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Maryland wrestling 2016-2017 season preview

After two very frustrating and disappointing seasons, the Terrapins are poised to have their most successful Big Ten campaign to date.

Maryland wrestling begins its 2016-2017 season this weekend
Maryland wrestling begins its 2016-2017 season this weekend
Noah Niederhoffer/Testudo Times

The college wrestling season starts in earnest this weekend. The Terrapins went 5-13 last season and picked up their first-ever Big Ten dual win. It's no secret that that the Terps have struggled in Big Ten competition since they moved from the ACC, posting two of the three worst scores at the Big Ten Championships in the past 30 years. However, Maryland is poised to take step another step forward since its move to the Big Ten.

The Lineup

125 -€” Michael Beck is the incumbent. Brandon Cray, a two-time New Jersey state champ, and Alex Vargas could show promise in a couple of years.

133 -€” After backing up Geoff Alexander, a four-time NCAA qualifier, Tyler Goodwin finally has the weight class all to himself. He's going to be a lot of fun to watch.

141 -€” Billy Rappo will start the season because Alfred "Baby J" Bannister is a little banged up. They will likely split time, but this is an excellent opportunity for the redshirt senior to seize the starting job. If he stays hot early in the season, look for head coach Kerry McCoy to leave him in the starting job going into Big Ten competition.

149 -€” Shyheim Brown is eligible again and will look to wreak havoc in his senior year. Bumping up to 149 will undoubtedly help him. Maryland has some good young talent at this weight, but Brown shouldn't have trouble fending them off.

157 -€” The plan right now is to redshirt Wade Hodges this season. Justin Alexander will start. He saw some action at the Big Ten Tournament two years ago.

165 -€” Josh Ugalde, the highly touted recruit from Bound Brook high school in New Jersey, will start after redshirting last season.

174 -€” Brendan Burnham was competitive in just about all of his Big Ten matches last year as a true freshman at 165. He's bumping up to 174 this season.

184 -€” Jaron Smith picked up some Big Ten wins as a true freshman last year as well.

197 -€” David-Brian Whisler is a redshirt freshman and beat sophomore incumbent Garrett Wesneski in their Red and Black dual match. Like in the 141-pound class, both guys could see action this season.

Heavyweight -€” Dawson Peck is no longer with the program and sophomore Youssif Hemida, who had an outstanding freestyle campaign in the spring, was voted as one of the team's captains. Hemida showed some promise in Big Ten competition.

The Schedule

The Cavalier Duals will give Maryland an early test of where it stands. The Terps will face Lock Haven and Virginia. Maryland's slate at the Grapple at the Garden at Madison Square Garden is much easier than some of their opponents in years past. They'll face Princeton and Columbia.

Maryland beat Michigan State last season and Northwestern has not been very good recently. I expect Maryland to win both matches. I also believe Navy, Indiana and Purdue could be toss-ups. With non-conference duals against George Mason, Drexel, North Dakota State and Rider, Maryland should easily surpass its five-win total from last season.

The Terps have more talent and a more balanced lineup than they had a season ago.

That being said, expect losses to the usual suspects: Virginia, Rutgers, Illinois, Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State.

The schedule works in Maryland's favor and the Terps should increase both their Big Ten and regular season win totals.

The Landscape

Defending national champion Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State are top-five teams. Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and Rutgers are ranked in the top 15. This is what Maryland will have to deal with this year and every year in perpetuity.

Regular season success, or lack thereof in Maryland's case for the past two seasons, does not guarantee postseason success. The Terps MUST improve on their historically bad worst-place finishes at the Big Ten Championship this season in order to erase the idea of them as the laughingstock of the conference. It will not be easy.

Quick Breakdown

125 -€” I think Beck is better than he was last year, but I still don't see him making a dent against the heavy-hitters at this weight. The Big Ten has four grapplers in the top 11 at this weight. Elijah Oliver from Indiana is 17th and he beat Beck last season. However, Beck won't have to tangle with some of the ranked guys until Big Ten's so he'll definitely have opportunities to face similar opponents and pick up conference wins.

133 -€” Tyler Goodwin is one of the most exciting wrestlers to watch in the country. He's also one of the most dangerous to wrestle. Unfortunately, the top four wrestlers at 133 all wrestle in the Big Ten. They include Iowa's two-time NCAA finalist, Cory Clark, and Ohio State's 2015 NCAA Champion (at 125 pounds), Nathan Tomasello.

His opponents on the schedule this year: Nos. 2, 3, 8, 10, 15, 16 and 19.

He'll have the opportunity to pick up big wins, but his schedule will be absolutely grueling. That is going to be his biggest challenge as he begins his first full year as a starter.

141 -€” Billy Rappo comes from a family that is wrestling royalty in the state of Pennsylvania. For one reason or another, he's never had the opportunity to really shine at Maryland. Some star wrestlers wouldn't be comfortable taking a back seat. Rappo has embraced it throughout his career, helping other wrestlers on the team. Now Maryland's "team player" gets to try and forge a legacy in his final season.

The only problem? The 141 class is loaded. Both Rappo and Bannister will face ranked opponents early and often this season. They'll face off against two top-20 guys at the Cavalier Duals and face ranked opponents from Princeton, Navy, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Rutgers. That's a tough hill to climb.

149 -€” Shyheim Brown will wrestle four of the nation's top-10 149 pounders this season. The most important question is how much he has improved from the neutral position. If he can start taking guys down instead of getting tired at the end of matches like he did two years ago, he could be very dangerous.

157 -€” The Big Ten has SEVEN grapplers in the top-10 at this weight. This season could be a long one for Alexander.

165 -€” This weight has two absolute studs in it. Isaac Jordan is a three-time All-American and the returning NCAA runner-up from Wisconsin. Isaiah Martinez from Illinois won it all at 157 in 2015 and bumped up to the weight. Rider, Michigan and Penn State all have top-10 wrestlers as well. Ugalde is good, but he'll have to figure out the learning curve quickly.

174 -€” Brendan Burnham has his work cut out for him. He'll face two top-five wrestlers and four in the top 10. Burnham is a grinder and will keep some of these matches close, but can he win them?

184 -€” Smith will have to wrestle both of last year's NCAA finalists at 174 because they bumped up. Smith was able to shock some people last year and won three straight Big Ten dual matches at one point. Will he able to pull off another stunner or two this season? I think he'll pick up another three or four wins this season.

197 -€” David-Brian Whisler is in a similar position as Ugalde at 165. They're both getting thrown in the fire from the get-go. They'll have to fight hard each and every week. Wesneski is improved and might see some time as well, but we'll have to see what happens since he lost to DBW.

Heavyweight -€” I expect Hemida to pull one upset this season against a ranked wrestler. He'll struggle against top wrestlers like defending national and Olympic champion Kyle Snyder, but he should keep it close and pick up at least a win or two against the bottom half of this weight class in the Big Ten.

The Big Picture

The elephant in the room is Kerry McCoy's contract situation. It is hard to recruit kids when you can't promise them that you'll still be at the school that you're recruiting them to when they arrive.

He said at media day that he won't coach any differently than he has in the past and he doesn't want his wrestlers to do anything that's out of place with what they normally do either.

It all comes down to one thing: results. The postseason matters.  I won't be writing week to week on McCoy's status, but it is something to think about as the season goes on because it does have a serious impact on the future of the program.

Maryland could be a good team this season. Not a great team, but a good one. Ultimately, how the Terps perform on the mat, especially at Big Ten's and NCAA's, will play a role in determining the direction and future of Maryland wrestling.