Sunday, November 30, 2008

The 2008 Jakeys

Eat your heart out, Heisman!

The best movies get Oscars, the best TV shows get Emmys, and the best Columbia football players get Jakeys.

Thus begins a new tradition.

I know the annual team dinner is a week from today where the official school awardees will be named. But I'd like to throw in some of my own awards if I could.

I'll start my categories and my own nominees. Please feel free to nominate whomever you like in any category in the comments section and I'll consider a more complete list during the week.

Here we go:


Owen Fraser, DT

Fraser burst onto the scene right in week one and seemed to be the one biggest reason why the Lions shut down the run so much more effectively this year... especially up the middle. His imposing size and surprising speed were a joy to watch.

Kalasi Huggins, CB

Got the opening day start and proved no one could really get separation from him on passing routes. Sometimes he covered receivers TOO close, not even realizing the pass was on its way. Was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week after the week two loss at Towson.

A.J. Maddox, CB/Special Teams

The speedy corner got plenty of playing time, filling in when Huggins was injured in the middle part of the season and alternating with him at other points. On special teams, he burned down the field time after time, especially on punt coverages. May be the fastest man on the team.


Alex Gross, LB

The 2007 Ivy League Rookie of the Year got even better in year 2, leading the Ivies in tackles and making his presence felt all over the field. Gross was a big reason most teams were shut down when trying to take things to the outside against the Lions.

Adam Mehrer, S

Led the team in interceptions and made sure teams throwing away from Andy Shalback couldn't relax.

Ian Quirk, OG

The sophomore broke into the starting lineup and helped bolster Columbia's much-improved offensive line. The Lions truly missed him when he was too banged up to play the final two games.

Zack Kourouma, RB

Showed his speed as a runner and a receiver in a number of games, especially at Towson and Harvard. Finished the year with two TD's and a hefty 7.6 yards per carry on an admittedly paltry 11 carries. Seems like he has a great shot at being a starting tailback in 2009.

Calvin Otis, CB

Had an outstanding year as the starting corner. His pickoff in the second half against Cornell set up the Lions' go-ahead score.

Mike Stephens, WR

Broke into the starting lineup and made an immediate impact. Finished first on the team in receiving yards and made a nice catch for a TD versus Towson. Did a decent job returning punts before being replaced by Austin Knowlin, including breaking off a 53-yarder against Lafayette. His crushing fumble against Princeton was a heart-breaker, but he bounced back nicely with courage. Hes becoming a fan favorite.


Lou Miller, DE

This junior had an explosive season, going from just 26 tackles as a sophomore to 68 in 2008. His 19.5 tackles for a loss led the Ivies, and he was also the league leader with eight sacks. In 2007, he had only four TFL's and one sack.

Austin Knowlin, WR/Special Teams

Still the most explosive player on the team despite seeing his receiving stats crash hard from last year. Scored four receiving TD's and two more on a pair of 76-yard punt returns on back-to-back weeks. Also made some great moves as a rusher on afew reverses and direct snaps. Was a key part of both Columbia wins, with a receiving TD versus Dartmouth and a back-breaking punt return for a score against Cornell.

M.A. Olawale, QB

Coaches finally set him loose at the end of the Dartmouth game and he won the game with a brilliant drive capped off by a 10-yard TD run. Ran all over Cornell in the week 9 win at Wien Stadium as well. In the season finale, he became the first Lion rusher to gain 100 yards or more since Jordan Davis did it in week 3 of 2007. His 70-yard run in that Brown game was the longest rush from scrimmage for any Ivy player in 2008. We still don't know the extent of his injury from that game, but he certainly has a lot of time to recover.

Evan Sanford, C

Starting at center for the first time, Sanford did a great job controlling the middle and opening up holes. With the graduations of senior Ralph DeBernado and Mike Brune from the O-line, Sanford will probably be the leader of that crucial unit next year.

Taylor Joseph, WR/LS

Often-overlooked player who just keeps doing whatever his teams asks of him. Had another solid year as a receiver with 30 catches for 365 yards, Also was forced into emergency duty as the long snapper due to another player's injury and did improve as the season went along.

Andy Shalbrack, S

The elder statesman of a young secondary thrived in his leadership role in 2008. Shut down a number of opposing passing attacks in his area and made two key interceptions in Columbia's two wins.


Drew Quinn, LB

After an injury-plagued 2007 season, Quinn burst back onto the scene and went from 62 tackles, (with just 1.5 TFL's), to 88 stops with 5 TFL's. He also had a interception return for a TD and two forced fumbles.

Mike Brune, OL

Generally seen by opposing teams as the best Lion offensive lineman on a team that improved by leaps and bounds in total rushing yards gained, (627 on 2007 to 1,397 in 2008), and went from 28 sacks allowed in 2007 to just 16 allowed in 2008.

Ralph DeBernardo, OL

Also battled injuries and gained back enough weight to start all 10 games on the line. Moved to guard in the final two games to accommodate an injury to Quirk and the resulting reshuffle.

Jon Rocholl

Had a really solid year as a field goal kicker, nailing 9 of 11 attempts, including a 47-yarder that was the longest successful FG in the Ivies in 2008. Still looked good as a punter as well. He also had his best season on kickoffs. He will be sorely missed next season.


M.A. Olawale

Austin Knowlin

Evan Sanford


Lou Miller

Alex Gross

Owen Fraser

Drew Quinn


Ray Rangel

Started getting into a groove as a runner and as a receiver. Scored key TD's in both Columbia wins. Had a huge first half against Penn, keeping Columbia in the game.

Lou Miller

Mike Stephens

Zack Kourouma

Adam Mehrer


Lou Miller

Alex Gross

M.A. Olawale

Austin Knowlin

Fordham's Fade Out

Xavier Martin couldn't deliver a winning season in The Bronx

The FCS playoffs begin today, and none of Columbia's non-Ivy opponents are participating. At the beginning of the 2008 season, Fordham was picked to be in these playoffs by the writers covering the Patriot League.

But it didn't work out that way.

The Rams finished he season a disappointg 5-6 and just 1-5 in the Patriot League. That was despite 1,090 rushing yards from speedy sophomore tailback Xavier Martin and a super season for junior QB John Skelton who finished with almost 2,500 yards passing, with TD passes against just 6 INT's.

The defense was not as good in 2008 as it was in 2007, but it's just not easy to figure out why Fordham laid an egg this year. They certainly were beatable when the Lions played them in Columbia's season opener, but a week later they gave eventual league champ Colgate one of their stiffest challenges of the season in an eventual 31-24 loss to the Raiders in the Bronx. The Rams had a 14-0 lead in that game at the end of the first quarter, by superstar Colgate runner Jordan Scott toasted them for 272 yards rushing by the end of the game an the Raiders scored 10 unaswered points to overcome a 24-21 deficit with 11 minutes left.

I think the level of play in the Ivies, especially at the top of the league, is usually good enough to send a real semfinal contender to the FCS playoffs. I semifinals, because after what I saw from Colgate's run to the finals in 2003, I'm not sure the Ivies have produced a team as good as that in the last 10 years or so. But of course, I am among thos ho think the Ivy presidents should relent and allow the Ivy football champs to advance to the playoffs.

Speaking of opponents in the FCs playoffs, Dartmouth played not one, but two teams in the playoffs today in Colgate and New Hampshire. They also played the Patriot League runner-up in Holy Cross. Is it any wonder the Big Green went 0-10? Dartmouth's very tough non-conference schedule is a long-standing thorn in the fans' side up in Hanover.

Of course, the Lions didn't exactly get a visit from the scheduling fairy either this year. Columbia had to play each of the top four teams in the Ivies on the road this year. I will be interesting to see how the Lions play against those same opponents at Wien Stadium next year.

Insipiration from ESPN?

So, I'm watching the Virginia-Virginia Tech game on ESPN today, (of course I'm also watching th Columbia-Stony Brook basketbal game on, and I see the heavily favored Hokies getting a run for their money from the Cavaliers shuttle QB system. The running QB, Vic Hall, looks like a smaller version of M.A. Olawale, and Virginia has been using him on most apparent running downs and they're using another QB on most apparent passing downs. It's a lot like the system Columbia used very successfully in 1994 with running QB Mike Cavanaugh and passing QB Jamie Schwalbe. That offense was the best the Lions have had in the last 25 years.

Might we see more of a shuttle QB system in 2009? I have absolutely no idea. But watching the Hokie-Cavalier game, (VTech eventually pulled out a 17-14 win), brought back nice memories and hope for the future.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Roster of Heroes

Rory Wilfork was a 3-time 1st teamer

A reader has asked just how many Columbia players have made 1st Team All Ivy over the past 25 years.

You ask, I, (always at least try to), deliver.

Columbia Football 1st Team All-Ivy (1984-2008)


Dan Upperco, TE

Len Genova, OG






Matt Sodl, DL




Matt Less, TE

Bart Barnett, LB


Gary Comstock, WR

Bruce Mayhew, QB

Galen Snyder, LB


Tom Boccafola, K

Des Werthman, LB


Sean Nichols, DL

Des Werthman, LB


Sean Nichols, DL


Brian Bassett, TE

Tony Petras, OL

Craig Valentine, OL

Jamie Schwalbe, QB

Eric Keck, DL

Marcellus Wiley, DL

Rory Wilfork, LB


Craig Valentine, OL

Rory Wilfork, LB


Marcellus Wiley, DL

Rory Wilfork, LB

Roy Hanks, DB


Bert Bondi, TE

Roy Hanks, DB


Kirby Mack, FB

Rashaan Curry, DE

Paul Roland, LB

Chris Tillotson, FS




Johnathan Reese, RB

Kirby Mack, LB

Philip Murray, FS




Philip Murray, FS


Nick Rudd, P


Wade Fletcher, DE

Michael Quarshie, DL




Matt Barsamian, OL

Tad Crawford, DB


Austin Knowlin, WR


Lou Miller, DL

Alex Gross, LB



YEARS WITH NO PLAYERS NAMED: 6, (1985, 1986, 1988, 1999, 2001, 2005)





Des Werthman, 1991, 1992

Sean Nichols, 1992, 1993

Craig Valentine, 1994, 1995

Rory Wilfork, 1994, 1995, 1996 *(ONLY 3-TIME WINNER)

Marcellus Wiley, 1994, 1996

Roy Hanks, 1996, 1997


Philip Murray, 2000, 2002

There are some interesting trends to note in this list. One thing that stands out is the much smaller number of offensive players named. Offensive players on successful teams in the Ivies tend to stand out in the coaches', (who do the voting), minds. That's especially true of starting quarterbacks.

For Columbia, the Lions have had just two 1st Team QB's. One was Bruce Mayhew, whose achievement is even more remarkable because he did it on a 1-9 Columbia team.

The only running back named in this 25-year period has been Johnathan Reese, but he too was named to the 1st team despite being on a 3-7 Lion team in 2000 that only went 1-6 in the Ivies.

It does appear that while defense wins championships, the teams that win championships are usually chock full of All Ivy offensive stars at the skill positions.

Rory Wilfork's 3-time 1st Team achievement looks better and better every year. I thought that Austin Knowlin had a great shot of matching it, but he will just have to hope for a 2-time appearance now.

The 5-4-1 1994 team that went 3-4 in the Ivies was the best represented on the 1st Team with 7 players. So it's strange that the 1996 team that went 8-2 and 5-2 in the Ivies only had three players on the 1st Team. I think the reason may be the very large number of close wins Columbia earned that year and the surprisingly weak offense that often relied on defensive scores to prop it up.

Of course, awards and honors are great. But we'd all rather celebrate an Ivy League championship season with no 1st Team All Ivy players than a second place season with 10 first-teamers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Little Off-Topic...

... but I have to ask.

I read this today by a great American thinker named Victor Davis Hanson. He is a professor at Stanford. Here's what he had to say:

"The K-12 public education system is essentially wrecked. No longer can any professor expect an incoming college freshman to know what Okinawa, John Quincy Adams, Shiloh, the Parthenon, the Reformation, John Locke, the Second Amendment, or the Pythagorean Theorem is."

Do the current Columbia students and parents agree?

Moreover, can we continue to tolerate attacks on the intellectual abilities of our athletes when the so-called "smarter non-athletes" may not even know one or more of the above topics?


QB Recruit?

The Boston Globe is reporting that Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School QB Ray Doucette is getting recruiting interest from Columbia, Harvard, Temple, and UMass.

The full story is here.

And the Boston Herald has a piece on talented linebacker Josh Boyd from Catholic Memorial High School. Columbia is one of the schools on his radar as well.

Siedlecki Out

Jack Siedlecki has left the building

I have confirmed from two separate Yale sources that Head Coach Jack Siedlecki has resigned. There have only been two Yale head football coaches in my lifetime, so this is a big deal. Siedlecki has been the Eli head coach since 1997.

For the many readers of this blog who have longed for some kind of on-the-field revenage against Mr. Siedlecki, this would be the time to let go I guess.

Let the search for a new coach in New Haven begin.

Farewell, Jack.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Decent Showing

Chris Pizzotti: Your Ivy League Player of the Year

So I was pretty close to getting everything I wanted from the All-Ivy honors list for Columbia's top players. There were some minor snubs, but nothing major.

Here's the complete list below:

Chris Pizzotti, Harvard (Sr., QB, Reading, Mass.)

Matthew Hanson, Harvard (Fr., DB, Lafayette, Colo.)

OL -- Daris Dale, Yale (Sr., Seattle, Wash.)
OL -- Paul Jasinowski, Brown (Jr., Washington, D.C.)
OL -- Shane Kelley, Brown (Sr., Naples, Fla.)
OL -- Chris Kovalcik, Penn (Sr., Westwood, Mass.)
OL -- James Williams, Harvard (Jr., Chestnut Hill, Mass.)
QB -- Chris Pizzotti, Harvard (Sr., Reading, Mass.)
RB -- *Jordan Culbreath, Princeton (Jr., Falls Church, Va.)
RB -- Mike McLeod, Yale (Sr., New Britain, Conn.)
WR -- Buddy Farnham, Brown (Jr., Andover, Mass.)
WR -- Matt Luft, Harvard (Jr., Thousand Oaks, Calif.)
WR -- Bobby Sewall, Brown (Jr., Portsmouth, R.I.)
TE -- *Colin Cloherty, Brown (Sr., Bethesda, Md.)
PK -- Andrew Samson, Penn (So., West Bloomfield, Mich.)

DL -- Matt Curtis, Harvard (Sr., Peabody, Mass.)
DL -- Kyle Hawari, Yale (Sr., Plano, Texas)
DL -- David Howard, Brown (Sr., Columbia, Md.)
DL -- Lou Miller, Columbia (Jr., Cincinnati, Ohio)
LB -- Bobby Abare, Yale (Sr., Acton, Mass.)
LB -- Glenn Dorris, Harvard (Sr., Marietta, Ga.)
LB -- Alex Gross, Columbia (So., Kettering, Ohio)
LB -- Eric Schultz, Harvard (Sr., Alpharetta, Ga.)
DB -- Andrew Berry, Harvard (Sr., Bel Air, Md.)
DB -- Tim Bax, Cornell (Sr., Chicago, Ill.)
DB -- Nkosi Still, Brown (Sr., Hyde Park, Mass.)
DB -- Chris Wynn, Penn (Jr., Flemington, N.J.)
P -- Robert Ranney, Brown (Sr., West Bloomfield, Mich.)

OL -- Matt Adkins, Brown (Sr., Alpharetta, Ga.)
OL -- Mike Brune, Columbia (Sr., Fort Wayne, Ind.)
OL -- Alex Spisak, Harvard (Jr., Charlotte, N.C.)
OL -- Mark Paski, Princeton, Chester, N.J.)
OL -- Steve Valenta, Cornell (Sr., Orland Park, Ill.)
QB -- Michael Dougherty, Brown (Sr., Davie, Fla.)
RB -- Michael DiMaggio, Penn (So., Sewell, N.J.)
RB -- Gino Gordon, Harvard (So., Bonita, Calif.)
RB -- Dereck Knight, Brown (Sr., Pawtucket, R.I.)
WR -- Jesse Baker, Cornell (Sr., Platteville, Wis.)
WR -- Austin Knowlin, Columbia (Jr., Newington, Conn.)
WR -- Will Thanheiser, Princeton (Sr., Houston, Texas)
TE -- Josh Koontz, Penn (Sr., Mechanicsburg, Pa.)
PK -- John Rocholl, Columbia (Sr., Fort Wayne, Ind.)

DL -- Peter Ajayi, Harvard (Sr., Brookyn, N.Y.)
DL -- Desmond Bryant, Harvard (Sr., Elizabethtown, N.C.)
DL -- Peter Buchignani, Princeton (Sr., Bloomington, Ill.)
DL -- Jim Develin, Brown (Jr., Gilbertsville, Pa.)
DL -- Joe Goniprow, Penn (Jr., Barrington, R.I.)
DL -- Joe Hathway, Yale (Sr., Clifton, N.J.)
DL -- Joe Rost, Penn (Sr., Carmichael, Calif.)
LB -- Jay Colabella, Penn (Jr., West Harrison, N.Y.)
LB -- Jake Lewko, Penn (Jr., Medford, N.J.)
LB -- Drew Quinn, Columbia (Sr., Maineville, Ohio)
LB -- Steve Ziogas, Brown (Sr., Bristol, Conn.)
DB -- Larry Abare, Yale (Sr., Acton, Mass.)
DB -- Chris Perkins, Brown (Jr., Bridgeton, Mo.)
DB -- Steve Santoro, Yale (Sr., Airmont, N.Y.)
DB -- Ian Wilson, Dartmouth (Sr., Burbank, Calif.)
DB -- Collin Zych, Harvard (So., Plano, Texas)
P -- Tom Mante, Yale (Jr., Westford, Mass.)

OL -- Quentin Bernhard, Cornell (Jr., Alameda, Calif.)
OL -- Zach Copple, Harvard (Sr., Lincoln, Neb.)
OL -- Ty Davis, Yale (Sr., Fresno, Calif.)
OL -- Ryan Pilconis, Harvard (Sr., Pottsville, Pa.)
OL -- Tom Rodger, Harvard (Sr., Glen Ridge, N.J.)
QB -- Nathan Ford, Cornell (Sr., Palo Alto, Calif.)
RB -- Milan Williams, Dartmouth (Sr., Mobile, Ala.)
WR -- Tim McManus, Dartmouth (So., St. Paul, Minn.)
WR -- Brian Walters, Cornell (Jr., Bothel, Wash.)
TE -- Jason Miller, Harvard (Sr., Zionsville, Ind.)
PK -- Patrick Long, Harvard (Jr., Wilmington, N.C.)
PK -- Tom Mante, Yale (Jr., Westford, Mass.)

DL -- Owen Fraser, Columbia (Fr., Newburgh, N.Y.)
DL -- Matt Koch, Princeton (Sr., Ponte Verde, Fla.)
DL -- Guillermo Ruffolo, Penn (Sr., Webster, N.Y.)
LB -- Scott Britton, Princeton (Jr., Newton, Pa.)
LB -- Steven Cody, Princeton (So., Midlothian, Va.)
LB -- Brady Hart, Yale (Sr., State College, Pa.)
LB -- Graham Rihn, Cornell (Sr., Allison Park, Pa.)
DB -- Miles Craigwell, Brown (Sr., Boston, Mass.)
DB -- Britton Ertman, Penn (Sr., Manhattan Beach, Calif.)
DB -- Casey Gerald, Yale (Sr., Dallas, Texas)
DB -- Matthew Hanson, Harvard (Fr., Lafayette, Colo.)
DB -- Jay Pilkerton, Yale (Sr., Nashville, Tenn.)
DB -- Paul Rice, Yale (Jr., Cleveland Heights, Ohio)
P -- Ryan Coyle, Princeton (Sr., Princeton, N.J.)
P -- John Rocholl, Columbia (Sr., Fort Wayne, Ind.)
P -- Brian Scullin, Dartmouth (Sr., Alexandra, Va.)

* - Unanimous Selection

My biggest regret is that Ralph DeBernardo was not mentioned at all, but it's a tough deal when you play O-line on a team that scored so few points overall.

The good news was the recognition of both Fraser and Knowlin.

Other points of note:

-Junior Lou Miller was the only non-senior defensive lineman on the first team.

-Sophomore Alex Gross was the only non-senior linebacker on the first team. Gross and Penn's kicker Andrew Samson were the only sophomore first-teamers.

-Cornell and Dartmouth were completely shut out of the first team roster. Dartmouth had only one player on the 2nd team, and Cornell had just two.

-All the wide receivers on the first team were juniors, along with Austin Knowlin who made the second team as a junior WR.

-I thought choosing Pizzotti for the Bushnell Cup was a solid choice. As a graduating senior, he goes out on top. Not on top was last year's winner Mike McLeod. We'll probably never know if offensive line attrition or injury was the biggest reason for his drop off from 2007.

-It's downright scary that Harvard's Luft and Brown's Sewall and Farnham will be back next season. It really makes it a lot easier for both of those teams as they look for new starting QB's.

Comment away...

Monday, November 24, 2008

For Your Consideration

Alex Gross turned the league on its head

We should get the All Ivy and Bushnell Cup honoree names sometime today or tomorrow. Even though Columbia was a 2-8 team, the Lions should be well represented on the list.

Some of our players that should be in the running for All Ivy consideration are:

1st Team

Lou Miller, DE

Led the Ivies in sacks, tackles for a loss, total tackles for a defensive lineman. He should be a no-brainer first teamer.

Alex Gross, LB

Led the Ivies in tackles. Had 17 more than the #2 tackler in the league. Only Yale's Bobby Abare had more solo tackles.

Ralph DeBarnardo and Mike Brune, OT

Columbia went from dead last in rushing yardage to fourth. They also allowed the third-fewest sacks for the season. Much of that was thanks to DeBernardo and Brune.

2nd Team

Drew Quinn, LB

Fourth in the Ivies in total tackles. Led a defense that went from dead last in rush defense to third.

Austin Knowlin, Special Teams

All-around weapon had fewer catches this season, but he was explosive in limited duty as a punt and kick returner. Led the league in punt return average and had two 76-yard TD's.

Evan Sanford, C

Contributed to Columbia's new rushing success. Steady in a storm.

Owen Fraser, NT

Made an immediate impact as a freshman, plugging up the Lions pourous middle. Can also be considered for rookie of the year.

Honorable Mention

M.A. Olawale

Proved to be the best running QB in the Ivies, and maybe the best runner overall. He had longest run from scrimmage in the league this year with his 70-yarder for a TD versus Brown.

Adam Mehrer, S

Finished tied for second in the league with 4 interceptions. Improved with more playing time as a sophomore.

Calvin Otis, CB

Sophomore starter shut down sideline patterns and delivered several lethal hits.

Jon Rocholl, K/P

Solid punter who also nailed the longest field goal in the Ivies this season, (a 47-yarder against the wind versus Cornell). Overall, went 9-11 in FG kicks.

Blown Away

Hopefully Columbia will be celebrating like this in the near future

Brown 41 Columbia 10

Why Brown Won

The Bears controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball all day. QB Michael Dougherty used his time well and surgically shredded the Columbia defense, especially on third down plays. The defense shut down every aspect of the Lion offense except for QB M.A. Olawale's running. Once he went down, Columbia's chances to win were dashed.

Why Columbia Lost

Columbia never pressured one of the best QB's in the league, and that spelled disaster on defense. On offense, the passing game never got on track.

Key Turning Points

-After getting a three-and-out on the game's opening possession, Columbia was snakebitten by a freak turnover on the ensuin Brown punt. The wind hung up the kick and it landed on the back of an unsuspecting A.J. Maddox's leg. Brown recovered in Lion territory and scored a touchdown on the drive.

-With the score tied 7-7, Brown started a drive at their own 4 and got all the way to the Columbia 20 before turning over on downs on a great 4th down stand by the Lions defense. But the Columbia offense went three-and-out and Brown took the short field after a short punt and scored a quick TD to grab the momentum back for good.

In general, this was Columbia's worst performance of the year, especially on defense. It was truly a shame to end the season this way, but with roughly 300 days to go before the 2009 season, getting any real momentum to carry over into next season is hard to do in any case.

I don't have any information on the extent of Olwale's injury, and I wouldn't expect anyone to get anything solid in the way of a prognosis for awhile. I don't think Columbia or anyone in college football is required to make those kinds of updates available in the offseason period.

Of course there is a lot to churn through as I try to get a handle on the season right now. There's no getting around the disappointing nature os a 2-8 year, but I do want to end this post with a positive note: We have rarely had this kind of talent or depth on a Columbia footbal team and never in my lifetime have we had this kind of talent and depth at the same time. You just can't dispute those facts and certainly there are a lot of reasons to be more optimistic for next season.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Columbia-Brown Keys to the Game

The wind is expected to pick up right at kickoff

1) Establish the Run, Control the Clock, and SCORE!

Everyone and their brother is going to say stopping the Brown passing attack is the key to winning this game for Columbia. True enough, but the only problem is you can't really stop it. Brown QB Michael Dougherty will get his completions and Sewell, Farnham, and Cloherty will get their catches.

But I'd like to see all that happen in haste, after Columbia has chewed the clock with a series of M.A. Olawale 3rd down-converting rushes and long Lion TD drives. Columbia almost had that scenario working last week against Cornell, but too many Lion drives ended with no points. Columbia was good enough to beat the Big Red last week, but they'll need to finish drives with scores to beat the Bears tomorrow.

Olawale doesn't have to be the only runner. Zack Kourouma, Ray Rangel and Jordan Davis can get into the mix too. Brown has made a living this year stuffing the run, but if Olawale can loosen them up with his scrambles, the Bear "D" may get winded pretty quickly. Passing will be important, and Olawale will need to complete 15 passes or so at least... but I think the Lions can take Brown way out of its comfort zone by running successfully.

2) Pressure on Dougherty

Dougherty isn't Nathan Ford, but he throws interceptions when he's rushed. He has 10 picks this year and could be ripe for more if the wind is as strong as expected tomorrow. This is going to be a huge game for the defensive ends; Lou Miller, Phil Mitchell, Conor Joyce and, if he breaks onto the travel team, Matt Bashaw. This is Miller's chance to make one final argument for being placed on the All Ivy 1st team. This is Mitchell's chance to have the dominant game rushing the passer we've waited for all season long.

The tricky thing here is that the Lions may have to get this pressure going without the help of blitzing linebackers. With all the short passing targets available for Dougherty, it seems too dangerous to leave guys open. The Lion linebackers did very nicely last week against Cornell holding the receivers to 4-5 yard gains with immediate tackles after those short passes. Safety or corner blitzes would be even riskier. Showing the blitz and then backing off may be the best strategy, especially if it induces some false starts or other Brown mistakes.

3) Win on Special Teams

The special teams battle here will be critical, especially if the wind really is a big factor. When the Lions are facing the wind, they'll have to make sure they still get decent kicks off and get down the field in time to cover the return. When they have the wind at their backs, they'll need to take full advantage and not do anything careless, like booting kickoffs out of bounds. The wind is expected to be so strong at gametime that wind chills will be about 20 or lower. I wish that would translate into big problems for the Brown passing game... and it might. But it's more likely to play a role in special teams.

4) Feed off the Crowd, and Brown's Planned Celebration

The Bears will be fired up and so will the crowd* as they anticipate celebrating a title. That kind of enthusiasm should pump up the Lions on the other side of the field too. Not that enthusiasm has been a problem for this Columbia team this year, but I'd like to see them turn it up a notch tomorrow.

(*The crowd is likely to be much more fired up than the kids remaining on campus. Today's Brown student paper has NO SEPARATE ARTICLE on tomorrow's game or the football team at all! All the team gets on the verge of winning a title is two paragraphs in a general "what to look for in sports this weekend" story. Whoa!)

Week 10 Picks

Last Week: 3-0!

Overall: 27-12

Princeton over Dartmouth

This has been one of those games over the years where you can throw out the records coming in, because the underdogs always seem to play a lot better than expected. But at the end of the day, you have to lean towards the Tigers because they are at home and they have a great runner in Jordan Culbreath. But with 0-10 staring them in the face, the Big Green will give Princeton a fight.

Penn over Cornell

This is another shaky pick for me. Cornell is really a very much better team at home than they are on the road and this game is at Schoelkopf. But Penn has pieced together something of an offense with their replacement QB Kieffer Garton, and Cornell isn't going to pass for 300+ yards against the Quakers.

Harvard over Yale

Yet another tough call here. Harvard should win, but the Crimson have been relying too much on the pass this season and the Elis have the best pass defense in the Ivies. But the Yale pass rush isn't the reason why, the secondary is, and that won't be enough against Harvard's bobbing-and-weaving receiving corps. This could be one of the best games ever in the storied series.

History in the Making

Brown Stadium and Yale Bowl are the only remaining Ivies with natural grass

If you're a fan of Ivy League Football, I'd say there's a 99.99999% chance you're also a history fan. You know, the kind of guy or gal who watches the History Channel, The American Experience on PBS, and you don't miss The NFL's Greatest Games on ESPN2, (holy God, that is a good show! And the sooner they make more of those... especially more of the NFL playoff games from the 70's and 80's, the better).

Brown is on the verge of making history tomorrow as the Bears could win their fourth-ever Ivy title, their second-ever solo title... or they could finish out of the winner's circle entirely. Another subplot is the current seniors in Providence could be the first Brown football players to ever win more than just one title. This is truly a historic turnaround for what had traditionally been one of the basement teams in the Ivies.

But Columbia can make history too. In addition to being in the prime position to play the spoiler, the Lions can win three league games for the first time in five years and finish in the middle of the Ivy pack after being picked by everyone to come in dead last.

Columbia can finish all alone in 5th place if they win and:

-Penn beats Cornell

-Dartmouth beats Princeton

If Cornell, Princeton, and Columbia win they all finish tied for 5th.

But most importantly, a Columbia win tomorrow would make history because it would be the first Lion win over a first-division Ivy team since 1996! (Columbia did beat 2nd place Harvard in 2003, but the Crimson were playing that day without starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, so I'm not counting that one).

That's big.

When the Lions pulled out a thrilling 22-21 win over the Bears at Brown Stadium in 2006, I get a little carried away. At the end of the day, Brown was a 2-8 team, and Columbia had only won 2 Ivy games that season.

Even though a 5-5 season is beyond Columbia's reach tomorrow, you could argue that a win against Brown would mean a lot more. The three Ivy wins are on the line and again, the first win in 12 years against an Ivy foe that finished in the top three.

Like I said, Big.

Not off the Radar

ESPN's Chris Fowler proved that the big-time college football reporters aren't completely oblivious when it comes to the historic Ivy race this year. In his latest blog, Fowler talks about the possible four-way tie and even has something nice to say about our Lions:

"It could happen if Yale wins at Harvard (the Elis actually have a winning record there, and it is the 40th anniversary of the infamous 29-29 tie) … and Brown is upset by Columbia (which is coming off a win and has been very competitive) … and Penn loses at Cornell, which is not far-fetched at all."

Columbia-Cornell: The Real Rivalry

I've made the case for considering Cornell our true Ivy football and basketball rival a few times over the years.

The basketball argument is easy to sell. As travel partners, we usually open the Ivy season agains Cornell and we see the same other opponents back-to-back the rest of the season.

Now Columbia can't make a case that the Lions and the Big Red are one of the best bets, if not the best bet, in the Ivies for a close contest year after year with very little long-term dominance by either school.

Since 1989, Columbia and Cornell have played 20 games. Columbia has won 10, and Cornell has won 10. Neither team has won more than three in a row, (Columbia did it from 1992-94).

Cornell fans probably like to consider Penn as their biggest rival, but the last 20 games don't bear that out as well. The Big Red is 7-13 over those 20 games, and has won a share of just one Ivy title in that period where Penn has won seven championships since 1988.

Below is a look at the results of the last 20 meetings between all the other Ivy rivals. You'll see that only two other Ivy rivalries, Brown-Dartmouth and Cornell-Yale are also even at 10-10.


Brown 16 wins, Columbia 4 wins


Brown 12 wins, Cornell 8 wins


Brown 10 wins, Dartmouth 10 wins


Harvard 13 wins, Brown 7 wins


Penn 12 wins, Brown 8 wins


Princeton 14 wins, Brown 6 wins


Yale 12 wins, Brown 8 wins


Dartmouth 14 wins, Columbia 6 wins


Harvard 16 wins, Columbia 4 wins


Penn 17 wins, Columbia 3 wins


Princeton 16 wins, Columbia 4 wins


Yale 15 wins, Columbia 5 wins


Cornell 11 wins, Dartmouth 9 wins


Cornell 11 wins, Harvard 9


Penn 13 wins, Cornell 7 wins


Princeton 11 wins, Cornell 9 wins


Cornell 10 wins, Yale 10 wins


Harvard 13 wins, Dartmouth 6 wins, 1 tie


Penn 14 wins, Dartmouth 6 wins


Dartmouth 10 wins, Princeton 9 wins, 1 tie


Dartmouth 11 wins, Yale 9 wins


Penn 12 wins, Harvard 8 wins


Harvard 13 wins, Princeton 7 wins


Harvard 11 wins, Yale 9 wins


Penn 13 wins, Princeton 7 wins


Penn 13 wins, Yale 7 wins


Yale 11 wins, Princeton 9 wins

I think the relative even nature of most of these rivalries, (with the exception of the Columbia matchups, unfortunately), speaks volumes about the even nature of the league, despite the fact that it seems like just 2-3 teams have dominated the league for the last two decades.

Hopefully, the next 20 years will be kinder to Columbia. The Lions have chance to scratch a win this Saturday against one of the teams that's dominated them the most over that period. Brown's rise may have been to some degree at Columbia's expense... as was Penn's rise from the ashes of the league beginning in the early 1980's.

Now it's time to climb over someone else.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Blow Them Down

It's going to be cold... and it's a darned open-air press box!!!


The latest reports are calling for a very windy day in Providence this Saturday, with a 22 mile-per-hour wind and gusts much higher than that.

It's possible this will throw a major wrench into Brown's passing game, and if the contest becomes a showdown between the Bears running game and the Lions running game... I like Columbia's chances.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Up from the Ashes or, If a Tree Grows in the Forest...

Mark Whipple is now a coach with the Philadelphia Eagles

Flash back with me to November 21, 1992. Columbia has just defeated Brown 34-28 to seal an 0-10 season for the Bears. The Brown program seems to have hit an absolute bottom. Columbia seems to be on the rise with two straight wins to finish off a 3-7 season, the most the program has earned in 14 years.

Two programs going in different directions, right?

How deceiving that was.

In fairness, Columbia did ascend to historic heights in the 4-5 years after that game. But from that day until now, it's been Brown that has maintained an almost unmitigated rise from the ashes of the Ivies.

The following season, Brown went to work immediately with a 12-3 win in the season opener at Yale. They slogged a bit through the midseason before finishing strong, getting wins over Harvard and Columbia for a 4-6 season, 3-4 Ivy. They did it with just ONE player on the first AND second team all Ivy, offensive lineman Walton Smith.

Then in 1994, just two years removed from a complete goose egg of a season, the Bears truly growled. They won their last four games of the season to finish 7-3 and 4-3 in the Ivies. The same sophomores who slumped off the field at Wien Stadium 0-10 in 1992, trotted out of the same stadium as seniors at 7-3 with a crushing 59-27 win over the same Lions, (after Columbia had a 27-10 lead in the third quarter, no less).

Since then, Brown has suffered through just two losing seasons and has won two Ivy titles, (1999 and 2005), with a shot at a third this Saturday.

It's an amazing turnaround that has stood the test of time for 16 years now. A number of people deserve credit for the feat, and former head coach Mark Whipple who took over in 1994, is chief among them.

Here's where the "tree grows in the forest" thing comes in. The Brown football tree has been growing for almost a generation now, but no one there seems to be seeing it grow. So is it really growing?

Not many people in the Brown world seem to care all that much. I daresay that if and when Columbia finally wins an Ivy title and starts sustaining several winning seasons in a row, Wien Stadium will be pretty regularly packed and the students and local media will be all over the continuing story.

The folks at Brown seem to have barely noticed. You're lucky if you find even one article about football in the Brown student paper on any given WEEK, let alone day. And this is true even during this great season for the team. Providence is a smaller town than New York, I realize, but it's not smaller than Princeton, Hanover, or Ithaca. I'm not sure why there isn't more interest or attendance at Brown games.

A little rain scared away just about everyone from the Bears homecoming game against Harvard earlier this year. Just 5,600 people showed up to see the thrilling 24-22 Bears win.

Again, I realize Columbia hasn't always had the best attendance either. But the Lions are not contending for a championship this season, and Brown is. What gives?

I do expect the crowd the be decent on Saturday as no rain is in the forecast, (but it is going to be cold at about 37 degrees), and in 2005 the Brown people did come out in good numbers to see their team clinch the title at Columbia.

But will the 20,000-seat Brown Stadium be bursting at the seams. I hope it will be, but I doubt it.

Big Green Hitting Bottom

16 years after the last 0-10 season in the Ivies, Dartmouth appears to be headed for the same fate at 0-9 and heading on the road to Princeton for the final game of the year.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about why I thought the Big Green would avoid the 0-10 mark. But now, I really don't see how they will avoid it.

Princeton is not a very strong team right now, especially offensively. But it's seems good enough to beat a Dartmouth team that is still banged up and definitely looking to next year with the decision to start freshmen Conner Kempe the last few games.

It would be a pretty big upset if the Big Green pulls out a win at Princeton Stadium Saturday. The Tigers' Jordan Culbreath should find some big holes to run through and I'm not sure any of the Dartmouth runners will enjoy the same room against even against a defense that's 7th in the Ivies against the run.

Could hitting 0-10 be a blessing in disguise for Dartmouth? Will the Big Green rise from the ashes like Brown did in the early 90's? I suppose anything is possible, but my impression is that the recruiting atmosphere is more competitive now than ever. That makes it harder for quick turnarounds or even slow turnarounds these days.

But perhaps an 0-10 will wake up some alumni and get them more active in supporting the program in Hanover.

One thing I do know is that after Columbia went 0-9 in 1984, and 0-10 in 1985, '86 and '87, it was truly no fun. I don't wish that on the folks at Dartmouth.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Grounded to a Halt?

James Develin leads the Bears run "D"

Brown's surprise strength this season has been rush defense. The Bears are giving up just 71 yards per game on the ground. That's way down from the 181 yards per game they allowed in 2007, as Brown is enjoying a similar turnaround as Columbia is this season in that category.

Brown's big defensive line, led by junior end James Develin hasn't racked up many sacks, but they've closed down the middle for the most part and haven't allowed anyone to push them around. The best performance of the season on the ground this season against the Bears seemingly came during the game against Princeton when Jordan Culbreath was getting better than four yards a clip against them. But a lot of those yards were gained after the game was decided and Brown pretty much had Culbreath contained.

But are the Bears really that good against the run? Yes. But have they had to face a running QB as fast and strong as M.A. Olawale and a rushing attack as varied as the Lions? No. And I think Brown would be caught off guard defensively if Columbia didn't cower in the face of that run defense and showed them a ground attack right off the bat.

Speaking of catching a teamm off guard, how tough is the sell job Bears head coach Phil Estes has this week? After lecturing his team all last week about how they couldn't sleep on Dartmouth despite the Big Green's 0-8 record, Brown ended up leading 14-0 before Dartmouth had even taken two offensive snaps! Now Estes, has to convince his players that the Lions can sneak up on them too if they're not careful.

People who have followed up close Columbia all year know that's true, but I'm not sure after last week's easy win that Estes' players will go for it this time. I think they'll look at the Lions' weaker passing numbers the last few weeks and figure this is a game that plays to their strengths. I think they'll figure it'll be as easy to stop Olawale as it has been to stop Mike McLeod, Gino Gordon, Mike DiMaggio, etc.

The conventional wisdom on beating Brown is to find a way to stop their passing game. But I think the way to beat them on Saturday is to run it down their throats, get and early lead, and then see if they can stop Olawale on QB draws, Austin Knowlin on reverses and piches, and Zack Kourouma on sweeps... with a little Ray Rangel and Jordan Davis mixed in.

Getting back to Kourouma, I wonder if this will be the week where we find out if Kourouma is as impressive after getting 10-15 carries as he is after getting just 2 or 3.

This is the deepest running attack in both personnel and scheme that we have seen at Columbia in decades. No Ivy team comes close to presenting the kind of variety the Lions can on the ground. Let's see if Brown can stop it. If they do, then Millie or Shane Kelly can throw the ball too.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Best Case Scenario

The folks in the Ivy League office have to be giddy about the situation we have going into the final weekend of the football season. Four of the eight teams in the league, (Brown, Harvard, Penn and Yale), have a legitimate shot of getting some piece of the league title by the end of the day Saturday and two of the other four teams in the Ivies, (Columbia and Cornell), get the chance to play big-time spoliers.

The other game on Saturday, Dartmouth at Princeton, has drama too as the Big Green will try to avoid becoming the first Ivy team to go 0-10 since Brown laid the goose egg in 1992.

For Columbia, there's a very good chance to finish right in the middle of pack after being picked overwhelmingly to finish dead last in the league in the preseason poll. A win over Brown added with a Penn win over Cornell and a Dartmouth win over Princeton would give the Lions sole possession of fifth place. Not bad for a 0-7 team in the league last season.

On the individual front, the final weekend probably won't pack as much drama. Only one Ivy rusher, Princeton's Jordan Culbreath, has a shot at getting 1,000 yards for the season. But at 930 yards coming in against Dartmouth's worst-in-the-league rush defense, Culbreath seems like a good bet.

For the QB's, Harvard's Chris Pizzotti has 17 TD passes and just four interceptions, giving him a pass efficiency rating just under a stunning 150 for the season. The trouble is, he'll have to maintain those numbers against a super-stingy Yale defense that has thrived against the pass this year.

Some of the individual stat races on defense are basically over, and some are neck-and-neck.

Columbia's Alex Gross has pulled away in what had been a very close race for the total tackles crown. Going into the final weekend, the Lions super sophomore linebacker has 96 tackles and a 12 tackle lead over Dartmouth's Ian Wilson. Fellow Lion Drew Quinn is fourth with 80 stops and the senior about to play his final game is just one tackle behind Princeton's Steven Cody for third place.

Lou Miller has also put away the race for total tackles for a loss. The junior defensive end for Columbia has an amazing 18.5 TFL's, seven more than #2 Matt Curtis of Harvard and 8.5 more than #3 Bobby Abare of Yale. Miller is also still #1 in sacks with 8, but he is only one sack ahead of Kyle Hawari of Yale right now. In total tackles, Miller has blown away every other defensive lineman in the Ivies, with 61 stops. A distant second among linemen is Hawari with 42.

(It is my sinking feeling that somehow the coaches will snub Miller and keep him off the first team All Ivy list. That just can't be allowed to happen. Miller can make an excellent case for being the best defensive linemen in the league this year, and is certainly in the top four).

Columbia's Adam Mehrer is among five players tied for the league lead with four interceptions going into the last game. The sophomore safety should get plenty of opportunities versus Brown's pass-happy offense.

Some Other Interesting Stats

-Columbia's rush defense is now allowing just 97 yards per game. That's 59% fewer yards than last years 237 yards allowed per game. Even the Dow Jones isn't down that much over the past year!

-Despite getting nailed for a ton of yards through the air over the last two games, Columbia is still in the middle of the pack in overall pass defense. But a more telling stat is TD passes allowed. The Lions have given up only 10 TD passes, and that's second in the Ivies behind Yale's 6... and let's see where Yale is after this coming weekend against the Crimson. Also, the drop off in pass defense is deceiving in that opposing teams are being forced to throw against Columbia much, much more than the past three seasons and that's skewing the numbers.

-Columbia and Yale are tied for the team lead in sacks with 20 while the Lions have allowed just 13 sacks against.

-The Lions are second in the league in rushing offense, just eight yards per contest behind league leader Princeton. Columbia hasn't been out of the basement in rushing offense in many years.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Goal Line Grand

The defense put the offense on its backs for a big win (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics/Gene Boyars)

Columbia 17 Cornell 7

Why Columbia Won

The defense was dominant, limiting Cornell to just 48 yards rushing and somehow holding the Big Red to just 7 points on 376 yards passing. The four interceptions of Cornell QB Nathan Ford, along with four sacks sealed the deal.

Why Cornell Lost

Other than one stage of the game late in the second quarter, the Big Red offense wasn't consistent. After making an adjustment to stop the strong early Lion rushing attack, the Big Red had no more answers when Columbia readjusted and moved the ball well on the ground again in the late second half.

Key Turning Points

1) With the game tied at 7-7 and less than a minute to go, Cornell had a 1st and goal at the Lion 3. After an incomplete pass, the Big Red tried three straight Nathan Ford rushes and couldn't get it in the end zone. The Lions took over on downs and were able to preserve the tie going into the locker room.

2) After Columbia squandered is first two possessions of the second half that started inside Big Red territory, Cornell started a drive on their own 20 and began to move. One first down from the Columbia 45, Calvin Otis made a great play to intercept a Ford pass and the Lions got the ball at their own 22.

3) Columbia's ensuing drive stalled at the Cornell 30, but Jon Rocholl convinced the coaches to let him try a 47-yard field goal against the wind. The kick sailed through and the Lions had a 10-7 lead with a little more than two minutes left in the 3rd quarter.

4) The game hit another lull until midway through the fourth quarter when Austin Knowlin reversed his field 3-4 times, broke 5-6 tackles and sprinted into the south end zone with a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown. That made it 17-7 and the Lions defense made it stand up.

-Knowlin's TD was foreshadowed earlier in the game, when he reversed his field twice on a busted reverse play that should have gone for a five yard loss but ended up as a seven yard gain.

-The Lions offense squandered some golden opportunities, but it avoided the big mistake and did not turn the ball over once in the game.

-Lou Miller had another stellar game, with three tackles for a loss including a sack. How they keep him off the All Ivy first-team defense will be beyond me if he indeed doesn't get that honor at season's end.

-M.A. Olawale had a solid day, making a number of great running plays and avoiding any bad throws. This was the first game that he started wire to wire, and he did not seem to tire out at all.

-Alex Gross had an incredible 15 tackles, including one sack and an interception. He should be the Ivy League's leading tackler when the stats come out Monday. He too, deserves to be on the All Ivy first team.

-The Cornell offense never got deeper than the Columbia 39 yard line throughout the second half.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cornell-Columbia Keys to the Game

Drew Quinn and the seniors make their final home appearance tomorrow

It looks like it will be another wet day at Wien tomorrow, and the wind could be a factor too.

1) Pick Off Nathan Ford

Columbia's defense has been very strong this year, but one glaring weakness has been a lack of interceptions. Picks will be crucial tomorrow as Cornell QB Nathan Ford has thrown quite a few this season and if he is able to avoid interceptions, he will have a huge day. Getting interceptions will also likely the result of good pressure on Ford, and that's another key to the game.

2) Get the Screens and Short Passes Going

You can really hurt the Big Red with short passing, despite the fact that they see that attack coming at them all the time in practice. Some short passes may also open things up for the deep passing attack later on, and some straight-ahead running throughout the game.

3) Cover the Kicks

Bryan Walters is having a good season returning kicks, as usual. But he's not doing as well as he did in his freshman and sophomore years. He's still dangerous though and can win close games on his own if allowed. The Big Red as a team have also covered up a lot of weaknesses on offense and defense thanks to a myriad of blocked kicks and stuffed returns. Columbia's kicking game needs to be as on the ball as possible.

4) Set the Tone

Columbia has lost a lot of games this season where they've outplayed the competition, but I can't think of more than one game this year where the Lions set the pace and tempo for the game. I think the best tempo for Columbia will be a slower one, forcing the Big Red to grind it out rather than move up and down the field quickly. The Lions can do that by stuffing the short passes on defense, and getting good running yards on offense.

Week 9 Picks

Last Week: 0-3!

Overall 24-12

Well, I put up my first-ever goose egg for a weekend last Saturday by overestimating Dartmouth, underestimatin Yale, and falling victim to Princeton's schizophrenic offensive play this year.

Brown over Dartmouth

Brown's offense went completely flat against Yale last week at home, and now the Bears clear path to the Ivy title is muddled. But Dartmouth is just to weak at too many key positions to win this game. The Big Green's best chance to avoid the dreaded 0-10 will be next week against Princeton.

Yale over Princeton

Yale's defense is really hitting its stride right now, and the Princeton offense is really sputtering despite the continued fine play of tailback Jordan Culbreath. The Elis should pull this one out.

Harvard over Penn

Penn's defense is good, but not good enough to stop Chris Pizzotti and all his dangerous receivers. The Crimson are playing with great confidence now that they have a much better shot at winning the title.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Scouting Cornell

I went to a little school called Cornell... have you HEARD of it?

Cornell is another one of those Ivy teams that's a little hard to figure out. The Big Red began the season 3-0, highlighted by a great defensive effort in a 17-14 home win over Yale.

But then the bottom fell out as Cornell lost four in a row with only one of those games being close, (the 31-26 loss to Princeton at home), before burying reeling Dartmouth at Schoelkopf last weekend.

For a 4-4 team, the Big Red's stats are right in line. They're giving up about as much rushing yards as they gain, and passing for about the same amount of yards as they give up.

The quarterback, Nathan Ford, is throwing for a lot of yards and TD's, but also lots of interceptions.

The leading running backs, Randy Barbour and Luke Siwula, have their moments but both are averaging under four yards per carry.

The leading tackler, Tim Bax, is in the secondary... which is a bad sign, (for Cornell, that is).

You could crunch the stats more for additional evidence of why the Big Red are a prototypical .500 team, but the Columbia-Cornell series over the last 20 years has really not been about stats. The two New York Ivies have played an overwhelming number of close and exciting games since 1989 no matter where they were sitting in the standings.

Last year was one of the very rare years when the game was not really that close. A touchdown return on the opening kickoff began a flurry of bad luck for the Lions that ended in a 34-14 loss. You have to go back to 1990, when the Big Red drubbed the Lions in rain-drenched game by 41-0, to find the last home game when Columbia was routed by Cornell.

But since 1989, Cornell leads the tight series 10 wins to 9 with 10 of those games decided by a touchdown or less.

I expect this weekend's game to be tight again, and another test for the young but very talented Lions secondary.

Fuller Stands?

The Cornell-Columbia game is usually very well attended, thanks to regularly strong attendance from the Cornell alumni who make the game a big event at their alumni club. That includes a short parade, rain or shine.

Speaking of Cornell alums, perhaps the most famous Cornell alum these days is the fictional "Andy Bernard" character from NBC's The Office.

The character actually mentioned Nathan Ford's name during a funny moment in a recent episode of the show that got me laughing and gasping at the same time.

For some reason, the Andy Bernard character is a total idiot, which I fear may be the result of Harvard alum and Office writer/actor B.J. Novak's, (no relation), typical Harvard snobbery. My suspicions of Harvard elitism dripping into Bernard's antics take some of the fun out of it for me even though I'm not a Cornell alum of course. I have to say that Ivy-over-other-Ivy elitism and snobbery depresses me like nothing else. Whenever I see it, I am more inclined to believe that even if there were just two people left on Earth, they would eventually kill each other.

Okay, back to the game...

The forecast is for steady rain Saturday, and that could keep the numbers down... which is a shame because this is also "Senior Day" for the 17 guys on the roster who stuck it out for four years. For the last few years, the final home games have begun with each senior getting individually introduced and met on the field by his family. It's a great tradition that I hope continues.

A tradition that I hope also continues is Columbia's one game home winning streak, not only this season, but also against the Big Red who fell to the Lions 21-14 the last time they came to Wien Stadium.

I hope to see you there too.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

B, B & N and Columbia

A new feeder for Columbia football?

Nico Papas' dad seems like a great recruting ally for the Lions right now. His dad John is the head coach at Buckingham, Browne and Nichols in the Boston area and he has some players who are considering Columbia and one who has already decided to come to Morningside Heights.

According to this MaxPreps article, running back/strong safety Steve Grassa is committed to the Lions.

Other B, B & N players considering Columbia are QB Mike DiChiara, (27 TD passes, 2 INT's), and OL/DL Xander Frantz, (a 273-pounder).

And of course, we all look forward to seeing Nico Papas himself take the field at the fullback position where he was a force in high school.

The Gathering Storm

So much for petty cash

The United States is facing a deep recession. I'm not one of those people comparing our situation to the Great Depression, but a prolonged economic downturn like the one we saw through most of the 1970's seems very likely.

America's colleges and universities face hard times as a result. Tuitions have skyrocketed almost in tandem with house prices over the last 40 years, and like most homeowners and mortgage lenders, the schools became addicted to those tuition revenues and the "high living" and expansionist policies they paid for.

Now, everyone in higher education is talking about cutbacks. Even the richest school in the world, Harvard, recently warned that budget cuts may be on the way.

From my own point of view, I just don't see how the Ivies or any other school will be able to continue charging $40,000 or $50,000 per year in tuition and other costs in this new economy. A huge number of parents paid those tuition bills in the past with the kinds of home equity loans and second mortgages that have suddenly disappeared. I am not one of those people who think house prices will start soaring again anytime soon. The era of using your home as an ATM is probably gone forever.

Also gone are the easy-to-get student loans from folks like Sallie Mae. It was never easy to pay back those loans, but I don't recall having to do much to GET them other than prove I was a student. I paid off my last bill from Sallie Mae in the summer of 2007, 13 years after I completed grad school. I'm not sure I could get such a loan with such a long period to pay it back today.

I think American private colleges will have to cut tuition prices or prepare for massive drops in enrollment in the near future, period.

Will Ivy sports suffer because of all of this? It's hard to see how it won't. But a few budget cuts and maybe some lost prospects due to financial aid problems are something I can live with. What I'm more worried about is the inevitable calls from certain groups to cut out varsity athletics altogether because of the financial crisis.

Make no mistake, there will be such calls. And supporters of Ivy football in particular must be ready to refute them. Football is the most expensive sport to maintain in college, and it will be a natural target.

I could list all the purely financial reasons why football is worth it, even in the Ivies. But you can find them by simply reading this blog's archives. But I will add one new piece of information I have come to learn in the last few years, and that is that Ivy football alums are, on average, much more financially successful than the non-athlete Ivy alums. They also tend to be more generous with their donations and their time when it comes to alumni events and initiatives. These events are usually tied to football or basketball in some way, but the other sports are represented as well. Doing anything to downgrade or cutback drastically on football would make the financial situation worse throughout the league.

No one is saying that Columbia or any other school should eliminate the English department to save football. But I am saying that such a choice is not even relevant. There will be some hard choices to make in the coming years, but only extreme anti-athletics activists would be crazy enough to suggest that football or another sport actually creates a huge drag on academics even in the leanest of times.

It's time to prepare for these arguments that will probably first appear in the student newspapers and then in the regular media. Those who wish to destroy athletics cannot be allowed to profit from the hard times all America is facing and is about to face.

Tuesday Odds and Ends

Austin Knowlin didn't drop the ball Saturday

-The statisticians have fixed the errors from the game report versus Harvard and freshman James Burrell now has credit for his first career reception. It appears the catch first credited to Matt Moretto has now been given properly to Austin Knowlin, putting him at eight receptions for the game.

-Speaking of receptions, I neglected to mention the incredible nature of Knowlin's TD catch late in the fourth quarter. Getting to the ball in traffic was one thing, but the real feat was staying in bounds at the back of the end zone.

-The Ivy race is now a three-way tie between Penn, Brown and Harvard who all have 4-1 records. We have not seen Brown up close yet, but can any Columbia fan say Penn is as good as Harvard after what we saw of the Quakers at Franklin Field on October 18th?

-While it's a three-way race now, don't count out Yale. The Bulldogs actually could make it a four-way race! Big Green Alert blogger Bruce Wood outlines that scenario here.

-The stat that shows 37 Harvard rushes for just 4 yards against Columbia Saturday is technically correct. It's just that the snap that sailed over Crimson punter Thomas Hull's head went down as a 33 yard team rushing loss. Also, all the yardage lost on Columbia's five sacks was taken off the rushing totals. So, it was more like 31 Harvard rushes for 60 yards. Still pretty darn good for the Lions defense, but more realistic.

-Alex Gross now leads the Ivy League in tackles. Dartmouth's Ian Wilson is a close second and the Lions' Drew Quinn is a close third. This race is also going down to the wire.


After the rough weather scared away lots of potential donors at the Dartmouth game, Columbia football has decided to set up another toys for tots table at the Cornell game this Saturday. The details are here. I also hear a table will be set up at the first home games for Columbia men's basketball. Please be generous.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Passed Out

Matt Luft was marching tall

Harvard 42 Columbia 28

Why Harvard Won

QB Chris Pizzotti had an even better day than usual, throwing for almost 300 yards in the first half alone. Despite pretty good coverage from the Columbia secondary, his throws were som accurate and well-timed that it didn't matter. Of course, it helped to have a 6-foot-6 WR like Matt Luft to throw to as well.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Crimson weren't dominant, but they grabbed some key interceptions and executed a good pass rush at the end of the game to seal the deal.

Why Columbia Lost

More mistakes at crucial times, but this time it was not a variety of mistakes, just the same thing over and over: interceptions. Rough throws from both QB's not only snuffed out Lion drives, but they also set up a Harvard offense that was already in high gear.

Key Turning Points

1) With Columbia leading 7-6, Harvard's first play from scrimmage after the Columbia TD resulted in a 76-yard TD pass from Pizzotti to Chris Lorditch and with the 2-point conversion the Crimson were back up 14-7. The pass came after what looked like some kind of hard contact on Lion corner Calvin Otis, leaving Lorditch wide open in the middle of the field.

2) With the score still 14-7, the Lions began a promising drive at the Harvard 48 and got a 2nd down and 1 at the Crimson 21 before three straight running plays all yielded no gain. A quick Harvard TD drive and another score after a Shane Kelly interception and it was 28-7 at the half.

3) After Austin Knowlin broke off a 76-yard punt return for a TD making it 28-14, Harvard grabbed the momentum right back with a 61-yard TD drive helped by a pass interference call on Kalasi Huggins on a 3rd and 7. That made it 35-14 and Harvard didn't really have to worry after that.

For a team going up against a Harvard team that's peaking right now, the Lions still had a number of positives:

-Lou Miller had two more sacks and four and half tackles for a loss overall. This comes after his late game ejection versus Yale the previous week, proving he can still play with abandon, just not completely reckless abandon.

-Zack Kourouma had something of a breakout game. He grabbed the first QB TD on a well timed pattern into the end zone for his second score of the year. Later in the game he broke off a nice run on a sweep for 27 yards and wouldn't go down after a reception that helped Columbia convert a 3rd and 20.

After three years of returning punts off and on, it was nice to see Austin Knowlin finally break one for a score. Knowlin simply took it to the corner and beat the Crimson down the sideline with his speed.

-Overall, Columbia recorded five sacks. True, Harvard threw the ball so many times that there were ample chances to get sacks, but the Crimson have been doing that for most of the year and they had only allowed 12 sacks over seven weeks coming in to the this game. Many of the sacks were the result of good coverage downfield, making them a team effort.

-It was nice to see the strong effort and good results from the special teams. Not only were they error free, but they helped create two TD's with Knowlin's return and the recovery of the bad Harvard punt snap at the Crimson 4.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Columbia-Harvard Keys to the Game

Harvard Stadium is a great venue

1) Make Tomorrow the Worst Day of Chris Pizzotti's Season

The Harvard QB is just cruising along this season, with nothing seemingly in his way. NFL scouts are coming to watch him, the Bushnell Cup is already being sent back from the engraver with his name on it, and he actually managed to find an undergrad course at Harvard not taught by the T.A.!

But seriously, the Lions need to get in Pizzotti's face, make him make bad decisions, and generally pound him when they get to him. This could be a crucial game for Lou Miller as he looks to prove he still plays hard, but not recklessly.

2) Make the Crimson Defense Tired

Some hard roll-out running by either M.A. Olawale or Shane Kelly, mixed with lots of passing could get the Harvard defense sucking wind early. The Crimson defensive line cannot be allowed to get comfortable.

3) Stop Getting Beaten by Field Position

Columbia needs to kick well, cover well, and stop fielding punts inside their own 5-yard line. Harvard's special teams are a relative weak link and the Lions can't let the Crimson off the hook by playing even worse in that department.

4) Be Quietly Determined

Harvard may be looking ahead to bigger showdowns with Penn and Yale after this game, and the Lions shouldn't do anything to provoke them out of a potential slumber before the game. Columbia's attitude should be one of quiet determination. Take care of business, and do their talking on the scoreboard.

Week 8 Picks

Last Week: 3-0

Overall 24-9

Dartmouth over Cornell

This is Dartmouth's best chance to get a win this season, and the team knows it. I expect plenty of Teeven's trickery and surprise moves right off the bat. The Big Red is bleeding right now, and not just because of the relentlessly funny shots the school and the football team took on "The Office" last week.

Princeton over Penn

Princeton has found a star in junior tailback Jordan Culbreath. Penn is dealing with real injury issues now and what has to be a feeling of general dismay. The Tigers in an upset.

Brown over Yale

The Bears can see the finish line now and the Bulldogs can't expect to receive as many free gifts as they got from Columbia or Dartmouth earlier this season. But this game will be closer as some expect as the Yale offense is at least playing error-free.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Too Much to Handle?

Chris Pizzotti is doing everything right

If you like pain these days, you can either read the stock market reports or look at Harvard's season statistics page.

The Crimson are doing just about everything right, and finding a weakness isn't easy.

Standing out the most for me are QB Chris Pizzotti's numbers. Pizzoti has passed for 1,864 yards, 11 TD's, and is completing 62.5% of his passes.

But the most incredible statistic is that Pizzotti has just three interceptions in 224 attempts. That's basically just one interception for every 75 passes!!!

Pizzotti's heroics are the big reason behind a pass offense that's averaging 265 yards per game and more than eight yards per attempt. Usually, teams at the NFL level pray for a QB to have a 7-yard YPA. So averaging more than 8 yards per pass is just stellar at the college level.

Pizzotti has a lot of receiving targets, but the best one is 6-foot-6 Matt Luft. Luft is averaging 100 yards receiving per game and has 42 catches and four touchdowns. Chris Lorditch is another dangerous receiver with 24 catches and two scores.

The running game continues to be quietly effective as it was in 2007. With Gino Gordon, the still somewhat injured Cheng Ho, and Ben Jenkins Harvard is running the ball about 35 times per game and getting a healthy 4.1 yards per carry. But you get the feeling that Harvard would rather not rely on its running game for some reason. For the most part this season, they haven't had to.

The defense is not as strong as the Crimson teams from 2006 and 2007, but that's not saying much. Harvard still is allowing under 100 yards rushing per game, and the Crimson has 15 sacks on the year. Opposing teams are averaging less than 19 points per game.

But the pass defense is an apparent weakness. I say apparent because the Crimson are allowing more than 200 yards passing per game this season and their interception totals are way down from 2007. But opposing teams are also averaging just over 5 yards per pass attempt, which tells you just how often Harvard has forced the other guys to throw by shutting down the run or taking healthy leads.

Looking for an achilles heel on special teams? Well, you may be in luck. Patrick Long is a solid placekicker, but after that things get a little spotty. The Crimson are giving up bigger yardage on kickoff and punt returns than they have in recent years and their own return game has been unimpressive. Punter Thomas Hull is averaging just 35 yards per kick. But there are no signs of special teams disaster here.

So why is Harvard not 7-0 with such great statistics so far this season? Well, they're close at 6-1 and their only loss was a two-point defeat at a rainy Brown Stadium to a talented Bear team. That loss was really the result of a couple of fumbles deep in their own end, and it would seem that Columbia will have to force a similar rash of Crimson mistakes to win this Saturday.

But for a Lions team that has been so victimized by mistakes of its own so far this year, is it too much to ask that Harvard be the unfortunate ones this time around?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

0 for '08?

Will it be an icy 0-10 in Hanover?

The Ivy League has not had an 0-10 team since Brown laid a goose egg for the year back in 1992.

Now, the Dartmouth Big Green seem in serious danger of becoming the first winless Ivy in 16 years. (In a meaningless historical footnote, that was the last year a non-incumbent Democrat was elected president).

For what it's worth, I don't think Dartmouth will go 0-10.

The Big Green has an excellent chance to beat a reeling Cornell team this weekend in Ithaca and I also think they will give Princeton a run for their money in week 10, especially if they come into that game at 0-9.

Beating Brown at home in two weeks seems like a longshot for sure.

I think their best chance to win is this Saturday. Dartmouth would do well to pass the ball as much as possible and test the pourous Big Red secondary.

This is not to say that Dartmouth is a good team. In fact, the Big Green have to be classified as a disappointment. But they are also a reminder of how important it is to be at least competitive on the line of scrimmage. Neither the Dartmouth offensive or defensive lines has had much good happen to them this season.

Columbia hasn't had a winless season since 1987. There have been some close calls, including six one win seasons since 1987. Two of those 1-9 seasons included wins by just two points each, (1990: 17-15 over Princeton and 2002: 13-11 over Fordham). And only one of those 1-9 seasons, 2007, included a win by more than six points.

In other words, we feel Dartmouth's pain.

Speaking of teams with line of scrimmage problems... Harvard ain't one of them. The Crimson have the best combination of offensive and defensive lines in the league.

QB Chris Pizzotti has benefitted the most from that line control, and NFL scouts will be at the game Saturday to check him out.

The defensive line is not as dominant as it was in 2006 or 2007, but still good. The secondary is solid but way off of its 2007 levels. Teams that can stop Harvard's offense and test that secondary have seen success. But only Brown has defeated the Crimson this year and that was thanks to some killer Harvard turnovers in their own end.

Unfortunately, Harvard is starting to play its most crisp football as it intends to run the table on its remaining three games and hope someone knocks off Brown. Columbia may be catching the Crimson at the worst time, or maybe not.

With Penn and Yale coming up after this game, Haravrd may be looking ahead and overlooking the Lions.

And with the way Columbia has been playing defense, an error-free offensive day could spell victory.

Stay tuned.

Alumni Corner in the Oval Office

Obama during his years at Columbia

A Columbia College alum has just been elected President of the United States.

It's an historic moment for America and our school.

Barack Obama '83 becomes the first Ivy undergrad not from Harvard, Yale or Princeton to become president, (although he did graduate from Harvard Law). Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt were Columbia Law students, although I believe TR never graduated.

Most importantly, this could help sports recruiting.

Okay, I'm not that shallow. To prove it, I will admit here that I did not support Mr. Obama's campaign nor vote for him.

But on the bright side, does a President Obama give our recruiters a little gravitas?

I think it actually does, despite Obama's apparent lukewarm feelings about CU.

It's a calling card, and in the more rural areas of this country where football still is a religion, just having more coaches and parents who know the name of your college helps.

On the other hand, how would you like to be one of the folks at Occidental College? What's their new advertising slogan?

"Come to Occidental! The Best Place to Start Before You Get Serious Somewhere Else!"

Not very catchy.