In seven conference duals this season, Penn State has outscored its opponents by a 245-32 score, setting the team up for an opportunity to clinch the regular season conference title this weekend.
But, arguably the Nittany Lions’ toughest Big Ten opponent is still waiting for them.
No. 1 Penn State travels to Minneapolis on Sunday to take on No. 3 Minnesota — the Lions’ highest-ranked opponent since facing then-No. 3 Iowa in a nonconference dual in late December — and the team is looking forward to what the Golden Gophers have to offer.
“This is probably…with what we know now, [our] biggest challenge,” coach Cael Sanderson said. “We got to win those close matches. We’re going to need bonus points when we have a chance to score them.”
If bonus points are needed, the Lions (13-0, 7-0 Big Ten) have shown lately they have no problem earning more than wins by decision. In the two duals last weekend against Michigan State and Michigan, Penn State recorded seven combined major decisions and tech falls, good for 11 bonus points.
However, with Minnesota’s (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten) impressive lineup, that may not be easy to accomplish. The Gophers feature eight ranked wrestlers — all in the top ten of their respective weights — including 197-pound No. 1 Scott Schiller, who has never lost in a Big Ten dual in 18 matches.
Another weight class of strength for Minnesota is 184 pounds with No. 8 Kevin Steinhaus, who is competing in his fifth year with the Gophers. Penn State’s 184-pound wrestler, Ed Ruth, has only competed against him once, in the 2013 184-pound Big Ten championship, where Ruth won 6-4 in overtime.
With Ruth planning a second match against Steinhaus, the Harrisburg native knows what to expect.
“A good hard match,” Ruth said. “The guy’s strong.”
Beside 184 and 197 pounds, 149 will be a bout to watch for Penn State as No. 8 Andrew Alton and Zack Beitz are still listed as options at the weight class, despite Alton wrestling twice over the weekend.
Whoever does wrestle for the Lions will face No. 3 Nick Dardanes, who has lost only one dual this season. The strength of the Gophers seems to be a trademark in Minneapolis, as Sanderson has noticed.
“They just always have a good team,” the former Iowa State wrestler said. “That’s the challenge. They’re always solid all the way up and down their lineup.”
Wes Herrmann can be reached at email@example.com or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @Wes_Herrm.