Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Measure of Success

There are many different ways to judge whether a team has had a good season. Of course everything begins and ends with the won-lost record, but in Columbia's case you have to look closer, especially this season.

The biggest success for Head Coach Norries Wilson and his staff has been the building a strong defense filled with underclassmen that bring enthusiasm to every game. It's hard to overstate just how impressive a job Lou Ferrari has done with this squad in less than a year. The biggest disappointment has come from the fact that the Lions offense hasn't been able to take advantage of what the defense has given them in any Ivy League games.

The offense seems to have improved in only one area: pass blocking. Columbia is on track to give up less than 15 sacks this season after surrendering 33 in 2005. One can only imagine what a fleet-footed QB could do with that kind of blocking as opposed to the slow Craig Hormann, who is way too much of a set pocket passer for his own good. (Today's Columbia Spectator features a call to give fast freshman M.A. Olawale the start at QB. I have to agree).

The special teams are about the same as they were last year. Kicker/punter Jon Rocholl is having another great year, but the return game is non-existent. There does seem to be some improvement in return coverage, but not a significant amount.

So that brings us back to the won-lost record. Winning all of their non-conference games was something Columbia had to do and they did, in mostly impressive style. But Coach Wilson needs an Ivy win this season to really consider 2006 a full step in the right direction. Losing to Dartmouth in week 6 has to be the biggest disappointment this season. The Big Green are not a terrible team, but they really only had one weapon on offense in their scrambling quarterback Mike Fritz, and Columbia could not stop him. The offense also put together one of its weakest, if not the weakest, games of the year.

The Lions chances for another win this season seem slim. This weekend against Harvard will be their toughest game, but the last two contests at home against Cornell and then on the road against Brown won't be easy either. The Big Red's weak play away from home seems to make the Cornell game at Baker Field on November 11th the best chance for a Lion win. There seems to be little chance of a defensive let down, even with the devastating loss of Chad Musgrove, but if Columbia's offense doesn't improve drastically in the next three weeks, the Lions will finish the season 3-7 with a six game losing streak overall and an 18 game Ivy League losing streak dating back to the middle of the 2004 season.

The flip side of all this is the fact that the Lions would get a huge emotional boost from any kind of a victory in the next three weeks. Beating Harvard at Cambridge would be tantamount to the Apocalypse. Taking Cornell at home would bring some major joy to the home field crowd. And a shocker over Brown would not only be the first win over the Bears since 1996, but the first victory for Columbia in Providence since 1971.

The stakes are high. Will this be a successful season or not? Will Wilson make a statement or not? Will the Lions have something to build on other than just a strong defense or not?

Over the next 17 days we'll get the answers to these questions.


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