125: Barlow McGhee- Missouri
While it might seem strange to have an unranked wrestler on this list, especially given that Purdue senior, Luke Welch, is ranked 10th, McGhee is a two-time national qualifier, and Welch has yet to qualify. McGhee had a disappointing 0-2 performance at the 2017 NCAA tournament, but two seasons ago he was on the verge of achieving All-American status, losing in sudden victory in the round of 12 to two-time Michigan All-American, Connor Youtsey, to fall just shy of the podium. This season McGhee is 10-4, and will face an uphill battle trying to reach the podium with 9 former All-Americans in the weight class.
133: #10 Dom Forys- Pittsburgh
Forys is a three time NCAA qualifier and was the 2017 ACC champion. At the 2016 NCAA tournament he made it to the round of 12 before falling to two-time Iowa State All-American, Earl Hall. Last season he went 2-2 at the NCAA Tournament losing to Buffalo’s Brian Lantry and Minnesota’s Mitch McKee. Forys is out to a 10-2 start this season with losses to #4 American’s Josh Terao, and #7 Drexel’s Austin DeSanto. While he hasn’t beaten any ranked wrestlers this season, he has proven he has the ability to. Last season he beat All-American and current #2, Scott Parker of Lehigh. 133 has 5 returning All-American, but also features several tough underclassmen who will be looking to earn their first All-American honors. It certainly looks possible for Forys to All-American, but he’ll have to bring his” A” game come March.
141: #13 Tyler Smith- Bucknell
After becoming Bucknell’s first ever NCAA qualifier at 141 pounds his freshman year, Smith qualified again as a sophomore and a junior. Last year he made it to the round of 12 before falling to Princeton’s Matt Kolodzik. This season he is 12-3, with two losses coming to unranked wrestlers, Cole Weaver (Wisconsin) and Alex Madrigal (Old Dominion). 141 is an extremely deep weight class with six returning All-Americans as well as a group of extremely talented freshmen including, #3 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell), #8 Chad Red (Nebraska), and #11 Kanen Storr (Iowa State). The losses to unranked wrestlers will hurt Smith’s seed and ultimately his chances of making the podium. Although he did have a solid showing at the Midlands Championship where he placed 2nd to CMU’s #9 Mason Smith.
149: #4 Troy Heilmann- UNC
Heilmann might be having the most surprising season out of any wrestler in the NCAA. He is a 2 time NCAA qualifier, once at 133, and once at 149, going 1-2 each performance. Heilmann has taken a huge jump in his senior season and is the highest ranked wrestler on this list after being a fringe top 20 wrestler in the past. This season he is 18-2 with wins over #5 Ke-Shawn Hayes (tOSU), #6 returning All-American Max Thompson (UNI) twice, #9 Colton McCrystal (Nebraska), and former All-American #10 Geo Martinez (Okie State). His only losses came at the hands of Central Michigan’s former All-American #3 Justin Oliver and Missouri’s #12, Grant Leeth. In the beginning of the season there was no way I would have picked Heilmann to make the podium at a weight with 7 returning All-Americans as well as some talented underclassmen like Junior World Silver Medalist #13 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern), but based on his season so far, you have to like his odds.
157 #12 Jake Short- Minnesota
While Short has had a solid career for the Gophers, he hasn’t met the lofty expectations that he earned as a top high school recruit. As a freshman, he suffered a season ending injury at the Big 10 tournament, and was not able to participate at NCAAs. As a sophomore he qualified at 149 pounds and went 0-2. Last season Short bumped up to 157 and was one win away from obtaining All-American status, losing to Oklahoma State’s Joe Smith in the round of 12. This season Short is 8-4 with losses to Nebraska’s #8 Tyler Berger, SDSU’s #11, Luke Zilverburg, Oklahoma State’s unranked Joyce Blaylock, and UNC’s #19 Kennedy Monday. Short’s always been a low scoring wrestler, but his lack of offense has been hurting him this season and could keep him off the podium in March.
165 #9 Nick Wanzek- Minnesota
Wanzek is another two time NCAA qualifier for the Gophers trying to make the most of his senior campaign. As a sophomore he qualified for the NCAA tournament at 174 pounds where he went 1-2. As a junior, he dropped to 165 pounds and made it to the round of 12, losing to Missouri’s, Daniel Lewis. This season Wanzek is 15-2 with losses to Oklahoma State’s returning All-American, #8, Chandler Rogers, and Wisconson’s freshman phenom, #6 Evan Wick. He has wins over Pitt’s #17 Jake Wentzel, and ASU’s #15 Anthony Valencia. Wanzek looks like he could contend for a low podium spot, but 165 is an absolutely loaded weight class
174 #8 Jadaen Bernstein- Navy
Bernstein has been a staple in Navy’s lineup and is a three time NCAA qualifier, twice making it to the round of 12. Bernstein has had an incredibly solid and reliable career. This season he is 12-2, dropping matches to UNI’s #7 Taylor Lujan and Michigan’s #5 Myles Amine. He’s notched wins over numerous ranked opponents including, Stanford’s #12 Keaton Subjeck, Oklahoma’s #13 Yoanse Mejias, and Purdue’s #15 Dylan Lydy. Hopefully Bernstein can navigate his way through the perilous round of 12 and into All-American honors this season.
184 #5 Dominic Abounader- Michigan
Abounader is a 3 time NCAA qualifier who once made it to the round of 12. Despite having excellent regular seasons and earning high seeds, of #9, #8, and #4, Abounader has not been able to match his seed and become an All-American yet. This season he is 10-2 taking losses to returning All-American former National Champion tOSU’s #2 Myles Martin, and Lehigh’s #4 Ryan Preisch. He has wins over CMU’s #15 Jordan Ellingwood, Wisconsin’s #8 Ricky Robertson, and Virginia Tech’s #7 Zach Zavatsky. If Abounader doesn’t make the podium this year he will go down as one of the best to never All-American.
197 #5 Jake Smith- West Virginia
Smith is a 3 time NCAA qualifier for WVU, but was unable to compete at last year’s tournament due to injury. Smith’s season has been a mixed bag so far at 7-3 with wins over solid but unranked opponents and losses to Virginia Tech’s #3 Jared Haught, Iowa’s true freshman, Jacob Warner, who is currently in redshirt, and unranked Pat Brucki of Princeton. 197 is always a crapshoot, and it’s hard to predict Smith’s ceiling or floor at the NCAA tournament.
285 #7 Mike Hughes- Hofstra
Even for a heavyweight, Mike Hughes is still enormous. Hofstra’s big man qualified for the NCAA tournament in 2016 during his junior year before taking a redshirt last season. The redshirt season seems to have paid dividends as he went 28-2 wrestling unattached and is off to a 15-0 tear to start this season with wins over ranked wrestlers including Purdue’s #15, Shawn Streck (twice), Okie State’s #9 Derek White, and Columbia’s #18 Garrett Ryan. While I wouldn’t call Hughes a sure thing to make All-American, he certainly is starting to look like one.