Running as a Team
So who is the best returning running back in the Ivies for 2010?
The question can’t be asked without a hard look at the state of the running game in the Ivies overall.
Last year, the best returning rusher was obviously Princeton’s Jordan Culbreath. He was the only back to gain 1,000 yards or more in 2008 and very much the heart and soul of his team. But Culbreath missed just about every game of 2009 when it turned out he was suffering from a rare genetic disorder. I am happy to say Culbreath is doing much, much better, but his playing days are long over.
Without Culbreath, no rusher came even close to the 1,000 yard mark in 2009. A lot of that had to do with injuries to lots of players other than just Culbreath. Because of a finger injury, Dartmouth’s Nick Schwieger missed out on what looked like a decent chance to crack the 1,000 yard mark. But he ended up as the league leader, gaining 626 yards in just over seven games played. Harvard’s Gino Gordon had 632 total yards on the ground, (the Ivy League awards the rushing, passing and receiving titles to the player with the most average yards PER GAME as opposed to overall. I hate that policy, but there it is).
Columbia’s Ray Rangel also had a shot at 1,000 yards, but he was badly injured in week 6 and never returned.
Injuries or not, I can’t remember the last time no single rusher gained at least 700 net yards in a single season in the Ivies.
But the key words in the last sentence are “no single rusher.” That’s because running by committee is becoming all the rage in this league for the first time in more than a generation.
In 2009, even without at least a 700-yard rusher on ANY Ivy team, the average rushing totals per game rose from 116 yards per team in 2008 to 134 yards. That’s a 15.5% increase. And the per team, per game rushing attempts average rose from 33 in 2008 to 36 in 2009. That was up 9%.
In short, Ivy running attacks are getting more with… more.
More runners, more running yards.
And that’s a good reason why it’s probably better to focus not just on individual rushers, but overall team rushing attacks.
But first let’s look at the individuals.
I see the debate over who is the best single rusher as a three-man race between Treavor Scales, Lyle Marsh, and Nick Schwieger.
All three burned Columbia last season, but rising junior Schwieger was the most lethal with 242 yards in the Big Green’s 28-6 win in Hanover. There were some injuries on the Lion side that probably played a role in some of those yards, but Schwieger was very impressive overall. He has great speed, makes great cuts, and also performed relatively well in Dartmouth’s game in the pouring rain against super-tough-against-the-run Penn earlier in the season. The best news for Big Green fans is Schwieger’s injury last season was to a finger, not a leg, so I expect him to be 100% without a problem in 2010.
Harvard’s Treavor Scales won Ivy Rookie of the Year honors and he did have a decent year stats wise with 485 yards and a 4.5 yards per carry average. But the speed Scales exhibited in his nine games played was what really set him apart. He may have blown past 700 or even 1,000 yards on the season if he hadn’t been forced to share time with Gino Gordon, who will again be back this fall as well. I still expect Scales to get more than the 12 carries per game he had in 2009, but I don’t see him getting much more than 20. That would hinder his chances to be the flat out top runner in 2010.
Another problem for Scales is he loses 80% of the excellent offensive line that blocked for him and the rest of the Crimson carriers last season. No one expects Tim Murphy and the Harvard program to go begging in the O-line category, but the 2009 front five was a uniquely talented crew that you can’t expect to see matched in 2010... at least not right away.
And that brings us to another sophomore, Penn’s Lyle Marsh. Marsh also had to split time with lots of other rushers, but he stood out as a frosh with 526 yards and a 4.7 yards per carry average. What I like the most about Marsh is his durability. He played in every game of 2009, which is something Scales and Schwieger can’t say. And Scales and Schwieger also won’t have the kind of blockers up front that Marsh should enjoy this fall. Penn’s veteran O-line is mostly back for 2010.
So I would rank the top three returning rushers in the Ivies like this:
1. Lyle Marsh, Penn
2. Nick Schwieger, Dartmouth
3. Treavor Scales, Harvard.
But which TEAM can boast the best returning overall rushing attack for this coming season?
Here’s where the facts start looking very good for Columbia.
The Lions return the best overall rushing QB in Sean Brackett, the best overall offensive lineman in Jeff Adams, a deep crew of experienced and talented rushers led by Zack Kourouma, and Leon Ivery, a speedy challenger for the top of the depth chart in Nick Gerst, and some promising freshmen. As it is, Columbia was second overall in rushing in the Ivies last year with 159 yards per game, (Harvard was #1 with 178 ypg). And that was with Brackett playing in only four games. With the way he runs the option offense and the way guys like Ivery came on at the end of the season, I think the Lions can make a good run at averaging 200 rushing yards per game in 2010.
Harvard will still be a formidable rushing team with Scales, Gordon and either Andrew Hatch or Collier Winters at QB. Both Hatch and Winters can run well. But the offensive line losses are likely to cut into the Crimson totals.
Penn should be able to run the ball very well overall, especially if power running QB Keiffer Garton gets healthy enough to carry the ball like he did at the end of 2008. But I’m not as high as some pundits are about the other Quaker tailbacks after Lyle Marsh. Remember, Penn failed to average even four yards per carry in 2009. Only two Ivy teams, Dartmouth and Yale, had worse averages per carry last year.
So I would rank the top three returning rushing teams for the Ivies in 2010 like this:
Tomorrow, I’ll look at the best returning wide receivers. Here’s a hint: the cupboard is looking a bit bare.
But just one more item for today…
The Vancouver Canucks drafted Patrick McNally from Milton Academy last week. Patrick is the son of Tom McNally ‘82, who came out of Chaminade on Long Island and played on the O-line at Columbia. Tom is now an FBI agent.