The Harvard D-line stuffs another runner (CREDIT: Harvard Athletics)
Enough time has passed to take a more reasoned view of the 2007 Ivy League football season. We'll be hashing and re-hashing the Columbia season on this site for the next nine months or so, but right now I want to start at the top. And in 2007, we had a surprise team at the top in the Harvard Crimson. The Crimson won the title despite losing Clifton Dawson to graduation and Yale's seemingly inveitable march to an undefeated season. They did it by handily beating the Bulldogs right on their home field.
How did this happen? How could a team that just lost an all-world running back and was later forced to start a backup QB in mid-season win it all?
The answer is basic, easy, and boring: line of scrimmage. Of all the teams Columbia played in 2007, none controlled the lines of scrimmage better than Harvard. The defensive line that posted legendary numbers in 2006 stayed almost as strong this year, and the offensive line actually got better, especially when it came to pass blocking. The result was a team that was able to control its destiny in play after play, drive after drive, and game after game.
Yale was a great team, with the best weapon in the league in Mike McLeod, but they did not have a great offensive line. It was good, possibly one of the 3-4 best in the league, but not good enough to stop Harvard's front four. And that's what cost them the championship, not McLeod's late-season injury, and not Yale's lack of a real offensive weapon through the air.
Yale faced another team with a very good defensive line earlier in the season: Penn. And the Bulldogs very nearly, and maybe should have, lost that game that went to triple OT. The Harvard coaches watching film of that game must have felt extremely confident they could beat the Bulldogs by playing to their strengths.
What does this mean to Columbia? A lot. It's been mentioned over and over again, but the Lions will not contend until they improve their offensive and defensive line play. The successful teams of Columbia's recent past had either a very good defensive or offensive line or both.
In 1996, Marcellus Wiley proved a dominant force on the defensive line while the late Randy Murff anchored a scrappy offensive front. Result: An 8-2 record.
Last season, Darren Schmidt and Todd Abrams had outstanding senior seasons and then-sophomore Phil Mitchell emerged as a rising star. Result: One of the best defenses in the league and a respectable 5-5 record.
The Ivies have increasingly become a league that can be divided into two groups: teams with good offensive and defensive lines and those without. The number of teams with good front lines has been shrinking steadily for years now, making big and fast players an even rarer commodity than they were before.
Columbia cannot use smoke and mirrors to overcome this problem, and I'm sure the coaches know that and aren't trying to avoid the true need for big guys up front.
Harvard met that need in 2007, will Columbia or anyone else in 2008?