IOWA CITY - The University of Iowa can look in any direction and find a rival.
Iowa State resides to the west. Go south and you'll find another NCAA Division I traditional power Oklahoma State. The Hawkeyes just edge a rival to the north, edging Minnesota, 16-15, on criteria Saturday in Minneapolis, Minn.
With the emergence of Penn State with former Cyclone four-time NCAA champion and head coach Cael Sanderson at the Nittany Lions helm, they play that role from the east. Top-ranked Penn State visits No. 3 Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a showdown Friday, beginning at 8:04 p.m.
The Nittany Lions (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) have won the last two Big Ten and NCAA Championships, following Iowa's run of three straight for each. They have improved since Iowa Coach Tom Brands took eastern road trips to wrestle against Penn State as a Hawkeye competitor about 25 years ago.
“It ranks high," Brands said about the rivalry. "Throw it on the pile. It’s important and we want to get up for it."
Iowa owns a 25-7-2 advantage in the series. The Hawkeyes (15-1, 5-0) have won three of the four duals since Sanderson took over, including the last time they faced a top-ranked team, which was a 22-13 win in 2011 at State College, Pa. Now, it is Penn State's world and taking the Lions down is a tough challenge. Believing in success does not automatically lead to it.
“We have some good guys, and I’ll speak for them, and they’re up for it," Brands said. "Talking about it and doing it are two different things.”
Even though outsiders may have had this date circled on the calendar, it hasn't been the focus of the Hawkeyes. They have had their hands full with tough duals this month, including top-five battles with Ohio State and the Gophers. Attention turned to Penn State and the first home dual since dropping Purdue, 29-9, on Jan. 6.
“Every dual is a big dual," Iowa senior Mark Ballweg said. "Minnesota was a big dual. Ohio State was a big dual. I don’t treat this dual any different than the other ones.”
Penn State enters with eight ranked wrestlers, including top-ranked Ed Ruth at 184 and No. 2 ranked wrestlers Nico Megaludis (125) and David Taylor (165). Quentin Wright is 18-0 at 197 for the Lions and ranked as high as third. Matt Brown (174) and Dylan Alton (157) are ranked in the top-five nationally at their respective weights.
“It’s a chance to wrestle the best team in the country,” said Iowa's top-ranked Matt McDonough, who will have a rematch of last year's NCAA final. “It’s a chance to show everyone what you’re made of, really.”
Brands said he likes where the team is at this point. The way they stack up doesn't matter, if they give a strong effort.
“The No. 1 thing is the fight,” Brands said. “Ed Ruth threw a saddle, literally, on top of Ethen Lofthouse and rode him like a horse. We lay underneath him and we cannot do that. There can be no period like that in this type of dual meet. ...
“We want answers. We want statements. We want exclamation marks. We want to be the answer to the question that is going to win this weight class. It takes a lot of work and energy to wrestle that way and to get that result.”
Iowa 165-pounder Nick Moore has captured the attention of the college wrestling community. He won his third straight match, dropping Minnesota’s then-10th ranked Cody Yohn, 8-2, Saturday. The victory garnered Wrestler of the Week honors from the Big Ten Conference and USA Wrestling’s themat.com.
Moore is the third Hawkeye to receive the honor, joining Derek St. John (157) and 125-pounder Matt McDonough. The award is nice achievement, but it won’t come with complacency. It should propel him to continue to compete at that level.
“I think once you get a good thing you want to keep a good thing going, so it’s not necessarily something that I have it and you’re satisfied with that,” Moore said. “It’s something that should push me and drive me a little more now, because I know the feeling of success so it should motivate me to get that feeling more often.”
Moore is 11-3 overall, including a 2-2 mark against ranked foes. He jumped to 13th in the national rankings, which is the highest in his college career. He has a mammoth test in second-ranked David Taylor, who is a defending NCAA champion and two-time national finalist.
“I have to go out there and fight for seven, eight or nine minutes or however long it takes,” Moore said.” I just have to wrestle the whole time without fear.”
2,000 tickets for "Black Out"
According to the University of Iowa sports information office, there are about 2,000 tickets remaining for Friday's dual between top-ranked Penn State and No. 3 Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, beginning at 8:04 p.m.
The event is also a "Black Out" and Hawkeye fans are encouraged to wear black shirts.Former Hawkeye NCAA champion Kenneth Leuer will be the honorary captain for Friday’s dual. Leuer posted an 86-5-2, winning the 1956 191-pound national title for an undefeated senior season. The Wayzata, Minn., native was a two-time All-American for the Hawkeyes before a decorated 32-year military career.