A rivalry within a rivalry could play a critical role in deciding the Pac-12 wrestling championship Saturday in Tempe, Ariz.
Boise State senior George Ivanov is ranked No. 13 at 157 pounds. Oregon State junior RJ Pena is ranked No. 10.
They have wrestled eight times in the past two seasons - with each winning four times. This year, Pena has taken two of three.
Pena also beat Ivanov in last year's Pac-12 title match.
"But I feel better now," Ivanov said. "I'm in much better shape than I was at the beginning of the season. I'm ready to go and I'm pretty confident that I will beat him."
The No. 17 Broncos and No. 8 Beavers are the favorites to win the team title. They split their two duals this season.
Oregon State won the trophy last year in Boise and is even better this year. The Beavers have four No. 1 seeds in the tournament; the Broncos have three.
"This is the best year they've had in quite a long time," Boise State coach Greg Randall said. "It would be nice to be able to beat them on their best year. That would be saying something about our program. If you look at the seeds, Oregon State has a slight advantage on us. It might come down to one match."
The Broncos' top seeds are senior Brian Owen (133 pounds), junior Jake Swartz (184) and senior Jason Chamberlain (149).
Chamberlain is ranked No. 2 in the nation, but his only loss this season came against Oregon State's Scott Sakaguchi. Chamberlain also has beaten him this season and is 6-1 against him in college with several overtime bouts.
"It should be a good match," Chamberlain said, "but I've been preparing and I feel pretty confident about how I'm going to wrestle this weekend."
He's confident in Ivanov, as well.
Ivanov joined the Broncos last season after spending two years at Nebraska-Omaha, where he finished second and third at the NCAA Division II level. Nebraska-Omaha disbanded its program.
Ivanov, who grew up in Bulgaria, hopes to add a Division I All-American award to his credits this season. His parents and sister also live in Boise.
"George, I think, has been the most visible guy of improvement throughout the year," Chamberlain said. "When he's wrestling well and he's feeling good, you can see it out there. In the past, he's kind of had streaks here and there where he wrestles really good for a while and then loses a couple matches, and it takes him a while to find his rhythm again. This year, he hasn't been slowed down by anything like that. He's got as good a shot as anybody in the country at winning his weight class."
Ivanov enters the postseason with a 10-match winning streak. He is 3-3 against wrestlers who were ranked in the top 12 at the time of their match. That includes the three showdowns with Pena, whose style can be awkward for opponents, Ivanov said.
"I'm pretty used to it now," Ivanov said. "I know what he does and I know how to defend myself. He shoots really low on the ankles. Not a lot of people do that."
The key, Randall said, is for Ivanov to impose his style.
"If that match does happen," Randall said, "which more than likely it will, Georgey has to be mentally ready to attack."
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat