Iowa has long been considered the college wrestling program that all others envy, try to copy and try to knock from its lofty perch.
All the Hawkeyes do is win. They enter today's titanic 2 p.m. clash with Penn State with an unbeaten streak of 72 matches. Their 69-match winning streak, which began after a 19-14 loss to Oklahoma State on Jan. 5, 2008, was halted with a 15-15 tie against Oklahoma State earlier in the season. It was their first tie since tying Penn State, 18-18, in 1992.
It says here if there's a season that the mighty Hawks should lose one, it's this year. The team that has the best chance to do that - and should - stands across from them today in Rec Hall.
The 13-0 Nittany Lions are off to their best start in the 100-plus years of the program, are ranked No. 1 in every poll in the free world, haven't even been challenged and have a lineup full of a young, talented stars who jumped at the chance to wrestle for Cael Sanderson.
Now the Lions get their first shot at dethroning the king.
It won't be the last time the Lions will tangle with the eighth-ranked Hawkeyes because, of course, there's the Big Ten Championships and the NCAA Championships. No, today's match is just the first encounter with the Hawks.
But this dual meet is huge. It's been sold out to the general public for months. The 295 student tickets that went on sale at 7 Friday morning were snapped up in 20 minutes after a wait in a line that formed at 5 a.m. The university has designated the event a whiteout, a privilege mainly the domain of the football team's primetime games.
On one side of the mat will be Sanderson, the only college wrestler to ever go undefeated. On the other side will be Iowa coach Tom Brands, but you know legendary Iowa wrestler and coach Dan Gable won't be too far away. Maybe there should be an exhibition between Sanderson and Gable, whose only college loss came in his last bout.
The match with Iowa should held at the more spacious Bryce Jordan Center, but alas, the women's basketball team is playing there at the same time.
The match also should be going live on TV. Instead, the Big Ten Network is carrying it on tape delay at 9:30 p.m. and airing the Lady Lions. Originally, it was supposed to run on tape delay on Tuesday, but complaints from wrestling fans caused the network to relent some.
Live TV or not, there will be enough emotion, energy and fantastic wrestling to make it a great atmosphere in Rec Hall. It should be just the opposite of last Friday night's Pitt match, where you could hear a pin drop as the Lions were sluggishly winning another match.
Sanderson said his team was "flat." Maybe the Lions were already looking forward to this day. Well, the day has come, and they better be ready to wrestle at their best. Sanderson will also be looking to be at his best. The former Iowa State coach is 0-4 against Iowa.
The Hawkeyes feature defending 125-pound NCAA champion Matt McDonough. It's unclear if Penn State senior Brad Pataky, who is nursing a knee injury, will be able to wrestle. He missed the Pitt match, as did his backup Frank Martellotti (academics).
Iowa also has a returning 141-pound NCAA runner-up in Montell Marion, but it's unclear if Marion will wrestle. He was kicked off the team May 5 following a DUI arrest, but he was re-instated in early January.
His replacement, Mark Ballweg, tied McDonough for the team lead in pins in the team's 33-3 win over Ohio State. The Lions, by the way, beat the Buckeyes, 42-3.
If Marion faced Andrew Alton, that would be some bout to watch.
The 133-pound bout could be a matchup of Iowa State transfers in Penn State's Andrew Long, who was booted off the Cyclones after his second alcohol-related offense, and either Iowa's Tyler Clark, who transferred when Sanderson left Iowa State, or Tony Ramos.
Quentin Wright, who made a sluggish return against Pitt with a harness on his shoulder, has to be on his game. You know undefeated 157-pounder David Taylor and top-ranked 174-pounder Ed Ruth will at their best.
The outcome could boil down to who can handle the pressure the best. Wrestlers from both programs know what that's all about. When you wrestle for Iowa, the pressure will be there. Now that the Lions are among the elite, the pressue is with them.
It's time for the spotlight to shine on all of them.
Todd Irwin can be reached at 946-7464 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.