Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rough Road

There's no sugar-coating the fact that Columbia faces its toughest schedule in several years this season. While that makes a lot of fans nervous, I think it bodes well for the program overall that we don't have any Marists, Duquesnes, or Ionas on the docket this season.

Here's a quick assessment of our competition this year:

Week 1 vs. Fordham

The good news is Columbia typically plays very well at home against Fordham, but that's one of those intangibles that can't totally be explained and often disappear. One thing that is a little more solid is the fact that Columbia gets to see two weeks worth of Fordham game film before the Lions even break a huddle. Whatever advantage the Rams get from playing two games before Columbia gets started is erased by this scouting edge in my opinion.

The bad news is that Fordham is the defending Patriot League champ, brings back a monster offensive and defensive line, and has a QB who can do a lot of damage. This will be as tough a game as Columbia plays all season with the possible exceptions of the road games at Yale and Harvard.

Week #2 at Towson

Towson is a bottom feeder in a very tough Colonial League, but that means it should be about as good as a middle-of-the-road Ivy squad. Plus, this game will be at Towson and played late in the afternoon, (3pm kickoff), which might disorient the Lions a bit. This is as winnable a game as Columbia has all year and it's no gimmee.

Week #3 vs. Princeton

Can you believe Columbia hasn't won a Homecoming game since 2000? Even the weak Lion teams of the 70's and 80's had a decent Homecoming record. The Tigers seem a bit on the decline right now, and Lord knows the Lions had an excellent chance to beat them last year in Princeton. Like the Towson game, this contest seems more winnable than most other games on the schedule.

Week #4 vs. Lafayette

The Leopards are a darn good team that could dominate the Lions. But Lafayette is not Harvard or even Yale, and thus this home game is a possible victory.

Week #5 at Penn

Columbia hasn't beaten Penn since 1996, and I get the feeling the Quakers are motivated to play their best game every year against the Lions. Apparently their fear of what Coach Bagnoli will do to them if they lose to Columbia outweighs their dreams of reward if they beat Harvard or Yale. That said, the Lions have played much better against Penn AT Franklin Field the last few years than they have at home. That may have something to do with the fact that the road game at Penn is always during the school's fall break and the crowds are thin.

Week #6 vs. Dartmouth

Dartmouth is a dark horse candidate to contend in the league this year in my book, but the Lions are really due for a win here. Every game since 2001 has been close and the Big Green have taken three in a row.

Week #7 at Yale

Yale also seems to play worse at home against Columbia lately than they do at Wien Stadium. But the Elis are a strong looking team this year again. This will be a very tough game to win.

Week #8 at Harvard

Having to play Yale and Harvard back-to-back every year is no picnic for Columbia. Columbia hasn't beaten the Crimson at Harvard Stadium since 1995. This game will be tougher than the Yale contest.

Week #9 vs. Cornell

I'm not expecting great things from Cornell this season. And the Big Red have been terrible on the road the last few years. Winnable game for sure.

Week #10 at Brown

Everybody likes Brown and their passing game, but I'm not so sure about their running attack and overall defense. Columbia has played pretty well at Brown the last few meetings in Providence including a win in 2006. The Lions could roar to finish out the year.

I'll make my official predictions for the upcoming season in the coming days, but you can surmise from above that I'm in agreement with those who think Harvard and Yale will be atop the league this season. However, when trying to separate those two teams consider this: there is no one player that Harvard can't do without, Yale has 2-3 players that if injured, the Elis can forget about a title.

Game of the Day (Day 38)

October 3, 1971

Columbia 22 Princeton 20

After Bill Wazevich's monster day against Princeton at Baker Field in 1967, the Lions continued to suffer losses to the Tigers for the next three years.

The 1968 contest at Palmer Stadium was no contest, a 44-16 Tiger thumping.

The 1969 game at Baker Field was a 21-7 loss.

In 1970, Columbia fell by just two points in a 24-22 loss.

Coming into the 1971 season Columbia had lost 19 in a row to the Tigers, including their only league loss in the 1961 championship season. Most of the losses had been routs, but some had been gut-wrenching close losses.

But in 1971, QB Don Jackson and defensive back Ted Gregory had had enough. They both put in excellent performances to finally end the streak.

It didn't start well. Tiger tailback Hank Bjorkland began the scoring with a 62-yard TD run to make it 7-0. But then Jackson, who would finish the game 13-of-18 for 233 yards, got busy. He hit Mike Jones for a 23-yard TD pass to make it 7-6 before Paul Kaliades missed the extra point.

Later in the first quarter, it was Gregory's chance to make a statement. He intercepted Princeton QB Rod Plummer and went 56 yards for the TD to make it 13-7 and the rained-on crowd went wild.

Early in the second, Kaliades made up for his earlier PAT miss with a 28-yard field goal to make it 16-7. But Princeton fought back with another drive directed by Bjorkland, who took it in from one yard out to make it 16-14 at the half.

A scoreless third quarter only added to the tension. But when John Sefcik caught Jackson's 24-yard TD pass to make it 22-14, (Kaliades missed another PAT), the game seemed over.

It wasn't... not quite. The Tigers went 70 yards on eleven plays to score a TD with five minutes left. But the Lions preserved the lead when Charlie Johnson knocked down Plummer pass attempt on the two point conversion try.

Princeton still wasn't finished. With 1:30 left, Plummer completed five of eight pass attempts to get the Tigers to the Lion 15 with six seconds left. But the ensuing field goal try was well short and the streak was finally over.


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