This Site will feature long-time Lion fan Jake Novak's insights on the team and stories about what it's like to root for the long-suffering Lions. Comments are welcome as we I hope to create a sounding board for the most battle-tested fans in all of sports. Let's begin:
57 Days to Kickoff!!
Coming off a very disappointing 1-9 season, the Lions are less than two months away from starting their 2005 season. There are some strong returning players on defense, but the offense will be mostly a mystery until the team takes the field. We'll have new starters at quarterback, running back, tight end, and one of the wide receiver positions. The offensive line will also be made up almost entirely of new starters.
I have to say I have low expectations for the team this year. There are so many question marks at so many positions that I can't see us contending in the Ivy League. HOWEVER, there were just as many questions about this team in 2003, and we put together a respectable 4-6 record that year with big wins over Princeton and Harvard. With some strong performances from the newcomers at QB, RB, and on the offensive and defensive lines, this could be a fun season. Either way, I'll be at just about every game, praying for miracles and enjoying myself regardless of the final scores.
OFFENSE: Joe Winters and Craig Hormann are battling it out for the starting spot this season. Hormann appears to have a great arm, but he was part of Columbia's weird self-destruction against Cornell last season. He threw a bombs that was intercepted and never really seemed close to being caught by his intended receiver. Winters was named one of the tri-captains this spring, so you would think he has the inside track. I only remember him from the game at Lafayette in 2003. He filled in briefly for a slightly-injured Jeff Otis and looked good. Last year he was out with an injury. Both of these guys seem to have a decent amount of athletic ability, so it may come down to Winters leadership qualities as a captain and a senior versus Hormann's raw talent and the fact that he's a sophomore and the coaching staff may want to groom a 3-year starter. My feeling is that Winters will get the nod, but will be on a short leash. I wouldn't mind shuttling the two guys in games based on specific situations. Columbia shuttled QB's in 1994 and that was a rare winning season.
We also have very little to go on at the running back positions. Gordon Radlein is getting the nod at tailback. He's a converted fullback, who hasn't shown much in his two years at CU. It's possible the coaches just want a big strong guy who won't fumble too much. Mike DeFazio is back at starting fullback, and he's been effective. In 2003 he caught some passes out of the backfield, but they threw to him much less last season. Overall, you have to say Columbia's backfield is a weakness.
Receivers and Tight Ends: There's no way to make up for the loss of Wade Fletcher at tight end.
Defense: The statistics show lots of teams scored big against us last year. But that was misleading. With a weak offense that did little to improve field position or give our defenders a rest, we eventually caved-in game after game.
The biggest loss is Michael Quarshie, who has graduated and is now fighting for a spot on the Oakland Raiders. We also lost co-captain Chuck Britton to graduation. The strength of the defense should be the secondary with co-captain Prosper Nwokocha, Keenan Shaw, Chad Mugrove and Tad Crawford patroling the defensive backfield. These guys are all great athletes and can make an impact in a lot of games.
But if we don't stop the run or put pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, there's not much the secondary can do. The coaches seem high on Bill Beechum and Oche Osadebe on the defensive line, but I can't believe they'll have the impact Quarshie and company did in 2003 and 2004. Beechum could be a wildcard though, as coach Shoop seems to think he's an extremely improved player.
The linebacking crew has more experience than the D-line, but not a lot of stars. I've liked Adam Brekke's work for the most part, but I wanted him to produce more last season after Chris Carey graduated. Bayo Aregbe is another guy with games under his belt, but not so much to show for it. If these guys step up, then things could really improve in a hurry.
Let's take a look at our schedule this season and look at the match-ups. When the betting lines are released, I'll add them in. And, of course, we'll update these outlooks as the game days get closer:
Sept. 17 at Fordham 7:00PM
Game Time/Location: Columbia decided not to go with a night home game this year, and Princeton made the same decision with its schedule. But just when it looked like a day-only schedule for the Lions, Fordham decided to put this game under the lights. This will be CU's first night game at Fordham all-time.
Fordham's Jack Coffey field is located right on Fordham's beautiful campus in the Rose Hill section of the Bronx. The outside neighborhood is still dicey, complete with a White Castle with 10-inch glass separating the counter employees from the customers. It's reminiscent of Columbia's neighborhood in the 1970's, but now Morningside Heights is completely gentrified and expensive.
The actual stadium stands on only one side of the field, giving the away team a modified "visitors section" near the 20-yard line on the left side of the field. It's a standard grass field with good sight lines. There's a good student presence at the game, and the atmosphere is much more like a party for them than it is for Columbia students at Lion home games.
The ticket booths seem to get overwhelmed at little too easily, especially "Will Call," but arriving early and getting your tickets mailed to you can help solve that problem. Parking is problematic, and it should be even worse this season now that there is some construction on campus. There is a good-sized parking garage just up the street and the regular Fordham Web Site has directions on how to get to it. But getting to Fordham is just plain hard. The driving directions to get to campus on the Fordham Web Site are a little unclear and traffic in the neighborhood tends to be heavy on nice days. It was so bad before the the 2003 game, that I got there late. But there is a Metro North stop right on campus and if you can get to Metro North from where you are, do it. The subway stop is something like 12 blocks from campus, and it's not a straight and easy walk. Just leave yourself lots of time. For the 7pm kickoff, I'm going to leave Long Island before 5:00.
Fordham Outlook: Graduation took the Rams from title contender to a 5-6 mediocre team last year. That trend may continue this season as the last big stars from the 2002 championship team are gone. Fordham's starting quarterback improved as the season went along last year, and the team is high on his abilities. The defense was strong last year, but they've lost their top defensive star, Tad Kornegay, to graduation too. Fordham will have played two games before they take Columbia on at home, but in past seasons they haven't looked any more prepared than the Lions overall. (They did look that way in the first half of last season's game at Columbia, but as the game went on, that faded away). I expect to see a decent defensive squad, but with some weaknesses. Their offense will be an almost total mystery.
Intangibles: At this stage, it's all intangibles. Obviously we'll learn a lot more about Fordham after they've played their first two games, and that means the Lions will take the field knowing much more about the Rams than they will know about the Lions. I think that's helped the Lions a great deal ever since we began starting our seasons with games against Fordham in 2000. Columbia is 2-2 in those opening games, and they've all been close. The 2001 game was moved to Thanksgiving Day because of 9/11, and that was the only total rout with Fordham winning big. Columbia beat Fordham by a nice margin in 2000, but the Rams led at the half. I've also noticed that Fordham's offense seems to have trouble in night games. The 2001 and 2003 games at Fordham during the day featured a lot of Ram scoring. The Fordham offense sputtered in the night games at Columbia in 2000, 2002, and 2004. So, I like our chances better against Fordham at night than during the day.
Last Year's Game: FORDHAM 17 COLUMBIA 14
Columbia opened what would be an awful 2004 season on a chilly night at home versus Fordham. The Rams defense dominated through much of the game and the Fordham offense took advantage of that with 3 scores and a 17-0 halftime lead. Columbia's defense then took center stage with two defensive touchdowns to narrow the margin to 17-14. Then on the final drive of the game, a tipped pass landed in Tad Kornegay's hands to end Columbia's hopes. The nature of the loss was indicative of what was to come as Columbia's offense sputtered week after week and ended scoring 20 or more points in just 3 games. Much of the season, including the entire Fordham game, was played without All-Ivy tight end Wade Fletcher and that definitely hurt the offensive rhythm. Fordham's offense had troubles of their own, but an extremely well-executed screen pass that led to Fordham's first touchdown was impressive.
Sept. 24 DUQUESNE 12:30PM
Comments: Seems like a winnable game, perhaps the most winnable of the season. Definitely a weaker squad than Bucknell, who's been our week 2 opponent for the last few years. The Lions have also been at least competitive in each of their home openers in the previous 10 seasons with a 7-3 record, (one of the three losses was in OT).
October 1st at Princeton
Comments: A Hail Mary pass with no time left on the clock gave Columbia a 33-27 win the last time they ventured down to New Jersey in 2003. The win ended the longest losing streak Columbia had ever endured to an Ivy team on the road; it was the first win at Princeton since 1945! (The longest current dry spell for the Lions is at Brown, where Columbia hasn't won since 1971). But that wild game 2 years ago has been indicative of this series since 2002. Each game has been very close and down-to-the-wire. Princeton has a lot of new people in the skill positions, so they'll be hard to read as well. I will say that their head coach Roger Hughes may be the worst in the league, and that always keeps me confident against the Tigers.