Nico Papas has a unique chance to break into the starting lineup as a freshman (Credit: Rivals.com)
The battle for the starting running back spot or spots should be just as fierce as the one for the top QB position on the depth chart.
Here's the problem, the talent level at the tailback position throughout the Ivy League may be at an all-time low. Not that there was a surplus of 1,000 rushers in the 80's or 90's, but it's getting a lot harder to recruit and sign the kinds of players who have the ability to carry the ball 25+ times per game and average at least four yards per run.
There are a number of explanations for this, not the least of which is the Internet, which has help identify every decent rushing candidate to bigger schools who seem to load up on as many extra tailback recruits that they can.
Right now the Ivies as a whole really only have one truly great rusher in Yale rising senior Mike McLeod. Last year's second best rusher, Penn's Joe Sandberg, is graduating. There are one or two others who could hit the 1,000 mark in 2008, like Cornell 5th year senior Luke Siwula, (but don't bet on it), and perhaps Dartmouth's Milan Williams, who rushed for 5.3 yards per carry in a total of 8 games played last season. Simply because the Harvard offensive line is so good, I give Cheng Ho, a shot as well.
But when it comes to Ivy rushers, there is McLeod and then there's everyone else. McLeod averaged almost 33 carries per game last season and still managed to get 5-yards per carry. He also had 23 TD's all on the ground.
The talent drought at tailback isn't necessarily fatal for the rest of the league. Princeton proved in 2006 that you can win the championship with a great runner or even a great combination of runners. But it sure helps, and Columbia's chances of improving on last year's 1-9 record rely tremendously on establishing a real running attack.
The leading candidates to start at tailback are, (in no particular order):
Ray Rangel Jr.
Became the de facto starter by year's end. Rangel had some standout performances in the second half of the season, but they all came in losses. It remains to be seen if he can produce consistent results week in and week out. But his ability to get breakaways makes him an attractive choice. An improved run blocking scheme could make him a lethal speedster out of the backfield.
Jordan Davis, Sr.
Davis had strong performances in back-to-back weeks against Marist and Princeton early in the season, but he eventually lost his starting spot to Ray Rangel after he couldn't get much going the following two weeks against Lafayette and Penn.
Davis has had a lot of chances to prove he can be a real weapon, but he just hasn't panned out. He does have a huge amount of experience with three seasons of heavy lifting already under his belt. He's also one of the most physically fit guys on the team. Don't count him out.
Leon Ivery, So.
They don't post the stats from the JV games, so we can't be sure just how effective Ivery was as a freshman last season. But Ivery had absolutely insane high school stats and was a serious BCS-level recruit until suffering bone spurs late in his high school career.
And then there is Nico Papas. Papas is probably the most highly-touted fullback recruits to come to Columbia since Kirby Mack in the mid-1990's.
A talented fullback can be more than enough to carry a team to the top in the Ivies. That's something >Nick Hartigan proved with Brown and if Papas is anything like him, Columbia's fortunes will turn around in a hurry. Of course as a freshman, Papas may not see much playing time, but if he has what it takes in summer practice I doubt the coaches will keep him on the bench long.
Junior Pete Stoll is still the incumbent fullback starter, but the Lions did not employ a starting fullback set very often last season. Stoll had some decent looks in the early season, but after a crucial fumble in the Princeton game, it appears he was punished by the coaches after that.
The cupboard is not full right now at this position, but this is what we have to work with... and in this league we have a lot of company.