Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Backing Up Owen

Owen can't do it alone (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

With the loss of Bruce Fleming, and my continued position that the #1 key to the Columbia season is to stop the run, we have a serious question to answer:

Who do the Lions have on the bench to back up the very talented DT Owen Fraser?

First let’s talk a bit about the man who started, and in my opinion starred, in the defensive tackle role last year. That would be Chris Groth.

When Fraser went down in the season opener last season, the Lions could have fallen into a serious tailspin. Fleming did well filling in at Fraser’s exact spot, But the then-sophomore Groth was starting in the other DT position and he carried a big share of the load. Groth made sure the run defense was good enough to avoid the season falling into a total loss. As juniors this year, Groth and Fraser figure to be one of the best tandems of starting defensive tackles in recent Columbia history.

Backing up Groth and Fraser I see what look like six other pure defensive tackles on the bench. They are almost all underclassmen.

Sophomore Seyi Adebayo, who bulked up from 230 to 260 lbs. in the offseason, seems like a prime candidate to continue his impressive play so far. Adebayo may be the best and most conditioned athlete on this team, and his additional weight should make him a force wherever he lines up on the line.

Sophomores Anthony Villamagna and Shad Sommers certainly have the size to be factors at tackle, but we haven’t seen enough of them at the varsity level to be sure. Greg Lee weighs in at 250 lbs, and I don’t yet know if he’ll be at tackle or end.

Freshman Joe Raimondi brings very good credentials to the job. At 270 lbs. and wrestling accolades to boot, he could be a larger-sized version of Lou Miller if the stars align correctly. But he is just a freshman and a total unknown at least for fans at this point in the game.

The “old men” at this position are seniors Matt Stotler and converted O-lineman Bryan Kipp. I certainly like Stotler’s height at 6-5, especially when it comes to swatting down passes. But I am ignorant of his run-stopping abilities. For Kipp, I will say that usually when players switch positions so late in the game, the results have been positive.

Once again, let me lay out the stakes here about stopping the run.

-Columbia’s problems in run defense definitely cost the Lions wins against Central Connecticut and Dartmouth, and possibly 1-2 more opponents.

-The Lions first opponent, Fordham, is LOADED with running talent that will be hard to overcome without stellar play from the DT position.

-Most of Columbia’s Ivy opponents have better running attacks than passing weapons. Establishing the run against us is most likely to be job #1.


My season ticket package arrived in the mail today and it looks great.

The players featured on individual tickets include Matt Moretto, Alex Gross, Andrew Kennedy, Mike Stephens, Calvin Otis, and Zack Kourouma.

Leaving the Mic... Sort of

Also included is the fan's guide to going to home games at Wien Stadium. It includes a mention that Jerry Recco will be covering the games on GoColumbiaLions.com all season long.

My name isn't on there.

That's because of some tears.

Let me explain.

On the morning of the Yale game last season, my eldest daughter suddenly realized that she couldn't go to the games with daddy and sit in the press box quietly or in the stands for three-plus hours by herself.

She had to stay home.

She burst into tears, and then I realized something...

I have two daughters who will, someday soon, be teenagers who don't want to know me.

I HAVE to take advantage of my chances to sit in the stands with them at as many games as possible... or at least until they're old enough to sit in the stands by themselves and wave to daddy in the press box.

I very much hope to return to calling the Columbia games very soon, but this season I will be a normal spectator like most of you.

Well, a spectator who also writes a daily blog about Lions football... but you get the idea.

I really want to thank everyone in the Columbia athletic department who gave me the opportunity to broadcast the games for the past three seasons. I will omit their names here to protect the guilty. But we are trying to work out a way to have me do some taped halftime interviews for this season, so perhaps this is not a real goodbye or even a full hiatus.

Most of all, I want to thank you. Many of you reading this lobbied on my behalf when I asked you for support to get the color commenting job. I appreciated it then, and I appreciate it now.

Three Days to Go!

I feel like Columbia season really starts Thursday night when week 2 opponent Towson heads to Indiana to kick off the year.

But with just three days to go until game time, Towson has yet to publish a two-deep or game notes so the scouting process can begin.

Hopefully, the Lion coaching staff will be glean some pearls of wisdom from the Towson game.

Also, still no two-deep from the folks at Fordham who kick off their season on Saturday against Bryant in Rhode Island.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

An Educated Consumer...

Almost time to move in!

Tomorrow is move-in day for the vast majority of incoming freshmen and first years at Columbia and Barnard. Monday, the full orientation schedule begins.

The start of orientation usually means the frosh on the football squad start missing a practice or two as they have to attend some mandatory events. But to me, orientation is always a new chance to get students interested in Columbia football and athletics in general.

I don't know how many new students or their families read this blog. But if any of them are even casual football or sports fans already, I would hope it serves as a great advertisement for the Lions.

One of the mistakes I think I, and many others have been making lately is trying to sell the football program to the too casual fan. In other words, maybe the best plan is to let the kids who know about football learn about what's great about the actual team on the field before we hype the fun of going to a game with their classmates and tradition and all that.

Here are my bullet points for marketing this team to freshmen who are already real football fans:

-Columbia has the best overall QB in the Ivy League. Sean Brackett is a fast runner with a powerful arm and he plays with no fear out on the field. He's just a sophomore too, so you might have a class or two with him real soon.

-Did you see The Blind Side? Well, then you know that left tackle is a crucial position in football. Columbia has the best left tackle in the Ivies too. Junior Jeff Adams was voted 1st Team All Ivy at that position, (that's like All Pro in the NFL), when he was just a sophomore last year.

-Columbia's defense is stacked with stars. Junior Owen Fraser is a big and powerful defensive tackle and unusually fast for his size. He missed almost all of last season to injury after posting an All Ivy freshmen campaign... so you know he's itching to come back with a vengeance this year.

-Senior linebacker Alex Gross was the Ivy Rookie of the Year in 2007 and 1st Team All Ivy in 2008 before also falling to injury most of last year. He's back too and ready to disrupt opposing offenses all season.

-The Ivies' leading pickoff artist in 2009, senior safety Adam Mehrer is also a Columbia Lion. He was one half of what may be the most incredible play in Columbia football history. It happened in the season finale against Brown when the Lions upset the heavily-favored Bears right here at Wien Stadium. You can see the play here, just click on the box that says "Mehrer videos."

Enjoy moving in guys, and we'll see you in the stands starting in three weeks!

Updates Ahoy!

The athletic department has just posted some great new content on the first few days of training camp. Interviews with captains Alex Gross and Mike Stephens are included.

Pictures of players from August 27th's first practice are also there.

I also noticed that some of the players bios on the roster have been updated, so check it out.

Set Your DVR’s!

There are just 22 days until the Columbia football season starts, and if that seems really soon consider Towson.

The Lions’ week two opponent kicks off its season in just SIX days when they travel to Bloomington to take on the Indiana Hoosiers.

Game time is 7:30pm this coming Thursday. I believe some subscribers will see the game on tape delay.

And for those of us who like to scout future opponents, the game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

Don’t have the Big Ten Network? You have six days to switch cable companies and get it! I recommend the channel highly.

Even though Indiana is a perennial Big Ten doormat, it goes without saying that a win or a good showing by Towson Thursday night would probably supercharge the Tigers for the rest of the season. A loss by even 20 points wouldn’t have much of an effect, unless it’s accompanied by a slew of injuries.

Don’t think it can’t happen. The last time I can remember an IVY team playing the cupcake role was back in 1991 when Cornell traveled to Stanford.

The game was set up to commemorate what I think was the anniversary of the first Cornell-Stanford game decades before.

The result?

Stanford thrashed the Big Red, 56-6. Worse, Cornell suffered a rash of injuries against the bigger Cardinal and many Big Red fans believe those injuries were the biggest reason they didn’t repeat as Ivy champs that year.

Patriot Preview

Craig Haley of The Sports Network is out with his gpreview of the seven Patriot League teams.

Since week one opponent Fordham is not eligible to win the league title, he picks them last. But it’s clear that he believes there’s a lot of talent on the team, especially on offense.

The key line in his Fordham preview is this:

“With a soft non- conference schedule, the Rams should post a winning record, which they have done only once over the last five seasons.”

This is the second time in as many weeks that Haley seems to have taken a swipe at Columbia. In his CAA preview, he called Towson’s game against the Lions “an excellent opportunity for a win.”

When Haley’s preview of the Ivies comes out maybe next week, I guess we can expect him to bury us in the standings.

Something we might find encouraging in Haley’s Patriot preview is he believes week four opponent Lafayette is in for a drop in the standings this year. With all the key seniors graduating last May, it’s hard to argue with that. But Haley also notes that the Leopards have been a great road team in recent years and the Lions-Lafayette game is at Wien Stadium.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bobby Says it's True!

Lou Little told no tall tales

I always suspected that this famous football tear-jerker story involving Lou Little was apocryphal.

But legendary Florida State Head Coach Bobby Bowden’s new book Called to Coach includes a bit about Bowden meeting Coach Little and questioning him about the story. If Bowden is to be believed, a story that seems just too good to be true, really IS true.

Roster Adds/Losses/Changes

Bruce Fleming has become the second veteran defensive lineman in as many days to have his name removed from the roster. (Shea Selsor being the first). I thought Fleming, the son of a 1984 national champion Miami Hurricane, filled in very well at defensive tackle last year for the injured Owen Fraser. He was the team’s #6 overall tackler in 2009.

The defensive tackle ranks were bolstered a bit yesterday when we learned that senior Bryan Kipp has flipped from the offensive to the defensive line.

I still like our overall talent at defensive line, but I’m hoping one of the sophomores or freshmen can step it up this year. I hate to lose veteran talent like Fleming and Selsor.

Speaking of the D-Line, does anyone else think that Seyi Adebayo’s 30-pound gain to 260 lbs. means he’s switching from defensive end to defensive tackle? If not, I’d love to see Seyi keep his speed and come around end with that 260-pound load! When he first arrived on campus last year, everyone was very impressed by Seyi’s perfect physical condition. I don’t think he’s going to be any less impressive this season.

A surprise add to the roster is QB Andrew Heinrich. I have some background info on him. He is actually a walk-on transfer! From Boston University! And no, BU hasn't reinstated its football program... it's just where Heinrich was attending classes last year. He was also someone Cornell was looking at a couple of years ago, and sources at Cornell tell me he was accepted or wait-listed there, but for some reason he never ended up in Ithaca.

Heinrich went to the Dalton School in Manhattan.

No More Camp Damp

Today was the first perfect weather day of training camp. Conditions were perfectly dry and between 75-and-80 degrees. It’s going to stay dry for the next few days, but also get hotter. Time to separate the men from the guys who get cramps in 90-degree weather!

2011 Possible Recruit

JaVaunte Mackson from the greater Detroit area, (Belleville HS), is on Columbia’s radar. The article about him talks about his blistering speed, but neglects to mention that Mackson is a DB/RB.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

He Will Survive

Jordan Culbreath (CREDIT: Princeton Athletics)

We don’t usually cheer good news for our Ivy opponents, but you have to be made of stone not to be happy to learn that Princeton’s Jordan Culbreath has been cleared to return to the Tigers for the 2010 season.

This is great news because a little less than a year ago, Culbreath was fighting for his life. I am proud to say that the Roar Lions Roar blog and its readers have been pulling for him ever since.

Whether Culbreath, the last man in the Ivies to rush for 1,000 yards, will be truly effective on the field this season is a major question. I would have to say that I’d be very surprised if he gets any significant playing time. But he’s already beaten a deadly disease, so I wouldn’t put it past him.

Shea Goodbye

A quick check of the Lion roster now shows that defensive lineman Shea Selsor is no longer on the team. He will be missed by me at least. I thought he had a great game in the season finale against Brown last year.

A couple of other changes I noticed are the fact that DB's-turned-WR's Brian DeVeau and Kurt Williams are now listed as WR's, and 2009 kicker Dean Perfetti is now listed as a punter only.

Facts about the Fallacies

The new Inside The Pride web site has a new feature clearly aimed at recruits and their families called “Facts about the Fallacies.” The feature refutes three of what I thought were very old and long-discredited assertions about Columbia football.

1) Columbia is in Harlem
2) Players take the Subway to practice
3) The bus ride from campus is an hour to the stadium/practice facility

Call me a crazy optimist, but I thought these claims were solely the fodder for internet chat boards and jeering fans in the stands, not something rival recruiters were still saying about the Columbia program.

But this response to the slanders leads me to believe that some supposedly “credible” people in this league are still saying these things.

So while I’m very happy with the official responses you can see on the “Inside the Pride” site, I’m saddened that trashing our city and program is still a recruiting tool for at least some of our Ivy rivals.

Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I shop for a car or another big ticket item I never ever buy from a salesman who takes any time to trash the competition. To me, it’s a tell-tale sign that something’s wrong with his product.

Camp Damp… Continued

It remains rainy and unseasonably cool here in New York today as training camp continues. I always wonder how the freshmen players from dry locales like Southern California or Arizona adjust to playing in the rain. It’s very likely that none of them has ever had to do that.

But this season, there are really only two new Lions hailing from dry areas. They are Marquel Carter and Jimmy Yukevich, both from Southern California. It really doesn’t rain that much here in New York, but I hope they’re getting used to it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Camp Damp

It's Rainy in NYC

It figures that after one of the hottest and driest summers I can ever remember here in New York City, the first few days of training camp have been cool and rainy.

So be it.

That’s the kind of weather the Lions will be facing for much of the real season and we don’t have one of those indoor practice facilities like Harvard to make us soft!

The big update so far is that the weight figures for the players have been updated on the roster. I'm not 100% sure if the updating process is complete, but here are a few headlines so far:

-Sophomore DL Seyi Adebayo has gained 30 pounds and is now 260 lbs.

-Freshman DL Hunter Coleman with a 32-pound gain to 232 lbs.

-1st Team All Ivy LT Jeff Adams has gained 15 pounds to pass the 300 mark at 305 lbs.

-Team co-captain WR Mike Stephens gains 18 pounds to 206 lbs.

-Junior QB Jerry Bell is up 18 pounds to 230 lbs. (That'll be a tougher sack I think!)

-Sophomore DL Greg Lee down 30 pounds to 250 lbs.

-Junior LB Will Claunch down 20 pounds to 220 lbs.

There were a couple of trends I noticed in the weight changes overall:

1) Offensive tackles got heavier, while the guards got lighter.

2) Just about all the WR's got at least a little bigger

These two major trends tell me that Columbia seems even more committed to the option offense than ever. I think that's a wise choice with the speedy Sean Brackett at QB. He showed incredible ability handling the option keepers and tosses last season. So speedier pulling guards along with beefier WR's ready to mae blocks downfield seem like good ingredients to execute the option even better in 2010.

Opponent Watch

Week one opponent Fordham has already begun its third week of training camp. The big question in Ram camp is who will get the QB job to replace John Skelton. So far, it looks like an undersized sophomore named Blake Wayne has the lead in the race.

Week two opponent Towson is also in week three of camp and there’s a QB competition in Baltimore as well. One of the competitors is a grad student who transferred from the Citadel! The Tigers travel to Indiana, yes THAT Indiana, to start the season against the Big 10 team on Thursday, September 2.

The Sports Network's Craig Haley, (who covered Princeton for years), is picking Towson to come in 9th out 10 teams in the CAA. But Haley provides bulletin board material for the Lions as well as he describes Towson’s game against Columbia as an “excellent opportunity for a win.”

Shane Sighting!

Getting back to grad students, former Lion Shane Kelly is looking to play QB for Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University as he is an MBA student there. Best of luck to Shane!

Week four opponent Lafayette has, by far, the most comprehensive preseason web page I’ve ever seen. But just like Fordham and Towson, Lafayette is looking for a definite answer at the QB position after Rob Curley graduated in May. Junior Ryan O’Neil (thankfully, not the sleazebag actor), seems to have the inside track.

Cornell has been providing photo updates of its first week of camp, but not much other content. The “headline” so far from those pics is the fact that the Big Red have changed their helmet design to just a single, plain white stripe down the middle instead of the three stripe design the team has used the last few seasons. Some Ivy fans mistakenly thought the helmet was a replica of the design used during the Ed Marinaro years, but as you can see from this link to the Helmet Project, the Big Red in the late 60’s-early 70’s used a “C” design similar to the Chicago Bears’ font.

Scrimmage News

Columbia will return the favor with Brown and travel to Providence for a preseason scrimmage on Saturday September 4th.

Last year’s scrimmage was well… BAD. The Lions looked sloppy compared to an impressive Bear squad.

It turned out that the Brown coaches had completely “game-planned” the scrimmage while the Columbia staff just tried out some different looks in practice mode. It was a totally different story 12 weeks later when the Lions beat Brown 28-14 in the season finale.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kicking it up a Notch!

Lou Gehrig's real disease may have been something else

A couple of things to check before continuing my training camp “to do list.”

First, Lou Gehrig’s career as a Columbia football player is under the medical microscope as a number of experts now believe his football, and then baseball, concussions were what ultimately killed him and not Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Speaking of Lou and concussions, he even suffered one in an exhibition game the Yanks played in June of 1934 in Norfolk, VA against the Yanks’ minor league team, the Norfolk Tars.

I find it interesting that as late as 1934, the newspaper still refers to Gehrig as “Columbia Lou.”

Pre-Frosh Video

Another story I liked was a link the Columbia Spectator provided to a video a soon-to-matriculate student made honoring Columbia athletics. The incoming student’s name is Kenny Nakazawa and I know a lot of Lion alums who are looking to meet him personally at some games this fall. Here’s a link to Kenny’s blog. You can see his video there. Feel free to comment on his video and send him some encouragement! We need more student fans like Kenny!

Kicking and Returning

Now back to the preseason priorities as we are about to begin training camp in just four days.

Kicking problems cost the Lions dearly in 2009, and the coaches clearly responded to that by bringing in more kickers than I can ever remember in a single year.

That said, I liked a lot of what sophomore Greg Guttas showed last year and I would not be surprised if he keeps one the kicking jobs this season, especially doing kickoffs.

But the kicking competition should be lively in camp as Guttas, Dean Perfetti, and Andrew Weiss vie for spots with incoming freshmen Luke Eddy, Tyler Feely, and Paul Delaney.

Of course, special teams aren’t just about kicking.

With Austin Knowlin gone, the Lions need to replace the man who returned 100% of the punts in 2009 and 53% of the kickoffs.

Senior Craig Hamilton returned 14 kicks for a very good 20.7 yards per return average. He’ll certainly be in the mix for what seems like a very crowded field of returning and new players vying for the job of returning kickoffs and punts.

As far as covering kicks goes, that’s a job that has to be re-learned every summer as the coverage teams usually see a lot of turnover. But the Lions did do a great job in this department last season, holding opposing teams to an average of under 19 yards on kickoff returns and under seven yards on punts returns.

Here’s what I would put down as my wish list for our special teams:

1) 98% or better on PAT’s

Columbia was just 81% on PAT’s last season and it seemed like every miss took major air out of our tires. This needs to become automatic in 2010.

2) 80% or better on all FG tries 35 yards and shorter

Columbia only attempted seven field goals ALL SEASON in 2009, with five of them at 35 yards or shorter. The Lions made two of those kicks. It goes without saying that has to improve by leaps and bounds this year. The Lion offense needs to know it doesn’t have to take crazy risks every time it faces a 3rd or 4th down situation in the red zone.

3) Punting average of 38 yards or better

4) Emulating or improving on last season’s kick coverage stats

All of this is easier said than done. But can anyone remember a time when Columbia’s kicking talent was this deep?

Jake on Vacation

I’ll be out of town for a long weekend, so blogging will be light until early next week. I will do my best to make sure important updates are passed on as soon as possible.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

To Do List... Part Two

Stay safe Sean!

I wrote yesterday that my top priority for Columbia football is boosting the Lions numbers against the run.

But that’s obviously not my ONLY priority.

I would have to say my second priority is finding every way possible to keep Sean Brackett healthy.

It’s not that the other QB’s on the roster aren’t talented… they are. I’m talking about Jerry Bell, Paul Havas, Kevin Lenehan, Andrew Weiss, and promising incoming freshman Chris Rapka.

But most of them really play the position in such a different style than Brackett, that I fear the adjustment to a new QB in midseason would be too tough to pull off.

The Lions already have the best left tackle in the league in Jeff Adams. That’s a great start. The rest of the offensive line is also shoring up nicely.

But just as important as the blockers up front will be Lions ability to jazz up and vary the passing attack so Brackett doesn’t have to run as much as he did in his four starts last season.

More short passing and emergency dump off options would be nice. Brackett already has the best pass receiving tight end in the Ivies with Andrew Kennedy, but I’d like to see someone like Zack Kourouma get more chances as a receiver coming out of the backfield like he did in 2008. And who can forget sophomore tailback Nick Gerst, who showed great talent as a receiver in the spring game and in JV ball last year?

And just as important as the short passing game is establishing a real vertical, deep ball, passing attack. Nothing will get those linebackers and safeties back off the line of scrimmage like showing some deep passes now and then. Completing those passes works even better.

The top wide receiver coming back for the Lions this year is co-captain Mike Stephens. Stephens has great speed and is certainly capable of hauling in long bombs from Brackett’s deceptively strong arm. But I think one of the many other receivers on this squad will become the primary deep threat.

By my count, there are 13 wide receivers on the Lion roster right now, including Brian DeVeau and Kurt Williams who switched to the position this past spring. In the Spring Game, Williams was used on deep routes and he looked good. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the mix big time in 2010.

Another good candidate is returning senior Nico Gutierrez. Nico really impressed as a frosh, but hasn’t really recovered from re-tearing his ACL in the last game of that freshman campaign in 2007. If he is finally totally healed, he would have the speed to be a great deep threat. Remember, Nico caught 29 passes for 372 yards and two TD’s in ’07.

There are a good number of other candidates here, and you can check them all on the roster, but making sure Brackett doesn’t have to do it all with his legs this fall is going to be just about everybody’s responsibility. That includes Brackett, who will have to resist just taking off and running too early… or fighting too hard for that extra yard and taking a punishing hit.

These will be tough lessons to learn and tough jobs to fill.

The coaches have their hands full.

Good News, Bad News

Columbia came in fourth in the annual ranking of U.S. colleges and universities in U.S. News & World Report.

That’s the highest ranking I can ever remember for Columbia.

Mazal Tov!

But you might also notice that Columbia’s total tuition and fees was the highest of any school in the top 25.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

To Do List

Alex Gross is back, so the outside running lanes are now closed (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

Columbia’s players report to training camp this coming Sunday.

So what do the Lions need to work on the most?

I could go with the easy answer, and say the Lions should focus more on improving the kicking game than anything else. Not only does it need improvement, but there are a lot of new players joining the veterans to sort out.

But with just three weeks for training camp, the coaching staff can’t blow too much time on just special teams, (as important as they are).

What really hurt Columbia too many times last season was the inability to stop the run as well as it did in 2008. The Lions fell from third in the league in rush defense in ’08 to sixth last season, allowing 65 yards more per game.

Weakness against the run directly led to the losses versus Central Connecticut and Dartmouth, and the more than one minute negative gap in overall time of possession for the entire season.

The best news in this department is that two key run-stoppers return from injury in Owen Fraser and Alex Gross.

But the Lions can’t take for granted that Fraser and Gross will be 100% as healthy and effective as they were before their 2009 injuries.

Perhaps an underreported, (by me), story is the play of Chris Groth. Groth made huge strides in 2009 as a sophomore and there’s a good chance he gets into the All Ivy mix as a junior.

Another slightly under the radar player who will contribute to stopping the run in 2010 is Josh Smith, who showed a good ability to get into the backfield from the defensive end position last year.

Bruce Fleming is another player who doesn’t get a lot of press, but he filled in very well for Fraser last year and he’s now gearing up for a big senior season.

As far as some of the younger players goes, I see Seyi Adebayo, Shea Selsor and Josh Martin as being better pass rushing weapons than run stopping specialists.

The sophomores that I’d like to see pop in this area are bigger boys like Shad Sommers, Greg Lee, and Anthony Villamagna. Freshman Joe Raimondi packs 270 pounds and a championship wrestling pedigree, (like Lou Miller), to this area as well.

Getting back to the linebacker position, the list of returning veteran run stoppers other than Gross is not as deep as I think the coaches would like it to be. But one guy to keep your eye on is Matt Moretto, who looks like he’s got a great shot to replace the graduated Corey Cameron. He too is coming off an injury that actually happened in 2008 and was not fully out of his system last season. Evan Miller could also become a serious factor if he shows some improvement from pretty solid play at outside linebacker last year. Will Patterson looked fantastic in limited duty last season, but mostly as a pass rusher.

Another burning question at linebacker is what seems like the continuing battle for the starting middle linebacker job. Will this be the season that either senior Marc Holloway or junior Nick Mistretta really grabs the job for good? How the Lions perform against the run could be the top determining factor in that battle.

Another factor people sometimes forget is that the secondary has to come up big as well to make sure opposing running attacks get stopped.

To that end, Coach Wilson mentioned in the media day conference call that Adam Mehrer is getting better as a tackler every season. He even had a tackle for a loss on a run last year. Ross Morand is a hard hitter from the cornerback position.

I am actually very confident that Columbia will make a big reduction in rushing yards allowed this season. And I realize there are some other big priorities like re-igniting the passing game without Austin Knowlin and the pass rush without Lou Miller.

But because stopping the run in 2010 relies so much on some recovering players, and because failures in this area cost the Lions so much in 2009, I put this as my top training camp priority for this year.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Freshmen 15

My advice to the freshmen: Start training... heavily

This is going to be a controversial post, because it will inevitably make some people mad.

But every year, people ask me the understandable question: “Which of the incoming freshmen are the best in the class?”

And with nine days to go before camp opens, it's time for me to try to answer

There are so many disclaimers I have to tick off before I can even begin to answer that question, but here are the most important ones:

1) These are all just predictions. Not rankings or scouting reports, because I am not a scout.

2) I am going to leave someone out who doesn’t deserve to be left out, but I’d like to give some recognition to the players I truly do think are especially promising.

3) To make it even more clear, this is just MY GUESS based on some facts, outside-the-Columbia program sources, and gut reactions.

4) I am very likely to overlook the player who will be the long-term biggest star in the class of 2014. I'm not a genius, far from it. That's why.

5) I suspect the REAL breakout stars this season are more likely to come from the SOPHOMORE and JUNIOR classes.

6) I am going to be woefully wrong about at least one of these kids either listed or not listed.

But first, a word about playing freshmen on the varsity vs. JV.

If you don’t think a JV program is a strong or better alternative, see Harvard and Brown. They’ve made honing youngtalent over the initial two-year period an art. Columbia’s renewed commitment to JV football since 2007 is already reaping rewards in this same way.

Another thing I’d like to do is look back at the last three seasons and point out who ended up being the best performing freshman in his initial year on the team.

In 2007, it was easy to choose: Alex Gross was a breakout star and the 2007 Ivy League Rookie of the Year. But even with Gross' super year, there were also standout performances by then-frosh Nico Gutierez, Adam Mehrer, Matt Moretto, and Andrew Kennedy. In a “non-Alex Gross” year any one of them could have been the top frosh.

In 2008, Owen Fraser emerged right away on the defensive line. He was the biggest reason why Columbia’s weak 2007 rush defense turned into a strength overnight. Kalasi Huggins and AJ Maddox made great strides as frosh, but were in Fraser’s shadow in that department.

Last season, Sean Brackett was obviously the biggest freshmen star. He started the final four games of the season at QB, winning two of them and was Ivy Rookie of the week in the finale against Brown. I thought Will Paterson also made a nice splash at the end of the season, showing some real quickness as an outside pass rusher.

If you’re alarmed by the relatively smaller number of freshmen stars since 2007, see what I wrote above about JV football and see the overall won-lost records for Harvard and Brown since 1999.

Also consider Jeff Adams, who didn’t play much more than a minute for the varsity as a frosh in 2008. But he starred on the JV and then became the top left tackle in all the Ivies in 2009.

Okay, disclaimers over.

Based on my research, here are the freshmen who just MY OPINION seem most LIKELY to be top players for us in the near and more distant future:

1) Marcorus Garrett RB

Tremendous speed and agility at a position where top-level talent is becoming harder to find in the Ivies. The upside here is almost unlimited. Could have an immediate impact.

2) Bruce Grant WR

Another speed demon, this time with local pedigree. The catch is… can he catch? He’s a converted running back who may have no trouble burning the coverage and taking a hit, but will he grab the ball on the fly?

3) Brian East LB

Starred for a top level high school program in Indiana. With some key players at linebacker graduating at the end of the season, he’s well positioned to make an impact for three years or more.

4) Nick Melka DL

Already the right size to play his position and may be coming to CU at just the right time with Lou Miller graduating last May.

5) Luke Eddy K

Nobody is denying the Lions need to shore up the kicking game right away, and Eddy looks like a real contender as a FG and PAT specialist.

6) Paul Delaney P

I thought Greg Guttas really came along as a punter last season, but Delaney comes from a top-level high school program and could challenge for this job right away.

7) Chris Rapka QB

Has a lot of the tools to be a future star, and good size too. Comes from a good competitive school and program in Florida.

8) Hamilton Garner TE

Great size and experience, and comes from a good conference in Georgia. I don’t expect him on the field this year for the varsity, but he’s a good candidate to replace Andrew Kennedy after this season.

9) Brad Losee DL

Great looking prospect from football-rich Minnesota. May need a year or so to get the right size to play up front, but he already reminds me somewhat of Lou Miller.

10) Marquel Carter DB

Outstanding athlete and the kind of guy Columbia and the Ivies would love to serve up as the poster boy for all that’s good about this league. But he’ll have to prove it on the field in a very crowded group of defensive backs for the next few seasons.

11) Duncan Dickerson OL

A top-rated long snapper, Dickerson could be seeing playing time very soon as the Lions had some troubles in this area last year.

12) Maurice Rothschild WR

Another speedy skill player who could surprise this year or next. How bulked up he is or isn't when he comes into camp may mae a big difference for him.

13) Griffin Lowry RB

Every Ivy team has a player like Lowry; a top-flight BCS-caliber recruit who becomes available at our level because of a junior or senior year injury. I am in no way opposed to bringing 1-2 of these guys on board each year, because the upside is tremendous if they recover fully. But fans need to not expect it to happen. So far, the list of players like this who have become big-time Ivy stars is small. But so is the list of HEALTHY players who become stars! This is rarefied air we’re talking about after all. It’s been years since the Lions have had a dominant fullback and Lowry could be that guy one day.

14) Zach Olinger LB

Another product from a real rich football conference who could make a difference on defense. A gym rat, Olinger is a good example to others about putting in the hard work with the weights.

15) Joey Andrada WR

At 6-2, he’s tied for the top spot as Columbia’s tallest receiver. With all the shorter, speedy guys vying for a chance to play, he may stand out.

Gutey Announcement

The athletic department has released a fuller bio piece on new DB Coach Jeff Gutekunst today. There are a lot of good tidbits about “Gutey” that I missed last week and a can’t miss funny quote from Head Coach Norries Wilson about how he’ll have to make some personal changes now that Gutekunst is on board.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Primary Secondary

Ross Morand filled in nicely last year at corner (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

I don't think I posted this earlier, but check out incoming freshman Chris Alston's high school highlight video. He seems like a very hard hitter.

Alston is just one of, by my count, 20 Columbia players who have positions in the secondary. About 8-9 of them have significant playing experience. Sounds like a tough juggling job for the secondary coach. Luckily, Columbia's new man at that job isthe very experienced and respected John Gutekunst. Gutekunst sure knows when to join a squad, he inherits quite a bit of deep and amazing talent.

The local media in Minnesota is starting to catch on about Columbia's hiring of the ex-Gophers head coach as this article suggests.

Gutekunst aside, it's hard not to be excited about the Lion secondary this season despite the graduatio loss of four-year starter Andy Shalbrack.

The unit returns very talented players like Calvin Otis, Kalasi Huggins, Ross Morand, and Neil Schuster at cornerback.

The safeties are led by All Ivy Adam Mehrer, Augie Williams, and AJ Maddox is back from injury. Watch out for Maddox to make a big impact this season. I know the team was extremely disappointed to lose him to injury all of last season and there was a reason for that. I wouldn't be surprised if he starts making that impact returning kicks.

The pantry is so stocked in the secondary that good athlets like Kurt Williams and Brian DeVeau could make the switch to WR in the spring. DeVeau ended up scoring the Spring Game's lone TD and Williams impressed in that game and in practice. Kurt may be the best toned athlete on the team.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Defending their (Rarefied) Turf

Top Guns: Harvard's Murphy and Penn's Bagnoli

As some other writers have pointed out, the Ivy Media Day teleconference is annoying in some ways. The lack of one-on-one interaction means we all have to listen to platitudes like “we’re improving,” and “we have a great bunch of kids.”

For the record, I though Columbia Head Coach Norries Wilson was way above average yesterday when it comes to being candid. He said the kicking game last year was, flat out, “bad.” He said the team can’t possibly replace Lou Miller with one single player carrying the pass rushing load. He admitted that the team needs to replace the “fear factor” that Austin Knowlin brought to opposing defenses.

But some messages from the other coaches came through pretty clearly during the event and they were important... even if the coaches saying them used messages that required us to read between the lines.

Let me focus on the coaches of the two teams everyone thinks will be heads and shoulders above the rest, (except for the MANIAC who picked Yale to win the title. I don't know who that was, but I want some of what he's drinking).

Harvard’s Tim Murphy and Penn’s Al Bagnoli both expect to win the title. But they downplayed their apparent weaknesses in different ways.

Murphy admitted that he only has one returning starting offensive linemen, but insisted his new starting left tackle Kevin Murphy is the greatest thing since sliced bread, (are you listening Jeff Adams?). He also ticked off the names of a bunch of up and coming defensive stars that sounded impressive. He admitted that switching QB’s from Collier Winters to Andrew Hatch would be a challenge to team morale IF it happens, but insisted the players would rally around whoever brings the team victories.

Bagnoli admitted the Quakers will most likely not be as dominant defensively as they were in 2009. He said he hopes the offense will pick up the slack, with all the returning O-line and running backs like Lyle Marsh and Mike DiMaggio in the fold. He made a much less convincing argument for the Penn passing game, saying the reason the Quakers had no vertical attack last season was because so many different guys were playing QB at different times. (Hmm… that didn’t stop Columbia from airing it out despite the fact that the Lions had three different QB’s throwing at different times in the season, and TWO of those three were running QB’s).

Here’s what I think:

Harvard will be good. I did indeed vote in the media poll and Harvard was my pick to win the championship. My vote was mostly based on Treavor Scales, (who will have an even bigger year this season for the Crimson), and a receiving corps that’s very deep and talented.

But I don’t think the O-line will be the best in the league no matter how good this Kevin Murphy is. And that’s why we’ll probably see both Hatch and Winters at QB this season as they figure to get jostled a bit more than Winters was last year.

Either way, if and when Hatch starts a game there may be Hell to pay emotionally sometime AFTER the game is over. But Coach Murphy is correct that the price will be a lot smaller if the Crimson win that game.

Bagnoli’s kidding himself if he thinks we’re going to buy the argument that the Quakers will air the ball out a lot this year. Why bother? The O-line is great and everyone in the Penn backfield can run pretty well. But I think the dropoff for Penn’s defense will be more pronounced than Bagnoli or a lot of others think. There’s not a team in the Ivies that wouldn’t want to get into a shootout with the Quakers this year as opposed to a slow, smash mouth game that Penn can control in the trenches.

Campbell Center Update… Sort of

Today’s New York Times article on the progress for the Campbell Sports Center contains some annoying quotes, including one from a former Verizon employee who also showed up and was quoted in a New York 1 TV report about the project five months ago. Hmm...

I won’t bother to rehash the arguments I made about supposed “community opposition” to this project back in March. They still stand and I still think the “opposition” is suspect to say the least.

But I am more encouraged by the fact that it seems less and less likely that anything is going to derail this project, which is sorely needed. The Chrystie Field House just isn’t cutting it anymore on its own.

Sign up for Big Green Alert!

Here’s a pitch for my friend Bruce Wood’s excellent work covering Dartmouth and Ivy football on his Big Green Alert site. You can get some great free content on his Big Green Alert Blog, but let me make a case for paying the small fee and getting the premium package.

Bruce’s excellent previews of each Ivy team begin tonight, so don’t wait!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Teleconference Blog

An MP3 will indeed be available of this newsconference on Ivyleaguesports.com later today

Robin Harris delivered some very brief welcoming remarks.

Jim Maconaghy, coordinator of officials for the Ivy League said the officials had three days of clinics in Philadelphia recently.

Not a lot of changes this year.

Wedge blocking on kickoffs is being scaled back. Only two players will be allowed to be shoulder-to-shoulder from now on for kickoffs only.

Officials are going to be on the lookout for more signs of concussions from now on. Anyone believed to be showing concussion symptoms will have to be cleared by on-the-field medical staff from now on. An injury timeout alone will not be sufficient.

No more writing on the eye shade for players anymore.

For 2011 season, taunting after scores will NEGATE the score! And also in 2011, the coaches in the booth will be allowed to have TV monitors. But there’s no immediate chance of instant replay being brought into the Ivy League. This would probably have to be a FCS decision, not just an Ivy decision.

Phil Estes, Brown

-First have to recognize that we’ve lost a huge amount of starters, but recruiting has been great and we have a history of replacing stars at Brown now. Estes also praised the JV program for helping to replace the starters at the varsity level.

-Zach Tronti will be back. He has recovered from his ACL tear at Yale. But Spiro Theodosi is out for the season with his ACL. Mark Mark Katchmer will take over from him.

-All five projected starters on the OL have starting experience.

-Clay McGrath comes back at DE. But we need more experience on defense.

-Very excited about AJ Cruz at CB.

-Freshman kicker named Noracea will at least be able to help us on kick offs. nate levitt and nate myers had great springs.

Norries Wilson, Columbia

-We had a good spring. 10 out 12 good practices in the spring. We have work to do, but not a lot of questions.

-AJ Maddox Owen Fraser and Alex Gross coming back.

-Knowlin and Miller are going to be tough losses. We won’t find one player to produce like Lou, but the group will have to do that as a group.

-We need more production for our offense to get back the fear factor Knowlin gave us.

-Our depth has improved. Evan Miller and Augie Williams filled in well for Gross. Matt Moretto is ready to go in for Corey Cameron.

-Kicking game is still a question. It was bad last year. We hope Greg and Dean continue to punt. We recruited some good players too. The job is open.

-The three players projected to play at OL look good, not huge question marks.

-The trend of the spread offense may start waning a bit.

-Adam Mehr is a leader. Alex Gross is someone the kids rally behind. Evan Miller does what he’s asked to do. A joy to have around campus.

Kent Austin, Cornell

A blend of both CFL and Ole Miss. But I believe in a power running game but with more creativity than we used at Mississippi.

We will be a 4-3 as we are putting a priority on stopping the run. Talent on defense seems better on defense right now.

Junior Adam Currie, sophomore Chris Amrhein, and freshman Jeff Matthews look good for the mix at QB. Chris has the quick arm and accurate. Adam is bright, doesn’t have the arm that Chris has but makes great decisions. Matthews has a real opportunity. Very accurate passer. Will do all the studying he needs to do. Josh Vick tore his ACL in the spring throwing the javelin in track. He’s out for the season.

Outsiders would be surprised at the level of talent in the Ivies. Coaches do a great job.

Buddy Teevens, Dartmouth

A lot of players coming back and they should be more seasoned now. Depth has improved.

The new schedule will be a plus. We’ve had our difficulties with UNH and Colgate over the past 10 years. Also the players like to see a change in the schedule.

Nick Schwieger is fine. He seems to have no issues right now.

Tim McManus is back this year and will play WR.

Buddy seems to be relying a lot on the offensive lineman improving with age.

Scrimmage with Harvard has been helpful. Testing against the league’s best.

Tim Murphy, Harvard

We came within a couple of plays from winning our third straight Ivy title. But we just weren’t tough enough.

There will be “tremendous competition” for the QB position. He mentioned Hatch and explained his transfer history. We have to consider the intangibles. The players like Hatch. And even though Winters is the leader of the team, if Hatch is the guy to win us games, the team will rally around him.

Good depth at WR. Cook , iannuzzi with chrisis, and lorditch.

Concern is at the offensive line. Only one starter returning. But our left tackle has a chance to be a better pro prospect. Kevin Murphy has great size and is a great athlete. He could be the best Harvard OL since Matt Birk.

Murphy seems very confident in his defense, especially with some returning players coming off injuries. More depth on the defensive line this year.

Al Bagnoli, Penn

We have a lot of experience back on offense. The offense line is 100% back. Kicking game is back and looks good.

On defense, we graduated five dominant players. I’m not sure we can be as strong on defense as we were, but we expect to be better on offense.

But the unknown factor is how the team will react to the suicide of Owen Thomas. The reaction so far has been healthy.

Keiffer Garton has the most experience coming back. Billy Ragone and John Hurley have seen action. This will be a position of strength for us.

We have depth at RB. Mike DiMaggio is back and Matt Hamscher is too. Jeff Jack. Lyle Marsh may not need to carry 30-35 times game.

We will have a vertical passing attack. Bradford Blackmon can make plays outside and open up the offense a bit.

Doesn’t pay attention to the polls.

Bob Surace, Princeton

Pleased with improvements so far.

Didn’t know James Perry personally, but I did know about his abilities. But bringing him in doesn’t mean there will be more or less passing or running in the Tiger offense this season.

I learned from Marvin Lewis, who was the leader of a lot of great defenses.

Wornham is the guy at QB now. He is improving. Protecting the ball. He is becoming much more accurate as a passer. Looks more like a leader now as a junior. Exudes more confidence.

Would you ever consider scheduling a game against Rutgers? Not likely, they are on a different level. Schedule is set for about 10 years.

Tom Williams, Yale

Excited about the returning players. Good number of them coming back.

Witt is the starter and has the top spot. We will still have completion, but it’s his job to lose. He had to adjust to a lot of changes last year. Now he has a year under his belt and he had a great spring game.

Williams response to the fake punt call: the people who thought that was too much of a gamble probably had their money in the money market and not in stocks!

Mordecai Cargil and Alex Thomas are coming back. Confident in them.

We feel like the guys potentially replacing Tom Mante will fill in well.

Getting a full year under my belt as a coach has left me knowing the league better.

Funeral Details for Jesse Parks '73

Jesse Parks will be laid to rest this week in Atlanta.

Here are some details for people who may be in the area:

Public viewing will take place on Thursday, August 12, from 1 PM until 9 PM. The family will be there for the wake from 5:30 - 7 PM. The viewing and wake will take place at the funeral home on Thursday.

Murray Brothers Funeral Home
1199 Utoy Springs Road, SW
Atlanta, GA 30331

The funeral will be held on Friday, August 13 at 11 AM at:

Saint Paul's Episcopal Church
306 Peyton Road, SW
Atlanta, GA 30311

Lunch will be served afterwards. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Jesse's name.

Our condolences to Jesse's wife Beverly and the entire Parks family.

Breaking! Poll Released



First-Place Votes in Parentheses, total votes without

1. Harvard (10) 128
2. Penn (6) 124
3. Brown 95
4. Yale (1) 83
5. Columbia 61
6. Princeton 55
7. Dartmouth 39
8. Cornell 27

I am honestly surprised by some of these results.

See the full release here.

Bushnell News and Telconference Reminder

Doug Jackson, Columbia's first Bushnell Winner

News of Jesse Parks’ death puts a sad cloud over what was some unrelated good news for Ivy football that came out earlier today.

It won't be as great as the Heisman presentation ceremony on national TV, but the Ivy football MVP is going to get some great added attention beginning this year.

The league is going to give the Bushnell Cup MVP award winner this year, (and hopefully this will become a tradition), his special due with a trophy award ceremony in early December.

My guess is that the All Ivy team will be announced a few days after the season is over, (as always), and just the announcement of the Bushnell Cup winner will be withheld until this ceremony.

But this is great news as our league’s MVP deserves as much special recognition as possible. And the growing partnership with the National Football Foundation is a major plus.

How great would it be for Columbia to grab its first Bushnell Cup winner since 1982 on this much larger stage?

Coaches Teleconference and Poll Release Tomorrow!

I'll be reporting on the coaches annual preseason teleconference starting around 11 AM tomorrow. The preseason poll predicting the final standings in the league will be released at that time.

If I may be so bold as to predict the prediction, I am expecting Penn to be voted the preseason favorite, Harvard second, and Columbia will probably be picked fifth.

Jesse Parks 1951-2010

One of the greatest overall athletes to ever put on a Columbia uniform has passed away.

Jesse Parks ’73, who starred as a wide receiver for some of the Lions greatest teams in history, died suddenly in Atlanta this past Saturday of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Funeral arrangements are being made at this time.

Parks was a three-time All Ivy receiver for Lions, including that miracle 1971 season when Columbia came within a whisker of the Ivy title. In 1972, he was a team captain.

He came to Columbia from Classical High School in Springfield, MA. His father was a professor at Springfield College.

An outstanding athlete, Parks also was a star for the Lion baseball team and still ranks in the top 10 for triples all-time.

His greatest single game was probably the 24-22 loss to Princeton at Palmer Stadium in 1970. In that game, Parks caught seven passes for 120 yards and two TD’s. He ran for 36 yards and one TD. He also caught a pass for a two-point conversion.

But I’m guessing Parks’ favorite memories of Columbia football are connected to the thrilling 31-29 win over the great Dartmouth Indians, (as they were then called), in 1971. Parks caught a key TD pass in that game and was a key to the Lion offense. It was the only loss of the season for Dartmouth.

Parks played with, and earned the undying respect of, many of Columbia’s greatest football players.

They include Don Jackson, Paul Kaliades, Mike Evans, Mike Jones, and Ted Gregory.

I was able to contact Ted Gregory today and this is what he had to say about Parks:

“Jesse was a year ahead of me and an All-Ivy wide receiver and one of three Captains his senior year (Paul Kaliades and Don Jackson). I had to cover him every day in practice and he made me a better player. Jesse was tough – he would deliver as many blows as he would take during a game (or practice). He was unquestionably a leader – Jesse had his own way of doing things – his own view of the world and his commitment to that is what made him an amazing person. He was also my fraternity brother (Alpha Phi Alpha). He will be missed.”

Please feel free to use the comments section to add your thoughts and memories of Jesse.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

A Coach's Coach

John Gutekunst in the 80's

I’m a big fan of what you might call “seasoned professionals.”

(FYI: “Seasoned” is a polite code word for “older.”)

Thus, I am over the moon about the latest addition to the Lion coaching staff: John Gutekunst. Yes, THAT John Gutekunst, who was head coach at the University of Minnesota for six-plus seasons.

Gutekunst will oversee our defensive backs, the job he held at Minnesota before he replaced Lou Holtz as head coach. Gutekunst got the job when Holtz left for Notre Dame. That was just a few weeks before the Golden Gophers were scheduled to take on Clemson in the 1985 Independence Bowl. The Gophers won, 20-13.

A year later, Gutekunst achieved his greatest feat as a head coach, a 20-17 win over the Michigan Wolverines at the Big House. Michigan was undefeated and the #2 team in the nation at the time.

One of the captains on that team was OL Norries Wilson. The connection between the two men is clear, and let’s hope it works out just as well as the partnership between Wilson and former Columbia defensive coordinator Lou Ferrari did for Wilson’s first three seasons at CU. Ferrari was also one of Wilson’s coaches back at Minnesota under Gutekunst.

Columbia has a bumper crop of talent in the secondary, and now I feel more confident that it will be managed well despite all the good players vying for playing time.

I know it’s been a long time since Gutekunst was a big time college head coach. But I think bringing him to Columbia is a big coup for our program at this time. And it clearly shows that Coach Wilson has cultivated some impressive connections and friendships during his playing and coaching career.

In an era where 32-year-old kids are getting hired to coach NFL teams and big-time BCS college programs, I am gratified that someone seems to understand the value of a person like the 66-year-old Gutekunst.

And I predict opposing passing attacks will suffer as a result!

Looking for More Dennis?

Some readers have missed all the existing installments of my long-running, (and still going!), interview with star Columbia receiver Roger Dennis ’66.

Here’s where you can find all the posts so far:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

A Word from the Ladies

Friday, August 06, 2010

Escape Hatch

Andrew Hatch in his LSU days

I can’t say I’m surprised… in fact, I have been predicting for more than a year that Andrew Hatch would indeed be on the Harvard active roster for this season.

And today, his name and picture are on the Crimson website along with a nice bio.

Now, we’ll have to wait a little longer to find out if the second part of my long-running prediction will also come true. I believe Hatch will be the starting QB for Harvard when the season begins on September 18th.

Is he going to set the league on fire and guide the Crimson to a 10-0 season?

Not quite, in my opinion. But I do think he will be an upgrade over Collier Winters, a great QB in his own right but he wasn’t able to deliver the big scores when Harvard needed them last year, (really just against Penn, but that was the one game that really counted in 2009), and Hatch has a bigger body and better experience under his belt.

Putting Hatch under center should put some concerns about the Crimson to rest. The offense has some holes to fill on the O-line, but with a backfield of Treavor Scales, Gino Gordon, and the excellent running Hatch… the blocking job will be a lot easier for everyone.

But I do think Tim Murphy may be playing with fire with his decision. If he does start Hatch, that could very well lead to some very angry reactions from Winters and his supporters in the locker room. A good long winning streak would probably erase most hard feelings, but Harvard’s crucial game at Brown is a week two contest before any real momentum can be achieved.

If he goes with Winters and the Harvard offense struggles at all, there will be growing rumblings for Murphy to change his mind. QB controversies can often help players play better, but the unique circumstances of Hatch’s career and his multiple transfers make for a sticky situation in Cambridge.

Meanwhile, over at Yale there’s another QB controversy brewing.

After toying with the idea of quitting football and concentrating on a very promising baseball career, Brook Hart is back with the gridders and poised to take a shot at Patrick Witt’s starting spot.

I thought Witt showed only a few inconsistent flashes of brilliance last season, while Hart never really looked like a top passer in this league to me. But in this case, I think the competition will be good for the Elis. Yale was the weakest team in the Ivies last season, (despite the weird win over the Lions), and a fight for the most important position on the team should fire up the squad as a whole.


In July, visits to this blog were up 43.3% from July of 2009! Your interest humbles me.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

5 Questions

I won’t get a chance to ask all these questions to all the coaches at the Ivy League football media day this coming Tuesday, but I’d love to have Columbia fans and fans from all the other Ancient Eight teams who read this blog give me their input on some of these burning queries:

1) It’s a tie game with 1:30 left and you have the ball, 3rd and 4 at your opponent’s 40-yard line. Who’s getting the ball?

2) If you could choose between more official practice/training camp time and three athletic scholarships per recruiting class, what would be your choice?

3) Your A.D. just came into your office and told you if you don’t win this Saturday, you’re out as head coach. What Ivy team this year do you LEAST want to be playing that Saturday to keep your job and what Ivy team do you MOST want to be playing?

4) Has the issue of dwindling attendance been a roadblock for you with recruiting players who are considering other conferences? What about the no playoff rule?

5) Why aren’t there any 1,000 yard rushers in this league anymore?

If I were the Columbia head coach, (and that’s just as likely as me becoming a brain surgeon), and I were answering these questions, here’s what I’d answer:

It’s a tie game with 1:30 left and you have the ball, 3rd and 4 at your opponent’s 40-yard line. Who’s getting the ball?

I’d love to see TE Andrew Kennedy become more of a 3rd down clutch target. Kennedy made a lot of big plays as a receiver last season, but very few if any were on third down. With QB Sean Brackett’s ability to scramble and buy time, I think Kennedy could be very valuable blocking for a few moments on the end and then breaking off for a short pass pattern. At the very least, it would be great to have the speedy Kennedy in synch with Brackett throughout the season.

Speaking of Kennedy, his local Connecticut newspaper just published this story about him, although it appears that the online version cutoff at least some of the story.

If you could choose between more official practice/training camp time and three athletic scholarships per recruiting class, what would be your choice?

For some teams, more practice time can be a bad thing. I feel like I’ve seen a lot more injuries from practice than from actual games. But I still would easily pick more training camp time over a small amount of additional financial help each year. The truth is, the Ivy schools all do a very good job of financially helping all the players as much as they legally can and the effort a lot of people in the admissions offices put into that is something we should be grateful for.

But how the coaches are able to get the returning players back into the groove and bring about 30 new freshmen into the fold in three weeks of training camp is beyond me.

I wish the league would allow some form of the NFL’s OTA’s during these long summer months to help keep everyone fresh and allow the most talented frosh to show their stuff as soon as possible.

Your A.D. just came into your office and told you if you don’t win this Saturday, you’re out as head coach. What Ivy team this year do you LEAST want to be playing that Saturday to keep your job and what Ivy team do you MOST want to be playing?

This would be a toss-up between Princeton and Cornell. Both are home games for Columbia this year and both teams look weak. But I’m leaning toward Princeton here.

As far as the team I’d LEAST like to have to beat to save my job, that would be Harvard this year. They may not end up as the champs but going up to Harvard Stadium and coming away a winner has been the tallest order for Columbia teams over the last 32 years, (just two wins there since 1978… including 1978).

Has the issue of dwindling attendance been a roadblock for you with recruiting players who are considering other conferences? What about the no playoff rule?

Obviously, I don’t recruit players. But if I would have to guess the attendance issue league-wide is probably a bigger problem than the playoffs question. Whenever prospective players come to visit on game days, the empty seats in the stands are a real elephant in the room. I don’t know if the parents care more about that the players, but I would worry about it a lot if I were a coach trying to get a kid to commit to an Ivy school over schools like Virginia or Duke that aren’t always that good but at least have raucous crowds.

Why aren’t there any 1,000 yard rushers in this league anymore?

I think finding that magic combination of a fast and big running back along with an effective offensive line all in the same season is becoming more elusive than ever in this league. Throw in the new fascination with running QB’s, (a trend I think Cornell re-ignited in the league when Cornell’s Ryan Kuhn ran for big yards in 2005).

There also seems to be a real push towards running the ball more by committee and getting away from the NFL-style strategy of giving a back the ball 30 times per game and letting him go.

Injuries are also playing a role and it does seem like more teams are dealing with more injuries than ever. Is it just that the explosion of electronic media is making this news more accessible, or are players actually getting hurt more often? I tend to think it’s a little bit of both but I suspect there has been a real increase in injuries especially to running backs in recent years.

A Movie Trailer Worth Watching

This isn’t about football, but check out the trailer for this movie I think you’ll like it.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Patriot Games

Colgate has been chosen as the expected champion in the annual Patriot League preseason poll released this morning.

Columbia’s week four opponent Lafayette came in second.

Here’s the full list:

1. Colgate (6 first-place votes) 46
2. Lafayette (2) 36
3. Lehigh (3) 35
4. Holy Cross (1) 34
5. Bucknell 17
6. Georgetown 12

But WAIT! Where’s FORDHAM?!? Well, even though Fordham remains on every Patriot League team’s schedule the Rams are no longer official members of the league and cannot win the title. This is all because Fordham is now an athletic scholarship football program and the rest of the Patriot League did not want to go in that direction. Fordham is now looking to join another conference, and the smart money has them hooking up with the CAA in the coming years.

Fordham’s exclusion from the title hunt definitely seems fortunate for the rest of the teams in a league looking at a major graduation drain. Patriot power Holy Cross loses QB Dominic Randolph, Lafayette has just 10 starters returning, and Bucknell and Georgetown aren’t good enough to worry about total starters returning or otherwise.

IF Fordham had been allowed to stay in the title race this season, the Rams would have a good shot. They lose QB John Skelton but still have all their other key skill players back on offense.

That leaves a very talented Colgate team and the up-and-coming Lehigh as the only two real “on the up-swing” programs right now.

This poll has big significance for the Ivies. There will be a total of 17 games between Patriot and Ivy teams this season. Here’s the total inter-conference schedule below:

9/18: Georgetown at Yale 12pm

9/18: Fordham* at Columbia 12:30pm

9/18: Princeton at Lehigh 12:30pm

9/18: Dartmouth at Bucknell 1pm

9/18: Holy Cross at Harvard 7pm

9/18: Lafayette at Penn 7pm

9/25: Lafayette at Princeton 6pm

10/2: Harvard at Lafayette 12pm

10/2: Cornell at Bucknell 3:30pm

10/9: Lafayette at Columbia 12:30pm

10/9: Brown at Holy Cross 1pm

10/9: Colgate at Princeton 1pm

10/9: Penn at Bucknell 1pm

10/16: Fordham* at Yale 12pm

10/16: Lehigh at Harvard 12pm

10/16: Colgate at Cornell 12:30

10/16: Holy Cross at Dartmouth 1:30

(*=Fordham not eligible for the Patriot League title in 2010)

If you ask me, the REAL winner of this poll is… Dartmouth! Yes, Dartmouth wins because 1st place poll finisher Colgate is no longer on their schedule and it looks like this is going to be a rare down year for Holy Cross.

Honors for Gross

Linebacker Alex Gross has been given an honorable mention nod on the FCS Senior Scout Bowl All America team. Hopefully, they know something we don’t about the success of Alex’s recovery from a massive knee injury last season. Most Columbia fans know that even if Gross comes back to 80% as effective as he was before the injury, he could be a top player at his position.

New Dartmouth AD

The man who hired former defensive coordinator Aaron Kelton away from Columbia earlier this summer to be the head coach at Williams College is moving to Dartmouth as the Big Green’s new athletic director. I suggest reading more about Harry Sheehy at Bruce Wood’s Big Green Alert blog.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Now… Where Were We?

Dartmouth did not finish strong in 2009

It seems a bit silly to talk about “momentum” from the season finale of 2009 to the opener of 2010 when the Ivies have a 300-day offseason.

But there are usually at leastsome important lessons you can learn about the overall quality of a team from the last game of any given season. After all, each game is a whopping 10% of the year and that's a lot. Things the returning players do in the finales can provide cluesp when you try to predict what that team will look like in the current year.

Here are some of the lessons I learned from the four Ivy football season finales from Nov. 21, 2009:

Harvard 14 Yale 10

If there’s any game in college football where you can throw out all the previous game stats and essentials, it’s the annual version of The Game. Very often, the emotion takes over for both schools and you either get a surprise winner, or at least a surprise path to victory. In so doing, you often learn very little about the team's true qualities.

But while Harvard’s victory was not at all a surprise, the close final score was an eye-opener. And the fact that the Crimson needed a gift-wrapped bone-headed coaching choice by Yale chief Tom Williams was also unexpected.

BUT a great deal of both teams’ general character for 2009 was on display in that contest and here’s what I took away from that game:

1) Harvard’s offense struggled in big game situations much of the year, and this was no exception. Thus, I would not be surprised if Andrew Hatch gets the starting QB job in Cambridge this fall as Coach Tim Murphy looks to jumpstart the “O.”

2) Yale’s defense overachieved last season, much to the coaches’ and players’ credit. A good core of that defense is coming back this year and this should remain at least a relative Eli strength for 2010.

3) You can bet Yale will be a lot more conservative on 4th down situations this season. Being too cautious could end up costing them just as much.

Penn 34 Cornell 0

It was hard to learn much from such a mismatch, but there were a few lessons;

1) Penn liked running the ball by committee and I expect the Quakers to do that a lot again in 2010. With RB’s like Lyle Marsh and Bradford Blackmon coming back, along with running QB Keiffer Garton, why wouldn’t they?

2) Penn will probably run the ball about 50% more often than pass. In a typical game with about 60-65 offensive plays, I expect the Quakers to run about 40 times. So a team with a good rush defense is going to be a problem for Penn… perhaps a BIG problem.

3) Cornell is essentially starting 2010 completely as an empty set. The veteran player talent level for the Big Red is extremely low, but they only can get better!

Princeton 23 Dartmouth 11

It’s easy to get swept up in the hype for the 2010 Big Green that’s been growing every day. But every time I think Dartmouth might make a serious run at a first division finish, I am haunted by the team’s lackluster performance in week 10 against a poor Princeton team on their home field in Hanover.

On a beautiful day at Memorial Field, the Dartmouth offensive line was just awful, generating precious few net rushing yards and allowing four sacks to a team that barely rushed the passer well in he previous nine weeks. Meanwhile, the rush defense was torched by senior Kenny Gunter who ran for 173 yards and two TD’s.

Here’s what I take away from this game:

1) Dartmouth just doesn’t have a championship offensive line right now… or even a very good one. That’s going to put a major crimp in any serious run for a winning season

2) The Big Green needs Nick Schwieger to stay healthy. Without him in this final game of 2009, the running attack was almost non-existent. The Green did get a big win over Cornell earlier in the year without Schwieger, but that was right after his injury and I don’t think Cornell had a chance to prepare for Greg Patton who filled in for him by playing a running QB position. By week 10, Princeton was ready for Patton.

3) Princeton comes into 2010 much like Cornell does; not much returning talent and big questions about how a new head coach will use what is left. Despite showing some nice grit in this game, I think the Tigers will be looking at a very tough fall.

Columbia 28 Brown 14

Of all the season finales, this game was probably the biggest surprise throughout the league. But there were some solid reasons for the surprise outcome, many of which are still in effect for 2010:

1) Columbia’s Sean Brackett is the real deal. After a strong debut against Yale and some limited success versus Cornell, Brackett put in a complete game against the Bears and was almost perfect. Facing one of the best run defenses in the Ivies, the freshman Brackett racked up 171 yards on the ground while still throwing for a TD.

2) Columbia will have to prove it can win without Austin Knowlin and Lou Miller. Both of the now-graduated seniors were keys to the win.

3) Brown is in big trouble if it can’t mix its offensive attack in 2010. Without Zach Tronti, who was injured, the Bears single-faceted running attack of Spiro Theodosi, (who is out for all of this season), was not effective enough. And then there’s the kicking game. Brown was forced to go for TD’s on several occasions in the game because the kicking attack was just not reliable. The Bears need to solve that problem... now.

I realize a lot has changed for all eight Ivy teams and perhaps a good deal of the above conclusions are no longer true thanks to the incoming freshmen, coaching changes, and the fact that Lindsay Lohan is out of jail. But this is where we left off when we shut the gates on the 2009 season about 253 days ago.