The No. 7 Nebraska wrestling team is sending seven of its athletes to the NCAA Wrestling Championships, three of which have a very substantial chance of winning their respective weight class. Juniors Jake Sueflohn, James Green and Robert Kokesh are all seeded in the top six. Sueflohn is the No. 6 seed at 149 pounds, Green the No. 1 seed at 157 and Kokesh the No. 3 seed at 174.
I think anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament, but these three definitely have the best shot. Each of them has had a successful season. But how do they stack up against past Nebraska champions?
The last national champion crowned for Nebraska was undefeated Jordan Burroughs. Burroughs seems to be considered a wrestling god. He is the only two-time NCAA champion in Nebraska history and the only one to have two undefeated seasons. That being said, all three men have had similar paths to Burroughs’.
Both Sueflohn and Kokesh went into the Big Ten Tournament seeded No. 1, like Burroughs did in each of his championship seasons. Green was seeded No. 2. Burroughs was conference champion both years that he won the national title. That puts a check mark on the side of Kokesh and Green’s chances of winning the tournament. To top it off, Burroughs was the No. 1 seed going into nationals both years. Green is the No. 1 seed heading into the big show.
What Burroughs did at Nebraska was amazing, and the fact these three have similarities in their journeys as his is worth noting.
Every Nebraska national champion had three or fewer losses on the year. Both Green and Kokesh have only one loss; Sueflohn has the chance to break that trend, as he is going into the tournament with four losses.
Of the 11 Nebraska national champions, eight were conference champions. The three who were not conference champions were Paul Donahoe (2007), current assistant coach Jason Powell (2004) and Mike Nissen (1963). Donahoe and Powell placed second in their conference tournaments. Nissen did not have a conference tournament to compete in. Sueflohn, Green and Kokesh all placed in the top two in the conference tournament, with Kokesh and Green being champions.
If history has anything to say about how these guys will finish, it’s not looking great. Of the 11 national champions, five have been in the 125-pound weight class or its equivalent. That is not saying that only little guys can win at Nebraska. Three of the other six champions weighed 190 pounds or more. The remaining three were at 157, 165 and 177 pounds. The catch there is that Jordan Burroughs is two of those.
Only Burroughs and Jim Scherr (1984) had the ultimate success in the middle weight classes. The middle weight classes range from 149 pounds to 174 pounds. Sueflohn, Green and Kokesh all fall into that range. That bit of history does not bode well for these three Huskers.
The average number of wins for a national champion for the Huskers is 33 wins in the season. Taking away the five wins necessary to win the championship in the tournament, the wrestlers had an average of 28 wins on the year at the start of nationals. Sueflohn and Green both have 29, and Kokesh has a team-leading 32 wins on the year.
These stats are fun to look at and all, but these three guys have the chance to do something special, as do the rest of the qualifiers. All of the competitors for Nebraska have a lot of upside and are some of the hardest workers in the country. It doesn’t matter that Nebraska may not have another Jordan Burroughs in this group of guys; anything can and will happen during March Madness.
Nebraska coach Mark Manning said it best when he said, “This is where dreams come true.”
Austin Pistulka is a freshman journalism major. You can reach him at