Mark Paski is a rarity of rarities, a junior three-year starter on the offensive line (CREDIT: Princeton Athletics)
(The team-by-team Ivy predictions continue with a look at my 6th place team, Princeton. My detailed Columbia prediction will come last.)
The only team that scored fewer points than Princeton last year was Columbia, and many of the key Tiger skill players are gone this year. The first big question is at QB, where on the heels of one good game in his only start last year against Dartmouth, Brian Anderson is getting the nod as the #1 signal caller. It's really the only logical choice right now for Head Coach Roger Hughes, but one would expect a program like Princeton to have a deeper bench.
The running back situation is also in question. Workhorse fullback Rob Toresco has graduated and he will be missed. Senior R.C. Lagomarsino could step up from a supporting role the last two seasons, but he'll get pushed by junior Jordan Culbreath who showed some flashes last season. The big problem in the running game is the fact that now-graduated QB Bill Foran was the top ground gainer last season, and it's not clear if Anderson will leg it out as much in 2008. But even if he isn't as quick, look for Princeton to keep whoever starts at QB as mobile as possible.
The wide receiving corps is also suffering from graduation losses, most notably Brendan Circle, who had his best game last season against Columbia. Adam Berry is back, and I expect him to have a big senior year and fellow senior Will Thanheiser is also very talented. Neither is a game-breaker though.
The tight ends all look pretty untested. I don't think the Tigers will use this position for much more than blocking again this year.
Princeton's much-studied and talked-about offensive line, (this was the totally green group in 2006 that held up just enough to allow the Tigers to win the championship), is now a veteran, if not a spectacular group. And with the running QB game plan, a lot of their problems are smoothed over. Keeping the QB mobile allowed Princeton to gain the second most rushing yards of any Ivy team last year... sure they were more than 900 YARDS behind the #1 Yale team in that category, but second place is better than the other six spots behind them.
In contrast to most other Ivy teams, Princeton has a strong and veteran defensive line this season. All-Ivy Pete Buchignani, Tom Methvin and Matt Koch make up a formidable group that should help the Tigers improve on the already decent 128 yards per game they gave up on the ground in 2007. Upfront, this is a great group.
But then things get very iffy. The linebackers are inexperienced and so is the secondary. Cart Kelly is a good corner but I'm not sure the pass defense will be much better than it was last year, when teams like Columbia absolutely shredded the Tigers in the air.
In short, the front line will have to have a great year against the rush and rack up some sacks and pressures on passing downs. An injury of a letdown on the defensive line would be disastrous for Princeton.
Kicking is a strength for the Tigers where Ryan Coyle is a top punter and Connor Louden is a dependable short-range placekicker. The return game is just average, and that is a liability
The momentum and renewed school spirit that seemed to be growing after the 2006 championship may be waning just a bit in Tigertown. It's beginning to look more and more that Princeton's seeming rise as a general program was more about Jeff Terrell than anything else. Now that he's two years gone, Princeton seems like it's just an ordinary team that's just as likely to play well as it is to lay an egg on any given Saturday.
Jake's Overall Take
I'd like to comment more about the key players on this team... but too many of them are unknown. And therein lies the problem.
Princeton has such great resources, so it's downright surprising that so many key positions have so many question marks. I still think Roger Hughes is a good coach and a very good guy, but this is a mistake you don't see guys like Tim Murphy or Al Bagnoli making.
If the QB Anderson plays like he did in his one start last season, Princeton could surprise. But either way, people will pass a lot against these guys and that will put pressure on the offense to score more points than last season and certainly more than they needed in 2006.
The Tigers have a tough overall schedule, especially early in the season with an unusual, (good for them), trip to The Citadel and a week 4 home game against Colgate. Princeton may need to use those early tough games to figure out its starting squad and then the team might enjoy a better second half.
Overall this team may not exactly be on the decline, but it certainly seems like it's taking a break. Whether this break time will be spent in the middle of the pack or at the bottom of it is up to the defensive line and the quarterbacks.