Owen Fraser's return is a big reason to be upbeat about the season (CREDIT: Columbia Atheltics)
I’m excited about Columbia’s chances in 2010 because of three key reasons:
The talent level remains at historically high levels for this team, especially at key positions like quarterback and offensive line.
A number of key players injured in 2009 are coming back this fall.
Most of the rest of the league looks relatively weak.
The only thing this team needs to prove is that it has, or can get, is the killer instinct to win the kinds of close games the Lions have lost in the last two seasons.
Speaking of the losses of the past, what are the three things that most contributed to the fact that the enormously talented 2009 Lions finished 4-6 rather than 7-3 or 8-2 or even 9-1?
In other words, if we had a time machine, what three things would we change about last season to make us big winners?
1) M.A.’s Stealth Injury
After a bit of a sloppy start, Columbia was starting to look good in the crucial Homecoming matchup against eventual Ivy champ Penn when QB M.A. Olawale got injured… most likely on a sack and forced fumble by Jake Lewko in the second quarter.
The bigger problem was, no one really knew he was injured at the time, and M.A. stayed in the game. The result was the Lion offense stalled in the 27-13 loss.
A week later, M.A. was still hurt… but we didn’t know it. My co-broadcaster Jerry Recco and I looked at each other in amazement as Olawale underthrew pass after pass in the 28-6 loss to Dartmouth. That’s when we suspected something was up.
Those suspicions were finally confirmed a week later, when Sean Brackett got the start against Yale. But who knows how the Columbia season could have ended if Olawale had stayed healthy, or at least really knew the extent of his arm injury right away?
Thankfully, Olawale healed enough to make his exciting relief appearance in the Cornell game and pulled out the 30-20 victory in that contest. But even in that appearance, Olawale was underthrowing passes.
Columbia suffered a myriad of other devastating injuries in 2009, (see item #3 below), but the Olawale injury and its stealth nature really burned the Lions and definitely was the major reason for two straight losses in the middle of the season.
2) Rough Calls
The one call most Columbia fans remember, and get angry about, came at the end of the first half against Lafayette when a Lion TD pass was negated on what seemed like a phantom illegal motion call.
The bad news is I did eventually get a long look at the tape of that play and Ray Rangel was indeed leaning forward well before the snap. It was actually a good call.
BUT… the refs did do quite a bit to cost Columbia that 24-21 loss in Easton. A pair of pass interference calls against Ross Morand were dubious, including one on the final Leopard drive that gave Lafayette a 1st and goal at the CU 3.
Another bad call was the placement the linesman made after Leon Ivery’s big 75+-yard run that ended inside the Yale one. I say it ended inside the one, but for some reason the refs placed the ball at the 2 and on the outside hash. Instead of just bulling the ball past the goal line, which they most likely would have down had the ball been placed properly, the Lions handed the ball off for an outside run by Zack Kourouma. Kourouma fumbled on a hard hit by Adam Money and Yale recovered. A TD there, and the game would have been over.
3) Owen, Alex and Ray
Losing Owen Fraser in week one hurt. Losing Alex Gross in week four hurt more. And losing Ray Rangel in week 6 capped a horrible year for injuries on Morningside Heights. The fact that the Lions remained competitive after each of those losses is amazing. But it’s hard to believe Columbia’s crucial run defense stats wouldn’t have been a lot better with the help of All Ivy stars like Fraser and Gross. Rangel was on track for a 900-yard rushing season before his foot injury at Dartmouth.
Every team deals with injuries, and I’m not saying Columbia had much more than the rest of the league. But there’s no doubt the Lions 2009 injuries cost them games and a winning season.
The previously TBA game at Penn on October 16th is now scheduled for noon. That’s an early start folks, 12:00.