IOWA CITY - The toughest of challenges lies ahead of the University of Iowa wrestlers.
The Hawkeyes wouldn't want it any other way.
In highly discussed developments, Iowa and Penn State added a dual between the two NCAA Division I wrestling heavyweight powers when the Big Ten schedule did not result in one. They avoided disrupting a stretch of duals between the two programs that dated back to 1982. The third-ranked Hawkeyes host top-ranked Penn State in a non-conference dual Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, beginning at 8 p.m. The meet will be televised on BTN.
The Hawkeyes welcomed that addition to the season's slate.
"Any chance we get to line up a dual like this, especially being at home, is exciting for our fans and that's exciting for us, because that is what we want to wrestle," Iowa's Nick Moore said during the team's weekly meeting with media at the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex. "We don't want to pad our schedule where npbody is coming to town to wrestle us. We're excited for this."
Many were disappointed when the schedule was released and there was no regular-season matchup between the two teams. The dual has generated a lot of buzz in the wrestling community and beyond.
"There is a lot of energy and a lot of good wrestling to look forward to," Iowa's Ethen Lofthouse said. "There is a lot of excitement."
Iowa Coach Tom Brands said the Hawkeyes have a big reason to get up for this match and, even more important, a chance to raise the fans' enthusiasm. They are taking their regular approach to the week, even though the competition might provide a tad more fuel to the fire.
"I see business as usual, but with a focus on your opponent like any other event, except there are a lot of good opponents coming into this arena and a good team opponent," Brands said. "Just go about your everyday business and ramp it up like you do every other time."
Up and down the lineup, Iowa faces a formidable foe from the three-time defending Big Ten and NCAA team champions, as a whole. Brands noted the likes of three-time finalist and top-ranked David Taylor (165), two-time national champion and No. 1-ranked Ed Ruth (184), Zain Retherford, who beat Ohio State's two-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber in overtime last weekend, and hard-wrestling Nica Megaludis at 125.
"We have opportunities to rise to the occasion," Brands said. "So, there's that in their minds."
Don't sell the Hawkeyes short. Brands sees the Iowa's potential firepower in the room daily. They showed it in throttling of overmatched Buffalo last week. Red-shirt freshman Cory Clark (125), 141-pounder Josh Dziewa, ranked as high as ninth, nationally, junior Nick Moore (165) and second-ranked Lofthouse have the chance to make some noise, heading into Midlands Championships.
"We have some tough guys in here," Brands said. "I say that not to defend our guys, but I say that I think they're pretty confident in what they're getting into in this next event."
Brands said the Hawkeyes have to have a complete balanced performance from each starter, who must compete at a high level for every second of every match. He said if that doesn't happen things could get ugly based on Penn State's 31-6 win over No. 6 Ohio State.
"I think that we better be ready to go," Brands said, "or we'll going to get blown out of our own arena."
Brands adding his feeling on the team, "I'm always an optimistic guy, but there's always something we need to work on too. There's something in the back of your head that you're scratching and trying to make better. We have to get better every day. Nothing has changed in mind from a complete team point of view and that is he have to have output from 10 weights."
Evans among Hawkeyes unbeaten at CHA
University of Iowa's Mike Evans is one of six Hawkeye wrestlers in the probable lineup for Saturday's home dual against No. 1 Penn State that has yet to lsoe at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Tony Ramos leads the way with a 28-0 mark and defending national champion Derek St. John is 27-0. Cory Clark (4-0), Josh Dziewa (5-0) and Sammy Brooks (1-0) have seen limited action at CHA.
Sixth-ranked Evans (11-0) is 20-0 at home in three seasons, and faces a tough test in third-ranked Matt Brown (11-0) at 174 pounds. He is aware of the streak, but a focus on preparing for each match is what leads to the success.
"It's crossed my mind," Evans said. "What crosses my mind before that is getting ready to go, and I think if I get ready to go every match there's not a match I can't win."
The Evans and Brown bout could be considered a swing match at 174 pounds. Last year in this dual, Evans posted a 4-3 win over Brown. The win ignited the 15,077 fans in attendance. Evans said the reaction resembled being struck like lightning and is one of his top moments at CHA.
"It got the crowd going a little bit last year," Evans said. "There are a few others."
Another Evans win will be key to the Hawkeyes pulling another upset. He will try to reclaim an advantage against Brown, who beat Evans, 7-3, in last season's Big Ten Championships final. The goal is not to have it depend on coming down to a late scramble off a reshot for a late winning takedown.
"You don't want to let it happen," Evans said. "You don't want to let it get there. When it happens, it happens. There's no control over it. You have to roll with it, I guess."
Burak or Brooks
Both Nathan Burak, a 2013 NCAA qualifier, and red-shirt freshman Sammy Brooks are listed for the Hawkeyes as a probable starter for Saturday's dual against top-ranked Penn State. Burak, who is ranked as high as 10th nationally, has yet to wrestle this season, while Brooks, up from 184, is 9-3 this season, including two consecutive dual wins for Iowa.
Iowa Coach Tom Brands said both will warm up and be ready to go, but did not say who is more likely to wrestle against the Nittany Lions. He said Burak has a medical issue that is more complicated than recovering from a knee injury, noting Burak has not been happy with the decisions to be patient with the return but has handled it well.
This and that
* - According to the University of Iowa's sports information department, 11,800 tickets had been sold for the event as of Tuesday afternoon.
* - Iowa has won five of the last six meetings, including a 22-16 win at CHA last year, and leads the series 26-7-2.
* - Tom Brands celebrates the holidays in style. The Hawkeyes are 24-0 in duals during the month of December.* - No question the talent on the mat will be hard to match in a single dual. 21 of the 28 listed probable starters are ranked in one of the three major national polls. An impressive 21 are rated in the top five at their respective weight.