Nov. 29, 2011
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- It didn't take long for the Big Ten wrestling season to arrive. Top ranked University of Iowa -- with just three dual meets under its belt -- hosts No. 7 Illinois on Friday with a 7 p.m. start.
"Illinois feels good about itself and they have a good team," UI head coach Tom Brands said Tuesday inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex. "That's a dangerous combination. We have to be ready because I know they're excited to come in here."
The teams haven't met in a dual meet since Iowa's 32-4 win in 2009. The Hawkeyes have won two in a row with the Illini winning 24-13 in 2006 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes are 42-2 at home since.
"We've been looking forward to this weekend for a while, but we look forward to every weekend," said Mike Evans, UI 165-pounder. "This weekend is going to be fun."
After Iowa (3-0) hosts the Illini (6-0), the Hawkeyes travel Iowa State on Sunday.
"It's the first big test for us as a team. We have to take care of Illinois before we take the next step."
Make no mistake; Iowa knows the opponent immediately following Illinois, but the Hawkeyes are focused squarely on the Illini.
"It's the first big test for us as a team," said UI freshman heavyweight Bobby Telford. "We have to take care of Illinois before we take the next step."
If the probable lineups for both teams compete, the Iowa-Illinois dual will feature 13 ranked wrestlers with key matchups at 133 pounds and 174. At 133, B.J. Futrell of Illinois (9-0, ranked No. 2) and Tony Ramos of Iowa (8-0, ranked No. 3) square off; at 174, Jordan Blanton of Illinois (10-0, ranked No. 3) takes on Ethen Lofthouse of Iowa (7-1, ranked No. 6).
Ramos and Futrell have split two matches in college. Futrell handed Ramos his first loss of the season at the 2010 Midlands Championships, 9-6; Ramos returned the favor with a 6-2 win at the Big Ten Championships.
"It's good to wrestle guys like this, especially early in the year to see where you're at," Ramos said. "Everything's important, especially this one. It's a Big Ten match and when it comes down to the Big Ten Tournament, it's going to be big. There are a lot of tough guys at 133 -- it's a loaded weight class."
There have been four Big Ten Wrestlers of the Week in November and three of them compete at 133: Logan Stieber (Ohio State), Futrell and Matt Fields (Purdue).
With the conference assigning an eight-dual Big Ten schedule, the league season gets started earlier than in the past.
"We don't have a choice," Brands said of Friday's opener. "We're taking it as we go and Illinois is next on our schedule."
Iowa State is off to a 0-5 start, but the Cyclones have five rated competitors.
"They're one of our big rivals," Telford said.
"It's always going to be a big rivalry," Ramos said. "We have to keep the fans excited in Iowa City -- we have to get through Illinois on Friday night and then Iowa State on Sunday."
Iowa leads the all-time series with the Cyclones, 59-16-2. The Hawkeyes have won seven straight, including 22-13 last season.