Friday, September 30, 2005

The Columbia-Princeton Story

Lions are 13 Point Underdogs at Princeton this Saturday

As important as the week 2 win was for Columbia given our many struggles to go 2-0 over the years, this game versus Princeton is even more important. Obviously, this is an Ivy League game, so this one matters in the standings. The Tigers are also 2-0, but dubiously so. At least one of us is not for real, perhaps both. Here is a list of seven reasons why Columbia needs this game:

1) For a Winning Season in 2005:

We need to go 4-4 over the remaining 8 games to reach the magic 6-4 mark. After Princeton, there just aren't a ton of "winnable-looking" games out there. Lafayette on the road is going to be a long shot, Penn at home the following week is an even longer shot, (and by the way, why do we keep scheduling Penn for Homecoming? It's such a downer! I say we alternate between Dartmouth and Yale for the foreseeable future). Dartmouth is winnable, but it's a road game. Then we have a winnable Yale game, a long shot Harvard game, another winnable road game versus Cornell, and finally a very tough home game versus Brown, (we haven't beaten them since 1996).

So that's three winnable games after this game at Princeton and two of them are on the road. In other words: slim pickings. If we don't beat Princeton Saturday, 2-8 is a real possibility.

2) For Revenge
A lot has been made of Columbia's stunning "Hail Mary" win over the Tigers in 2003. The Lions rallied from a 20-0 1st quarter deficit to win it. But even though that game broke some hearts in Tiger Town, the Lions are still very much in the red when it comes to the heartbreak factor with Princeton. Last year, Princeton ruined Columbia's Homecoming, and the whole season in my book, by beating us in OT 27-26. Columbia led 20-17 with just a couple minutes left, only to see Princeton drive down the field for a last-minute tying FG. That drive was greatly aided by a very stupid facemask penalty on Columbia, (the foul was committed as several CU defenders were sacking the Tiger QB; just an unnecessary thing), which made it worse. Then, after Columbia's Rashad Biggers single-handedly fought his way to the end zone for a quick TD in OT, the extra point was blocked! Princeton predictably capitalized with a drawn-out drive that included a 4th down conversion before finally scoring a TD and the winning extra point. Oh, and we had missed an extra point earlier in the game.

But 2004 is really only a third of the recent story. In 2002, the Tigers beat CU 35-32 in New York thanks to a ridiculous Hail Mary TD pass to end the first half. Columbia had been dominating the game up until that point and couldn't really recover from the shock.

In 2000, also in New York, Columbia blew a 24-14 lead with just over two minutes to go and lost in OT, 27-24.

Four of the last five CU-Princeton games have been nail-biters with Princeton winning three of the close ones and they also took the only recent rout, 44-11 at Princeton in 2001.

Longer-term, no one Ivy team has burned the Lions more emotionally than the Tigers. Now that's really saying something. Columbia has terribly lop-sided losing records to every other Ivy team, but the record versus Princeton is the worst, 13-60-1. Princeton has even managed to sting us in the few great years we've put together in the last 50 seasons. The 1961 co-Ivy Championship team was forced to share the title with Harvard because of a 10-point loss to Princeton. The 1996 8-2 team had its undefeated season ruined in week 7 by a 14-11 loss to Princeton. The list goes on and on.

The only really horrific loss Columbia has handed Princeton came in 1988. That was when Columbia actually ended its record 44-game losing streak at Homecoming against the Tigers, 16-13. Princeton had been favored to win the Ivies that year, and the loss not only embarrassed Old Nassau, it took them out of the running, (Cornell and Penn shared the title in the end). But the Tigers made up for it by grabbing a share of the title just a year later.

3) Do It For Mike Cavanaugh!

This is the 10th anniversary of the 1995 game when Columbia and Princeton met at Palmer Stadium with identical 3-0 Ivy League records. Columbia had a wonderful option QB that year named Mike Cavanaugh, who was beginning to play evenly well as a passer and a runner. Columbia had stunned Harvard at Cambridge, and beaten Penn and Yale at home to reach 3-0 in the league. The win against Penn was particularly satisfying as it ended the Quakers' best-in-the-nation winning streak.

But then we headed down to Princeton and the worst happened. Cavanaugh broke his leg early in the game and the Lions went down to defeat 44-14. Cavanaugh never played again, and Columbia did not win another game that year. Princeton won the championship.

4) Put Roger Hughes out of His Misery

Roger Hughes had the misfortune of replacing Steve Tosches as PU's head coach in 2000. Tosches was an excellent coach in my opinion. I think he simply out coached Columbia a number of times during his tenure, and I know he did it to other teams too. On the other hand, Hughes is just not a good head coach, and I just don't know why he's held on to his job for as long as he has. Oh wait a minute, I do know... it's because he's been lucky enough to beat Columbia four out five times when he really should be 1-4 against us. Without the lucky wins over CU Princeton recorded in 2000, 2002, and 2004, this guy would definitely be gone by now. I say we put him, and his many detractors among the Princeton faithful, out of their misery.

5) Princeton is Just Not a Very Good Program Anymore

It's been nine years since Columbia was a contender. But Princeton hasn't been one in 10 years. Year after year, these guys win games against much weaker opponents, (which is still better than Columbia has been able to do I realize), and they end up with 5-5 and 6-4 records and seem to always believe they're building on something for the next year. The Princeton fans' delusions are usually most rampant after Columbia games. They bash us as being a lousy team all week, then their team beats us thanks to a Hail Mary, onside kick, or a missed extra point, and suddenly they're the champions in waiting. Here's a memo to the Princeton fans: if you barely beat a weak team, you're just not that good yourselves. Columbia could win 55-0 this Saturday and you still wouldn't find ONE real Columbia fan that would think we were going to win the title.

6) Princeton is Certainly Not a Very Good Team Right Now

Princeton has Jay McCairens, Justin Stull, and a couple of 300-pound behemoths on the left side of their O-line. Other than that, this team is not much to write home about. Their QB's are inexperienced and the primary one has thrown 4 INT's and just 1 TD. And that's with a surprisingly low number of total plays for a team that's played two games. Same deal with the running backs. One of them has a decent yards-per-carry average, but he's only had 12-13 carries per game. The defense is stronger, but shows a tendency to start giving up leads late in the game.

7) Columbia Deserves Some Respect

Columbia is a 13-point underdog in this game. Now I know we've only beaten two relatively weak teams, but come on! I don't think Princeton can beat ANYBODY by 13 points right now. And Columbia at least has a good enough defense to keep this game close. The odds makers are also putting the under/over in this game at 47 points. I think that's way too high and indicates to me the sports books think Princeton will win this game something like 30-17. Unless Princeton gets 2-3 defensive TD's, I don't think they're scoring 30 points against us. And I think 17 points might be enough to win this game.


Columbia can beat these guys by playing the tough "D" they have in the first two games, and with a little more consistency in the passing game. If they get a running game going, then they could win by more than one score.

My biggest fears are McCairens, who can single-handedly win the game if Columbia is dumb enough to try to test him, and that huge left side of the O-Line that could create big problems defending the run. But Princeton had these same advantages against San Diego and they were trounced in the statistical battle and almost lost on the scoreboard too.

Columbia needs to either score early, or keep things tied through the first half. The Tigers have been a first half team and the Lions are a second half team. Other than that, they seem pretty even. But I think Columbia has a dangerous passing attack and Princeton is really struggling offensively. Craig Hormann is going to be a big-time QB for this team, and I kind of hope Shoop would just give him the ball for good. But even when Hormann shuttles with Joe Winters, I think the offense has something good going. Obviously Jordan E. Davis or someone in the backfield needs to contribute more, but I think the running game is bound to get at least a little better.

I do think this game will be close. Columbia and Princeton just don't have the horses to run the score up on anyone, and with the weather expected to be nice, I don't think there are going to be too many silly condition-related mistakes.

Columbia's defense is so pumped now, I really don't expect them to play poorly in the early going. They may tire out late, but Princeton's offense has been so weak in the second half, I'm not sure it will matter terribly much. If Columbia loses, it will be because the offense gets shut down or shuts itself down.

I think we're headed for a very low-scoring game, nothing more than 17-14, and possibly 14-10. I think it will be Columbia by 3.


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