Head Start Program
Fordham QB John Skelton has four days of freedom left! (CREDIT: Fordham Athletics)
Think the football season isn't around the corner? Well, Columbia's week one opponent Fordham begins training camp in just four days! Actually, the August 10th date is just when the players need to report to Head Coach Tom Masella, but you get the idea. The first real practice for the Rams is August 17th.
I'll do a more detailed analysis of Fordham, position-by-position, as we get closer to our season opener. But for now a decent breakdown of how the Rams won the Patriot League title, and why they've been picked to repeat, is warranted.
Most people will focus on Fordham's skill players, but I think it's clear that this team's true, unique strength is its offensive line.
The Patriot League is like the Ivies in the fact that only one or two teams have a decent offensive line in any given season these days. Even fewer have both a solid offensive and defensive line. Fordham was one of those teams last season and has a great shot at doing it again in 2008.
Michael Nardone, Justin Sarabaez, Robby Reis, and Andrew Tyshovnytsky all return. Nardone is probably the best of that four as he was a second-team All-Patriot League choice. The "good" news for Fordham's opponents is that the Rams' best offensive lineman from 2007, center Mike Breznicky, has graduated. But this is a great veteran group of offensive linemen who usually gave QB John Skelton enough times to throw, (he was sacked only 25 times in 383 pass attempts), and they paved the way for a 4.2 yards per rush average for the team.
These front men allowed Coach Masella the luxury of devising radically different offensive game plans depending on the opponent. Because he knew his offensive linemen were so strong on running plays, he only had Skelton throw the ball 15 times against the Lions, even though Skelton typically threw the ball 40+ times in most other games last season.
On the brighter side, 4-year starter at tailback Jonte Coven has graduated.
The fact that so much of last season's O-line is coming back is the biggest hurdle for the Lions as they attempt to get the Liberty Cup back this season.
I'm not sure the Rams defense will be as good as it was last season... and it wasn't exactly dominant last year anyway. Thankfully, general chaos-maker Earl Hudnell has graduated. And despite all of their passing, the Rams were actually out-gained in the air by their opponents by about 100 yards on the season. Fordham was also basically even on the year with its opponents in overall rushing yardage.
But this is still a talented defense that could improve in 2008. Linebacker James Crockett is a force, Isiejah Allen is a rising star at safety, and the three starting defensive linemen, Fonzie Culver, Darzell Wright and Greg DeMarco, are strong, especially Culver. (Contrary to my earlier report, Culver is back for 2008).
QB John Skelton showed a lot of talent last year overall despite his minor role in the Columbia game. I expect Masella to try to test Columbia's younger secondary this time around, so we should see more passing from his QB. Skelton really spread the ball around last year, five receivers had 20 receptions or more, but none of them really stood out as super threat.
I'm sure Fordham will be favored... but remember the Rams have two games to play before they face us and that gives us a lot more to study on them than they will have to look at from us.
Game of the Day (Day 45)
September 25, 1978
Columbia 21 Harvard 19
Columbia started the 1978 season looking to break an seven-game losing streak at Harvard Stadium. They hadn't won there since 1961, when Bill Campbell led the Lions to a convincing 26-14 win. (The two teams tied 3-3 in 1963). In the seven losses since, the Lions had been beaten by an average final score of 38-11, including losses of 51-0 in 1969 and 57-0 in 1973.
But in the 1977 game at Baker Field, Columbia lost by a respectable 21-7 score and the '78 Crimson looked ripe for an upset.
Harvard did start the game nicely with an 85-yard drive that ended with a 25-yard field goal.
Columbia's defense then took over while the offense struggled to get something going. The Lions did finally break through for a TD in the final moments of the first half when fullback Joe Ciulla fought his way into the end zone from the two yard line. Columbia missed the extra point and it was 6-3 at the half.
A 35-yard Crimson field goal tied it at six, but that set the stage for the most spectacular play of the day when Lion QB Cal Moffie hit Freddie Sullivan for a 51-yard TD. Ciulla then took the direct snap from center and carried it in for the two-point conversion that would eventually prove to be the difference in the game.
Harvard answered right back with an 83-yard touchdown run by Wayne Moore. But the Crimson failed to tie it with their two-point try and it was 14-12 Columbia going in to the fourth quarter.
It stayed that way until late in the quarter when Columbia forced Harvard to punt from inside the Crimson 10 and took over at the Harvard 35. Seven plays later, backup halfback Pat Britt took it in for a short TD to make it 21-12with four minutes to go.
Harvard again struck back quickly with a long TD bomb to make it 21-19 with 1:20 to go, but the Lions recovered the onsides kick and it was over.
At the end of the game, Campbell called it, "the greatest victory I've had in my coaching career."