Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ram Tougher?

John Skelton is now in the pros

2010 is going to be a crucial year for Fordham football as the team officially begins life as an athletic scholarship program.

But there will also be an anticlimactic aspect to the season, because it will be the start of the post-John Skelton era in Rose Hill.

Skelton was a big star at QB and seems to have a legitimate shot of getting to play for real in the NFL. He’s currently looking at a key backup role for the Arizona Cardinals.

But be careful what you wish for if you think not having to face Skelton will definitely make things easier for the Lions when they face the Rams in the season opener on September 18th.

That’s because Fordham’s top two running backs from 2009, Darryl Whiting and Lion-killer Xavier Martin, are both back for 2010. And when Columbia has fallen to the Rams in recent years, it’s been the result of an excellent Fordham rushing attack, not passing from Skelton.

Martin’s career is especially puzzling to me. In addition to being the key reason for Fordham wins over the Lions in 2007 and 2008, Martin has always boasted very big yards per carry averages over the course of his three varsity seasons. I know Skelton was a great passer, but why someone who averaged over five yards a carry only had about 12 carries per game is beyond me. Whiting also failed to get more than 12 carries per game last year despite a 5.2 yards per carry average.

And the top receivers are also back from last season. Jason Caldwell, David Moore, and John Skelton’s younger brother Stephen return.

This is not a complete scouting report by any means, but I do think the Columbia-Fordham game this season is likely to be just as exciting as the 2008 and 2009 contests were. And it’s important to remember that the Rams entrance into the scholarship world is not something that will automatically yield better results on the field just yet. I assume Fordham will try to get into the Colonial Athletic Association in the coming years, (the Patriot League seems ready to boot them soon), and we can reassess the pros and cons of continuing the Liberty Cup series then.

But for now, I like the challenge the speedy Ram runners will pose right off the top of the season to a Columbia defense that needs to show improvement against the run. And I still prefer the fact that Fordham has two games that we can scout and deconstruct before they ever see us take the field once in 2010.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Run Over

The return of Alex Gross means bad news for enemy running backs (CREDIT: Columbi Athletics)

If there’s one single stat, (other than the obvious net points scored), that Columbia needs to improve on this fall it’s rushing yards allowed.

After giving up a pretty stingy 104 yards per game on the ground in 2008, the Lions yielded a hefty 169 rushing yards per game in 2009.

Injuries were the biggest reason for that as Columbia’s best inside run-stopper, Owen Fraser, and best outside run stopper, Alex Gross, were both out for most of the season.

But the good news is rising junior Chris Groth and rising senior Bruce Fleming both got a lot more playing time because of the Fraser injury and they both performed well. In fact if you strip out the Dartmouth game where Groth was also out, the Lions rushing yards allowed per game average falls from the 169 mark to 141. That’s a 16.5% difference just from Groth’s one missed game.

On the linebacking side, I thought Evan Miller did a good job of filling in for Gross, but those were big shoes for an untested sophomore like Miller to fill.

There were some games where the Columbia ground defense was still dominant. The Lions allowed just 78 net yards rushing against Yale, and just 83 yards against Brown.

But those success stories were the exception to the rule. Central Connecticut torched Columbia for 325 rushing yards, the aforementioned Dartmouth game saw the Big Green grind out 279 net rushing yards, and even when losing to the Lions 38-0, Princeton put up 209 running yards.

Fraser and Gross should help plug the hole in the rush defense that sprung up all too often in 2009.

CAA News

Week 2 opponent Towson has been ranked dead last in the Colonial Athletic Association’s preseason poll.

The CAA, which will welcome my beloved Old Dominion Monarchs to the conference next season, held it’s media day at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore yesterday, (that’s where the Ravens play, FYI).

Not surprisingly, Villanova came in first in the poll and William and Mary second.

Other than Towson, two other CAA teams will face Ivy squads this season. ‘Nova takes on Penn as usual in the Quakers season opener and Rhode Island takes on Brown in their annual intrastate tilt. UNH and Dartmouth have discontinued their long-running series at least for now.

The CAA media day also unveiled the conference’s preseason All Offensive and All Defensive teams, and at first I thought Towson also failed to place even one player on either list. But on closer inspection, I see senior defensive lineman Yaky Ibia made the first team. Sorry for missing that.

I wonder how the 10th place prediction is going to sit with the cast members of my favorite online reality show, “The Real Wives of Towson Football?”

Sadly, there hasn’t been a new posting on that site since April. That’s too bad because I liked them a lot better than those idiots on “Jersey Shore.”

Once again, the Ivy League media day and preseason poll release is 12 days away on August 10th. The Patriot League media day event is this Tuesday, August 3rd. Columbia’s Patriot League opponents this season are Fordham and Lafayette, both at Wien Stadium.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Alternative Realities

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.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Meet the Coaches... in 2 Weeks

Dial Away!

We’re two weeks away from the big Ivy League football media day, where all eight coaches and some league officials will address a conference call for reporters and then the coaches will answer questions.

The event used to be a live one-on-one affair – with free food!!! – but in what I considered to be a tolerable cost-cutting move, they switched to this teleconference format last year.

I say “tolerable” because it’s better that the league makes things harder for the media than the fans or the players.

Anyway, I do like that the conference call almost completely forces every member of the news media to hear what all the coaches have to say. The in-person media events I attended in the past were eerie in that most of the media would crowd around the Yale and Harvard coaches’ tables and leave the other six guys looking lonely most of the time.

I also like that the teleconference format forces each head coach to make an opening statement that makes it clear what are the most important issues facing each team.

That said, remember that the word “listen” is a relative term. It was obvious last year that lots of the reporters just waited to ask their questions but did not really listen to what was said beforehand. The most embarrassing example was when Head Coach Norries Wilson announced that M.A. Olawale was going to be the starting QB for the Lions and a few minutes later 2-3 reporters asked him questions only about Shane Kelly. Coach Wilson did not correct the reporters, but it was weird.

I will again be “attending” the conference call this year and will try to offer the running blog updates as I did last year.

Remember that the event will begin at about 11am Eastern Time with the release of the preseason Ivy standings poll.

JoJo Smith in his playing days (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

Saturday Sighting!!!

Despite the intense heat, I had a great time at the Columbia Alumni Association barbeque on campus on Saturday. The organizers did a great job building a bigger tent this year to keep people out of the sun, and the ices and cold drinks kept coming! Also, my two daughters were in balloon animal and face painting heaven… which was important because I was taking both of them to the event on my own!

After the BBQ, I was very pleasantly surprised to hear someone calling my name from west side of College Walk and that person turned out to be former Lion captain JoJo Smith ’08.

JoJo wasn’t attending the alumni event - he was simply walking home - as he lives north of campus and has been working at Goldman Sachs since graduation.

We talked for about 10-15 minutes about the upcoming season and what JoJo is doing now.

He is truly one of my favorite Columbia football success stories.

Don Draper: formal dresser and casual Ivy football fan

Mad Men Mention

Ivy League football played an interesting supporting role in the season 4 premiere of "Mad Men" on AMC Sunday night.

In one scene, the main character Don Draper is seen sitting alone in his apartment with the TV on. If you listen carefully, you can hear the announcers describing the action in a Princeton-Cornell game at Palmer Stadium.

Now, the folks on the "Mad Men" production team are very proud of the meticulous work they do to make every episode historically accurate.

Naturally, I was hoping to catch them in a mistake.

First, I had to check if Princeton and Cornell really did play in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, 1964, (the week that was the setting for this episode).

They got that right: the Tigers and the Big Red hooked up on November 21, 1964 and the Tigers eked out a 17-12 win on their way to a 9-0 season.

Now, was the game actually televised, and was it broadcast in the New York market?

The answer is yes to both as I have checked with some reliable sources on that one.

Now I am a fan of Mad Men and I respect the hard work they do to keep things "accurate," (I put that term in quotes because it is a fictional story after all), but sometimes I feel like the writers and producers are working too hard on historical niceties and not hard enough on developing the story... or helping the actors like John Ham act a little more convincingly. (He looks the part, but I'm just not buying him as the creative type in any era).

But again, splitting hairs here... it's a pretty damn good show.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Program Director's Chair

Everyone channel your inner Roone Arledge '52 and program a season of Ivy football on TV

Let’s pretend you’re back living in the world before everyone had a multimedia set-up in their homes, offices and cars.

Let’s pretend you can ONLY watch or listen to one Ivy football game each week on TV, radio, or the Internet thingy.

Let’s pretend you HAD to make your choices NOW, instead of adjusting week by week.

What games from week 1-10 look the like best choices for your valuable time?

Here’s how I’d make my suggestions for the “Game of the Week” to the fans who just can’t make up their minds:

Week One

This is the only week of the season where there are absolutely no in-conference games on anyone’s schedule. But the Harvard-Holy Cross game at Harvard should be a very good game as it has been for the last several years. This will be a night game at Harvard’s very impressive home stadium.

Week Two

Harvard at Brown. This is a no-brainer. Some of the best games over the past 15 years in the Ivies have been Brown-Harvard matchups… and that’s even without the games having a big impact on the final standings. Throw in the fact that this will be the first ever night game at Brown Stadium and that clinches the deal.

Week Three

Dartmouth at Penn. This game has been more competitive lately, including the 2008 game at Franklin Field when Penn ended up third in the Ivies and the Big Green finished 0-10. This will be the game when we really see if all the excitement in Hanover is warranted.

Week Four

This is a tough week, because it doesn’t look like you have a lot of great choices. But Dartmouth at Yale seems like your best bet, especially since the Big Green has a really good chance to get some revenge for the whippings they’ve suffered at the hands of the Yalies recently.

Week Five

Columbia at Penn. For some reason, Columbia has played Penn better on the road since 2004 than they have at home. The Lions come into Franklin Field looking for their first win over the Quakers since 1996.

Week Six

Dartmouth at Columbia. Last year’s game was an exception, but most of the games between these two teams over the last decade have been very exciting. It will also be Columbia Homecoming, and the matchup between two teams a lot of people believe are going to turn in around 2010. Harvard and Princeton meet up this weekend as well at Princeton in the renewal of that great rivalry, but I don’t expect that game to be very competitive, (at least not at this point in the preseason).

Week Seven

Brown at Penn. This game is also starting to become a traditionally wild and crucial matchup year after year. Brown may have a tough time keeping it close this year without so many recently-graduated stars, but don’t underestimate Head Coach Phil Estes!

Week Eight

Columbia at Harvard. Good matchup between two “first division” finishers from 2009.

Week Nine

Harvard at Penn. It would be a surprise if this game doesn’t have a profound effect on the league championship. That’s been the case for most of the last 15 years.

Week Ten

You have to go with “The Game” between Harvard and Yale here, but that’s not so much because of tradition as it is the result of the fact that it doesn’t look like the other three games on the schedule will be that important.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Road Tested

Nobody hit harder than George Atkinson

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the 1975 Oakland Raiders.

I know, I know, this is what guys like me do.

That Raiders team did not win the Super Bowl – the long-awaited championship for the Silver and Black came a year later – but it was a remarkable squad for a lot of reasons.

Because their Alameda County Stadium roommate A’s were in the baseball playoffs, the Raiders ended up playing their first FIVE games on the road. Oakland won three of those five games and finished the regular season 11-3 and 1st in the AFC East. After winning a squeaker at home over the Bengals in the divisional playoffs, they fell in a tough one to Pittsburgh at a very frozen Three Rivers Stadium.

The Raiders were always a tough team, but that ’75 team was really tough and mean. And I think that five game road trip to start the season made them meaner and rougher than ever.

Okay, what does this have to do with Columbia football?

It’s all about the schedule.

Because as a total contrast to the Raiders ’75 schedule, the Lions will begin their 2010 season with four straight home games. I love the convenience of that and really love the six home games in a 10-game season. But I am concerned that so many home games to start the season won’t help Columbia get that tougher edge it needs for later in the year.

When the Lions began the season with a four game home stand in 2006, Columbia looked pretty good by starting 3-1. But then the team fell into a four game losing streak that included three road games where the Lions offense scored a grand total of 17 points.

Columbia recovered in week 9 with a big win at home over Cornell before winning a thriller at Brown in the 2006 season finale.

But if you believe brutal schedules beget tougher teams, then there’s a “bright side” for Columbia in 2010.

All three of the games against the teams most pundits believe will be the top three in the Ivies – Penn, Harvard, and Brown – are on the road. That’s a very tough challenge no matter how many home games the Lions have overall.

Now all I want to know is if Lions Joey Andrada, Malcom Carson, and Christopher Thomas are Raiders fans.

Built to Last

There's tough on the football field, and then there's being really tough. Check out what Columbia football great and good friend Bob Kent '92 is up to these days. I would say Bob's services would be well worth the fees!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Track Work

Goodbye Old friend

Thanks to an astute reader, I now know of a major subway disruption that will curtail service to Wien Stadium for much of the next TWO seasons!

But don’t worry… there are still plenty of options for getting to the game. And in my opinion, even the preferable subway option is still going to be available.

Here’s the story:

The northbound #1 subway train will terminate at Dyckman Street pretty much every weekend for the next YEAR.

Then the southbound #1 subway train will terminate at Dyckman Street for the year following that.

In other words, the #1 train is really not a good option until 2012.

Luckily, from most parts of Manhattan the A train option is faster and nicer anyway. That’s especially true if you like to walk just a little bit around the neighborhood of Inwood, which is enjoying quite a renaissance.

The A train runs on the far West side of Manhattan, through Brooklyn, past JFK airport, and all the way to a neighborhood where I did a lot of my growing up called Far Rockaway. The uptown or Manhattan bound A takes you the 207th Street stop, which is the last stop. Exit at the 211th Street exit and then you can either walk the seven blocks along Broadway, (about a third of a mile), to Baker Field or better yet, enter Isham Park on your left and enjoy a nicer trip that will take you to Seaman Avenue along the left side of the park and you will see Wien Stadium right in front of you at the end of the avenue. This is a more scenic walk and will give you a better idea of what Inwood is like.

You can also still take a Metro North train from Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan.Take the HUDSON RIVER LINE to the Marble Hill stop and simply walk over the footbridge to Baker Field. You can check the schedules here, but there is a train making the 20-minute trip every 25 minutes or so.

The “City Ticket” fare is $3.50 each-way, meaning it will cost about $3 more for a round trip than taking the subway, but let me make some strong arguments for using the Metro North option if you’re in Midtown.

-You get a solid schedule rather than just waiting on a subway platform and hoping for the best.

-The Metro North trains are much more comfortable.

-The trip on Metro North takes less than half the time of the subway ride from Midtown and potentially 5-6 times faster than taking a cab.

-$7 roundtrip is 567% cheaper than cab fare, (approximately).

If you’re on campus, there will most likely be free shuttle buses to the game as there have been for more than a decade. But you can also walk down the hill on 110th Street and Amsterdam, get the uptown C train at 110 and Central Park West, and switch to the A at the 125th Street stop.

Driving to the game yourself is also still an option and the increased number of parking garages very near the stadium has made this a lot less stressful than it once was. I will have more driving tips and shortcuts when we get closer to the season.

The Flip Side of Greatness

For those of you who are wondering, the team that holds the record for fewest points scored in a season in Ivy League history is the 1961 Brown Bears who scored an incredible 24 points... for a whole nine-game season! That's just 2.6 points per game!

The team that has allowed the most points in Ivy history is the 1982 Columbia Lions, who gave up an astounding 390 points or 39 ppg. The 2000 Dartmouth Big Green are a close second at 388 points allowed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Market Correction

Nick Hartigan powered the Ivies highest-ever scoring offense

Last week I looked at the best season-long defensive performances in Ivy League history.

Flipping to the offensive side of the ball, it's not surprising to see the opposite of the trend that showed defenses were stingier back in the 50's and 60's before easing up in more recent decades.

It actually took until the 1990's before Ivy offenses started to show a clear move into higher scoring territory. Yale's record of 35.2 points scored per game in 1968 held the top spot for 24 years before the Jay Fiedler-led Dartmouth team eclipsed that with a 36.4 ppg. average.

Funny that the higher-powered scoring years for the league have pretty much mirrored the stock market's highs and lows of the last generation.

In more recent years, the Ivies have had what I would call a correction in the point scoring market. Only one team has cracked the 30 ppg. thresh hold since 2005, and that's Brown in 2007.

I think the coming years might bring a return to higher scoring games, as most recruiting classes are emphasizing speed over size as they did in the early 90's through the early 2000's.

Here's the list of the top 10 offensive scoring teams in Ivy history:

1. Brown 2005: 36.8 points per game

This was the Ivy championship team that featured Nick Hartigan running all over the place and a decent passing game to boot.

2. Dartmouth 1992: 36.4 points per game

Jay Fiedler's tenure in Hanover was, in a word, dominant. After three straight years of co-champions in the Ivies, he led the Big Green to a solo title as a soph in 1991 and a shared title a year later in 1992.

3. Penn 2002: 36.3 points per game

Of all the great Penn teams of the 90's and 00's, I really think this was the best. But despite being the #3 scoring offense in Ivy history, QB Mike Mitchell was the only Quaker skill position player to make 1st or 2nd Team All Ivy.

4. Brown 2001: 35.44 points per game

Because of the 9/11 attacks, Brown only played nine games in '01. But the Bears racked up an impressive five TD per game average thanks to all-world WR Chas Gessner and RB Michael Malan.

5. Yale 2003: 35.4 points per game

Yale's 2003 team didn't exactly blow too many people away, finishing just 4-3 in the league and 6-4 overall. But the Elis had a great running tandem in RB Robert Carr and QB Al Cowan. The team failed to be a contender because of a porous defense that allowed more than 28 points per game.

6. Yale 1968: 35.2 points per game

It's amazing that after 42 years, this Bulldog crew remains in the top 10. Of course, with names like Calvin Hill and Brian Dowling, you can understand why. This was the Yale team that had to settle for a championship tie after tying Harvard 29-29 in the greatest ever version of "The Game."

7. Penn 2000: 34.9

This championship Quaker squad featured Bushnell Cup winning QB Gavin Hoffman and star runner Kris Ryan.

8. Dartmouth 1970: 34.5 points per game

The same team that still holds the record for fewest points per game allowed in Ivy history, (4.6), also has a respectable perch at #8 for best scoring offenses in league history. Seriously, someone could write a very good book about how good that 1970 Dartmouth team really was.

9. Harvard 2004: 33.9 points per game

This 10-0 Crimson team is probably the best Harvard squad of my lifetime. All-time greats like QB Ryan Fitzpartrick, RB Clifton Dawson and some great receivers made this a scoring machine in Cambridge.

10. Dartmouth 1969: 32.44 points per game

This little-talked-about Indians team finished in a three way tie for the title with Princeton and Yale. Backs Jim Chasey and John Short made big marks for the Green that season.

All five of the top five teams posted their offensive records in what I'd call the "juiced Ivy offense era" of 1992-2005. Since 2005, the trend has been for lower scoring league wide.

That's what makes the achievements of the '69-'70 Dartmouth and '68 Yale teams that much more remarkable. I consider their numbers similar to posting a 20 home run season in the "dead ball era" for Major League Baseball.

Columbia's best offensive year was the championship season of 1961 when the Lions averaged 26.6 points per game. Next comes 2000 when Johnathan Reese's team record-breaking rushing season led the Lions to 25.6 ppg.

Many longtime fans might have guessed the highest scoring offenses came during the early 1980's when John Witkowski was the star QB. But the best season under #18 was a 23.6 ppg season in 1983.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Coaches' Greatest Hits

It all starts with Lou Little

What were the best wins for each of Columbia’s head football coaches from Lou Little until today?

Let's go through them one by one.

Lou Little

There’s hardly anyone who wouldn’t agree that Little’s best game comes down to the Rose Bowl win over Stanford in 1934 or the win over Army to break the Cadets' unbeaten streak in 1947.

The Rose Bowl victory was truly a glorious moment for Columbia. But the coaching challenge, as daunting as it was, was not quite the same as what Little faced going up against Army in 1947.

Remember that the Lions were just a few years removed from the absolute ash heap of college football. The 1943 team finished 0-8 with four shutout losses. The ’44 squad was 2-6 and was shutout three times.

But beginning with the successful recruiting of players like Eugene Rossides and Lou Kusserow, things started to turn around. In 1945 the Lions went 8-1, losing only to national powerhouse Penn. The ’46 team went 6-3, but slammed opponents like Syracuse by a 59-21 score and beat Yale at the Bowl, 28-20.

The ’47 team was struggling at the start of that season. It came into the Army game a mere 2-2 and looking like sacrificial lambs to the Cadets. Trailing 20-7, Little engineered the greatest coaching feat of his career. Columbia not only took the lead 21-20, but held on for an agonizing six minutes plus to seal the shocking win.

Buff Donelli

While the 1961 Ivy League clincher against Penn was the most important win of Donelli’s Columbia career, it was hardly a coaching challenge against that weak Quaker squad.

Donelli’s truly greatest achievement came on back-to-back weekends at Yale and at Harvard earlier in that ’61 campaign.

Against Yale, the Lion defense stunned the defending champion Elis with an 11-0 win over the same team that drubbed them 30-8 on the same Yale Bowl field the year before.

Then the Lions went into powerhouse Harvard and easily drubbed them 26-14 for the Crimson’s only league loss of the year.

Given the choice of those two games, I’d have to side with the win over Harvard. But that Yale win was a major breakthrough.

Frank Navarro

The 1971 season was Coach Frank Navarro’s best achievement, and there are a handful of contenders for “best game” honors from that year.

The 22-20 win over Princeton that ended a 26-year dry spell against the Tigers was heart-stopper, but I have to choose the similarly shocking win over Dartmouth five weeks later at Baker Field.

This was a Big Green team, (they were called Indians back then), that was a top 20 squad the year before and the winners of the Lambert Trophy for best team in all of eastern football.

The game was an epic battle that came down to a matter of a kick that sailed a mere inches over the crossbar. The final score was 31-29.

Bill Campbell

Coach Campbell wasn’t blessed with too many wins during his six years at the helm. But his 1978 team was the best squad he put together and they proved it with a hard-fought 21-19 win over Harvard on the road to start the season.

At the end of the game, Campbell called it, "the greatest victory I've had in my coaching career."

Bob Naso

Poor Bob Naso only enjoyed four winds during his five-year stint as coach. But he was also at the helm when the great John Witkowski was the QB.

Thus, the 1982 35-14 win on Homecoming against Princeton stands out.

Jim Garrett

Jim Garrett went 0-10 in his one year as head coach… and thus he gets shut out of this discussion!

Larry McElreavy

Coach Mac’s greatest win was his first with the Lions, the 16-13 historic victory in 1988 over Princeton to end the then-record 44-game losing streak.

Later that season, the Lions also whipped Brown for a 31-13 win. But that pales in comparison.

Ray Tellier

Choosing the greatest win for Coach Tellier is probably the toughest choice because there were many emotional and improbable victories during his time on the sidelines.

The first significant win came in his fourth year when the Lions shocked title contender Cornell at Wien Stadium by a 35-30 score.

But that was surpassed two years later when Columbia beat Cornell again at Wien to clinch the Lions first winning season in 23 years.

A year later that was supplanted by the fantastic win over Penn to end the Quakers best-in-the-nation winning streak.

But my choice as Tellier’s best coaching achievement came in the 8-2 1996 season against Penn at Franklin Field.

The Lions came into that game 3-0, but badly banged up. Forced to start the untested QB Paris Childress, Columbia fell behind, 10-0 at halftime and it looked hopeless.

But Tellier rallied the troops and got the game tied up at 13 going into overtime. The Quakers scored a quick TD but the PAT was just tipped and sailed no good. When the Lions got the ball, they looked completely inept on offense, but a miracle TD pass from Childress to Dennis Lee set up the winning extra point.

Bob Shoop

This is another easy one. In his three seasons at the helm, Shoop had two really great victories and they both came in 2003.

One was a gutsy 16-13 win over Harvard at Wien Stadium on just about the windiest day I can ever remember.

But the Hail Mary win against Princeton at Princeton Stadium in week 3 of that year stands out for a lot of reasons.

The fact that the Lions trailed 20-0 at one point is just a small part of the story.

Norries Wilson

Norries Wilson is about to enter his 5th year as head coach of Columbia football.

I would argue he already has at least two games under his belt that could be considered candidates for his greatest wins at CU.

The first would be the season finale against Brown in his first year at the helm, 2006. That 22-21 nail-biter in Providence ensured the Lions their first non-losing season since 1996.

But since that game was against a relatively weak Bear team, it doesn’t seem as impressive as the season-ending win against Brown in 2009.

So in hopes that there will be many more contenders for the best game title during Coach Wilson’s tenure, let’s put that 28-14 win over Brown on the top of his list... for now.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sylvia Wien Novak 1911-2010

Roar Lions Roar will be mostly silent today as I pause to attend the funeral of my grandmother, Sylvia Wien Novak, who died Saturday morning in Chicago. She was a dynamic woman who once counted people like Mayor Anton Cermak and Sid Luckman as personal friends.

Yes, her maiden name is significant as her family was related to the family whose name adorns our beloved Columbia football stadium back in New York.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Early Harvest

Hunter Little makes a sack in the Tennessee state championship game

This has to be a record for the earliest published Columbia football committment in the modern Ivy League era... and it looks like it's going to be worth the wait.

Webb School rising senior Hunter Little has reportedly committed to play for Columbia starting in the 2011 season.

Little was a key star on Webb's 2009 state championship team as a defensive end.

Remember, Webb was where the Lions found another great defensive end in Phil Mitchell '09, who was a force before his 2007 injuries, and pretty good after that anyway! Mitchell and Little are the only two Webb School alums, (not to be confused with Webb HS in Old Forge, NY), I know of who have/will come to Columbia according to my Lion Feeder School Database.

Here's an article on Webb's state championship win last December that makes special notice of Little's contribution and the fact that he has come on strong as a player in recent months.

Lean and Rare

Stingier than Silas Marner: Tight defense, Ivy style

How incredible was Penn’s 9.5 points allowed per game average last season?

Consider these three points:

-Since the Ivy League was formed in 1956, only 21 teams have allowed fewer than 10 points per game over an entire season.

-Only two teams have done it since 1979.

-The last team to do it was Penn in 1994… 15 seasons ago.

There was a time in the early days of the league, (before passing became prevalent in college football), where a sub-10 points per game season average was fairly common. In fact, 15 of the 21 teams to achieve that feat did so in the seasons before 1967.

But now it’s rarer than rare.

Here’s the complete list of the 21 teams that accomplished the sub-10 point mark in Ivy history:

1) Dartmouth 1970, 4.6 points per game allowed

2) Princeton 1964, 5.8

3) Dartmouth 1962, 6.3

4) Harvard 1966, 6.6

5) Harvard 1965, 6.8

6) Dartmouth 1960, 7.3

7) Yale 1974, 7.4

8) Penn 1994, 7.5

9) Dartmouth 1965, 7.8

10) Yale 1960, 8.1

11) Penn 1959, 8.2

12) Harvard 1963, 8.4

13) Dartmouth 1957, 8.5

14) Yale 1976, 8.5

15) Yale 1963, 8.6

16) Dartmouth 1958, 9.2

17) Princeton 1963, 9.2

18) Dartmouth 1979, 9.5

19) Penn 2009, 9.5

20) Harvard 1961, 9.6

21) Yale 1957, 9.7

Notice that Brown, Columbia and Cornell have NEVER been able to crack the list.

Dartmouth has done it an incredible seven times, led by the legendary 1970 team that allowed less than five points per game.

Yale came in second with five seasons in the single digit club.

The point of all this record-keeping is to reemphasize how unlikely it is that Penn will post another defensive season that comes even close to the dominant performance of 2009.

The hope in West Philly is that the Quakers won’t have to rely on another super performance from the “D”, and the offense will improve by leaps and bounds.

But I’m not sure Penn has the passing weapons to really make a giant leap offensively in 2010. And that means the Quakers need to be ready for a tougher challenge this fall.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Looking Again at the Line

Coach Argast leds a deep group (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

I want to spend more time focusing on the offensive line because it is such a crucial unit and there are some things I want to clarify.

It’s been about three months since the Spring Game, so it took an astute commenter on yesterday’s post to remind me that the starters in that game were:

Jeff Adams (LT)
Bob Hauschildt (LG)
Kyle Stupi (C)
Ian Quirk (RG)
Dan Cohen (RT)

So, while Hauschildt was the backup center last season, the very talented junior is now at left guard.

This makes up an interest geographical situation among the presumptive starters.

Adams and Hauschildt are both from Illinois and they should have the left side of the line covered.

Stupi and Quirk are both from Maryland and working side-by-side as well.

That leaves the rare New York City boy Dan Cohen at right tackle where he could become the first New York City native and New York City high school grad to start for the Lions in some time.

Once again, I want to warn all Lions fans that the league’s pundits will be quick to attack the quality of this O-line in the preseason predictions.

But you also have to remember that the line coach here is Ed Argast, who is universally liked and respected in the program and in the local football community. Head Coach Norries Wilson, who was also a star as an offensive lineman at Minnesota, often takes special extra time out to focus on the O-line.

Speaking of preseason predictions, the Ivy League football media day is less than four weeks away on August 10th. That’s the day when the official preseason poll comes out.

Just for comparison, let’s look at the poll results from last summer and the actual final standings in the Ivies for 2009.

Preseason Prediction

1. Harvard
2. Penn
3. Brown
4. Yale
5. Princeton
6T. Columbia
6T. Cornell
8. Dartmouth

Actual Final Standings

1. Penn
2. Harvard
3. Brown
4T. Columbia
4T. Princeton
6T. Yale
6T. Dartmouth
8. Cornell

As these figures show, the pundits didn’t do too badly last year, picking the top three teams correctly, (not in the right order, but close enough), even as they underestimated Columbia. The difference between finishing tied for 6th or 7th and ending up in the first division at 4th place is pretty big.

If I had to guess now, I would say the Lions will probably fare better in this year’s poll, but a top three slot would be near impossible even with so many teams in rebuilding mode this season.

In good conscience, I don’t see how anyone could pick Columbia to finish below Cornell, Yale or Princeton this coming season.

Picking Dartmouth and Brown over the Lions is questionable as well, but I’d let that slide because Dartmouth beat Columbia last year and Brown has such a good track record recently.

Luckily, the predictions are just that, predictions. The standings at the end of the season are the ones that really matter.

But you knew that already.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

JV Schedule and Roster Changes

The Army JV marches back to Wien Stadium this October!

The athletic department released the 5-game JV schedule today and it sure has a gem of a game for game #4. A Homecoming Eve tilt at Wien Stadium against Army!

Here's the entire schedule:

Sun. Sept. 19 FORDHAM 1 p.m.
Sun. Oct. 3 at Princeton 11 a.m.
Sun. Oct. 17 WAGNER 11 a.m.
Fri. Oct. 22 ARMY 5 p.m.
Fri. Nov. 19 at Brown TBD

You know the drill for JV games, it's: "Where you can see tomorrow's stars, Today!"

Five Fewer

Five players have been removed from the Columbia varsity roster. They are: James Burrell, Ben Evans, Chris Paruch, Price Pinkerton, and Michael Williamson.

I don't know the reasons for the removals for all the players, but I do know Chris Paruch has been battling some very painful injuries and Williamson has transferred back home to South Carolina.

Evans seems like a really big loss as he was the backup to the now-graduated John Seiler at left guard much of last year. That doesn't mean Evans was the #1 new left guard on the depth chart, but he'll be missed.

This could mean that senior Prentis Robinson, who backed up Ian Quirk at right guard last year, is more of a contender to start this year. But they hate it in the football office when I speculate about starting lineups, so I'll stop there.

Pinkerton had incredible skills and Burrell came to Columbia from the great football "finishing school" Bridgton Academy. But remember that we still have a crowded field at wide receiver, with 11 bodies still on the roster and a bumper crop of speedy freshmen.

I don't mean to sound too optimistic, because I hate to see anyone drop off the roster. But the total number of players on the squad remains at historically high levels for this program and compared to the other Ivies in general.

One name I still don't see on the roster is former wrestler Ryan Sutherland, an outstanding athlete who made a nice tackle in the Spring Game. I look forward to seeing him listed as a linebacker soon.

Why am I so High?

Today, my fellow blogger Bruce Wood teases me a bit about how high I've been on the talent level for this Lion team.

I admit that I am very bullish on the talent of this squad, perhaps more than at any time since the 8-2 season in 1996.

But I am not exactly as cocky when it comes to definitively saying whether all this talent will translate into more wins in 2010.

It should, but the proof will come this fall and not before.

In too many past seasons, the big challenge for Columbia football has been how to deal with its relatively thinner talent level and how to spread its smaller roster over too many areas.

That just isn't the case anymore.

Now, it's about how to get its talented players and overall team to live up to their potential in the won-loss column.

Anyone who says these Lions don't have the weapons this year is just wrong. And if this sounds like I'm trying to quash the insults and excuses before anyone tries to make them... I am.

Anything short of winning season from this crew would be a disappointment, even from the objective point of view of a non-Columbia fan.

There, I said it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Blockbuster Blockers

Jeff Adams is the best tackle in the Ivies (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

Movie Magic!

The director of 8: Ivy League Football and America, Erik Greenberg Anjou, has an excellent new film out titled, Klezmatics: On Holy Ground.

This movie has nothing to do with football, but Erik is a master craftsman and a good friend.

You can check the Klezmatics link above for info on screening locations and dates. The next one is this Thursday at Rutgers.

Where is Spiro?

A few alert Ivy fans on the Internet have noticed that Brown’s #2 rusher from 2009, Spiro Theodosi, no longer appears on the Brown roster.

Theodosi was a big part of the Brown camp’s argument that the team will be able to overcome the major graduation losses in its wide receiver corps with a multi-faceted running attack in 2010.

Theodosi was the #7 rusher in the Ivies last year with 423 yards gained and a hefty 5.2 yards per carry average.

This would be a big loss in Providence if Theodosi doesn’t somehow get back on the team.

Best Veteran Offensive Lines

I’m not a lawyer, but I am still familiar with the concept of summary judgment.

And without having to go through a ton of testimony and evidence, I think I could make a quick argument for a summary judgment that Penn has the best returning O-line in the Ivies this season.

The quick bullet points go like this:

-Penn returns four of five OL starters, one of whom is a 1st Team All Ivy, another is 2nd Team All Ivy, a third is Honorable Mention All Ivy. The TE was also Honorable Mention All Ivy.

-This returning core group allowed the fewest sacks of any Ivy team in 2009, all while helping the Quakers grind out the third most rushing yards in the league.

-Penn led the league in 3rd down and 4th down conversions. Those are key measures of the value of an offensive line.

-Penn had the fewest penalties in the Ivies last year by far; a key sign that this is a very disciplined offensive line.

The big names are Joe D’Orazio, the unanimous 1st Team All Ivy Center, Guard Luis Ruffolo was the the 2nd Teamer, and Greg Van Roten who made Honorable Mention as just a sophomore last year.

So who comes in second in this category after Penn?

It could be Dartmouth. The Big Green also boasts four of five returning starters on the O-line. But the best one from last year, Alexander Toth, is the one starter who graduated.

There was a definite positive trend on the offensive line as the 2009 season went on for the Big Green, but Dartmouth still has a lot to improve on here as it gained just 1,078 yards rushing as a team despite two individual record-breaking single game rushing performances.

The good news is both those performances came in the second half of the season, (thus the positive trend), and Dartmouth did pretty well in sacks allowed, (middle of the league), and came in 3rd place in the Ivies in 3rd down conversions.

Columbia loses three of its five starting O-linemen from 2009, but the positives still outweigh the negatives by far. The Lions have the best returning tackle in 1st Team All Ivy Jeff Adams, an underrated vetran guard in Ian Quirk, and a good blocking/better receiving tight end in Andrew Kennedy. I’m high on rising potential starter Dan Cohen at tackle, very high on center Bob Hauschildt, and as positive as I can be about O-line coach Ed Argast and the entire unit’s development and pipeline.

As I’ve warned before, the pundits will focus way too much on the three lost players to graduation on the Lion line. They will essentially trash this unit for 2010 and list it as a "big question" for the upcoming season. Seriously, mark my words. It's going to happen.

But that assessment will be a mistake. Columbia’s offensive line will be very strong again in 2010, and in some ways it might be stronger than last year.

The rest of the league doesn’t look so good in this category.

I’m sure Harvard will be strong by year’s end, even though four of last year’s five starters are gone. Strong blocking TE Nicolai Schwarzkopf is back for 2010 and he will be a major help. Still, it's going to take some time for the new Crimson unit to gel and we don't get that kind of practice time in this league.

Cornell has three starters returning, and the Big Red O-line wasn’t all that bad considering the team really finished 2009 as the worst squad in the Ivies. This could be the dark horse in the running.

Yale also has three returning starters, but this O-line was so sub-par in 2009, (worst in rushing yards, and the most sacks allowed), that it’s hard to believe there won’t be some real shakeups in New Haven. Either way, the Elis won’t boast the best unit this season and maybe not for a few more years to come.

Princeton’s O-line is quite simply… a mess. Multiple sources tell me two veteran linemen have quit this summer and this is a team with only one returning starter on the offensive line anyway. Tiger fans can dream things will work out as they did in 2006, when Princeton won the title despite starting five completely new players on the offensive line. But that seems like praying that lighting will strike twice.

So here’s how I rank the returning O-lines:

1. Penn
2. Columbia
3. Dartmouth

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Columbia: Past, Present & Future

Brad Losee gets some nice press

This week's promised look at the best returning offensive lines will have to wait one more day as there is some general news that needs to be updated first.

New Football Site

A number of alums have alerted me to a great new football Columbia football website coming directly from the football office. The embedded video on the home page sure looks a lot like a highlight reel for the 2009 season and there are a lot of other features.

This is a great site for fans and everyone else for that matter. I like it a lot.

Nice Piece on Losee

I usually stop highlighting the local news media's coverage of incoming freshmen players after the official announcements are made about each of them coming to Columbia.

But I should stop doing that because the summer months seem to bring more clarity and accuracy to the writers assigned to these stories.

When the Ivy recruiting process is still ongoing, we keep seeing stories that refer to athletic scholarships and other mistakes like "Dartmouth University," and 11-game seasons.

A good example of a nice and accurate story came out this weekend about incoming defensive lineman Brad Losee in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Some of the highlights include the fact that Harvard and Cornell were also interested in Losee.

Losee seems like he could fit into the Lou Miller mold at Columbia. Perhaps, like Miller, he'll start out playing more like an outside linebacker and then put him on the D-line after he bulks up a bit between freshman and sophomore year. I think this is a track that Will Paterson is currently on for the Lions as well.

Speaking of Minnesota, Fortune Magazine just named Eden Prairie, MN as the #1 city to live for 2010. That's the home of senior Mark Muston.

But it doesn't stop there. If you click through the names of top 100 cities, it seems like every one has some kind of connection to Columbia players, past and present.

Death of a Legend

A lot of you probably saw that legendary Yankees P.A. announcer Bob Sheppard died yesterday.

Sheppard had a Columbia connection. He got a Master's in Speech Therapy from CU in 1933 and went on to teach speech at his undergraduate alma mater, St. Johns.

He debuted as Yankee PA announcer on April 17, 1951, with the Yankees' home opener, a win over the Red Sox.

But many people outside of New York are unaware that he was also the P.A. announcer for the New York Giants football team from 1956 through 2005.

Sheppard was also my virtual neighbor, living just three towns over in Baldwin, NY.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

BREAKING: Brown Gets DC Post

Brown in his NFL Europe coaching days

In what will be a popular decision with the players and fans, Columbia has promoted Denauld Brown to the defensive coordinator position. That position became open when Aaron Kelton took the head coaching job at Williams

Columbia still has a vacant defensive backs coach position that Head Coach Norries Wilson says will be filled in the first week of August.

Preseason Picks

Phil Steele picked well last year

My "long awaited" previews and rankings for returning veteran special teams and offensive linemen will have to wait until next week now that Phil Steele's
preseason All Ivy first and second teams report has just been released.

Columbia is pretty well represented on Steele's list... about as well as last year.

A total of nine different Lions are mentioned, with three making Steele's first team. Only Harvard and Penn have more with ten each.

Technically, Penn has eleven, but Steele included the late Owen Thomas on his first team defense for some reason.

After Columbia's third place spot, Yale came in fourth with seven players mentioned, Dartmouth was fifth with six, Brown was sixth with four, Princeton has three and Cornell is dead last with just two players mentioned.

I was not surprised to see Andrew Kennedy, Jeff Adams and Adam Mehrer make Steele's first team list. But I was pleasently surprised to see Ross Morand, Evan Miller and Ian Quirk get listed, albeit on the 2nd team. Remember that when Steele bucked the anti-Columbia trend last season and listed Kennedy as his 2nd team TE, Kennedy went on to have a breakout season at the position.

A notable omission is Owen Fraser, who made Steele's list last year, before succumbing to injury in week 1.

Steele also correctly predicted Columbia's first-division finish for 2009 when everyone else placed them much lower.

(I don't know if Steele's final Ivy standings prediction is available yet, but I will search for it this weekend).

Just as a reference, let's look at last year's list from Steele and compare it to the actual Ivy League honorees at the end of the season:

Steele's 2009 Preseason List


1st Team

OL James Williams Harvard
OL Paul Jasinowski Brown
OL Brent Osborne Harvard
OL Joseph Krissel Penn
OL Alex Spisak, Harvard
QB Keiffer Garton Penn
RB Jordan Culbreath Princeton
RB Mike DiMaggio Penn
WR Buddy Farnham Brown
WR Bobby Sewall Brown
WR Matt Luft Harvard

2nd Team

OL Mark Paski Princeton
OL Quentin Bernhard Cornell
OL Andrew Hauser Princeton
OL Cory Palmer Yale
OL Mark Callahan Brown
QB Brook Hart Yale
RB Gino Gordon Harvard
RB Randy Barbour Cornell
WR Austin Knowlin Columbia
WR Tim McManus Dartmouth
TE Andrew Kennedy Columbia

Actual All Ivy Honorees 2009


1st Team

*OL Mark Callahan Brown
*OL Paul Jasinowki Brown
OL Jeff Adams Columbia
OL Ben Sessions Harvard
*OL James Williams Harvard
OL Joe D'Orazio Penn
QB Kyle Newhall-Caballero Brown
RB Nick Schwieger Dartmouth
*RB Gino Gordon Harvard
*WR Buddy Farnham Brown
*WR Bobby Sewall Brown
*WR Austin Knowlin Columbia
TE John Sheffield Yale

2nd Team

OL Tim Danser, Brown
*OL Ben Osborne, Harvard
*OL Alex Spisak, Harvard
OL Luis Ruffolo, Penn
*OL Andrew Hauser, Princeton
*OL Mark Paski, Princeton
QB Collier Winters, Harvard
RB Zachary Tronti, Brown
RB Treavor Scales, Harvard
FB Luke DeLuca, Penn
RB Lyle Marsh, Penn
WR Bryan Walters, Cornell
WR Chris Lorditch, Harvard
*TE Andrew Kennedy, Columbia

*=Number of total matches: 12 out of 22.

I'd say, that's not bad.

So what can we say about all the talented Lion players that even non-Columbia pundits are finally beginning to recognize?

It's great of course, but it's also part of the biggest hurdle the Lions faced in 2008 and 2009 but hopefully something they can overcome in 2010.

That hurdle is finding a way to make this team the sum of its excellent parts.

Columbia deserved more wins than just four in 2009, and a lot more wins than the two it secured the year before. The talent was there, and the injuries and opposing team strengths were simply not great enough to steal as many wins away as they did in the end.

I've written about this earlier, and I will do it in more depth when I write the full-length season preview in August, but what Columbia needs the most in 2010 is the killer/winner's instinct.

In the meantime, Lions fans can rest assured that the talent level on this Columbia squad remains at historically high levels.

"We have the horses," as they say.

But will they run?

Friday, July 09, 2010

Last Line of Defense

Collin Zych bears down on a Yale receiver

Judging the quality of a secondary is a tricky job. How effective it is really depends a lot on other factors, so the states can lie.

For example, a lot of teams end up with great pass defense numbers mostly because they did such a bad job against the run that opponents simply didn’t need to pass very often against them.

Sadly, that’s happened to Columbia a few times in the last decade.

In 2009, Dartmouth finished an impressive third in the Ivies in pass defense. But look closer and you see that the Big Green finished dead last in rushing defense, which led to just 301 opponent pass attempts, second lowest in the league.

That doesn’t mean things aren’t looking generally good for the Dartmouth secondary. The very talented Shawn Abuhoff was 2nd Team All Ivy and he leads a unit that also returns starters J.B. Andreassi and Garrett Waggoner. But the Big Green loses the great Pete Pidermann, (and I will really miss saying his name on the air!), and that will take some wind out of their sails.

Just ahead of Dartmouth was 2nd place Yale and the Elis were also pretty good against the run in 2009, coming in fourth in the league. The Elis return their entire starting secondary in 2010, led by the super-talented Adam Money, a 1st Team All Ivy honoree.

Cornell also returns its entire starting secondary for this season, but that’s not so much to crow about. Junior Rashad Campbell is the real deal, but the Big Red defense was frankly a mess last year. Cornell will improve in this area this season, but not by much.

Penn had one of the best secondaries in recent Ivy history last year, but graduation has taken a huge toll. Chris Wynn is gone, along with All Ivy 1st teamer Jonathan Moore and 2nd Teamer Kevin Gray.

Princeton is also gutted, losing Cart Kelly, Dan Kopolovich, and Wilson Cates.

Harvard looks very good right now, despite losing half of its 2009 starters to graduation. That’s because All Ivy 1st Teamer Collin Zych returns at safety along with super talented Matthew Hanson at corner. But the Crimson were a subpar 6th in pass defense last season, and there are some questions to be answered for 2010.

Brown finished last in pass defense last season, but that’s a little misleading. The Bears were so strong against the run that they faced more passing attempts than you’d expect for a 3rd place team. The bad news is that A.J. Cruz, who many believe should have been the 2009 Rookie of the Year, is the only starter returning for 2010. No matter who plays, Brown must do something to cut down on its 65% opponent completion rate.

Columbia’s secondary loses the talented four-year starter in Andy Shalbrack, but the rest of the crew that led the league in interceptions and only allowed a 52% opponent completion rate is back. The headliner is All Ivy 2nd Teamer Adam Mehrer, who led the league in interceptions with five. Right behind him is Ross Morand, who filled in for Columbia’s two mostly injured starting CB’s in 2009 and was second in the Ivies with four picks. Those injured CB’s were senior Calvin Otis, who should be 100% for this season and Kalasi Huggins who should also be back. Safety Augie Williams is a seasoned veteran who really came on strong at the end of last season. This is a very deep unit for the Lions.

The best returning defensive backs for 2010 are:

1) Adam Money, Yale
2) Collin Zych, Harvard
3) Adam Mehrer, Columbia

The best overall returning secondaries for 2010 are:

1) Yale
2) Columbia
3) Harvard

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Linebacker U.'s
Will Zach Heller continue to shine without Jake Lewko beside him?

***Great news from New Jersey where Mark Zielinski '89 has been unanimously reappointed as head football coach at North Brunswick Township High School. It sure seems like the good guys won this one.***

(As one reader noticed, I skipped over the offensive line before jumping to the defensive units. I actually did that on purpose because I believe the O-line is the most important single unit on any football team and I want to save the most essential for last).

Today I want to look at the best returning veteran linebackers, both individually and as a unit.

All three of last year's 1st Team All Ivy linebackers have graduated. BUT 2008 1st Teamer and 2007 Ivy Rookie of the Year Alex Gross will return for Columbia after missing most of last year due to injury. If Gross can come back at 90% or better, the Lions will have the best veteran linebacker in the league.

Joining Gross will be the very experienced Nick Mistretta, Marc Holloway, Evan Miller, and the other injury-recovering X-factor, Matt Moretto, who was still recovering through most of 2009 but made a decent impact from time to time.

The Lions have a good veteran linebacking crew, but it's not the best in the league.

Penn, led by 2nd Team All Ivy honoree Zach Heller, makes the strongest case for the top spot as we enter the 2010 season. At 6 feet and 225 pounds, Heller is the perfect size for his position and he is both a run-stopping and pass rushing specialist. Not far behind Heller are Quaker teammates Brian Levine and Eric Rask. Both were All Ivy Honorable Mention and a became more effective as the 2009 season wore on.

But it remains to be seen how strong the Penn linebackers will be this fall without co-Bushnell Cup winner Jake Lewko to force double teams and open tackling lanes. Penn also loses long-time linebackers coach Cliff Schwenke. Schwenke produced the best linebackers year after year during an amazing 11-year run coaching just that unit for the Quakers. That's a very rare asset to lose.

Dartmouth can boast the fact that all three of its starting linebackers from 2009 return for 2010. And the three returners, Pat Scorah, Garrett Wymore, and Diego Soto-Fernandez were the numbers 1, 2, and 3 tacklers for the Big Green, respectively, last season.

But like the veteran defensive line, the Dartmouth linebackers really need to improve greatly to be considered a top unit. Even if you strip out the rough games against UNH, Colgate and Holy Cross, the Big Green defense still had too much trouble stopping opposing offenses. I do expect improvement in this area in 2010, but Dartmouth will still not be the best.

A major contender for the title of best individual returning linebacker is Princeton's Steven Cody. He's back for a senior season after making 2nd Team All Ivy last season. Cody led the Tigers in tackles despite missing one game in 2009. He also had 10 tackles for a loss and two interceptions. Only Columbia's Gross really matches him in combined defensive ability against the run and the pass.

But Cody does not have a veteran linebacking teammate with even remotely the level of his talent. The only other returning starter is Jon Olofsson, who had just five solo tackles last season.

Brown's Robert Gillett is a strong and effective linebacker, but he's the only veteran starter returning for that unit. He'll mostly miss the graduated All Ivy 1st Teamer Kelly Cox, who was second on the team in tackles in 2009.

Gillett and Harvard's Nick Hasselberg could be soul mates as Hasselberg will have to deal with the graduations of not one, but two All Ivy teammates in Jon Takamura and Sean Hayes. No one expects Harvard's linebacking crew to be weak in 2010, but it's an "X factor" at best.

Without Chris Costello, Cornell's linebacking crew is essentially gutted for 2010.

Yale's Sean Williams returns for 2010 after making All Ivy Honorable Mention last year, but the Bulldogs lose superstar Paul Rice and the solid Travis Henry.

So my rankings for best overall returning linebacking crews are:

1) Penn
2) Dartmouth
3) Columbia

The best individual veteran linebackers coming into 2010 are:

1) Zach Heller, Penn
2) Steven Cody, Princeton
3) Alex Gross, Columbia* (if at least 90% recovered from injury)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

First Line of Defense

Charles Bay may be the best DE in the Ivies, but he needs help

Because defense in football is truly a team effort, (at least more than it is with the skill positions on offense), I will continue my analysis of the best returning veterans in the Ivy League by focusing on entire defensive sub-units, not individual players.

I'll start today with defensive lines.

Any discussion about veteran defensive lines has to begin with Dartmouth, where the entire starting front four from 2009 returns this fall. That includes the rapidly evolvling Charles Bay, who only started playing football a few years ago and is now as fearsome a defensive end as you can have at this level.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that the defensive line, while it improved at times last year, was not what you could call very effective over the course of the season. The Big Green front four gave up tons of rushing yardage and didn't register nearly enough sacks overall to help keep Dartmouth in enough games. That was especially true in the disappointing finale against Princeton where Dartmouth gave up 238 yards on the ground and got just one sack. Even the win over Cornell two weeks earlier was not a dominant game for the front four.

Nevertheless, the Big Green will use that added experience this year and will probably make strides, but there's a long way to go in this area. Dartmouth must find a way to make opponents pay for double-teaming Bay.

The next logical place to go is Harvard. No returning Ivy veteran D-linemen this year made 1st Team All Ivy last year, but of the five returning defensive linemen who made 2nd Team or Honorable Mention All Ivy last season, THREE are from Harvard. They are 2nd Teamers Chucks Obi and Josue Ortiz and Honorable Mention Victor Ojukwu.

Naysayers will jump to point out that 1st Teamer Carl Ehrlich has graduated, but Ehrlich played last season with a knee brace and was not anywhere near 100%. And that means the returning players should really take muc of the credit for last year's stats that included holding opponents to just 82 yards rushing per game.

On the other hand, Harvard's linebackers were big reason for those stats as well and most of the best Crimson LB's have graduated.

Penn would have had one returning 2nd Team All Ivy defensive lineman, but tragically Owen Thomas committed suicide this spring. There are still some great guys coming back. Brian Levine officially made All Ivy Honorable Mention as a linebacker, but he is essentially a defensive end and a rising star. And with the Quakers, you really have to count almost the entire linebacking crew as being part of the upfront defensive line.

Princeton has one very promising returnee in Joel Karacozoff, but the Tigers need a lot of help here.

Yale's defense was strong overall last year, but you could argue the defensive line wasn't the biggest reason why. Tom McCarthy IS back for 2010, (sorry, I originally had him as graduating, but he has been granted 5th year status), helped keep opponent rushing attacks to fewer than 150 yards per game, but that's still not super. And the Bulldogs only recorded an anemic 13 sacks on the season. Honorable Mention All Ivy Joe Young returns this year, but he and McCarthy will need the new starters to make an impact.

As for Columbia, the Lions boast an impressive returning crew of defensive tackles in 2008 All Ivy Honorable Mention Owen Fraser, plus 2009 starters Chris Groth and Bruce Fleming. Fraser missed almost all of 2009 to injury, but he looked good in the Spring Game. With his strength and freakish speed, he could easily be the best defensive tackle in the Ivies this season. Groth and Fleming did more than yeoman work in his absence.

But Columbia loses all-time sack leader Lou Miller and great situational pass rusher Matt Bashaw. Despite the very promising play of Josh Smith and others like Will Paterson, Shea Selsor, Seyi Adebayo and Josh Martin, it's hard to say the Lions will have the top defensive line in a year after guys like Miller graduate.

So here's how I rank the top three returning defensive lines for 2010:

1. Harvard
2. Columbia
3. Penn

Friday, July 02, 2010

Tons of Tight Ends

Columbia's Andrew Kennedy was a hard-tackling lineman in high school

Here’s a rarity for college football: seven out of the eight Ivy teams bring back their 2009 starting tight end for the 2010 season.

The catch is that the absolute best tight end from 2009, Yale’s John Sheffield, is the one starter who did graduate and is gone.

So of the seven returning starters, who are the best tight ends?

That somewhat depends on what you’re looking for in a tight end, a receiver, a blocker, or the best combination of both?

Sheffield was the 1st Team All Ivy tight end, and Columbia’s Andrew Kennedy snagged 2nd Team honors.

At 6-foot-3, 234 pounds and blistering speed to boot, Kennedy is a nightmare to cover and it seems like most of Columbia’s opponents don’t even bother to try much of the time. He was often totally wide open, and most of his five TD’s were uncontested breakaways. He also averaged a hefty 15 yards per catch. All this combined makes Kennedy a clear choice as the best returning receiving tight end for 2010.

But don’t sleep on a couple of other tight ends who I think could put up big receiving numbers this fall. First you have Brown’s Alex Prestley, who at 6-6 and 250 pounds is a real load, and should become a big receiving target now that Brown’s top wide receivers from 2009 have graduated.

Next is Dartmouth’s John Gallagher who I was very impressed with last season as a receiver as he finished just a hair under 300 yards receiving for the year.

The best blocking tight ends are Penn’s Luke Nawrocki and Harvard’s Nicolai Schwarzkopf. Nawrocki had an outstanding season as a blocker in 2009 and he started to come on as a receiver at the end of the season. His overall stock would rise if the Quakers get some stability at the QB position after the injury-riddled 2009. But if Nawrocki just joins that veteran offensive line and concentrates on blocking, I don’t think any of his coaches will complain.

At 6-5 and 245 pounds, Schwarzkopf could be a complete package. But I’m convinced the Harvard coaches don’t want to use him very much as a receiver. That could change if Andrew Hatch takes over as the starting QB and he develops a real passing relationship with Schwarzkopf.

The other two returning starters at tight end are Princeton’s Harry Flaherty and Cornell’s Ryan Houska. Both are talented, but I think Houska is a bit undersized. Flaherty could surprise if new Head Coach Bob Surace shuffles the offense.

Here’s how I list the top returning Ivy tight ends:

1. Andrew Kennedy, Columbia
2. Luke Nawrocki, Penn
3. Alex Prestley, Brown

Zielinski in Trouble

I’m sorry to report that former Columbia defensive line standout Mark Zielinski is having a tough time keeping his job as head coach for the North Brunswick High School football team.

But most accounts the charges against Zielinski, who joined me for an excellent halftime interview in 2007, are baseless. But he’s still looking for the appropriate political backing to stay on the sidelines.

I know we’re all pulling for Coach Mark right now.

Prime Aerial Targets

Chris Lorditch

The Ivy League football class of 2010 was jam-packed with some of the best wide receivers of this generation.

It included young men like Columbia’s Austin Knowlin, Brown’s Buddy Farnham and Bobby Sewall, Cornell’s Bryan Walters, and Harvard’s Matt Luft.

So who’s coming back for 2010?

Most of the eight Ivy teams are facing a real changing of the guard in their receiving corps. By that, I mean they will have to replace more than just one impact player at the position. The teams in that category are Brown, Columbia, and Cornell.

Then there are teams like Penn and Yale. The Quakers and Elis aren’t losing too many bodies at the WR position, but they didn’t have good enough passing numbers in 2009 to worry too much about who’s coming back anyway. Nevertheless, Penn does lose its #1 receiver from last year as does Yale, but Yale’s top receiver last year was actually a tight end.

So the race for the title of “best returning Ivy wide receiver for 2010” will come from the ranks of Harvard, Princeton or Dartmouth.

That’s because those three teams all return well-stocked crews of experienced receivers for 2010.

The Crimson lose the very talented Luft, but their top receiver from last year is back in Chris Lorditch. Harvard also has an underrated weapon in junior Adam Chrisis, but it’s Lorditch who had the most yards receiving of any returning WR last year at 545. He also grabbed five TD’s.

Princeton has the luxury of returning its top two receivers from 2009 in Trey Peacock and Andrew Kerr. But it’s Peacock who is the top tiger after grabbing 48 passes in 2009 for 527 yards and three TD’s. Columbia fans will also remember the damage Peacock did to the Lions in 2008, when he got open deep for some key receptions in the heartbreaking Homecoming loss.

Dartmouth has three returning receivers Ivy fans need to watch closely coming into the season. Tanner Scott and Michael Reilly both finished among the top 10 receivers in 2009, making the Big Green the only team other than Brown that could make that boast.

Scott is a great story as he is an walk-on to the squad who has made the most of his opportunity. But I think Reilly is the better of the two and his stats through just 8 games played last season bear that out. Reilly finished with 498 yards receiving and four TD’s. Had he played all ten games, he was on a pace to gain well over 600 yards.

Dartmouth also hopes to bring back former All Ivy honoree WR Tim McManus, who missed 2009 with an injury. If he’s healthy, he deserves more than a mention in this discussion. He’s a very powerful athlete and competitor.

So here’s how I would rank the top three returning receivers for 2010:

1. Chris Lorditch, Harvard

2. Trey Peacock, Princeton

3. Michael Reilly, Dartmouth

Honorable mentions go to McManus, Cornell’s Shane Savage, Columbia’s Mike Stephens, and Yale’s Jordan Forney.

Tomorrow: Tight Ends.


Visits to this blog were UP 31.3% in June year-over-year, my 11th straight month of at least double-digit growth!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Running as a Team

Nick Schwieger

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:

1. Columbia

2. Harvard

3. Penn

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.