going to be tougher than what people think. I think the competition is heavy. There's no question we're in a position to win, but I think it's real important that we recognize that some of the competition in the Big 12, we could see in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. We're getting that kind of strength in our conference,” said Smith.

The other No. 1 pre-seeds were Josh Rodriguez of North Dakota State at 125, Seth Gross of South Dakota State at 133, David Kocer of South Dakota State at 174 and Jacob Smith of West Virginia at 197.

This will be the first Big 12 Tournament for Oklahoma head coach Lou Rosselli, who was hired at the start of the season. Rosselli, who has been an assistant coach for Ohio State in the Big Ten and Edinboro in the EWL, will lead a Sooner team which had a solid dual meet lineup, but will need to step up big in the tournament format if it hopes to match last year’s second place performance.

South Dakota State’s head coach Chris Bono has perhaps its best team since he took over the Jackrabbit program. Last year, SDSU was fourth in the conference meet. With four wrestlers in the top 2 of the pre-seeds and a number of other tough entries, this team could leave Tulsa at No. 2 in the conference.

Beyond the top four programs in the national rankings, the other six teams in the conference will battle for team placement and individual NCAA qualifiers. The expanded Big 12 has invigorated the wrestling programs of the affiliate teams who moved in from the previous Western Wrestling Conference. The development of these programs are making this a stronger conference all around.

Traditional power Iowa State will be led by Travis Paulson, the Cyclone assistant coach who was assigned to lead the program for the post-season. Iowa State announced that head coach Kevin Jackson would not coach next year, then announced the hiring of longtime Virginia Tech Coach Kevin Dresser as the new coach. Last week, Jackson expressed the desire not to coach in the post-season, making Paulson the man in charge for the conference and NCAA championship events. The question is will any of this have an effect on how the Cyclones perform in the post season?

The preliminary rounds of the Big 12 Championships will be broadcast live on Flowrestling. The championship finals can only be viewed live on Fox Sports Southwest at 2 p.m. (ET) on Sunday.

There will be a complete wrap story from both days of the Big 12 Championships on from Roger Moore.

A weight-by-weight review follows

125 pounds – 4 NCAA qualifiers
No. 1 pre-seed – Josh Rodriguez (North Dakota State)
Top returnee from ’16 Big 12 – Josh Rodriguez (North Dakota State), 3rd place

There are three Big 12 wrestlers in the latest Flowrestling ranking, No. 7 Josh Rodriguez of North Dakota State, No. 10 Nick Piccininni of Oklahoma State and No. 13 Drew Templeman of Wyoming. Rodriguez is the top returnee from last year’s Big 12, placing third. Also placing last year were Templeman at fourth and Iowa State’s Kyle Larson at fifth. Piccininni is a freshman and is entering his first Big 12 Championships with a No. 2 pre-seed.

With four automatic spots in the NCAAs up for grabs, athletes who might be considered on the bubble include Larson, Christian Moody of Oklahoma and Trey Andrews of Northern Colorado. Moody is No. 16 in the NCAA’s most recent RPI and No. 18 in the latest Coaches Rankings. Andrews is at No. 31 in the Coaches Rankings and Larson is No. 31 in the RPI. Their performance at the Big 12 Tournament will be very important in whether they advance to St. Louis this year.

133 pounds – 4 NCAA qualifiers
No. 1 pre-seed – Seth Gross (South Dakota State)
Top returnee from ’16 Big 12 – Earl Hall (Iowa State), 2nd place at 122, Seth Gross (SD State, 2nd place at 141).

There are three Big 12 wrestlers in the Top 10 in the current rankings at 133, No. 2 Kaid Brock of Oklahoma State, No. 5 Seth Gross of South Dakota State and No. 10 Earl Hall of Iowa State. Hall placed seventh at the 2016 NCAA Championships and is the top Big 12 placewinner at this weight from last year with his runner-up finish. Gross competed at 141 last year, and he was also second in the conference at that weight class.

Brock was pulled from redshirt last year, pinned NCAA champion Cody Brewer of Oklahoma, then suffered a season-ending injury. This year, Brock has been consistently one of the best in the nation. Gross has had a fantastic season, and scored a win over Brock in their dual meet. As a senior, Hall is looking to finish his Cyclone career with his first conference title and his third All-American finish, with an eighth place on his record from 2014.

Others capable of advancing to the NCAAs include North Dakota State’s Cam Sykora, who is the No. 4 pre-seed and is No. 25 in the NCAA Coaches Ranking and No. 18 in the RPI. Others capable of breaking through include Rico Montoya of Northern Colorado and Cory Stainbook of West Virginia.

141 pounds – 4 NCAA qualifiers
No. 1 pre-seed – Dean Heil (Oklahoma State)
Top returnee from ’16 Big 12 – Dean Heil (Oklahoma State, 1st place

Dean Heil won the Big 12 and the NCAA Championships last year, and has held the No. 1 national ranking at this weight class all season long. He defeated a Big 12 rival in the 2016 NCAA Championships finals, surprise finalist Bryce Meredith of Wyoming, who was third at the Big 12 last year. Meredith is the only other Big 12 wrestler at this weight class with a national ranking from Flo going into the post season, currently at No. 8.

The other two athletes who are projected as NCAA qualifiers include Mike Longo of Oklahoma, who is No. 22 in the NCAA Coaches Ranking and No. 19 in the RPI, as well as Timmy Box of Northern Colorado, who is No. 26 in the Coaches Ranking and No. 27 in the RPI. Also watch for John Meeks of Iowa State and Trevor Willson of Utah Valley.

149 pounds – 4 NCAA qualifiers
No. 1 pre-seed – Anthony Collica (Oklahoma State)
Top returnee from ’16 Big 12 – Anthony Collica (Oklahoma State), 1st

Returning Big 12 champion Anthony Collica of Oklahoma State placed fourth at the NCAA Championships last year, and holds a No. 2 national ranking heading into this post-season. There are four Big 12 wrestlers in Flowrestling’s rankings at this weight class, No. 14 Alex Kocer of South Dakota State, No. 15 Davion Jeffries of Oklahoma and No. 18 Cole Mendenhall of Wyoming. All four of these wrestlers also placed in last year’s Big 12 Championships, with Jeffries second behind Collica, Mendenhall at fourth place and Kocer at fifth place.

Christian Monserrat of West Virginia is No. 33 in the current RPI, but received a No. 7 pre-seed. Ahead of him in the pre-seeds are No. 5 Grant LaMont of Utah Valley and No. 6 Jerry McGinty of Air Force.

157 pounds – 3 NCAA qualifiers
No. 1 pre-seed – Joe Smith (Oklahoma State)
Top returnee from ’16 Big 12 – Joe Smith (Oklahoma State), 1st

In 2016, Joe Smith of Oklahoma State won the Big 12, then went on to place seventh at the NCAA Championships. He has missed parts of the 2016-17 season, but is back on the mat and ready to defend his conference title. Smith is ranked No. 7 nationally by Flowrestling, joined in the conference by No. 11 Clay Ream of North Dakota State and No. 15 Clark Glass of Oklahoma. Ream and Glass were both third in last year’s conference meet, but at entirely different weight classes, with Ream down at 149 and Glass up at 165.

Archie Colgan of Wyoming returns, after placing fifth at the Big 12’s last year. Colgan has the highest RPI among all Big 12 athletes at No. 11. Also in the RPI at No. 33 is Colton DiBlasi of Iowa State. Others hoping to break through are Alex Mossing of Air Force and Logan Peterson of South Dakota State.

165 pounds – 5 NCAA qualifiers
No. 1 pre-seed – Chandler Rogers (Oklahoma State)
Top returnee from ’16 Big 12 – Chandler Rogers (Oklahoma State), 2nd at 174

The exciting Chandler Rogers of Oklahoma State headlines a deep weight class which features five wrestlers who are ranked nationally by Flowrestling. Rogers is at No. 7, with Yoanse Mejias of Oklahoma at No 13, Luke Zilverberg of South Dakota State at No. 14, Dylan Cottrell of West Virginia at No. 15 and Branson Ashworth of Wyoming at No. 20.

The conference pre-seeds differ from the national rankings a bit, with Rogers at No. 1, Cottrell at No. 2, Ashworth at No. 3, Zilverberg at No. 4 and Mejias at No. 5. Three of this group were conference placers last year, with Rogers in second at 174, Cottrell third at 158 and Zilverberg fifth at 165.

Two other Big 12 wrestlers appear in the NCAA Coaches Rankings, No. 20 Andrew Fogarty of North Dakota State and No. 23 Keilan Torres of Northern Colorado. Torres is also No. 31 in the RPI. It is conceivable that after the five Big 12 NCAA automatic qualifiers are set, there could be others added to the NCAA field as wildcards.

174 pounds – 3 NCAA qualifiers
No. 1 pre-seed – David Kocer (South Dakota State)
Top returnee from ’16 Big 12 – Lelund Weatherspoon (Iowa State), 1st

Pick your poison at this weight class. The top three wrestlers are talented and expected to do very well at the national level. The Flowrestling rankings have Kyle Crutchmer of Oklahoma State at No. 7, Lelund Weatherspoon of Iowa State at No. 13 and David Kocer of South Dakota State at No. 15. The Big 12 pre-seeds have Kocer at No. 1, Crutchmer at No. 2 and Weatherspoon at No. 3.

Weatherspoon is the returning champion at this weight class, and finished sixth at the 2016 NCAA Championships. Kocer was only fourth at this weight class at last year’s conference championships. Crutchmer was fifth in the 2015 NCAA Championships, held a high national rank during the 2015-16 season, but had a season-ending injury in the Bedlam Dual in February and could not compete at the conference meet.

Earning the No. 5 pre-seed is Matt Reed of Oklahoma, who was third in the conference last year. Reed is at No. 31 in the NCAA Coaches Rankings. Add in Kimball Bastian of Utah Valley, who is the No. 4 pre-seed, and is at No. 29 in the NCAA Coaches Rankings and No. 26 in the RPI. Others to watch are Kyle Pope of Wyoming and Michael Billingsley of Air Force.

184 pounds – 2 NCAA qualifiers
No. 1 pre-seed – Nolan Boyd (Oklahoma State)
Top returnee from ’16 Big 12 – Nolan Boyd (Oklahoma State), 1st

On paper, this is the weakest weight class in the conference, with only two athletes in the Flowrestling rankings, No. 5 Nolan Boyd of Oklahoma State and No. 19 Dylan Gabel of Northern Colorado. Boyd is the returning Big 12 champion, and placed fourth at the 2016 NCAA Championships.

The NCAA only gave the Big 12 two automatic qualifiers in this weight class, so the battle among the rest of the field is to try to make the finals. Miss the finals, and the path to the NCAAs must come through the wildcard route. South Dakota State’s Martin Mueller is the only other conference wrestler in the current NCAA evaluations, with an No. 31 spot in the RPI. Others to watch include Carson Powell of Iowa State and Tyler McNutt of North Dakota State.

197 pounds – 5 NCAA qualifiers
No. 1 pre-seed – Jacob A. Smith (West Virginia)
Top returnee from ’16 Big 12 – Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State), 1st

The weight class has a Big Three at the top. Based upon Flowrestling rankings, it goes No. 5 Jacob A. Smith of West Virginia, No. 8 Nate Rotert of South Dakota State and No. 9 Preston Weigel of Oklahoma State. The pre-seeds have the same order, with No. 1 Smith, No. 2 Rotert and No. 3 Weigel.

In 2016, Weigel was the Big 12 champion, defeating Rotert in the finals, 4-3. Smith placed just sixth in the conference one year ago.

With five automatic NCAA qualifiers, this weight class has proven depth on the national level. The pre-seeds have Anthony McLaughlin of Air Force at No. 4, Brad Johnson of Oklahoma at No. 5 and Tanner Orndorff of Utah Valley at No. 6. They all appear in the NCAA projections. Johnson is No. 21 in the Coaches Rankings and No. 24 in the RPI. McLaughlin is No. 32 in the Coaches Rankings and No. 31 in the RPI. Orndorff is No. 29 in the RPI.

285 pounds – 4 NCAA qualifiers
No. 1 pre-seed – Austin Schafer (Oklahoma State)
Top returnee from ’16 Big 12 – Ross Larson (Oklahoma), 2nd

The top Big 12 heavyweight for the past few years, Oklahoma State’s Austin Marsden, graduated after 2016, and the Cowboys bumped up a former 197-pounder to take his place this year. Austin Schafer became one of the nation’s top big men this season for the Cowboys. Schafer holds a No. 6 national ranking after a strong season, but comes into the conference meet after missing a number of dual meets with an injury.

Oklahoma’s Ross Larson holds a No. 16 national ranking, and is the top returnee from last year’s Big 12 meet, where he placed third. Two other 2016 conference placewinners are back Dustin Dennison of Utah Valley, who was fourth, and Ben Tynan of North Dakota State, who was fifth. Dennison is No. 26 in the Coaches Rankings and No. 21 in the RPI. Tynan is also at No. 26 in the Coaches Ranking and No. 24 in the RPI. Add in Iowa State’s Quean Smith, with a No. 27 RPI and the ability to climb in the standings. Also watch Brandon Tribble of Wyoming.

At BOK Center, Tulsa, Okla.

Saturday March 4
11:00 a.m. - Session I - Preliminary & Quarterfinal Matches
6:00 p.m. - Session II - Semifinal & Consolation Quarterfinal Matches

Sunday March 5
8:00 a.m. - Session III - Consolation Semifinals, 3rd & 5th Place Matches
1:00 p.m. - Session IV - Championship Matches