Three teams still stand between Iowa and where the Hawkeyes want to go on the college wrestling chain of command.
They climbed one rung at the beginning of the month when they handled Ohio State and traded spots with the Buckeyes, moving up to No. 4 in the national rankings. They slipped against No. 2 Oklahoma State in their bid to move up another notch.
Now Iowa (14-1, 4-0 Big Ten) encounters another two-meet stretch against two more of the top teams in the national rankings, beginning with Saturday afternoon’s trip to No. 3 Minnesota for the annual Border Brawl dual at 3 p.m. in Minneapolis.
“Neither team is ranked No. 1, but it’s still fairly important to people up there and still fairly important to people down here,” said Iowa coach Tom Brands, whose team takes on top-ranked Penn State next Friday. “I’m saying that kind of sarcastically. It’s important. We want to get to No. 1. This is the next step, so we will go do battle there.”
One key figure might not be part of the battle for the Gophers (11-1, 5-0).
Minnesota has been without J Robinson during its past three duals. The 27th-year head coach of the Gophers underwent surgery earlier this month to remove infection from his knee.
The Hawkeyes and Gophers split 20 matches in two duals last season. Iowa won the first meeting 19-17 in Iowa City before Minnesota evened the score with a 16-15 victory on its way to the title at the National Duals.
The two programs appear nearly as evenly matched this season. The Gophers have seven wrestlers ranked in the top 10 at their respective weight classes. The Hawkeyes have six.
Seven bouts feature ranked wrestlers going head-to-head, highlighted by matches at 141 and 174.
Iowa’s ninth-ranked Mark Ballweg is slated to take on No. 10 Nick Dardanes at 141. Sixth-ranked Hawkeye Mike Evans is expected wrestle No. 2 Logan Storley at 174.
“It’s a big deal,” Storley told the Minnesota Daily. “We don’t like them. They don’t like us. It’s definitely going to be an exciting match.”