Michael DiMaggio is one of the more talented runners in the Ivies (CREDIT: Penn Athletics)
When it comes to Penn, all everyone wants to talk about is whether QB Robert Irvin is healthy... as if he will be a world-beater if he is 100%. I'm not so sure.
I have nothing against Mr. Irvin personally and I wish him every success in life... but healthy or not, I have never been very impressed with him as a QB. I think the coaches at Penn like him mostly because, at his size and weight he looks like an NFL QB, and I think those coaches love the idea of tutoring a potential future pro. Again, that's just my take and I may be way off.
If Irvin is healthy, there still is the question of who he will throw too. Bagnoli seems high on his wide receivers, especially Marcus Lawrence. Again, I'm not so sold.
But there are some underrated players on this offense, and I the running backs, Michael DiMaggio and Bradford Blackmon are among them. Both are very talented and dangerous, in fact Columbia wanted Blackmon before he committed to Penn. And the Quaker offensive line is among the better ones in the league, or at least will be by the middle of the season. The big question is: can Penn adjust its attack from the pro-set passing strategy they've used forever, or will they rely too much on Irvin and the receivers.
The offensive line is solid if not as good as last year with high quality right tackle Chris Kovalcik with Drew Luongo and Matt Schaefer there to help. If Penn starts running the ball 40 times a game, watch out.
The Quaker's strength the last few years has been their defensive line, and it seems like a stretch that it will be anywhere near as good this year with all the graduation losses. Joe Goniprow looks good at defensive tackle, but everyone else is a question mark.
The linebackers also don't look as impressive as they have in recent years. Joe Colabella returns, but the guy who was really the defensive field general last season, Joe Anastasio, graduated.
Like so many other Ivy team defenses, the secondary is the strongest unit led by corners Tyson Maugle and all-Ivy Chris Wynn. But if the Quakers don't stop the run as effectively as they have in the past, the execellent corners and safeties won't be enough.
The bottom line is that opposing teams are going to test the Quaker defense on the ground more than this team and its fans are very used to seeing. I think a lot of teams will succeed unless some kind of adjustments are made to make up for the inexperience up front.
Placekicking finally seems settled after the disaster it was in 2006. Andrew Samson won't win you too many games as he is basically a 50/50 kicker from every distance, but he won't lose you too many either. Penn will break in a new punter this year and there is no way to know how that will factor into things.
Penn hasn't won a league title since 2003, and the pressure has to be the players and coaching staff alike. While Penn has a good chance to improve its record this season, winning the championship seems like a pretty big stretch with all the question marks at QB, wide receiver, and defensive line. Setting their sites a little lower might go a long way for this young team, rather than putting too many expectations on them.
Jake's Overall Take
The last time a Penn team posted three straight losing Ivy seasons, it cost Head Coach Gary Steele his job. Actually, I should say the loss to Columbia lost him his job, because after that loss Penn regrouped and played much better down the stretcn and it still didn't save Steele. Perhaps that's why Bagnoli seems so extra fired up at Columbia games.
Of course, Bagnoli has a big handful of championships and he is no Gary Steele. Yet this is the longest draught of his Penn career and I assume there is some concern that it may be time for a change.
I admit to having a lot of buyer's remorse every time I realize that I've picked Penn for fourth when there are so many fundamental questions about this team. But like Dartmouth, I think Penn will do well in many key situations because of the Quakers' rich talent pool at tailback. Blackmon and DiMaggio may only be sophomores, but they are a very tough 1-2 punch to stop. If they don't click, however, it could be another very disappointing season in Philadelphia.