Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The More Things Change...

Rain or shine, it's always Harvard and Penn in the Ivies

The 2010 season began with what looked like a lot of signs of sea-change in the Ivy League.

Defending champ Penn came into the season banged up and got more banged up with serious injuries in the first three weeks.

Preseason favorite Harvard lost to Brown badly in week two, and then lost quarterback after quarterback to what looked like season-ending injuries.

Then darkhorse favorites Brown also fell victim to the QB injury bug, losing its starting signal caller for the year.

About three weeks ago it looked like some new teams might be poised to crash the party at the top of the league.

But now it’s “Back to the Future” time again:

Penn is undefeated and atop the league.

Harvard is tied for second and has a great shot to come all the way back with both of its top QB’s back and the Crimson face Penn at Franklin Field in just two weeks.

So much for “change we can believe in.”

But instead of being bitter about the “haves” remaining the “haves,” I’d like to focus on the positives here and try to learn something from the successful programs.

Penn and Harvard have two of the best head coaches the Ivy League has ever seen. Al Bagnoli and Tim Murphy have longevity, wisdom, and instill a great deal of patience in their players when it comes to waiting their turn to shine.

Both teams play great defense, but you have to give the overall defensive edge most of the time to the Quakers. Penn sticks with its 5-2 front seven alignment and nobody seems to have much of an answer for it.

Both teams often score points in bunches, but Harvard is the better offensive team most years including this season. Murphy cranks out great QB after great QB and the competition for that starting slot most be fierce from year to year.

As for their rivals, there was a time when Harvard had a tough battle each year to out-recruit Yale and Penn would tangle with close neighbor Princeton for the best of New Jersey/Northern PA.

Not anymore.

Penn’s dominance over Princeton on the field over the decades has helped it own the region when it comes to recruiting.

Same goes for Harvard as it has made “The Game,” it’s property for years now.

I know a lot of Columbia fans don’t care for Bagnoli, and some dislike Murphy. But the success at these two programs comes from superior coaching. And it’s the kind of superior coaching that doesn’t come overnight. They’ve both been at their jobs for more than 15 years.

And for those who say that Murphy has an unfair advantage because he can dangle the magic word, “Harvard” in front of any recruit, think again.

His predecessor, Joe Restic, had the same advantage, but he rarely produced the kind of results Murphy has year in and year out. In fact, any residual respect any Harvard alums have for Restic erodes every year as Murphy outdoes his record by leaps and bounds.

There are those who say Bagnoli is just cashing in on the big turnaround the Penn program underwent a full 10 years before he took the helm in 1992.

But those critics forget that Bagnoli actually took over from the disastrous Gary Steele, who oversaw three straight losing seasons before he was finally fired. Bagnoli got the job and immediately had the Quakers back in the title race in year one.

How do the rest of the teams in the league catch up?

Well, the one program that has crashed the Harvard-Penn party the most over the last 10 years is Brown. And it’s no coincidence that Brown’s Head Coach Phil Estes is the THIRD longest-serving skipper in the Ivies behind Bagnoli and Murphy.

The problem with going for longevity for longevity’s sake is that sometimes that means retaining people who are just not the best fit for the job in the first place.

That includes athletic directors. Just ask the folks at Princeton, almost all of whom believe their A.D. has outstayed his welcome by 5, 10, 15 years or more, (it depends who you ask).

Another ingredient seems to be quick and strong reactions to bumps in the road. When Penn went through a bit of a swoon from 2005-2007, Bagnoli and crew changed strategies on offense, toughened up on defense, and have been on a upswing since 2008.

When Harvard stumbled in 1998 and 1999, Murphy changed course radically and instituted a more pro-style offense, starting grabbing big talent transfers, and made sure all his players knew the goal every season was winning the Ivy title, not just beating Yale. The Crimson have rarely stumbled since.

Jake’s Week Seven Ivy Power Rankings

1. Penn (#1 last week)

Looking better and better each week as the defense is simply not letting anyone move the ball. The game against Princeton this Saturday could be quite ugly.

2. Harvard (3)

They’re baaaack! The Crimson just dominated an emotionally charged Dartmouth team on the Big Green’s field on their Homecoming. And unlike Harvard’s win over Princeton the previous week, both the offense and the defense were stellar.

3. Brown (2)

The Bears were stuffed at Franklin Field, but still have the tools to be considered a top three team.

4. Yale (4)

The Elis didn’t look very disciplined as they almost blew a 31-7 halftime lead to the Lions. That’s troubling leading into a tough game at Brown this coming weekend.

5. Dartmouth (5)

The Big Green were basically shamed by the Crimson. But a visit to Cornell this Saturday should be just what the doctor ordered.

6. Columbia (6)

Despite the strong second half at Yale, the Lions are just not the same team they were in the first four weeks of the season

7. Cornell (7)

The Big Red did what they had to do with a close win over Princeton at home. But no one is THAT impressed.

8. Princeton (8)

Who will the Tigers beat this season? Their best chance to get an Ivy win went out the window this past Saturday.


At Tue Nov 02, 08:11:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, That was an honest, accurate, analytical, and insightful article about Ivy Football. You have proven to be a thoughtful and accurate blogmaster all season long and I have thoroughly enjoyed your posts. This is a great analysis of what has really happened to the League and you have catalogued it perfectly. I think the unspoken message here is for everyone to just "calm down". Coach Wilson and his staff are building a program and it will require some time. Recruiting to Columbia will not be for winning, for the time being. This will require selling the quality of the coaching staff, the quality of the University and its job market, the quality of the present players, acute scouting acumen with incredibly hard work (it will be difficult to directly recruit against winning programs), harvesting remote locations and professional contacts, and great support from the athletic department and the University. We are closing the gap. Before this season began, I honestly believed next year would be the season to make our run. Next year our skill positions should be as good as anyone. We will have QB Brackett, RBs Gerst, Kourama and Carter, PK Eddy, P Guttas, WR Stephens. Most of these will be just sophmores and juniors! Folks, that's the hard part already done! Next year we should have a lot more size and experience on the line with so many returning starters. Lastly, we get all the iron, Penn, Harvard, Brown, and Yale at HOME! Trust me, we aren't that far away. We'll definitely compete for the title next year.

At Tue Nov 02, 09:34:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great analysis as usual, Jake. This is a frustrating time. We are 7-10 over the past two seasons, with five excruciating losses and no narrow victories. This team is close and we can feel it, but they don't seem capable of breaking through with a late game drive or a big stop. That gets frustrating. I am not quite as optimistic as the first poster as we lose six starters on defense, including the brilliant Alex Gross, next year. And we're still too small. Dartmouth just pounded us on the lines. But the O should be dynamite next year with Brackett, Gerst, Stephens, Adams, Eddy and Garrett all back. NW continues to upgrade the talent. Let's just hope that at some point he can upgrade the late game execution.

At Tue Nov 02, 10:16:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to point this out, first poster, but Kourouma is a senior so he'll be graduating along with Ivery, and Carter is a DB, not an RB (but perhaps you meant Garrett). Actually unless we bring in some really good RB recruits we'll be pretty thin there.

It's been five years with Wilson & Co., I'd say unless he finishes out this season really strong there's some doubt about his contract being renewed, although others may feel differently. Team has shown some real ability but little consistency -- that's where top-notch coaching comes in.

At Tue Nov 02, 05:54:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cannot understand the people who think Harvard has such a name advantage in terms of recruiting. Columbia now ranks fourth among national universities in polls and it is in the mother of all cities. It doesn't take a PR heavy weight to figure out how to play that. No, using the brand thing is a weak excuse.

What we are combatting is the losing tradition and an outdated inferiority complex. This can only be turned around through winning. Wilson and the current team are close...just 16 points between us and a 6-1 record. We need to find those final drives on offense or those stops on defense....one or two more per game is the difference.

Wilson solved the kicking weakness through recruiting last year...looking ahead perhaps he will recruit 2-3 mammoths on the D-line who get penetration and plug the run....to me all other problems are secondary to solving this one thing right now.

At Tue Nov 02, 07:15:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Columbia has a schizoid schedule (say that five times fast). The four toughest teams year in and year out all on the road this fall: Penn, Yale, Harvard and Brown. The Lions will be lucky to maybe squeak out one of them and if they don't a once promising season will vaporize. The good thing is a more seasoned team will have those four titans at home next year. While we on the subject of schedules, having four straight home games to start the season might seem like a positive, but Columbia would be better off sprinkling in an away game or two early, both to get its road legs for those Ivy League trips as well as to save another home game for late.

At Tue Nov 02, 07:20:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is everyone talking about next year? There are three games left with 2 being against very good teams. Talking about future recruiting can wait until after November 20 while we honor those that have been with the program for 4 years and will leave Columbia with the most prized possession of all, a Columbia diploma. Jake's review was fantastic, but let's finish this season posters.

At Tue Nov 02, 07:22:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we had one more playmaker out this year on offense, we would be 6-1. Unfortunately, Austin Knowlin graduated and we don't have a replacement. Brackett has been outstanding at quarterback and Kennedy equally outstanding at tight end, but none of the wide receivers has stepped up to become a superstar like Knowlin did his freshman year, and the running backs, while improved, have not reached stardom either. Except for Luke Eddy, who has contributed tremendously to the kicking game, the freshmen class has helped very little at the skills positions. Penn, Dartmouth, Cornell and Yale have all had significant contributions from freshman running backs and wide receivers. The Lions have not had any contribution at all and that has hurt us as our recruiting emphasis was on finding some speed and that has not yet materialized.

At Tue Nov 02, 07:54:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We must beat Cornell at home and we CAN beat Brown on the road given their QB is out. Beating Harvard on the road is a tall order that the Lion squad of the last three games is not ready to pull off.

At Tue Nov 02, 08:12:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My compliments to Jake and to all of the bloggers on one of the most intelligent and thoughtful dialogues on Columbia football. One small point: the injury to Owen Fraser was a devastating blow. After his freshman year I thought he would be a dominating tackle for three years. That has not come to pass. One large point: our wins came when we dominated on the lines of scrimmage. Our losses came when we were dominated on the OL and DL. Pure and simple. The left side of our OL should have done a better job over the last three weeks. The right side of our OL is not as strong at the tackle position and we should have adjusted accordingly.

At Tue Nov 02, 08:17:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The loss of Stephens at WR has really hurt the Lions. Anyway, Wilson and company have made noticeable and measurable progress year over year, even though the winning season has not come. CU is now at 4 wins a season instead of one or two. I say Wilson should get his vote of confidence and a chance to take the foundation he's been building to the next step -- consistent winning.

At Tue Nov 02, 08:54:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger cathar said...

If coaching means something other than the absolute hard reality of a won-lost record, Norries should be returned and retained. There is a reason he is so personally popular with his players (and with alums), and to play for him genuinely does help build character. Of that I'm sure. I just hope Norries wants to stay at Columbia.

I do sometimes have a problem with the unimaginative quality of our offensive playcalling, and I hope this will be addressed before next season. Sean Brackett is a tremendous weapon if used properly and fully. Probably the Ivies' most versatile QB already, sure to be the league's overall best by his senior year at the latest.

At Tue Nov 02, 09:28:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Renewing NW is a no-brainer. Look at the number of kids playing all four years today vs. the past. They are having fun playing football and sticking with it. We can all wish there were more wins but the team is competitive and the players like being in the program. That counts for a lot.

At Tue Nov 02, 10:21:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great recap of the current situation Jake......I watched some video of the Harvard Dartmouth game from this past weekend...what stood out was the Harvard defensive line.(specifically Ortiz).they basically man handled the Dmouth offensive line......our O-Line is going to have to really step up this week.

At Tue Nov 02, 10:51:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Phillies were the best national league on paper and were suppose to beat the San Francisco Giants hands down. That didn't happen! The Texas Ranger's were to win the World Series hands down. That didn't happen! Harvard is a good team and will playing for a shot at the Ivy League Title. Let's not let that happen. Columbia football has the talent to compete, but we need to be hungry, aggressive and have the desire to win. Let's make it happen. Think positive, play positive and play all 60 minutes.
For you Senior's, a victory will be a season to remember! Roar Lion Roar!

At Wed Nov 03, 12:50:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A previous post said "Wilson solved the kicking weakness through recruiting last year...looking ahead perhaps he will recruit 2-3 mammoths on the D-line who get penetration and plug the run...."

They have good size DL, but, the coaching / conditioning goal of staying in the 270lb range for speed is the real problem. They should be getting them bigger through strengthening, which will bring the speed they are looking for. Also, for some reason they are not playing the larger DL more, again probably because of that misguided notion of speed compared to size. We will see what they do against Harvard. Hopefully more blitzing and more use of the large guys in the middle. If not, the Harvard OL will dominate and you will see large gain runs up the middle.

At Wed Nov 03, 04:07:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the last poster; we are emphasizing size over strength and speed on the OL, and we are small on the DL. The left side of our OL is huge, but we aren't opening up the running lanes the way we should. The right side of our OL hasn't done anything for the last three weeks. On the DL, without Fraser we really don't have a lineman who can blow up plays. Our strength and conditioning program needs a serious upgrade.

At Wed Nov 03, 07:19:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to say something positive about the coaches and their recruiting. My son was recruited by many excellent schools including Columbia. During the football season of his senior year my son told us that he was not interested in Columbia. The Columbia coaches did an excellent job recruiting my son! They explained the value of a Columbia education, the opportunities for internships in New York City and the career and support services available to student-athletes at Columbia. Somehow the coaches convinced my son to go for an offcial visit where he was hosted by a football player, an extremely nice young man who introduced our son to several other super nice football players and who basically "sealed the deal". Our son accepted Columbia's offer that same weekend. We are all happy with his decision.
I think it is important to remember that our Columbia coaches are working very hard for us on and off the field!

At Wed Nov 03, 08:39:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with the poster who claims the right side of the OL has done nothing in the last 3 weeks; they have performed much better than the touted left side.


Post a Comment

<< Home