Tom Brands rarely heaps praise on the opposition without good reason.

Most times, the Iowa wrestling coach takes an introspective look and examines all facets of his team?s performance rather than getting into what?s transpiring in the other corner. It?s not in Brands? competitive DNA to publicly commend the opposition unless there?s a reason behind it.

But Brands has paid close attention to Penn State?s rise to the top of the national rankings in Cael Sanderson?s second season with the Nittany Lions. And based off his words this week, the Iowa coach either is truly impressed with Penn State, he?s setting up an ambush or perhaps a combination of both going into the 1 p.m. dual at Rec Hall in State College, Pa.

?They?re the clear No. 1 now,? Brands said. ?It?s not just who?s No. 1? Cornell or Penn State? ? They?re blowing people out.?

Penn State (13-0, 2-0 Big Ten) hasn?t been challenged in a dual since Nov. 14, when it slid past Lehigh 21-17. In the 11 duals since, the Nittany Lions have outscored opponents 393-73 and won 90 of their 110 individual matches.

Indeed, the Nittany Lions are blowing people out.

?They?ve got some good wrestlers,? Brands said. ?They?re definitely the clear No. 1. It?s a challenge.?

The Hawkeyes (10-0-1, 3-0) are the only other team in college wrestling without a dual loss. Iowa is riding a 72-dual unbeaten string, and the Hawkeyes haven?t lost a road meet since Feb. 4, 2007, when they stumbled 24-13 at Penn State.

Sanderson is in pursuit of his first dual win against Iowa. He struck out in three seasons at Iowa State and lost to the Hawkeyes 29-6 last season.

?When they were redshirting guys (last season), I felt like they were not necessarily conceding the season, but they were definitely pointing toward this year,? Brands said. ?He had a plan, and the plan has been executed, and the plan appears to be working well.?

This is the type of team Sanderson envisioned when he bolted from Iowa State after the 2009 season, leaving behind a veteran team expected to challenge Iowa for the national title to take over a dormant program in a fertile recruiting ground. But Penn State?s rise to No. 1 has taken place faster than even Sanderson expected.

The process has been accelerated by the addition of ultra-talented freshmen Andrew Alton, David Taylor and Ed Ruth.

David Taylor, the nation?s top recruit in 2009, got out of his letter of intent to Iowa State and followed Sanderson to Penn State. Taylor is undefeated and ranked third at 157 pounds going into today?s match against No. 14 Derek St. John.

?Taylor?s setting the world on fire ? that seems to be what everybody?s talking about,? Brands said. ?Big challenge. You have a chance to make a statement. That?s an understatement.?

Taylor has scored bonus points in 24 of his 25 matches this season. His closest bout was a 9-3 win against eighth-ranked Jesse Dong of Virginia Tech.

?It goes to show he?s ready to wrestle,? said St. John, who split a pair of freestyle matches with Taylor last spring at the Fila Junior tournament. ?I?ve got to be ready to wrestle. But (his accomplishments thus far are) not something that turns you away. It?s something that fires you up.?

Sanderson inherited Ruth, who starred as a senior at Blair (N.J.) Academy and signed with the Nittany Lions during Troy Sunderland?s final season as head coach. Ruth is ranked second at 174. His 23-1 record includes an 11-6 whipping of returning NCAA finalist Mack Lewnes of Cornell.

Alton was Sanderson?s first big recruiting catch at Penn State. He and his twin brother, Dylan, committed to the Nittany Lions during Sanderson?s first week on the job. He?s ranked fifth at 141 with 16 pins and a 24-2 record. His two defeats were one-point losses to top-ranked Kellen Russell of Michigan.

?When you have freshmen competing like we do this year, things have happened a little quicker than we even may have anticipated,? Sanderson told ?But we still have a lot of the season left. We?ve had some big matches, but all the most important stuff, really, is still to come.?

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Tags: Cael Sanderson, Penn State, Tom Brands, wrestling

Category: Wrestling

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