LINCOLN — Mark Manning plans to tune in when the Patriots take on the Rams in Atlanta.
But a few hours before kickoff, Manning’s Nebraska wrestling team will have a showdown of its own at the Devaney Center. The Huskers, ranked ninth in this week’s coaches poll, will square off with No. 3 Iowa.
“I’ll watch the Super Bowl, hopefully with a smile on my face,” Manning said. “Obviously they’re a really tough team. We have a lot of respect for them. That’s what wrestling’s about, those challenges.”
Year in and year out, Iowa presents an enormous challenge for opponents. The Hawkeyes are 10-0 in duals this season, rolling to convincing wins over Rutgers, Illinois and Northwestern the previous two weekends.
Iowa has won nine straight duals against the Huskers — Nebraska’s last win over the Hawkeyes was in the 2005-06 season.
“No one likes Iowa. Every team that wrestles them wants to beat them. Our team is feeling the best it’s ever felt. We got great team spirit right now,” NU sophomore Taylor Venz said. “The thought of losing to Iowa sucks, so we have to stay tough and treat it like any other match.”
Venz, ranked fourth nationally by InterMat at 184 pounds, has been on top of his game since the calendar turned to January. He’s won his last six matches, including three by pins and one by technical fall.
Venz handed Illinois’ Emery Parker, then ranked No. 2, his first loss of the season last Sunday when the Husker recorded a pin early in the third period. Venz, who was named the Big Ten wrestler of the week, will see another ranked opponent Sunday when he faces No. 13 Cash Wilcke.
Venz and Wilcke are two of 17 ranked wrestlers expected to compete Sunday. A couple of the marquee matchups will be at 157 (two-time All-American and second-ranked Tyler Berger of Nebraska faces No. 7 Kaleb Young) and 165 (No. 2 Alex Marinelli of Iowa squares off against No. 6 Isaiah White).
“We’re ready for Iowa, for sure,” said White, who has won 12 of his last 13 matches, with the only loss being a 2-0 decision to No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State.
Other matchups between ranked opponents are at 125 (defending national champion and No. 2 Spencer Lee of Iowa vs. No. 16 Zeke Moisey), 141 (NU’s CJ Red, No. 19, vs. No. 16 Max Murin), 197 (No. 5 Jacob Warner of Iowa vs. No. 11 Eric Schultz) and heavyweight (Iowa All-American Sam Stoll, who is ranked third, against No. 14 David Jensen).
Since the beginning of January, Nebraska is 5-1 in duals, with three wins coming against ranked teams. The Huskers’ only loss is to No. 1 Penn State.
When the Huskers defeated Illinois last Sunday, they used three pins and a major decision to pull away for a 30-9 victory. On Friday at Rutgers, five of Nebraska’s eight wins came with bonus points as the Huskers won 31-9.
Manning is always preaching to his team about putting up points in matches, and recently they’ve responded.
“We need bonus points in duals. That’s what some of these duals are going to come down to,” Manning said. “They love that challenge (of facing ranked opponents). I love that they love the challenge.”