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Joe Smith beats Chandler Rogers for Oklahoma State's 165-pound spot in post-season

By Roger Moore, Special to TheMat.com | March 04, 2019, 8:11 p.m. (ET)

Action image of Joe Smith courtesy of CowboyWrestling Twitter

STILLWATER, Okla. – If Chandler Rogers and Joe Smith were part of different programs a match in March could easily be an NCAA quarterfinal or certainly a Saturday medal round encounter. But on Monday night in Gallagher-Iba Arena’s cozy practice room, the two battled it out for a starting spot at 165 pounds.

A small crowd gathered to watch not including many teammates. Nobody really wins in this situation; everyone in the program wants both to win, to represent Oklahoma State at this weekend’s Big 12 Conference Championships in Tulsa.

Combined, the two have earned All-America status four times, Rogers finishing eighth and fifth at 165 pounds the last two seasons, and Smith, who redshirted last season, taking fourth as a sophomore and seventh as a true freshman at the 2016 NCAA Championships, both coming at 157 pounds. Rogers (17-2) was injured at the Southern Scuffle and missed all of the January schedule; Smith (14-4) did not enter the lineup until the Reno Tournament of Champions in late December.

Finding the right place and time to determine the lineup has not been easy. And having to make a difficult decision … nobody was cheering or celebrating much Monday night. Rogers has been a big part of the program since his arrival after winning an Oklahoma state title for Stillwater High School.

Rogers' go-for-broke style made him a crowd favorite. Joe Smith is also a crowd favorite. The son of head coach John Smith, Joe won three state titles for Stillwater High and has been a fixture at GIA for most of his life.

“This hasn’t been easy,” John Smith said. “Having guys injured, missing January, brought about a tough situation. It comes down to whoever wants it more.”

The “ranking” match came about due to a logjam in the middle weights for the Cowboys, who finished the dual season unbeaten at 15-0 and enter the postseason ranked second behind Penn State.

Senior Preston Weigel, injured for much of the season, returned to the mat in mid-February and is certainly the best option at 197 pounds; the Kansan was an All-American as a sophomore and injured in the first round of the 2018 NCAAs.

Edinboro transfer Dakota Geer started the year at 184 pounds, but moved up to replace Weigel. All-American Jacobe Smith, eighth at 174 pounds last season, moved up to 184, and Joe Smith fit in nicely at 174 pounds.

Weigel’s return forced OSU’s hand. Somebody had to sit and discussions and options were presented. In the end it came down to the 165-pound spot.

The best-of-three Monday night opened with a Joe Smith first-period takedown and eventual 3-2 win. An hour later, Smith, already powerful at 174 pounds, proved too much for Rogers, securing three takedowns in a 7-4 victory.

Rogers finishes his career at OSU with 94-25 career record. His final victory will be a memorable one, locking up his patented “Assassin” against Iowa for a massive fall in the OSU-Iowa dual two Sunday’s ago.

The Big 12 released pre-tournament brackets on Monday. Coaches will meet Friday to determine any changes and questions, the 165-pound bracket at the top of the list. Questions also abound for NCAA selection and seeding committees, giving them plenty to ponder in regards to the evolving NCAA qualification process.

“It’s the situation we are in,” John Smith said. “We’ve always tried to put the best team on the mat, the team that can score the most points at an NCAA Tournament. It’s nice to have that depth, but these decisions aren’t easy. There are certainly some things we need to address with the allocation process, especially with this decent plan, taking injuries into consideration and being able to get a certain number of matches.”

A good strength of schedule requires matches against top-rated competition. For programs in the Northeast a short drive in just about any direction brings quality opponents. Getting the required amount of matches against Division I opponents is a piece of cake. For schools in the struggling Pac 12 and even the once powerful Big 12 (formerly the Big Eight) getting matches is not always as easy. In order to get to the required minimum standard of total matches, OSU’s Wyatt Sheets, a day after wrestling at Missouri, competed in Iowa State’s Last Chance Open.

Factor in injuries and missing a chunk of the season, especially for those non-Eastern schools, and making up matches might mean flying halfway across the country. And the amount of available competitions, Open tournaments, significantly diminish after the first week of January.

Joe Smith has zero matches at 165 pounds this season, but, as a two-time All-American and ranked among the top eight at 174 pounds, where does he fit? If he fails to earn one of the qualifying spots at 165 pounds this weekend does he warrant an at-large berth into the NCAA field? And, if Smith makes it into the NCAA’s 165-pound bracket does he warrant a seed? How is that determined without any data at 165?

Jacobe Smith (23-3) has been at 184 pounds since the Southern Scuffle, wrestling 10 first-semester matches at 174 pounds. He is seeded No. 1 at 174 for the Big 12s.

Geer (22-4) has competed at 197 pounds since Dec. 16, giving him just seven bouts at 184 this season. He is seeded third at the Big 12s. Weigel (7-0) is seeded first at 197 this weekend.

“It’s just the way that it is, there are only so many spots,” said Jacobe Smith after the Missouri dual. “There is a plan and it will work itself out. We’ve got good guys all up and down the lineup; it shows the depth we have on this team.”

Oklahoma State has won six consecutive Big 12 titles. The two-day tournament opens Saturday inside the BOK Center in Tulsa.