The Quakers are betting a lot on the arm of Robert IrvinSecond in a team-by-team look at the Ivies, (yesterday, I previewed my pick to win the championship, the Yale Bulldogs)
Before I begin my analysis of the team I expect to finish second overall, I have to get some things off my chest.
I've spent the last few days studying the Penn media guide and I found a couple of disturbing things:
1) Despite using what looks like a template from the Ivy League Sports department, the Penn guide still misspells Austin Knowlin's name, (they spelled it "Knowlen"), on the page where he's listed as the 2006 Ivy Rookie of the Year. It's probably not deliberate, but it looks like someone had to get into that template from the league office to change the spelling.
2) The folks at Penn do not want people referring to the school as "Pennsylvania" anymore. On first reference, we're asked to say: "The University of Pennsylvania," and then we're supposed to say "Penn" every time after that. This is strange, because until recently, the football team had a big, "Pennsylvania" written across the front of their jerseys. Someone from Pennsyl... er, Penn needs to explain this to me.
Okay, that's done...2. Penn Quakers
After two straight 5-5, 3-4 Ivy seasons, Head Coach Al Bagnoli
must be wondering if the football gods have turned on him in what has been an otherwise remarkable 15-year stint at the helm at Franklin Field.
The last time Penn had three straight losing Ivy seasons and three straight non-winning seasons overall was 1989-91, when the ill-fated Gary Steele
was the coach. Bagnoli's job would probably still be safe if he went 2-8 this year, but the fact that he's in danger of matching a dubious record set by the man he was hired to replace can't be lost on him.
In 2005, the Quakers stormed out to a 3-0 league record, but performed poorly to finish out the season and lost five straight. Last season, a massive breakdown in the placekicking game seemed to be the major reason behind an unprecedented three straight OT losses and a fourth defeat in the final seconds.
But you can't blame everything on the kicker. As I pointed out in a previous post,
Penn junior QB Robert Irvin
was unreliable in the clutch, sometimes disastrously so. And like Yale, Penn's defense allowed more first downs and overall yards per game than the Quaker offense gained.
Looking at those overtime losses specifically, there was more evidence of defensive breakdowns. While the Penn "D" held opponents to an impressive 34% 3rd down conversion percentage, in the OT games, they allowed opponents to convert more than 40% of the time.
But kicking problems were the biggest main issue for the Quakers last season, and giving the Penn coaching staff 10 months to fix that problem is more than enough time to conclude that the team will be sharper on field goals and PAT's in 2007.
Add that with the fact that Penn defense will be more mature and you have good reason to expect the Quakers to make a serious run for the Ivy title this year.Strengths
In what's suddenly become a league with few top-notch offensive skill players, senior running back Joe Sandberg
stands out along with Yale's Mike McLeod as the only two near lock 1,000-yard rushers in the Ivies. Sandberg is a great competitor and I expect him to add to his 210 carries last season and finish closer to 1,200 yards rushing.
At wide receiver, senior Braden Lepisto
gives Penn an experienced and talented weapon. And some of last year's underclassmen look like good alternatives when Lepisto gets jammed up.
Penn's 2006 defense was actually not as dominant as we've seen in the past. It was more of a "bend but don't break" outfit in a number of games. The overall passing yardage allowed, (225 per game), was a surprising, as was a slightly lower number of total sacks, (23), than you would expect.
But a good number of talented defenders return, including senior Naheem Harris
on the defensive line, senior Greg Ambrogi
and junior Tyson Maugle
in the secondary, and most importantly, senior linebacker Joe Anastasio.
That's a lot of veteran talent, and it's just too much to not consider Penn's defense a strength.Weaknesses
I wouldn't exactly say Robert Irvin is a weakness at QB. For one thing, he was a sophomore last year and he should improve with time. But he's not a strength for a team that needs a championship QB to lead them week in and week out. Mike Mitchell,
who quarterbacked Penn's last championship team in 2003, was that kind of leader. So far, Irvin is not and that could cost the Quakers in the big moments.
Another question mark is the offensive line where three All-Ivy players have graduated. But this is all relative. The truth is that NO Ivy team really has a great offensive line to speak of these days. And Sandberg is elusive enough to survive mediocre, if not terrible, blocking. Nevertheless, there could be times when things get dicey, especially early in the season.
Can we automatically call the kicking game a weakness right now? With all the freshmen kickers who have succeeded in the Ivies in recent years, (Rocholl, Morgan, and others), it's very possible Penn will get an excellent field goal and PAT man this season. But the pressure will be enormous on whomever gets the job, and that will make things tougher than normal.GAME BY GAME
Penn actually has a somewhat easier schedule this year, but it's still not exactly easy...Sep 15: LAFAYETTE
A tough opponent to start the year, but Penn beat the Leopards at Lafayette last year and this year's squad is not as strong. I'd say this is a win. Sep 22: at Villanova
Another tough one, but definitely winnable for the Quakers. Right now, I have this as a loss, but wouldn't be surprised if Penn wins. Sep 29: at Dartmouth
Dartmouth played Penn tougher than I expected at Franklin Field last year, but I still don't think the Big Green will improve enough to take this at home. Oct 6: GEORGETOWN
Walk in the park.Oct 13: at Columbia
I think this will be one of the best games of the 2007 season... but ultimately you have to give the Quakers the edge. Oct 20: YALE (Homecoming)
The Elis look like they could win this one and finally come away from Franklin Field victorious. Obviously, Penn will make a valiant effort on homecoming.Oct 27: at Brown
Good chance for Penn to get revenge for last year's loss at Franklin Field.Nov 03: PRINCETON (Family Weekend)
Tough, tough game. I expect Penn to lose at least one game to a team it finishes ahead of in the standings. This could be that game.Nov 10: at Harvard
Winnable game against a team without Clifton Dawson.Nov 17: CORNELL
I can't see the Quakers losing three in a row to Cornell. Predicted Final Won-Loss Record:
7-3, 5-2 Ivy. Second place. BUT ALL BETS ARE OFF IF:
Irvin doesn't mature, the offensive line fails to gel, and the kicking adventures continue on 33rd Street.