Purdue's attempts at ascending back to a comfortable spot in the WrestleStat rankings could be at risk this Sunday when they face their fifth ranked team of the season, the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The Boilermakers’ (9-4, 3-3 Big Ten) last tangle with the Golden Gophers (3-4, 2-3 Big Ten) ended in a 32-4 defeat when Purdue was ranked No. 19 and Minnesota was No. 15 in the nation. The Gophers won all but one of the duals matches.
The team’s final tally included seven decisions – four by a single point, a Purdue press release said – a technical fall and an injury default. Then-sophomore Thomas Penola earned a major decision over Minnesota’s Garrett Joles in the 197 pound round to prevent Purdue from being shut out.
The rest of Purdue’s recent history against the Gophers has seen similar results. The Boilermakers haven’t beaten Minnesota since the 2003-04 season, when the then-No. 18 Boilers earned a narrow upset over the then-No. 11 Gophers.
The Boilermakers have gone as high as 18th in the WrestleStat dual rankings this season, taking the spot after reaching an undefeated non-conference record in November after wins against six different teams. Purdue most notably swept the Boilermaker duals against three different teams in late-November, taking a 42-0 victory over Brown in the first shutout win over a Division-1 opponent since a 39-0 win over Southern Illinois Edwardsville in 2014, according to Purdue Athletics.
10 weeks later, the Boilermakers sit at 24th in the country, rising two spots in the rankings after taking a 1-point win against the Indiana Hoosiers.
Purdue may have a slight advantage this time thanks to Minnesota’s recent schedule. All five of Minnesota’s Big Ten opponents up to this point in the season were ranked at the time, four of them in the top 10. The Gophers’ three Big Ten losses came to then-No. 1 Iowa, then-No. 9 Wisconsin and then-No. 4 Michigan, two in the past week.
The Gophers and Boilers have both beaten Nebraska, who were No. 10 when they faced Minnesota and No. 9 when they faced Purdue. Additionally, Minnesota will have faced Illinois when it hits the mat against Purdue on Sunday. Purdue defeated the Fighting Illini 25-13, which helped the team reclaim some momentum after a close loss to Michigan State and a bad defeat by then-No. 1 Iowa.
Regardless of Minnesota’s performance against a common opponent, the Gophers have wrestlers in the top 25 of seven of the 10 weight classes, including top 10-ranked Patrick McKee, Brayton Lee and Gable Steveson in the 125 pound, 157 pound and heavyweight classes.
Purdue has four wrestlers in the top 25 of their weight class, including No. 9 junior Kendall Coleman in the 157 pound class. Penola is the only Purdue wrestler currently ranked higher than a Minnesota wrestler, coming in at No. 17 in the 197 pound class.
Head coach Tony Ersland said the team’s competitiveness in the conference will be determined by how hard they can work through small mistakes against the Big Ten's biggest teams. The coach sought to fortify talent behind the starting wrestlers to ensure every member of the team can stay ready for whatever comes their way, he said in a late-February interview.
“We have some good talent that’s working hard, but depth is key,” Ersland said. “We need to make sure that everyone we bring in, down to the last guy, is able to push our wrestlers, whether he’s a starter or not.”
Purdue's backups have gained 114 wins over the course of the season, according to WrestleStat, with 11 listed backups earning positive records against their opponents. Former-redshirt freshman Matt Ramos, who wrestled behind then-freshman 133 pound Jake Rundell last season, earned the starting spot over Rundell in his third season as a Boilermaker, gaining 13 wins in 21 matches as a starter.
The dual ended in a Purdue victory even after Indiana heavyweight Jacob Bullock scored an overtime decision win over Purdue senior Michael Woulfe. Purdue's 4-2 record in the first six matches of the dual gave the Boilermakers a lead they would never let go of, sealing the night with a decision victory for 197-pound junior Penola over Nick Willham.
The added preparation for some of the Big Ten's best is a year-long process for what Ersland once called an ascending program. He described the duals as another rung in the ladder his team needs to climb to reach where they aspire to be in an early-February interview.
"The journey is right to the National Championship," Ersland said. "That's the ultimate goal that we want to reach. We want to keep ascending and (every match) is another part of that process. We have to climb the next rung on the ladder."
Purdue will face Minnesota in Holloway Gymnasium this Sunday at 1 p.m. The dual will be streamed on BTN+.