Friday, August 31, 2007

Scouting the Enemy







Marist, Fordham, and Lafayette kick off their seasons tomorrow





All three of Columbia's non-league opponents kick off their regular seasons tomorrow and we will be watching... or listening. First, Fordham takes on the University of Rhode Island at 1pm tomorrow up in Kingston.

Fordham's two-deep has been published in that link above and I'm not entirely surprised by any of it. But the decision to go with two sophomore starters on the left side of the offensive line is interesting.

My 100%, take it to the bank, bet the subprime mortgaged house prediction is that the Rams will definitely win. Okay... that was a trick, both teams are called the "Rams." But seriously folks, URI has been a weaker Atlantic 10/ Colonial League team over the years, but I would very surprised if Fordham wins this one. I'm just hoping we get a better picture of Fordham's strengths and weaknesses this year than we did last season. As it turned out, we learned little about the Rams in 2006 after they lost a game at home to underdog Monmouth in a near tropical storm and then beat heavily favored Albany in the rain on the road the following week. They came into Wien Stadium a 1-1 and seemed like they could be great or awful.

But we might hit the information jackpot tomorrow when our week 2 opponent Marist takes on our Week 4 opponent Lafayette in Easton, PA at 6pm. Lafayette is picked by many to win the Patriot League and is excited about unveiling their new super fieldhouse in the home opener. But the Leopards are also dealing with major turnover on both sides of the ball, so it will be interesting to see the new starters. MAAC power Marist is beginning a new trend of taking on the tougher opponents from the Ivy and Patriot Leagues and can't be expected to win this game. But any competitive aspect of Marist's play tomorrow should be noted. As of now, I can't find game notes on either the Lafayette or Marist websites.


Steve's a Lock

Steve Cargile '04 probably locked in his slot with the Broncos last night with an interception and six solo tackles in Denver's 21-3 win in the final exhibition game against Arizona.


Shoop's W&M Debut

I'm rubbing it in here, I admit... but new William and Mary defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has a lot more work to do after the Tribe gave up 49 points to Delaware in a 49-31 loss at home last night. William and Mary gave up 281 yards rushing and 6.5 yards a carry, and that really sounds familiar doesn't it? The Blue Hens shortest scoring drive was 59 yards.


Jake on TV


Yesterday's interview for Westchester County Cable TV, (it's a local government station), went pretty well. I was interviewed along with Columbia Sports Marketing exectuive Barry Neuberger and we talked about the football program and the general enhanced family experience people can expect at Baker Field these days. When the interview becomes available for viewing, I'll post the details here.


... and finally

Someone with fewer scruples than I would have a lot of fun with this story about how a company is going to donate $50 to a local Ithaca drug addiction clinic for every first down made by the Big Red.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

We're On the Air!


I'm ready for my close-up


I'm heading to Westchester today for an interview on White Plains cable TV about Columbia football and the Ivy League in general. I should have the info tomorrow on when and where you can view it.


Meanwhile, the Columbia Athletics Department has just released the following announcement:


Columbia Athletics Announces Expanded Audio Coverage for 2007 Football Season


NEW YORK – Columbia Football will be broadcast on internet and terrestrial radio in 2007 at no charge.

The insightful commentary of Jerry Recco and Jake Novak can be heard on New York-area radio station WWDJ-970 AM for five Columbia games during the 2007 football season. All 10 games will be streamed live for free on gocolumbialions.com.

"We are excited to offer a variety of outlets to follow the Lions in 2007," says Alex Oberweger, Associate Athletics Director for Strategic
Communications and Event Operations. "We will continue to seek ways to provide our fans with comprehensive options for tuning in to hear Columbia sports on the air and over the internet."

WWDJ will broadcast the Lions' home opener vs. Marist on September 22, and four road games: at Princeton September 29, at Lafayette
October 6, at Dartmouth October 20, and at Cornell November 10. Broadcasts will feature the 30-minute Lions Countdown pregame show prior to kickoff. WWDJ will also broadcast select men's basketball games in 2007-08.

"Our relationship with WWDJ offers current and potential sponsors the opportunity to reach the many Columbia alumni throughout the Metropolitan area," says Barry Neuberger, Associate Athletics Director for Sports Marketing.

For the second straight year, Columbia fans can subscribe to the SideLION Pass premium content service of gocolumbialions.com for live video of select home and away football games. Subscriptions to the SideLION Pass are available on a month-by-month basis ($12.95/month) or for an entire year ($69.95/annual).

In addition, Columbia University-owned radio station WKCR-FM will continue to provide student-broadcaster coverage of select Columbia athletics events in 2007-08.


Getting WWDJ to replace WSNR is a great development. For one thing, WWDJ broadcasts in a rarely-used language called "English," as opposed to the Russian -language broadcasting that dominated WSNR and probably confused hundreds of fans last season who thought they were tuning into the wrong station.

Also, I've been told that support from the WWDJ people will be much more prevalent, so we should get a better broadcast overall with fewer problems.

Meanwhile, the Ivy League is working on a deal with Sirius Satellite Radio and we do hope one or two Columbia broadcasts will make on Sirius this season. I know the Sirius-Ivy deal has already been announced weeks ago, but the specific game packages have still not been hammered out.


As you read this, I am hard at work with some other very hard-working Columbia administrators on a quest to secure some great football stars of the past to be my guests for halftime interviews. Our wish list is really spectacular, and I can promise you that if even half of the people agree to do interviews, we'll have something really special for the listeners.


A further note about practice and what I can report:

Fear not! We are in the progress of working out some guidelines for what I can and can't report from practices and inevitably I will be able to discuss more than just the weather at some point. I'm just erring on the side of caution for all the reasons I, and some commenters, have mentioned already.



No Respect

A commenter in the previous post notes that the Boston Globe has picked the Lions to finish 7th this season, which I believe is the lowest position anyone's put us in so far in their preseason predictions.


Learning from the Best

Georgetown is not on our schedule this year, but the Hoyas are playing three Ivy teams, (Yale, Cornell and Penn), this season. One of the players who really impressed me last year in the GU-CU game was QB Matt Bassuener, who came into the game in relief of starter Ben Hostetler and darn near brought the Hoyas back from a 20-0 deficit in the game Columbia eventually won, 23-21.

Well, it turns out that Bassuener spent part of this summer as a counselor at Michael Quarshie's '05 football camp in Finland. You can read about it here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Loose Lips...


Here's what I can tell you about yesterday's practice: The weather was really nice.

Sorry folks, but my number one job is: "first, do no harm." You're just not going to see anything on this site that could potentially hurt the team, reveal a strategic secret, or get me in trouble with the hard-working coaches and players.


Well, I suppose I can also say that I enjoyed being back at Wien Stadium and watching football. I missed it a lot.


I got some more face time in with Jerry

I can also say that I had a good chance to talk with my future radio partner, Jerry Recco, who continues to prove himself to be a gentleman in every way. We ended up commenting on things we saw in practice as they happened, much like we hopefully will during the actual season.

Jerry knows football. He played it in high school and has covered it at the collegiate and professional level at WFAN for 10 years now. He's still learning about the history of the Ivy League and the basic "M.O.'s" of all the football teams in the conference, but that's more my job than his. And the folks in the athletic department told me that having a voice from WFAN doing the Columbia games is a tremendous asset for us in the New York area.


Wait... is that a Target?!?

After practice I went north of the stadium, across the Broadway Bridge to the neighborhood of Marble Hill. Marble Hill is one of those answers to snooty trivia questions people like to ask about New York City. It actually stands on mostly landfill on what is geographically The Bronx, BUT it is officially part of Manhattan, (that info and $2 will get you a ride on the subway).

But here's some info that IS valuable to Columbia football fans. Just across that bridge and to the left is a nice strip mall with a TARGET, A MARSHALL'S, a STARBUCK'S, and an APPLEBEE'S restaurant. Did you hear me? There are actually some suburbia-friendly places to shop, eat, and get a coffee just steps from Baker Field. AND THERE'S A PARKING LOT THERE TOO. (Now you'll be towed if you try to park there for the game... but you can at least hang out there before or after the game and not worry about getting a spot).

Speaking of parking, a nice number of new parking garages and lots have opened up near the stadium. I'll provide a more extensive list of the lots and their exact locations closer to the home opener... but if you can stand walking 5-10 blocks on gameday, (and I recommend doing just that after sitting on your butt for 3+ hours), the parking issue will no longer be a concern this season.

Otis Out

There is some bad news to report on the NFL front: Jeff Otis was waived by the Raiders yesterday. Hopefully, he has a good "plan B" and we wish him the best of luck.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

In Case You Missed it...


Do Some Reading


I'm heading up to practice today, (sorry I probably won't be able to divulge too many details if any), but I am excited to see the guys in action.

Of course, this also means my time will be limited today, so let me just post a few links for your reading pleasure.

First, the CollegeSportingNews has a pretty extensive preview of the Ivies where they pick Columbia 6th, but obviously feel a little bad about it. The October 13th Homecoming game against Penn is picked as a "Game of the Week."

Second, there's the much more threadbare New York Times preview. Considering the number of hits Ivy football stories get in the NYT.com Website, you'd think they'd provide more coverage... but that would just what everyone is expecting them to do.

Life After Columbia...


Stop the Presses!

A couple of former Lions are in the news today...

First, CFL rookie Tad Crawford '07 is getting more playing time as the B.C. Lions continue to rack up the injuries.

While the article portrays Tad and the other replacements as second-rate, it should be noted that everyone is impressed with Crawford's play so far. He has a great career ahead of him in the CFL.


Chandler Bocklage (CREDIT: Trader Daily)

But there's impressed and then there's impressed. You have to be impressed with Chandler Bocklage '00, and his role as the top trader for hedge fund king Stephen Cohen Stephen Cohen.

(The link for Bocklage requires a login, so let me just give you the highlights):

"This Minneapolis native played center for the football team at Columbia, but these days he's at the center of Stevie Cohen's $14 billion–plus empire. Bocklage is taller than his famous boss, but the general consensus is that he's Cohen's personal Mini-Me. "He's Stevie's right hand," says one of Cohen's oldest trading collaborators.

Naturally, he makes major coin — at least $5 million last year, we hear."


The incredible success so many former Lions have enjoyed in the financial world is astounding when you remember that Columbia does not offer any real business classes to undergrads. For recruits thinking about coming to Columbia, I would not forget to consider this fact and the rich networking opportunities that will be afforded to you. Yes, the other Ivies offer that too, but the Columbia football fraternity is a smaller, more close-knit group of guys who will go the extra mile for each other time after time.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Welcome Freshmen FAQ!


Unpack some school spirit while you're at it!

The class of 2011 has arrived on campus for the beginning of freshmen/first-year/whatever orientation. While the advisers and r.a.'s will probably be filling those kids' heads with lots of borderline information, I believe it's my job to let them all know about the football situation here at Columbia.

First off, I shouldn't start by treating you like children. So the "Roar Lions FAQ Part 1" I wrote up earlier this summer for all Columbia students, fans and alumni is worth reading.

And for a look at how a fictional member of the class of 2010 reacted to his first encounters with the football team last year check these three links:

The Freshman and the Old Alum part 1

The Freshman and the Old Alum part 2

The Freshman and the Old Alum part 3


But you're the class of 2011 dammit, so you deserve some special attention of your own. Here's your custom-made class 2011 Columbia Football FAQ!

1) Wait, Columbia has a football team?

Damn straight. Columbia was the 3rd college in America to play football, beginning in 1870. With the exception of a 10-year ban from 1905-15, it's been played here ever since.



Aerial view of Columbia's old football field, right on the middle of campus, (circa 1920)


2) But where's the football stadium? I spent two hours last night wandering around the east side of campus looking for it until someone told me I was in a place called Morningside Park.

Wow, you're a brave soul. Anyway, the Lions play at Wien Stadium about 100 blocks north of campus at the Baker Field athletic complex. It's a beautiful spot and since you don't have a car, its one drawback, (lack of sufficient parking), is not your problem.

The best way to get to the games from campus is to take the #1 UPTOWN train to 215th street and then walk three blocks to Wien. Before you start whining about the trip, (you should leave about 35 minutes or so to get there), let me let you in on an little secret: the subway is your friend. You will NOT enjoy your four years at CU if you don't start getting used to using the subway early and often. There is no better way to get around this city, NONE. Yes, it would be nice to walk to the games at a spot right on campus, but it can also be fun to get out of the Morningside Heights neighborhood once in a awhile.



This is where we roll now (CREDIT: CU Athletics)


3) Um, I heard the team is really bad... like the Chicago Cubs of the Ivy League. Is that true?

The last 40 years have been mostly bad for this proud college team. After giving the sports world some of its greatest stars like Lou Gehrig and Sid Luckman, Columbia started to become a consistent loser in the mid-1960's. Our last winning season was in 1996 when the team went 8-2, and our last Ivy League title was in 1961.

But before that the Lions actually won the Rose Bowl in January 1934, and ended Army's then-record winning streak with a huge win at Baker Field in 1947. More recently, the Lions have boasted some great individual stars, like former NFL All-Pro Marcellus Wiley.

But count yourselves as lucky, last year's very young Lion team went 5-5 and is obviously on the rise. You got here at the right time, perhaps the best time in two generations, if you want to see a team that can win consistently.


4)I'm a big sports fan, isn't Ivy League football going to look like high school to me?

Not even close. All the Ivy football teams use a much more sophisticated system than anything you saw in high school. Columbia in particular uses intricate and innovative formations on offense and defense. Football experts who watch Ivy football for the first time are always amazed by how professional the games look.

The contests are also exciting. Most Ivy games are close and filled with big plays. And each Ivy team has at least one player in the NFL right now, so there's likely to be 2-3 future pros on the field at any time. Is it Ohio St.-Michigan? No, but it is great football no matter how you slice it.


5) But I think football is a sexist, warlike exercise that helps to oppress the indigenous people of New Guinea.

Congratulations, you are already irrelevant at age 18. Do yourself a favor and get deprogrammed as soon as possible, otherwise you could end up working for the UN.... or worse, Brown University.

6) What else is there to do at the games?

There's a quirky, funny band that's worth listening to from time to time, (depending on how original they're going to be with their humor and whether they use their wit to support the team instead of bash it). And the cheerleaders are great too. Basically, being at the games is a great way to enjoy some time outdoors sans laptops, books, and all the other stuffy stuff that will be your life for the next four years and beyond.

7) Oh yeah, who the Hell are you?

I'm a class of '92 alum which means I am positively ancient at age 36, (I was a freshman the year you were born). When I came to campus, the Lions were in the midst of a 44-game losing streak that they finally ended at my first homecoming against Princeton. I've been a huge fan of the team since I first stepped foot at CU, and it's been a lot of fun despite the lack of championships. Of course, I expect that drought will end sometime soon.

I'm also going to be doing the color commentary on the radio broadcasts of the games that I suggest you tune into when the Lions are on the road, (when we're at home, just come to the games, okay?).


8) Who plays on the team, a bunch of dumb jocks?

Hmm... I guess when you went to the sensitivity training that taught you how to not be sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. they somehow forgot to tell you to not be prejudiced against athletes. I'm SHOCKED, SHOCKED! Seriously, the football players are all excellent students, a good number of whom could have been accepted to CU even without athletics. Don't listen to ANYONE on campus who tells you otherwise or tells you to look down on anyone before you get the facts yourself. This should be obvious on what's supposed to be such a diverse and inclusive campus, but you'll soon learn that everyone has the potential to be bigoted. Be unique and buck that trend now!


9) Okay, I'm sold. When's the first game?

The first game is a mere 19 days from now, September 15th at Fordham at 6pm. I'll have tips on how to get to Fordham from campus a little closer to game night, but there may be a shuttle bus provided by the University as well. This is a special game because it's for the Liberty Cup, a trophy that was made in 2002 to remember the victims of 9/11 from both Columbia and Fordham, (and there were quite a few, I'm sorry to say). Columbia has won three of the five Liberty Cup games so far, including the last two.


10) Are we going to win some more games this year?

I think so, and you can actually help make that happen by showing up to the games and supporting the team on campus as well. The players have been working hard all offseason and they deserve your appreciation.

It's Never Too Soon


Do not open until 2008


No sooner did I get back to New York than I saw some Google alerts and email tips from a few friends about a top-rated high school fullback who's committed to Columbia for NEXT season. ESPN.com rates him as the 21st best fullback prospect in the country.

Nico Papas looks like a great kid, and as someone who's been coached by his dad most of his life, there's a lot of football culture in that household. We definitely look forward to seeing him next fall and hopefully he'll get to attend a game or two this season.

And can anyone imagine a quality recruit like this committing to CU EARLY in the bad old days of the 80's or even as recently as two years ago? Things really have changed at Columbia, and I hope everyone recognizes that.

The biggest bummer of this trip to Canada was that I missed "media day" at Baker Field. Of course, the event is more to promote the team to the general news media and not guys like me who are already locked in to the program. Let's hope those guys find it in their hearts to post a few stories in the papers about the team in the coming days. The players and the program and general really deserve it these days.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

What it All Means... (maybe)


Numbers make some folks' heads hurt


So we've had more than a day now to dissect all the new weight, (and a few height), numbers on the Columbia roster and the question is: what does it all mean.

I have a few semi-educated guesses based on what I've heard and what I can see on my own.

I. Bigger Receivers

What I can see on my own is that the coaches are going for a bigger, more physical wide receiving corps. The three guys presumably at the top of the depth chart right now are Austin Knowlin, Taylor Joseph, and Derek Jancisin, and they all got bigger, especially Jancisin who gained 18 pounds. Knowlin added 11 pounds and Joseph nine. Speedy senior Tim Paulin also put on five more pounds to put himself at 190 lbs. If guys like Knowlin and Paulin can maintain their speed with the extra bulk, then the passing game, especially the run after the catch factor, starts to look better.


II. Slow, but Steady Progress on the Offensive Line

The returning starters at tackle and best contenders for the guard spots aren't 300-pound behemoths... but they do seem to have added weight the right way and hopefully gained strength. Remember, it was strength and not size that Coach Wilson emphasized to me at media day 18 days ago. Sophomore Brandon Veldman, who is probably still a year away from getting lots of playing time, has dropped 50 pounds of what seemed to have been "bad" weight. Now if he can gain 30-35 good pounds and add strength along with it, he'll be a good weapon.

A couple of guys who seemed like they were on the outside looking in on the OL before yesterday may have put themselves in the running for the two-deep with some eye-pooping weight gains. Senior Stefan Savic jumped 20 pounds from 281 to 301 pounds. As a former wrestler, I'm better Savic added the weight in a good way and didn't just feast on Twinkies this offseason. And at 6"7, Savic makes for a formiddable package any way you slice it. Sophomore Will Lipovsky is 6"6 and went from 247 lbs. to 274.

John Seiler and Nathan Walcker looked like they had the inside track to the starting guard positions in the spring and they both added bulk. Seiler went from 276 to 283 pounds and Walcker is up 14 pounds to 287.

The other presumed starter, senior Mike Partain gained 13 pounds to 288 lbs.


III. Like Good News? See Phil Mitchell

The junior defensive end not only gained 18 pounds to 266, but now he's listed at 6"7 as opposed to 6"6! Mitchell definitely has the power to bull through double teams this season, and that's a good thing because that's what he's going to see game in and game out.


IV. Some of the Freshmen are Already with the Program

A number of the freshmen seem to have mirrored the returning players at their respective positions by coming into camp with similar weights. A big question mark is OL Carl Constant, who has gained 30 pounds to tip the scales at 315. For his sake and for the team's sake, I hope that was part of the plan.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Big Changes

Here are some of the most stark changes in the weights on the Columbia roster:

Brandon Veldman OL 250 lbs. (-50 pounds)

The coaches said they wanted him to lose weight and then gain it back the right way. He's got the first part of that job done for sure.


Carl Constant OL 315 lbs. (+30 pounds)

The incoming freshman has bulked up... let's hope he did it the right way.



Phil Mitchell DL 266 lbs. (+18 pounds)

Let the dominating begin!


Michael Brune OL 288 lbs. (+10 pounds), Ralph DeBernardo 291 lbs. (+14 pounds)

The two starting tackles get nicely bigger.


Matt Bashaw DL 240 lbs. (-8 pounds)

I had heard the coaches wanted some of the defensive linemen to actually lose weight. I think they're going for speed to augment Mitchell's added size and strength.


Brian England DL 261 lbs. (+11 pounds)

The highly-recruited freshman may be in the running to backup Mitchell on the D-line.

Bayo Aregbe LB 220 lbs. (-13 pounds)

Most of the LB's are right at that 220-235 pound mark, Lou Miller is also exactly 220.


More later...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Quick Notes from up North

I'm in Toronto for the next few days, so blogging will be lighter but hopefully not less informative.

A moment we've all been waiting for has come as they are updating the player weights on the roster at GoColumbiaLions.com. It's not complete yet, but some of the numbers are encouraging, (check out the numbers for Ralph DeBernardo and Mike Brune, the starting tackles... both are up 10 pounds or more).

Enjoy!

Get Your Columbia Wear NOW!


A nice gift for me! I do have a birthday coming up... in 4 months.

Check out some of these new Columbia football items and you'll see some good new choices.

Personally, I like the "double-zero" jersey tee and the Under Armor polo shirt for men... but that's just me.

It's time to order no so you can make sure you have the right gear in time for the opener at Fordham on 9/15.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Scrimmage Info Correction!

The Columbia-Harvard preseason scrimmage at Harvard is actually September 7th NOT September 1st and it begins at 1pm. It IS open to the public.

When Do We Eat?


Red Lobster: for the Ivy League football lover in you

Do you think incoming freshman, and top prospect Calvin Otis is going to get hit up for some free meals? He should, because it turns out his dad Clarence Otis is the CEO of the massive Darden Restaurants Corporation which includes Red Lobster and Olive Garden. I previously wrote that Calvin's mom is a Columbia Business School grad, so this is a kid with some high-powered parents. And you have to love how his dad mentions that he'll be in New York a lot this fall to see his kid's team play!

As I have written before, I believe Otis is the either the #1 or #2 incoming freshman on the team with a great chance to play this season at corner or somewhere else where his speed and good size can help him. So much for the spoiled fat rich kid stereotype!

Speaking of blowing out stereotypes, The New York Times has published the results of a Columbia University study on weight training and brain function. Guess what, the more you exercise, the better your body and your brain works. Of course, most people with an ounce of common sense have known this for centuries. Every professor in America who has worked to reduce physical education or athletic programs should be publicly humiliated for the academic frauds they truly are.


Fordham continues to prepare for its season, which starts at Rhode Island in just 10 days. The latest scrimmage produced some good numbers for freshman running back Xavier Martin, who hails from Staten Island. The Fordham roster is not yet updated from last season, so I'm wondering why senior Jonte Coven has not been playing in these scrimmages. He had been mentioned in another preseason article as being a key part of Fordham's new "run and shoot" offense.


The New Haven Register had an interesting article yesterday about how Yale must avoid thinking too much of themselves despite all the preseason accolades.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bearish Times


The Bears look like they'll go hungry in '07



Last in a team-by-team look at the Ivies, (Yale is my pick for first, Penn second, Princeton third, Columbia fourth, Harvard fifth, Cornell sixth, and Dartmouth seventh.



8. Brown


Last year, I was probably the only idiot who thought Brown was going to repeat as Ivy champs instead of basically last, which is what they basically did, (true they were TECHNICALLY tied with Columbia and Dartmouth, but both Columbia and Dartmouth beat the Bears).

In my defense, Brown didn't look like the worst choice a year ago. They had the most experience QB in the Ivies in Joe DiGiacomo, most of the very good offensive line that had blocked so well for Nick Hartigan, two very talented wide receivers in Lonnie Hill and Paul Raymond and a major defensive star in Zak DeOssie.

In reality, what happened in 2006 is that DiGiacomo played like a freshman, no one consistently took advantage of the good run blocking, and DeOssie and the rest of the defense just didn't look as good as they had in 2005 when that great running game was cutting into their opponents' time of possession.

But the biggest mistakes Brown made last season were mental. How else can you explain a squad that finished 2006 with a negative-14 turnover ratio? And that might be the good news for Brown because if you focus on personnel alone, the cupboard looks a little bare.

Coach Phil Estes and company need a new starting QB, a tailback, and a new leader to make sure the talented group of returning players on defense lives up to its potential.

Estes is very optimistic about the season. He doesn't see it as a rebuilding year, and you have to admire his confidence. But the truth is that it is a re-tooling season for the Bears and I expect this team to be at or near the bottom of the league in mid-November.


Strengths

Raymond is now a senior and he leads a strong corps of wide receivers that includes sophomore Buddy Farnham. The tight end is converted wide receiver Colin Cloherty, a junior. Look for him to be a regular target for whomever gets the starting QB job this season.

The defense looks strong overall, especially in the secondary where seniors Jose Yearwood and Matt Mullenax are in charge. The linebacking crew loses DeOssie, but senior Eric Brewer knows his way around the field and was All-Ivy last season. The defensive line isn't exactly fearsome, but it does have a lot of experienced players returning. Brown is an oddity in the Ivies, with its 4-3 defensive alignment.

On special teams, Brown's Steve Morgan is an excellent kicker, period. He is more unreliable from 40+ yards out than some other kickers like Columbia's Jon Rocholl, but he is deadly accurate from 35-yards and closer. He's also super-consistent on PAT's. Punting-wise, he is probably the best in the league right now.


Weaknesses

Having to start a new QB and find a new leading tailback is a tall order and something that I suspect will be a problem for the Bears all season long. Some of the scoring stats may look a little thin at year's end.

Meanwhile, the offensive line needs to be re-tooled with three 2006 starters gone to graduation.

Another key graduation loss is Brandon Markey, an excellent and dangerous kick returner who was a major cog in Brown's offense last year and in 2005.

And then there's the mental factor. Brown committed so many turnovers and lost so many close games that I can't help thinking a lot of Brown's woes last year stemmed from the fact that the team was unable to cope with life after Nick Hartigan. Now it will have to live without DeOssie and the occasional brilliance of DiGiacomo as well.

If anyone can rally the troops its Estes, who has always been a pretty good motivator, but this season presents just too many obstacles.


GAME BY GAME

Let me make this short by saying that I think Brown will probably go 2-8 or maybe 3-7 with wins over Duquesne, possibly Rhode Island, and then one Ivy team they catch on a bad day in Providence. That could be my pick for seventh place, Dartmouth, but also a stronger contender like Princeton on the Bears homecoming weekend.


Predicted Final Won-Loss Record: 3-7, 1-7 Ivy. 8th place.


BUT ALL BETS ARE OFF IF: Brown finds a great QB, RB, and offensive line all at once.

Get on the Bus and Vote!


Last October, I started asking folks to vote for Norries Wilson for the Liberty Mutual College Football Coach of the Year Award.


I admit that call came a little early, since Norries hadn't yet coached CU's two most impressive wins of his first season at that point.


But now that he has that very impressive first season under his belt, I'm sounding the call again for the troops to help give Norries his due. If I thought this would go to his head, I wouldn't do it. But this coach is a very motivated and humble person in my estimation, so vote away!

Remember, even the most knowledgeable Ivy football fans are already not giving Norries the proper credit for last season, (see the ugly discussion on the VOY board).

Anyone who's been around Columbia football for more than a few years can see that Wilson has been making big changes in record time, period. Any criticisms of him are really just nitpicking at this point.


Read On

An extensive look at the Lions as they begin training camp is now available on the GoColumbiaLions.com Website. There's a lot of good stuff in there that you didn't see on this blog or anywhere else.

BUT the new weights and heights have not yet been updated on the roster page, so just keep checking as much as you can, (we might as well boost the hit numbers for the CU site while we're at it).

A Punter's Life

It turns out the prosecutor overseeing the case of the Northern Colorado punter who stabbed his teammate is a former punter himself. Ken Buck, Princeton '81 was a first team All-Ivy punter on the 1980 Tiger team that went 6-4 overall and 4-3 Ivy.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Big Green Question Mark


Ivy League defenders look to welcome Green QB Josh Cohen back to the game

Sixth in a team-by-team look at the Ivies, (Yale is my pick for first, Penn second, Princeton third, Columbia fourth, Harvard fifth, and Cornell sixth.)


7. Dartmouth

As Head Coach Buddy Teevens prepares to begin his third season in his second stint up in Hanover, a quick look at the stats paints a bleak picture. The Big Green averaged fewer than 15 points per game in 2006, while giving up more than 25 per contest. The defense allowed 172 rushing yards per game, and almost 370 yards in total offense every week. Throw in a negative-seven turnover ratio and the fact that the number one rusher and starting QB, (they were one in the same in Mike Fritz), are gone and you can see why Dartmouth was picked last in the media poll.

I have decided to be outrageously fearless and pick the Big Green for seventh instead of eighth for a few good reasons.

First off, the stats are a little misleading. Remember that Dartmouth is pretty much locked in to the toughest schedule in the Ivies these days and a lot of those eye-popping numbers came in understandable losses to D-IA-level powerhouse UNH, (56-14), Patriot League tough guy Colgate, (28-7), and Patriot League up-and-comer Holy Cross, (24-21 in OT).

Strip away those three non-league games and you get a much different story. In the seven Ivy games, Dartmouth allowed a hair fewer than 21 points per contest. Still not great, but a lot better than almost 26. And the stats don't show the fact that the Big Green kept most of those Ivy games very close, or closer than one might have expected before the opening kickoff.

Another factor is that Dartmouth will not have to start a fresh QB this season. Junior Josh Cohen returns to school after having to sit out 2006 with academic issues, but he was impressive at times as a freshman in 2005. I expect him to the be the #1 signal caller, but senior Tom Bennewitz was far from terrible in limited duty last year.

And I also believe in Teevens. It was the latter stage of his third season during his first tour of duty as a coach, (1989), that the Big Green started to gel for the first time in many years. His fourth year brought a championship. I don't think this Dartmouth team will go 5-5 like the '89 squad, but they have a good enough defense and few possible offensive surprises to make most of their games very interesting again this season.


Strengths

Dartmouth's pass defense was sharp in 2006, and the veteran leaders in the secondary are back for 2007. Seniors John Pircon and Ian Wilson are solid safeties and I like the 5th-year senior Chris Blanco at one of the corner spots.

Some of those great numbers against the pass were the result of the fact that the Green did so poorly against the run, but not all. The pass-heavy teams like Columbia and Harvard will struggle against these guys.

The crucial linebacking corps is led by senior Justin Cottrell, who could be first team All-Ivy this year. There are some questions on the defensive line, but I don't think the defense overall will give up as many rushing yards this season and I expect this unit to record more than the 15 sacks it made in 2006.

I know there are some questions about junior punter Brian Scullin's technique, but he seems pretty solid statistically.

There isn't a lot to get very excited about on offense, but the tight end tandem of seniors Mike Brogna and Brett Lowe could be the best in the Ivies when all is said and done this year. The offensive line can't be considered a solid strength, but it is very experienced now, and I've mentioned several times that there are basically no "strong" offensive lines in the Ivies these days.


Weaknesses

Cohen might become a great QB after his one-year layoff, but I suspect it will take some time for him to develop. Of course, Dartmouth's lack of any real experienced or "star" running back won't help. Teevens is going to try to morph the fullback and tailback positions and give sophomore Tom Brown and senior Julian Collins a shot at starting. Junior Hudson Smythe is the leading returning runner from 2006, but he's still mostly an unknown quantity.

There is some good experience at wide receiver in senior Brian Evans, but with a new QB at the helm, the top receivers this season could be a totally different crew.

Kicker Andrew Kempler was not very impressive last season, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's replaced in 2007. For a team with an iffy offense to begin with, not having a solid field goal threat hurts.


GAME BY GAME


Sept. 15: COLGATE

Dartmouth opens the fully refurbished Memorial Field with a win.


Sept. 22: at New Hampshire

The Big Green should consider this a victory if they hold UNH under 30 points.


Sept. 29: PENN

I expect this to be a very good game, but the Quakers are just too good.


Oct. 6: at Yale

Yale pulls it out.


Oct. 13: at Holy Cross

Dartmouth plays a strong game after last year's ugly Holy Cross demonstration in Hanover, but it's not enough.


Oct. 20: COLUMBIA

The Lions win a close one.


Oct. 27: at Harvard

Possible upset here, especially if the Crimson are still struggling to run without Dawson.


Nov. 3: CORNELL

A real toss up game here, may the best team win.


Nov. 10: at Brown

Victory for the Green.


Nov. 17: PRINCETON

Close game, but the Tigers know the Dartmouth organization too well to get surprised.


Predicted Final Won-Loss Record: 2-8, 1-6 Ivy. 7th place.


BUT ALL BETS ARE OFF IF: A running game gets established and Cohen or someone else shows real talent at QB.

Step Right Up


As I write this, the new weights and measures for the football team should be all filed and ready for release in the coming days. Meanwhile, real practice begins tomorrow, even though some heavy rain is being predicted for the New York area.

Steve Cargile '04 had one tackle for Denver in the Bronco's 31-20 preseason loss to the Dallas Cowboys Saturday night at Dallas. It wasn't the best performance by the Bronco defense, but it appears the run defense was more to blame than Cargile and his buddies in the secondary. My bet is that he'll still be on the active roster when the regular season kicks off.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Final Day of Freedom


They're waiting for you boys


What would you do on your last day before reporting to training camp? Would you take it easy, squeeze in one last workout, or just take care of moving back on campus?

Those are some of the options facing the 99 young men about to show up tomorrow for the true start of the 2007 season. Much of what Columbia accomplishes on the field this year will be earned in the next few weeks as the coaches assess the returning talent, teach and re-teach the schemes, and the players show what they're made of.

I will continue with my team-by-team predictions for the Ivy League on Monday with my look at my choice for seventh place: Dartmouth.

Not only did last night's B.C. Lions-Calgary Stampeders game end in a thrilling 45-45 tie, but B.C.'s Tad Crawford '07 and Calgary's Anthony Gargiulo (Dartmouth '05), both ended up tied with one tackle apiece.

It's clear more and more Ivies are focusing on Ohio and Michigan as football recruiting hotbeds. Here's one story about a standout running back who suffered a broken leg in training camp just days after getting a letter from Harvard's Tim Murphy. And this is another piece about another top running back getting attention from the Ivies, Northwestern and MAC schools like Miami of Ohio, etc.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Closed Window of Opportunity?


Jim Knowles is trying to break the law of diminishing returns


Fifth in a team-by-team look at the Ivies, (Yale is my pick for first, Penn second, Princeton third, Columbia fourth, and Harvard fifth.)


6. Cornell

When Jim Knowles took over as head coach at Cornell in 2004, the Big Red had just hit bottom after a 1-9, 0-7 Ivy season where they had been outscored 304-130.

Knowles had an immediate positive effect as the '04 Big Red went 4-3 in the Ivies, (4-6 overall), and cut their points allowed total to 181. 2005 was even better with a 6-4 overall record and another 4-3 Ivy mark.

But there was a definite step backward in 2006 as Cornell dropped to 3-4 in the Ivies and 5-5 overall. They did win three of their last four games, but the Big Red showed very little strength in the passing game and a general malaise on the road that has plagued Cornell since Knowles took over, (they're 3-11 on the road over the last three seasons).

None of this is hard to figure out. Cornell is a running team that relies on as many people on offense running the ball in different ways as possible. The loss of superstar offensive lineman Kevin Boothe and hard-running QB Ryan Kuhn after the 2005 season left Cornell without as many weapons in 2006. The result was star runner Luke Siwula ended up with 200 fewer yard rushing than he had the year before, and whenever the Big Red did try to pass it always seemed like something bad was going to happen.

For the last two years, Cornell has been everyone's favorite dark house pick to win or contend for the Ivy title. But that window of opportunity seems to be closed, and the Big Red will have to fight hard this season to stay out of the Ivy basement.


Strengths

This is still going to be a good running team. Look for sophomore QB Stephen Liuzza to get more playing time and his speed is definitely a plus. Siwula ended the 2006 season with five straight sub-100 yard performances, and without more help from a running QB like Liuzza, the senior Siwula will have a hard time posting 1,000 yard numbers like he did as a soph in 2005. But another good runner is junior Shane Kilcoyne, who provides a good mix on the ground.

The other big strength should be pass defense. Junior Tim Bax was an All-Ivy safety last season and he should be even better this season. Cornell's coaches feel senior safety Michael Boyd is very underrated and they're right. Senior Colin Nash is a solid cornerback as well.

Cornell also should continue to get great results on special teams from sophomore Bryan Walters, who tore up the league on punt and kick returns last year. But some of his effectiveness may be muted as he will have to play a bigger role as a wide receiver this season.


Weaknesses

The Big Red passing game was a flat-out liability last year and I don't see too many reasons why it won't be again in 2007. Senior QB Nathan Ford and Liuzza are just not great throwers, and they don't have the greatest targets anyway. Scrappy junior WR Zac Canty makes the most of his 5"8 frame, (reprising the role the diminutive Brian Romney played on this team for a few years), but QB's need big targets, especially when they're not miracle workers. 6"2 junior Jesse Baker is more like it when it comes to filling a classic receiver's role, but the offense may depend on the continued development of Walters as something more than just a return threat.

And the Big Red must do something about their road woes. It's nothing new when bad teams can't win away from home, but Cornell has looked like a generally solid team overall for three years running. The week two contest at Yale will be very telling.


GAME BY GAME

Sept. 15: BUCKNELL

I expect the Big Red to perform nicely in this game to make up for the dud of a performance they put up last season at Bucknell.


Sept. 22: at Yale

It would be a huge surprise if Cornell won this one... just huge.


Sept. 29: at Georgetown

Well, Knowles couldn't hope for much of a weaker opponent to get his team to overcome the road-trip blues. This should be a win.


Oct. 6: HARVARD

I think this will be very, very close but I have to give the Crimson the edge.


Oct. 13: COLGATE

The Big Red get another nice win on Homecoming.


Oct. 20: BROWN

Probably a very close game, but another win.


Oct. 26: at Princeton

Cornell melts under the Friday night lights.


Nov. 3: at Dartmouth

I think Cornell will be a better team overall, but the Big Green could steal this one.

Nov. 10: COLUMBIA

After a very poor showing in 2005, the Lions return to their very long tradition of playing very well in Ithaca.


Nov. 17: at Penn

Quakers finish the season with a win.


Predicted Final Won-Loss Record: 5-5, 2-5 Ivy. 6th place.


BUT ALL BETS ARE OFF IF: Someone gets the passing game going and the defense picks up its game a bit. If those things happen, Cornell could go 4-3 in the Ivies once again.

Let's Go Camping!




Training camp begins this Sunday as players report to Coach Wilson on Sunday before the opening practice on Monday. Usually, the updated weights for the players appear on the roster at GoColumbiaLions.com a few days later.

This is an exciting time as we're finally seeing the light at the end of the very dark tunnel that is our 10-month-long offseason. But I want to put forth a word or two of caution first:

1) We're most likely going to see some roster attrition before camp is over. It happens usually because of injury reasons and there's always going to be injuries. Remember that last year, we went through the season with just 74 guys on the roster. We start camp with 99 and I think there's an excellent chance we'll finish with about 90 guys at least. Know any other organizations enjoying 22% increases in personnel right now? I thought not.


2) There's going to be a lot of information no one but the coaches will be privy to throughout camp and we're just going to have to wait until game 1 at Fordham or the release of the two-deep 2-3 days before that before we're totally informed. Some secrecy must be protected to keep the team as competitive as possible. But there will probably be a few reports posted on the website before camp ends that are very informative. The piece written last year by offensive coordinator Vinny Marino was pretty helpful.


Fordham Update

Meanwhile our first opponent, Fordham, is deep into its training camp. This is a report on the Rams first scrimmage.

Last week, the Rams revealed they will use a "run and shoot" offense this season with sophomore QB Jeff Skelton at the helm and senior RB Jonte Coven as the main runner. I'm not sure it will work, but it will be interesting to watch. Fordham has two games, on the road at URI and then at home versus Albany before they take the Lions on, also at home.


Honors for DeFilippo

The new edition of Sports Illustrated mentions former CU asst. coach John DeFilippo, who is now with the Oakland Raiders. His stock is rising in the NFL, as it should. EVERY parent of an upperclassman played who I've talked to says DeFilippo was the biggest reason why they chose to come to Columbia. See the interview I did with Drew Quinn's dad Edward to find out more.


Tad Crawford '07 and the B.C. Lions go up against Anthony Gargiulo, Dartmouth '05, and the Calgary Stampeders tonight in Vancouver. The Lions won the first matchup a few weeks ago, 32-27 in Calgary.

Tad has been getting more playing time, while Gargiulo is a starter who has missed some games due to injury. But Gargiulo is expected to be back in the starting lineup tonight. The game begins at 10pm Eastern Time and you can catch the audio for free at Team 1040 radio.

Meanwhile, three Kansas City Chief QB's got into last night's 11-10 loss to the Dolphins in preseason NFL football. But none of them were named Jeff Terrell. I wonder if the 2006 Bushnell Cup winner is going to go the same way as the 2005 cup winner, Nick Hartigan who was cut by the Jets at about this time last year.

For what it's worth, I think Terrell has the kind of maturity rarely seen in an NFL rookie, and his value to the team might be huge in the long run. I'm certainly rooting for him.

That Was Fast!


More football is always better


Just as we get confirmation of the Junior Varsity season, the GoColumbialions.com website posts the schedule:

Oct. 14 Princeton 1 p.m.

Oct. 26 Colgate 2 p.m.

Nov. 9 at Cornell 4 p.m.

Nov. 16 Brown 2 p.m.

Call me crazy, but it's nice to see we'll be playing real college squads exclusively instead of prep schools and junior colleges.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Thursday Quick Hits


The Lions head to Harvard in 16 days

The sole preseason scrimmage at Harvard on September 1st has been confirmed by Coach Wilson. I don't know the time, but it will probably be open to the public. I'll have an update on that as soon as possible, but sadly I will not be able to attend that game as of now. Anyone who does will have the podium here for his or her full report and you will be afforded every courtesy.

And we are also slated to have a four-game JV season this year, opponents and times are also TBA right now.


And I hate to dredge up the painful past, but a Virginia newspaper has a profile of new William and Mary defensive coordinator Bob Shoop today. Yes, he does talk about his time at Columbia. (A mixed "thanks" goes to Bruce Wood of the Big Green Alert for letting me know about that one.)


Also coming out of Virginia is a story I missed when it first made news two years ago, but Old Dominion University is on-track to revive its varsity football program for the first time since 1940. Their first season will be next year, but they're slated to face Cornell at Schoelkopf in 2009 and host them two years later in Norfolk.

Now I have a number of reasons to be interested in this story. First, my dad taught at ODU for four years when my family lived in Norfolk from 1977-81. I spent many hours wandering the campus buildings and the gym while waiting for my dad to finish work. This was when basketball great Nancy Lieberman was breaking records and putting ODU on the map, (and in an an ironic twist, we moved to Lieberman's home neighborhood of Far Rockaway, NY when we left Norfolk in 1981).

But also, the best part of the story is how an overwhelming amount of the ODU alumni said they would feel more connected to the school if it started football. This is not rocket science people: if you give alumni a place where they can gather together in large numbers 5-6 times per year, it will increase donations, increase school spirit, and increase just about everything that's good for a University. Meanwhile, we continue to hear from knuckleheads who want to abolish athletics at Ivy schools, etc.

Empty Nest


The Crimson will struggle without Clifton Dawson (CREDIT: The Crimson)

Fourth in a team-by-team look at the Ivies, (Yale is my pick for first, Penn for second, Princeton for third, and Columbia for fourth.)


5. Harvard

Harvard was everyone's pick last year to win the Ivies, but a poor showing at the end of the season doomed the Crimson to a tie for third. Now the Cantabs have to face life without tailback Clifton Dawson who spent four years lighting up opposing teams as a running and scoring machine. The "experts" are pointing to Harvard's strong returning defense as a big reason why they should overcome Dawson's loss, but here's a news flash: just about everyone in the Ivies has an excellent defense these days. The top teams are the ones with the best skill players on offense... and Harvard doesn't have enough of them to make a serious run for the title.


Strengths

Even with the loss of sack master Mike Berg, Harvard's defensive line will be fierce this season. Senior captain Brad Bagdis returns, along with junior Matt Curtis on a unit that allowed an insanely low 66.5 yards rushing per game last season while recording 44 sacks.

The secondary should actually be better this season with pre-season junior All-America candidate Andrew Berry, (his wide receiver twin brother Adam is at Princeton and also a potential star), at one corner and second team All-Ivy Steven Williams at the other.

There is some turnover at linebacker, and Desmond and Brendon Bryant are off the team for reported academic issues, but this is going to be a tough defense overall no matter how you slice it.

On offense, the biggest strength is 5th year senior Wide receiver Corey Mazza and an experienced receiving corps overall. Mazza will make some big plays this season for sure.


Weaknesses

Other than Mazza, the Harvard offense is a big question mark. Dawson will not be adequately replaced, at least not this season. Sophomore running back Cheng Ho is really untested and isn't a serious 1,000 yard threat.

The offensive line will not be terrible, but three starters are gone, and frankly, Dawson made a lot of his own holes while he was there anyway.

The biggest question mark is senior QB Liam O'Hagan, who just did not play very well in abbreviated duty last year. I do think he will be better in 2007, but without Dawson he's going to be pressured like never before. I'm not confident he'll come through unscathed.

And don't forget what Dawson's loss means for the special teams. Dawson made a lot of major returns over the years in Cambridge, and that's lost this year too. Luckily for Harvard, senior kicker/punter Matt Schindel has been pretty reliable.


GAME BY GAME

Sept. 15: at Holy Cross

The post-Dawson era begins with a rude awakening at Fitton Field. This is a loss.


Sept. 21: BROWN

Brown doesn't have the horses against Harvard "D."


Sept. 29 at Lehigh

Good matchup, but Harvard falls late.


Oct. 6: at Cornell

Tough game at Schoelkopf, but the Crimson pull it out.


Oct. 13: LAFAYETTE

Home field advantage makes the difference.


Oct. 20: PRINCETON

Crimson make this the highlight of their season with a nice win.


Oct. 27: at DARTMOUTH

Probably a win, but watch out for a repeat of the 2003 Big Green upset.


Nov. 3: at Columbia

Harvard offense struggles all day. Lion eke out a big win.


Nov. 10: PENN

Penn ball control sinks Crimson.


Nov. 17: at Yale

Closer than last year, but Harvard falls again.


Predicted Final Won-Loss Record: 5-5, 4-3 Ivy. 5th place.


BUT ALL BETS ARE OFF IF: O'Hagan plays very well and someone is able to run the ball effectively for the Crimson. Things could get worse though if the D-line falters a bit and the linebacking corps turns out to be a bigger liability than expected.

Steve Cargile Update


Steve Cargile in 2003 (CREDIT: IvyLeagueSports.com)

Steve Cargile '04, looked good in the first preseason game for the Denver Broncos this weekend against the 49ers. He snared an interception and seemed ready to play. It looks like he'll have little trouble making the team if he keeps this up.

Cargile was one of the guys who made the 2003 season such an exciting one for Columbia fans. He's had trouble breaking in to the NFL, but things seem to be turning around now.


Local Ithaca Reporter Gets it Wrong

In this otherwise decent report on the Cornell training camp, the reporter talks about how camp lasts 32 days... which would be in violation of Ivy League rules. The Big Red will break camp in about 2 1/2 weeks and then go to a regular practice schedule. Cornell simply opens camp 32 days before the season starts because of an earlier start to classes.

Local Recruit?

A big fullback in my own backyard is getting a lot of interest from the Ivies and other schools like B.C., Virginia and Rutgers. I'm not sure if this young man is getting calls from Columbia, but he does attend a fine Catholic school called Chaminade which has sent numerous players to Columbia's football and basketball teams over the years, (including Brian Dennehy).

Tiger Turnover


Roger Hughes has grown into the job at Princeton (CREDIT: IvyLeagueSports.com)


The last time Princeton won back-to-back Ivy titles was 1963-64. Rumor has it the upper stands at Palmer Stadium were actually structurally stable back then, but I doubt that.

Of course, now the Tigers play in the fabulous Princeton Stadium, which still looks brand new as it begins its 10th season of service. More importantly, Princeton now has a top-notch coaching staff which has proven for two years running that you can make something out of what looks like nothing.

After his first four seasons at Old Nassau, I was one of Head Coach Roger Hughes biggest detractors. I thought Princeton was a weak team that was overrated because of some lucky wins over even weaker teams in the league. But the 2005 season changed all that, and the co-championship last season proved to me that Hughes may be the best coach in the Ivies right now.

How else can you explain winning a Ivy championship last season despite starting an entirely new offensive line? How else can you explain winning an Ivy championship with two leading rusher who failed to average even four yards a carry?

That's why despite the loss of an extremely "clutch QB" in graduated Bushnell Cup winner Jeff Terrell, I still think Princeton will make a decent run for the title in 2007.

Strengths

Columbia was a close second, but Princeton's defense was the best in the Ivies last year, and some of the key players, especially in the crucial linebacking corps, are coming back.

The 2006 Tigers gave up just 148 first downs, and 185 yards passing per game. Opponents converted only 27% of their third downs, and all those "three and outs," led to a better than four-and-a-half minute time of possession cushion.

Senior linebackers John Stem, Tim Boardman and Doori Song are all back for 2007 and while the defensive line loses All-Ivy Jake Marshall, veterans like juniors Pete Buchignani, Tom Methvin and Matt Koch look strong.

The other big strength is at wide receiver where first team All-Ivy senior Brendan Circle returns and rising junior star Adam Berry is ready for his close-up.

Weaknesses

Princeton's secondary was off-the-charts effective last season. It was the #1 reason why the Tigers beat the pass-heavy Lions last year and it kept them from ever getting too far behind in any game. But graduation has left this unit with only one clear star left in senior Kevin Kelleher. I'm not sure it will be easy to pass on the Tigers this season, but I feel confident it will be easier than it was in 2006.

Another weakness could be the kicking game, where reliable junior placekicker Conor Louden is recovering from surgery and may not be 100% and four-time All-Ivy punter Colin McDonough has graduated.

And while I think incoming starting QB Bill Foran, a senior, will be a star, there's certainly no guaranteeing that. I also think the running game is still not going to be stellar behind an offensive line that did well blocking for Terrell, but not so well with run blocking.

GAME BY GAME


Sept 15: LEHIGH

I think Lehigh will be an even better team this year and they're high-powered offense will give the Tigers some trouble. Ultimately, this is still a game Princeton should win.


Sept 22: at Lafayette

Super tough game at Lafayette's new showplace stadium. But there's a lot of turnover on the Leopards roster. A win.


Sep 29: COLUMBIA

This game will be closer than last years' 19-6 Tiger win, but I still think home field advantage will work out for Princeton by game's end.


Oct 6: HAMPTON

This game could get ugly, a potential blowout loss.


Oct 13: at Brown

Unless there's still a tough hangover from the Hampton game, the Tigers should be able to win this one.


Oct 20: at Harvard

I don't expect Harvard to be too strong this season, but the Crimson will get this one to avoid being swept in the Big Three.


Oct 26: CORNELL

The Big Red usually plays the Tigers tough at Princeton Stadium, but I think they will be out of steam by the time this game rolls around.


Nov 3: at Penn

Toss-up of a game right now, but Penn has to be favored at home.



Nov 10: YALE

Biggest challenge of the year, but a good matchup for a team like Princeton with a weaker secondary against the pass-challenged Bulldogs.



Nov 17: at Dartmouth

Dartmouth actually seems to play Princeton tougher on the road than they do at home. The Big Green just don't look ready yet to win a game like this.


Predicted Final Won-Loss Record: 7-3, 5-2 Ivy. Third place.


BUT ALL BETS ARE OFF IF: Foran doesn't live up to his advance billing and opposing QB's light up the young secondary.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Spreading the Word


The alumni light the way (CREDIT: Columbia College Alumni Assoc.)

I'll get back to my team-by-team Ivy previews later today, but I just wanted to re-publish a new comment from "RS" about what went down at the Columbia Club of Northern New Jersey dinner with Coach Wilson last night:

"Jake, your great blog was mentioned by self and two other people at last night's Columbia Club of Northern NJ dinner with Coach Wilson. And several people afterward, including former players, specifically asked for this web address after they learned about "Roar Lions Roar."

Norries was his usual sly, self-deprecating self. (I suspect he revels in the realization that people might way underrate him at first solely based on his bulk; the man is certainly not the cliched version of a college football coach who woos alums and ESPN alike so successfully with mere flashes of his teeth and glibness.) He didn't reveal much, but as always he took pains to praise his players as people, not just as his players, something that always makes him seem very likable to me, not at all possessed of the emotional distance that Bob Shoop conveyed to some degree. I hate to say he has "warm and fuzzy-type feelings" towards his team, but he seems to genuinely care for them as individuals, that always comes out clearly and indicates why he may prove so very good for Columbia, however long he stays.

He also kidded Matt Bashaw, who was there with his father, that he might find himself challenged by some incoming freshmen. He stressed the seeming offensive depth and the seeming defensive depth, but didn't really go into much detail at all about the running back and QB issues. And he indicated that he might be happier if Rocholl didn't also have to serve as a punter this season, though he also admitted he'd use him there again if he proved better than two incoming kickers.

Lastly, he noted that he's only met you once himself, up in New Haven, when the subject of this blog finally came up towards the end of this evening. "But he seemed like an okay guy to me" was Coach Wilson's summing up."


For those of you who are new to this site, please see the "Roar Lions FAQ Part 1" I published earlier this summer.

The point of this blog is to give Lions fans a virtual meeting place, and thus increase fan support and overall size. We are facing a pivotal time for Ivy football and I encourage all the fans of all the Ivy teams to take matters into their own hands and find and build the support base.

Finally, this blog is the reason why I got the job as the new color commentator for Columbia football online and on AM radio this coming season. It is a dream job for me and I am working hard to make sure I don't disappoint.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Fall of the House of Bagnoli? Not so fast.


The Quakers are betting a lot on the arm of Robert Irvin


Second 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.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bulldog Bulldozer?


Yale is everyone's pick to win the league, but will they dominate? No.


First in a team-by-team look at the Ivies


I was not surprised to see Yale picked by just about everyone to win the Ivy title this season. After all, I was one of those people picking them. But don't be fooled, parity is back in the Ivy League after several years of Penn-Harvard domination. And that means the difference between coming in first and coming in last is not so big anymore.

If you don't believe me, consider the curious case of the 2006 Brown Bears, (insert the Rod Serling voice here), the 2005 league champions ended up at the bottom of the Ivies in 2006, (despite some idiot named Novak who picked them to repeat), but a choked lead against Yale, a tough overtime loss thanks to a close call by the refs at Dartmouth, and an extremely close loss to Columbia prevented them from a 5-2 overall record and what could have been second place.

Then there's Penn, who looked awfully like a team that was a kicker away from the Ivy title and a 7-0 league record.

And it seemed like most of the other teams in the Ivies who finished out of the money were 1-2 plays away from greatness.

Expect that trend to continue this season, as no one seems to be so totally stacked or so totally weak so as not to be able to win a game against any league opponent on any given Saturday.

But that said, some teams look "more equal" than others and seem to have a better track to hoisting that big championship trophy when the final gun sounds on November 17th.

And Yale is one of those teams.


1. Yale

Strengths: Running game and more running game. Junior Mike McLeod is the Ivy's best tailback, and I think he will challenge Yale's single season rushing record, (held by Rich Diana at 1,442 yards). I also expect McLeod to play an even bigger role this season as a pass receiver as Yale tries to break in some new starting wide receivers.

Senior Quarterback Matt Polhemus is another big part of the running game, often using his smarts to sprint out of trouble or make gains on a pre-designed play. He's not a speed-burner, but he gets things done more often than not and he's More experience than most Ivy QB's coming into this season.

There are some key losses to graduation on the offensive line, but not enough to give me too much pause. I expect McLeod to run away from most tacklers and Polhemus to get rid of the ball faster to big tight end Langston Johnson, who figures to get more catches this season.

Another strength should be the Bulldog defense, which I believe will be much improved this season. Despite the bevy of stars on the squad, Yale gave up more than 20 points a game, and was actually outpaced by their opponents on first downs, (Yale gained 185 versus 193 by their opponents). Another problem was pass defense, as the Bulldogs coughed up more than 233 yards by air per game.

But all those shaky defensive stats should actually frighten the rest of the league, because the Elis STILL shared the Ivy title last season and this season the defense has a lot of good things going for it, including:

1) Senior linebacker Lee Driftmeier, and honorable mention All-Ivy in 2005, is coming back after missing 2006 to injury. He's a great hitter.

2) Senior DB Nick Solakian is back too, also after missing 2006 to injury. He had some strong numbers in 2005, and should help bolster that secondary.

3) Junior linebacker Bobby Abare will get even better this year. He was 1st team All-Ivy as a sophomore last year.

4) Senior Brandt Hollander anchors an excellent veteran defensive line that really matured as the season went along last year, and was especially impressive in the Harvard game.

5) Nine of 11 defensive starters from 2006 return.

Another strength is senior kicker Alan Kimball, who may not seem to be as great as Brown's Steve Morgan or Columbia's Jon Rocholl, but he's darn good and could eclipse them by the end of the season.

Sophomore Tom Mante is a good punter and Yale's kick coverage teams were extremely good last year.


Weaknesses: The lack of a passing game could be a big problem if opposing teams are able to line eight guys in the box and somewhat neutralize McLeod. I think Yale will overcome this problem more often than not in 2007, but it will never be easy.

Yes, the defense is looking pretty stacked, but even if it improves, it has a way to go from last season. I can't remember the last time an Ivy champ or co-champ gave up more first downs than it gained. The collapse against Princeton at home last season was also telling. After Yale took a 31-20 lead with 10:52 left in the game, the Yale secondary allowed Princeton QB Jeff Terrell to go seven-for-seven for 135 yards and two touchdowns. A week later at Harvard, aided by five sacks, the secondary did a much better giving up just 154 yards on 13-for-32 passing. Yale needs to build on that performance or opposing veteran QB's will light them up. The Elis only had 17 sacks last season, and that needs to change in order to put less pressure on the secondary.



GAME-BY-GAME



09/15/07 at Georgetown

Looks like an easy one. A loss or a poor performance of any kind here should give everyone serious pause.


09/22/07 vs. Cornell

Cornell's lack of a real passing threat means they have matchup problems with the Elis. Another must-win for Yale.


09/29/07 at Holy Cross

Holy Cross is a program on the rise and they may take some frustrations out on Yale like they did at Dartmouth last season. This could be a tough one for the Bulldogs.


10/06/07 vs. Dartmouth

Dartmouth just doesn't have the weapons this year, but Yale could get trapped here.


10/13/07 vs. Lehigh

Lehigh played Yale real tough last season, and the maturation of QB Sedale Threatt could spell the Elis doom as they look ahead to Penn the following week.


10/20/07 at Penn

Right now, this looks like the marquee game of 2007. Yale hasn't beaten Penn at Franklin Field since 1990, but there have been some close calls over the years. Winning this game isn't 100% essential to winning the title, especially since it takes place relatively early in the season, but it will be extremely important.


10/27/07 at Columbia

Could be a tough one after Yale comes off that tough game at Penn. Columbia's passing game presents problems for the Elis, and there is a possible "bad blood" issue here after Yale coach Jack Siedlecki called a timeout with a few seconds left to secure an added TD in the Bulldogs 21-3 win last year at the Bowl.


11/03/07 vs. Brown

This game could get ugly unless the Bears establish some kind of offensive attack this season.


11/10/07 at Princeton

A very tough game, but winnable. This could end up being a more important game than the Penn contest.


11/17/07 vs. Harvard

I like the Elis to grab two in a row over the hated Cantabs.


Predicted Final Won-Loss Record: 8-2, 6-1 Ivy. First place.


BUT ALL BETS ARE OFF IF: Yale's new O-line doesn't gel, the defense doesn't the pass better, or McLeod suffers an injury of any kind.