The Gophers wrestling team is ranked No. 1 in the country in the Division I coaches poll as it prepares to start the dual meet season against Hofstra at 7 p.m. Friday night at the Sports Pavilion.
It will not be hard to figure out over the course of the season whether that ranking is accurate.
Though the Gophers and coach J Robinson -- slackers that they are -- do not have No. 2-ranked Penn State on their schedule, they do face the Nos. 3-6 teams (Oklahoma State, Iowa, Ohio State and Illinois). Three of those matches are at home, and three of them come in January. By then, Robinson's squad hopes to be surging toward a national duals title -- quite possibly held in Minneapolis -- and an NCAA championship.
"Our philosophy is pretty simple. We want to wrestle the best people to see where we are and give us time to get better," Robinson said, "so when the end of the year rolls around, we know what we have to do."
That makes sense, particularly in the context of the program's national stature. Minnesota has finished either first or second at the NCAA meet eight times in the past 15 years, including a runner-up finish a year ago. This year's squad features five returning All-America selections -- including defending NCAA heavyweight champion Tony Nelson -- and has ranked wrestlers at nine of the 10 weight classes.
"What we try to do is kind of keep a base. You position yourself to be [in national contention] every year," Robinson said. "If another team stumbles, or if a team gets injuries, or one team knocks out another team, you have that ability to stay in the zone."
Every wrestler is important when it comes to achieving a team title, but some might be more pivotal than others. Nick Dardanes, (No. 7 at 141 pounds), David Thorn (No. 11 at 125 pounds after moving from 133) and Scott Schiller (No. 11 at 197) were noted by Robinson as wrestlers who could "have a lot to do with where we end up."
Where it starts, of course, is known. The Friday dual meet against Hofstra carries some significance; the last time these teams met, Hofstra won 18-17. That was during the 2006-07 season, and it was the only loss of the year for the Gophers, who wound up winning the last of their three NCAA titles later in the season.
But that's all forgotten now, right?
"There are some old wounds that are still open," Robinson said, proving once again that he loves competition but hates to lose.