Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ivy League Football 2011

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This is his league, we just get to play in it

State of the League: The Story is Coaching

While the same old two powers, (Penn and Harvard), continue to consistently dominate the Ivies, the best news is that the overall talent level on the gridiron at all eight schools is on a steady rise.

One school's talent level is no longer the biggest reason for a win or a loss against an Ivy opponent.

Now, the real reason why the best teams remain the best and the weaker teams continue to struggle comes down to one word: coaching.

Penn's Al Bagnoli and Harvard's Tim Murphy are very experienced and smart coaches who hold their teams' fortunes in their hands and minds more and more each year.

That is not to say that they are perfect. Both recently made very bad decisions about the starting QB positions that had disastrous results by their program standards.

But when push comes to shove, and games get close... or when game planning begins months in advance, Bagnoli and Murphy are in a class by themselves.

Knocking on the door and almost at their level is Brown's Phil Estes. Estes has continued to keep the Bears competitive most years even in the face of injuries.

Dartmouth's Buddy Teevens survived the 0-10 2008 year and vaulted into winning record territory last season with a combination of great recruting and good enthusiasm that is catching up in Hanover. The openness with which he presents his team to the public is refreshing and will pay even more dividends when the wins continue.

If they continue.

Much improved last season in the coaching category was Yale's Tom Williams, who became adept at guiding his players to victory in very tough and close games. But let's see if it was a fluke

And that brings us to...

Princeton's Bob Surace was almost clueless in his first year at the helm, and that was to be expected considering he was coming from a lower level assistant's job with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Yes, Surace is a Tiger alum and could have been expected to be a little more prepared. But the league and Princeton have changed drastically since Surace was a student in the late 1980's. The result was an 0-7 Ivy record for the 2010 Tigers.

Cornell seemed to have hit the motherload last year when it grabbed Ole Miss offensive coordinator, and two-time Grey Cup winning Head Coach Kent Austin... and I still maintain that they have... but even he couldn't overcome the Big Red's major deficiency when it came to experienced players. More curiously, Austin's game management was a little rusty.

But Surace and Austin get a pass, because they are in just their second year's on the job after all.

Finally we have Columbia, where Norries Wilson can hardly be called a neophyte anymore as he begins his 6th year as head coach. The Lions are just as strong as any team in the Ivies in the talent category, and Wilson deserves A LOT of credit for that. However, the wins just haven't come as much as they should have by now. Columbia's record in league games and close contests is especially distressing.

But Wilson has a secret weapon. He has the very enthusiastic endorsement of the football program's primary benefactor and decision-maker, Bill Campbell. And that's something to be coveted. Campbell is a true hero to Columbia in many ways.

Security isn't always a good thing.

Consider the circumstances Al Bagnoli was facing when he took the helm at Penn in 1992.

His predecessor, Gary Steele, had just been fired after three seasons. That was the extent of his window of opportunity.

Failure was not an option and Bagnoli knew it.

So he didn't fail.

Tim Murphy was hanging by a thread at Harvard after three less-than-stellar seasons, but in his fourth year the Crimson cruised to a title and the rest is history.

Incentive is everything.

You see it when you compare the Postal Service to FedEx.

And you see it in coaching.

But all is not lost.

Many coaches do improve over time. Take Columbia's Ray Tellier, who eventually guided the team to an 8-2 record in 1996. He did not get a winning season until his sixth year with the team.

There's a lot of talk this year about how this is the "season of the quarterback" in the Ivies. And that's not off the mark because of all the returning signal callers at each and every school.

But make no mistake, this has truly become a coach's league. And while many of us may whine about facilities, recruiting advantages, and funding, it's the guy pacing the sidelines who deserves the most credit and blame for wherever your favorite Ivy club stands at the end of the day.

Predicted Order of Finish

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

Team Profiles (My extensive Columbia team profile will be spread out over the next few days beginning later today, but here are my takes on the other teams from last to first)

Jeff Matthews will put up big numbers

8. Cornell


The Big Red will be better than they were in 2010, but they were way down last season. There just aren't enough impact player seniors to really think Cornell will even get into the middle of the pack this year.

But they do have a favorable schedule, getting a number of beatable opponents at home. And they have a head coach in Kent Austin who will get better quickly as he continues to make the tough mental transition from the SEC to the Ivy League.


QB Jeff Matthews was the 2010 Ivy Rookie of the Year and he beat out some big name transfers in the offseason to keep his starting job.

Matthews will put up big numbers this season and will probably win a few player of the week awards.

And what's REALLY nice is Matthews' head coach is VERY effusive with the public praise for this young man.

It must be nice to have your coach speaking so openly about how good you are.

There are some other QB's in this league who deserve that same public support but don't get it.


Defense, Defense, Defense.

If I could find any big reason to believe this defense will be greatly improved this year I would have no problem predicting a significantly higher finish for the Big Red.

But I can't.

So I won't.

Why They Could Win it all in 2011

It won't happen, but Cornell could do as well as 5-5 if they can win this Saturday at Bucknell, and string together a defense that bends but doesn't break.

Why They May Disappoint

It would be hard to disappoint when you're already picked 7th or 8th everywhere, but Cornell would disappoint a lot of longtime Ivy watchers if there isn't at least some statistical improvement and maturity from this young squad.


Last year, I picked Cornell 7th in the league. That was dead on. I also correctly called the Big Red the most talent-poor team in the league.


I thought their defense would be the better of the two squads on this team. It turned out the opposite was true.

Key Early Game to Watch

I really think this opener against Bucknell is really important. Cornell can still lose and make some decent improvements in time for the end of the season. But a win could boost this team's confidence enough to really make more than a token move up.

A menacing image: Steven Cody staring at you from across the line

7. Princeton


I hesitate to promote the Tigers from 8th to 7th this season, but it's hard to ignore the bevy of talent returning on defense. The headliner is LB Steven Cody, who is Princeton's 2011 equivalent of Columbia's Alex Gross last season: a top-flight player itching to return after missing the previous season to injury.

But the Tigers are still strong contenders for the basement because of a real lack of decent offensive skill players, a tougher schedule than last year, and a head coach and offensive coordinator who still aren't ready for prime time.


The defense looks good on all three lines. The defensive line is led by Caraun Reid, who was also lost for just about all of 2010 to injury. Mike Catapano is no slouch either up front.

At linebacker, there's Cody and Andrew Starks coming back too. They are both stars.

The secondary has plenty of experience and talent.


The running back and wide receiver corps don't really have anything to show for themselves. There is talent at QB and on the OL, but who will gain the yards in the end?

Why They Could Win it all in 2011

Again, this won't happen. But the Tigers can make a big jump in the standings if someone emerges at WR and someone else at RB who is 1st Team All Ivy caliber.

They can hope.

Why They May Disappoint

If the defense isn't quite as good as everyone expects, and guys like Cody and Reid are not really 100% recovered from their injuries... this will be another very bad year in Old Nassau.


I was alone out there last year predicting Princeton to come in dead last and forecasting the total breakdown of this offense, and that came true even before Wornham was lost for the season to injury.

All of that was 100% right.



Key Early Game to Watch

The week three contest against Columbia is THE GAME for these guys. After two straight years of being thoroughly embarrassed by the Lions, this is a must win game for Surace and crew at home.

Is this the year Patrick Witt grows up?

5. Yale


For some odd reason, the world seems to think this will be the year Eli QB Patrick Witt will shake off the inconsistency and perhaps bring a championship to the Yale Bowl.

I don't think so.

Yale's offense is going to be good, but the defense is still questionable and the schedule isn't the easiest.

Despite what you read elsewhere, Yale isn't the team and Witt isn't the guy.


The offensive in general is going to be good. The wide receiving corps is especially experienced. And while I don't think Witt is a championship QB, he's still very good.


The defense faces life without the super DL Tom McCarthy who has graduated. It won't be pretty. Look for opposing running backs and QB's to be a lot more comfortable this season.

Why They Could Win it all in 2011

If I'm wrong about Witt and he grows up, (specifically starts throwing fewer INT's), then the sky's the limit.

Why They May Disappoint

The Yale running game can be patchy, and if it doesn't improve this season all the defensive players who really, really want to pound Witt will get a lot more chances to do just that.

If Witt gets whacked early, the Yale season gets ugly.


I knew Witt would remain inconsistent and he indeed ended up throwing more INT's than TD's.


I thought the coaching staff would remain as bad as it was in 2009. But it got better and the team I thought would finish 6th came in the top three.

Key Early Game to Watch

Yale almost lost to Georgetown last season in the opener. Now Georgetown looks a lot better, so a win will be harder to come by. If the Elis win that game, they have a lot of good momentum going into the week two matchup at home against Cornell.

Yeah, he's THAT good

4. Brown


This Bear coaching staff knows how to win.

The fact that Brown still went 5-2 in the league despite losing the top QB early in the year is simply remarkable.

But I think the return of that QB, Kyle Newhall-Caballero, for 2011 is being overhyped by the folks in Bear Town. He IS the Ivy League's best passer, but he throws too many INT's to feel confident Brown will remain as mistake-free as it will need to be to beat Harvard on the road and Penn at home and win this league.


Do you even have to ask? With Caballero and a bevvy of great wide receivers like Alex Tounkara and Jimmy Saros, the passing game will certainly be "epic" as the kids say these days.

But don't sleep on the Bear secondary with big-time star AJ Cruz leading the way. With all the practicing they do against their own offense, how could these guys NOT be good?


The linebacking crew is not nearly as good as the secondary or the defensive line. A speedy QB who can elude the front line of the Brown defense could give this team fits.

Why They Could Win it all in 2011

If they can somehow beat Harvard on the road in week two, there will be no stopping these guys if they stay healthy.

Why They May Disappoint

Caballero can lose games for this team too, especially with his INT's. If he disappoints, there could be a sharp slide in Providence.


I knew the Bears would be great on offense... but who didn't?

What I got wrong about them

I thought the Brown defensive line would be a weakness, but it was far from bad in 2010. By the end of the season, it was positively menacing.

Key Early Game to Watch

For Brown, it's always about that week two game against Harvard... always.

The Bears won that game last season, and it was enough to propel them to a 2nd place tie for the year despite losing their QB for most of the season.

Crazy Idea: take your best players and PUBLICIZE them in a poster!

3. Dartmouth


No Ivy football program is working with the same kind of positive energy they have up in Hanover these days. That comes from the president's office on down, and it shows.

Do I really think the Big Green are a top three team?

I admit it's a stretch, but Dartmouth still has the best RB in the Ivies, a fired up coach, and the most senior-laden roster of regulars to think this could be their year to make a run.


The running game is not just about returning Bushnell Cup winning RB Nick Schwieger. The backups Dominique Pierre and Greg Patton can really run too in a league that has been really thin on top running talent for a decade now.

Will Teevens tweak the offensive game plan enough to fully exploit his three great runners? (The man loves to pass)... if he does, this strength will stand out even more.


Columbia has the misfortune of seeing QB Conner Kempe on his best day last season, but he's just not the guy who can bring the Big Green offense all the way on his own. Thrown in his offeseason suspension and you have a QB who doesn't seem up to the big job of being a team leader.

Why They Could Win it all in 2011

Running game anyone? You can win titles with great rushing. Also, Dartmouth is going "all in" when it comes to emotions this year by scheduling the first-ever night game at Memorial Field against Penn for the league opener in week three.
And I haven't even mentioned how good DB/kick returner Shawn Abuhoff is... because he is a lethal weapon.

Why They May Disappoint

Kempe is a liability at times, and the defensive line lost menacing DL Charles Bay to graduation. And if the Green lose and lose badly to Penn in that big night game at home... look out below as the emotional bubble bursts.


Like almost everyone else, I thought Schwieger would be a force and he was. I also picked Dartmouth for 5th and that was dead on.

What I got wrong about them

I thought the Green would continue to really struggle on the road, but they beat Columbia and Cornell and darn near knocked off Penn at Franklin Field before falling in OT.

Key Early Game to Watch

It's all about that huge Penn game under the lights on October 1st. What an emotional lift it will be for Dartmouth and the rest of the league if the Big Green can pull that one out and end the Quakers' 15-game Ivy win streak.

This is exactly what it'll look like when Murphy beats Yale at the Bowl this year... Again!

2. Harvard


Harvard may be on a two-year stretch with no Ivy titles, but they just keep winning anyway.

Tim Murphy has his team ready to play, with or without injuries and other challenges.

This season, the Crimson have absolutely the easiest schedule in the league. No, that doesn't seem quite fair, but that's the way it goes.

But do they have strong enough players at all the skill positions to take it all?


The running game still looks great with Treavor Scales ready to take the full-time top running back job after two great years in the graduated Gino Gordon's shadow.

BUT, with Josue Ortiz leading the way, look for the defensive line to be the Crimson's top weapon this year.


There are still some questions about the offensive line that graduated two All Ivy players. I question their pass protection abilities especially.

But my biggest issue is the QB Collier Winters. Yes, he's talented. Yes, he seems like a great young man. But I'm not sure he's a championship QB. I don't know he has what it take in his guts to beat Penn, which is what he'll have to do to be a champ.

Why They Could Win it all in 2011

It's Harvard and this year they get Penn at home, Brown at home, Dartmouth at home, and have a plethora of patsies on the schedule.

Why They May Disappoint

I'm not so sure the passing game will be all its cracked up to be... but other than that, I see nothing that could really trip us this team until week nine.


I said the running game would be very, very good and RB Gino Gordon shared the Bushnell Cup.

What I got wrong about them

I thought they would win the championship, but they were really a distant second to Penn in overall team strength.

Key Early Game to Watch

The Brown game is of course a key... but now the opener at Holy Cross is looking VERY tough after the Crusaders impaled Colgate yesterday.

Billy Ragone doing what he does best, run

1. Penn


Penn and Al Bagnoli are looking to become the first Ivy team to win three straight unshared titles since the Quakers became the first and only team to do it in 1984-86.

The two toughest top players to find in this league are defensive linemen and running backs. Penn has an embarrassment of riches at both of those positions.

If he can grab a solo title this year it will be Bagnoli's masterpiece. That's because the Quakers have to go to Harvard, Brown and spunky Dartmouth for the big night football premiere in Hanover.

Bet against him at your peril.


Billy Ragone. Lyle Marsh. Brandon Colavita. Jeff Jack. Any of those guys could possibly run for 1,000 yards this year. Really.

Penn proved last year that running the ball alone was more than enough to beat their opponents to a pulp week after week.

Why mess with that?


Even though so many starting offensive linemen graduated, the OL is not going to be bad by any stretch. Those guys will be ready.

But the receiving corps, which may be needed to step up in a big game or two is still not ready for prime time. Neither is Billy Ragone as a passer.

Why They Could Win it all in 2011

The defense will be good enough to power the offense through any rough patches the new OL and weak passing game may present early in the season.

And this is Bagnoli with the rare chance to do something even he hasn't achieved in his illustrious career.

Who's betting against him?

Why They May Disappoint

Too many rough road games may take their toll on this team, especially by the Harvard game in week nine.


I knew their running game would be downright awesome and it was.

What I got wrong about them

I thought they would come in second because I thought the defense would really fall off a notch or two in 2010. It was still fantastic and the Quakers won it all.

Key Early Game to Watch

Beating Dartmouth in week three would really send a powerful message to the rest of the league, but why wait until week three? The week two game against Villanova will do the same thing when the Quakers finally beat them... which they will.


At Mon Sep 12, 10:40:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Alum said...

Hey Jake, Fantastic post, stirred up some things I've been thinking about for awhile.

Looking at the post-Lou Little history of Columbia Football coaches, Norries' win percentage (30%) is very similar to his predecessors with the exception of the Bob Naso – James Garrett - Larry McElreavy years(9 years, 7%).

In your post, you said that many coaches improve over time, and cited Ray Tellier's 1996 8-2 season as evidence. While it is true that Tellier did improve, I'm not sure it is similar to what we expect from Norries or any future CU football coach.

Tellier was 15-52 through his first 7 years (22%) before his 8-2 year in 1996. After that, Tellier went 18-42 (30%) over the next 6 years to close out his career with CU.

This leaves me with more questions:

Has any Ivy coach since 1990 gone their first five years winning 30% or less of their games, followed by 3+ years of winning 50% or more?

Has any D1 coach outside the Ivies done this recently?

Norries has done tremendous things for the program in his first five years that are not reflected in his wins and losses. How long until we look strictly at his winning percentage, the only real measure of a coach?

I’m a big fan of Norries, but I’m a huge fan of CU football.

Got this info from, hope its accurate!

At Mon Sep 12, 11:50:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Wow! FANTASTIC job on the season's outlook! I really appreciate your insight and perspective (along with the other dedicated alums). It's funny, for a non-scholarship school, it seems like Norries and his staff are on scholarship.

To the "Alum" post: Yes, you may be right on your percentages of wins for Garrett, McElreavy, Tellier, (and Shoop for that matter), etc, but does that make it acceptable? 30% over 5 years? Seriously??? I am at a loss as to why this mentality is constantly brought up on these posts??? Who cares what his predecessors did here. We want WINS!!! To be honest, if we kept Garrett, we wouldn’t need the blog. Okay, so he lacked tact and couth, but he (and his sons) would have made us winners! Also, if we wanted nice guys, we would have kept Tellier. Unfortunately, he was just a bad coach as well. Just a few years ago both Dartmouth and Yale were beneath us. Now they are both in contention for the top tier of the league. What happens if Princeton and/or Cornell surpass us? How many losing seasons does it take to realize this? Last year, for example, we should have had at LEAST 6-7 wins! As Jake said, the talent is clearly there. The problem is that the other Ivy staffs are playing chess and we’re just learning how hto play checkers.

At Tue Sep 13, 12:00:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before anyone gets on Jake's back about predicting the Lions for 6th, let's remember that other than 3 or 4 seasons in the past 40 would this be an under guess In fact it would have been generous in most of these years.

We all believe this Lions team has the personnel to do better. The coaching questions are well documented, but the OC has another year under his belt with this cropnof players...the new DC has changed the defensive scheme....offense has sufficient weapons and special teams are fine. If this defense can average fewer than 20 ppg, we have a winning season.

At Tue Sep 13, 12:04:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am planning to fly from HK, where I work, to my home in Vermont for the Dartmouth homecoming game. When was the last time a Lion team won in Hanover?

Chen '82

At Tue Sep 13, 12:11:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...


At Tue Sep 13, 12:33:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, You do a great job but occasionally it sounds a little personal, particularly with Pat Witt at Yale, Perry at Princeton and Austin. I'm pretty sure you don't mean it to sound that way, but it's how it comes across and that's too bad.

At Tue Sep 13, 12:50:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

No, I don't mean to be petty or personal when it comes to Perry or anyone else... but I have to put the coaches feet to the fire especially. As far as Witt goes, this is a very outspoken and wonky kid. He is provocative and... I actually like that! But he's not Joe Montana and that myth needs to get quashed right here.

At Tue Sep 13, 01:05:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Alum said...

"Is 30% acceptable over 5 years?"

I don't think so, and that's what lead me to look at the CU precedent for keeping losing coaches around. I was not trying to say that because his win percentage is similar to those before him that it is up to snuff.

I agree, "Who cares what his predecessors did", but I also think context adds insight.

I somewhat regret posting my thoughts now, just a few days before a new season begins. The focus should and will be on the players and the new season ahead.

I'm hoping that by Thanksgiving questions about our coaching staff are shut up by a winning record. Because by then it will have been 6 years.

At Tue Sep 13, 02:17:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Is that a BLOG BRUNCH invite at either Cassa Chen, or the Exeter Inn Pre-game? I'm sure that you'll need a head count... :0). Guest speaker: Jake!

Re: Alum who posted the winning stats. No regrets, please! All good info for a fair analysis, but the reality is that percentage is a bit glaring...

Let's hope for a good start againt Fordham!

Greg Abbruzzese CC'91

At Tue Sep 13, 02:28:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great picture of Bags!!!

At Tue Sep 13, 02:30:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Great stuff, especially the team breakdown on four follow-up post. I didn't see this on the CU web site? Did they send it to you in advance and you posted it early? Hopefully, you'll send this to Recco and his counterpart (if he is still doing the games) for insight and color.

Coaches on scholarship, and chess vs checkers, priceless! If nothing else, we come in first for sarcasm!


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