Penn State ended the 2012 portion of its season ranked No. 1 and it will be put to the test on the first day of 2013 at the Southern Scuffle.
The Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) are part of a stacked field at the Scuffle that takes place Jan. 1 and 2 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The competition features seven top 25 teams including No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 3 Minnesota, No. 6 Missouri and No. 8 Cornell.
Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson said the Scuffle is similar to the NCAA tournament because of the level of competition at most weight classes and it is the most competitive Scuffle field he can remember.
"Anytime you have Penn State, Oklahoma State, Cornell, Minnesota...it's going to be a great tournament," Sanderson said. "It's good for our team. I'm excited for them to get thrown in there and just see how they respond to the challenge."
Sanderson also said the Scuffle allows the Lions to face some teams they want to see and will not get a chance to at any other point during the season.
The Lions had success in the Southern Scuffle last year when they claimed the team title as well as four individual weight class championships. Former Lion Frank Molinaro took the 149 championship, junior David Taylor won the 165-weight class, junior Ed Ruth defeated teammate Matt Brown for the 174 title and senior Quentin Wright claimed the 184 bracket.
One of the weight classes Penn State did not win was the 157-pound one in which Cornell's Kyle Dake knocked off junior James Vollrath and sophomore Dylan Alton in the semi-finals and finals respectively.
Dake, who is a three-time NCAA champion in three different weight classes, now wrestles at the 165-pound level and defeated Taylor earlier this year in an exhibition match. The 2013 Southern Scuffle could see a highly anticipated rematch of the exhibition in the finals as Dake is the No. 1-seed and Taylor is the No. 2-seed.
Taylor said he is excited for the potential rematch and it has important NCAA tournament seeding implications
"I want to go out and do what I do best," Taylor said. "I want to score points. I want to make these guys not want to wrestle me when it comes down to the national tournament."
Taylor also said the Scuffle presents him with the opportunity to wrestle the best opponents in his weight class, as Tyler Caldwell of Oklahoma State and Nick Sulzer of Virginia will be competing, and that's all he could ask for.
The defending Hodge Trophy winner said he has made adjustments to open Dake up since the exhibition loss and Wright, who will now be wrestling in the 197-weight class and is the No. 1-seed, said he has seen Taylor improving.
"He's a perfect example of what every kid on the team should be doing...working towards beating the next opponent," Wright said. "He's working with coaches every day after practice [and] asking them questions.